Another is Nordic Walking - walking with poles. Here are, "Thirteen reasons to take up Nordic Walking". This is an excerpt from Nordic Walking for Total Fitness. It's published with permission of Human Kinetics.
"Poles aren’t just for skiing anymore. Nordic walking offers fitness enthusiasts a unique workout that combines fun physical activity and maximum health benefits. According to Malin Svensson, author of Nordic Walking (Human Kinetics, May 2009), walking with poles offers a low-impact exercise that increases the heart rate as much as running does.
Studies have shown that Nordic walking burns more calories than regular walking. Research done by the Cooper Institute proves Nordic walking burns an average of 20 percent more calories than walking without poles. Some people tested also increased as much as 46 percent in oxygen consumption and caloric expenditure.
Similar to an elliptical trainer, Nordic walking uses both the upper and lower halves of the body, but Svensson says Nordic walking offers more upper-body benefits. "The elliptical machine uses bent arms and mainly works muscles crossing the shoulder joint, such as the chest and the back muscles," she explains. "But Nordic poles allow you to also straighten the elbow behind you, shaping your triceps." Nordic poles are measured according to a walker’s height, as opposed to the elliptical machine, which is one size fits all, Svensson adds.
In Nordic Walking, Svensson offers skills for maintaining an injury-free experience and ensuring that participants gain some of these benefits of the sport:
1. Burn more calories (20 to 46 percent).
2. Increase aerobic capacity even at a slow speed.
3. Increase upper-body strength.
4. Increase heart rate (5 to 30 beats per minute).
5. Take pressure off the joints.
6. Decrease neck and shoulder pain.
7. Increase upper-body mobility.
8. Increase functional capacity.
9. Feel less effort, even though the body works harder.
10. Improve balance and stability, making it safe to walk.
11. Improve gait and coordination.
12. Improve core musculature and posture.
13. Create a meditative and calming effect.
"Despite conflicting evidence on it’s benefits, we think neglecting to stretch is a bad idea! The trouble is, because many of us dislike it, we don’t spend enough time or effort on stretching and then it doesn’t work – reinforcing our belief that it’s a waste of time. However, doing it properly may result in a very different experience. To understand why, you need to know a little about what stretching does. what happens when you stretch? When you first take, say, your calf muscle, into a stretch, muscle “spindles” located among the muscle fibers detect a change in the muscle’s length and report back to the spinal cord. The nervous system sends a message to the nerves governing these fibers to tell the muscle to contract, in order to take it out of the stretched position. This is known as the “stretch reflex.” However, if the stretch is maintained for more than a few seconds (which, in many a runner’s case, it is not!), another, more sophisticated receptor, located where the muscle attaches to the tendon and called a Golgi tendon organ, comes into play. This receptor can detect not only changes in the length of the muscle but also in the amount of tension it holds. So, hold that stretch and the Golgi tendon organ, noting that the muscle fibers are contracting and lengthening, triggers a reflex relaxation of the muscle (via a process called autogenic inhibition) to protect the muscle from damage. This is why easing into a stretch slowly and then holding it allows the muscle to relax and lengthen. Over time, stretching can increase the length of the muscle, or at least maintain it at – or restore it to – its optimal functioning length. But why does this matter? Well, running, as you probably realize, involves repeated contractions of specific muscles over a long period of time. This can leave the muscle fibers shorter in length than normal, and misaligned (like hair that needs combing). Stretching is the process we use to restore muscles to their resting length and realign these fibers. Without it, we risk them shortening permanently (by a process called adaptive shortening) and, in doing so, altering the function of the joints they are connected to. For example, if the hip flexors (which work very hard in running) tighten and shorten, they pull the front of the pelvis down and throw the lower back out of alignment, which can have all sorts of knock-on effects.
What’s more, flexibility naturally declines as we age if we don’t maintain it – and changes take place in muscle fibers and connective tissue. Collagen fibers within the connective tissue thicken and, without regular stretching, get stiffer. Soft tissue becomes more dehydrated, decreasing joint lubrication and causing creakiness. One study concluded that stiffness and lack of flexibility were more a result of lack of use than of age per se, while another – on ageing runners – found that stride length declined primarily as a result of decreased range of motion at the hips and knees. Range of motion at the knees during running decreased by 33 percent and at the hips by 38 percent between the ages of 35 and 90. So, while we can’t categorically say that stretching will reduce injury risk or improve performance, it will help to restore muscles to their resting length after the continual contraction involved in running, help to maintain range of motion in the joints and prevent tightness and imbalances between muscle groups.
Six more reasons to stretch
* A flexible joint uses less energy to work through its full range of motion, so good flexibility will enable you to run more efficiently.
* Increased supply of blood and nutrients to joint structures helps keep them healthy and mobile.
* Stretching improves neuromuscular coordination (the nerve impulses that travel from the body to the brain and back).
* Muscular balance, body awareness and posture are enhanced.
* Stretching helps to flush out metabolic waste products post-run.
* It gives you time out to relax and reflect on your session.
When to do it
When – and how often – should you stretch? Ideally every day, suggests research in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, which found increases in both muscle force and power in subjects who stretched daily for several weeks. The benefits ranged from 2 to 5 percent improvement, which, they estimated, could make the difference to an elite athlete betweenwinning a gold and not making the podium at all –small, but worthwhile, gains. Another study showed that running speed improved as a result of regular stretching when it was not performed immediately prior to exercise, but this was in sprinters, so may not be so relevant to distance runners. Even more important than the possibility of shaving a few seconds off your time is the possible reduction in injury risk. While it is now widely believed that there is no evidence that stretching reduces injury risk, this refers to stretching pre-workout, as part of a warm-up, not as a separate regular practice. Three studies have found a significant decrease in injury risk as a result of regular stretching – or, to put it more accurately, as a result of good flexibility."
"Most runners have been introduced to water running as a rehabilitative tool for maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness after incurring an injury that precludes dryland running. However, runners should not assume that aquatic training’s only benefit is injury rehabilitation. Running in water, specifically deep-water running (DWR), is a great tool for preventing overuse injuries associated with a heavy volume of aerobic running training. Also, because of the drag associated with running in water, an element of resistance training is associated with water running that does not exist in traditional running-based training.
Although shallow-water running is a viable alternative to DWR, its benefits tend to be related to form and power. Although the improvement of form and power is important, it comes at a cost. Because shallow-water running requires impact with the bottom of a pool, it has an impact component (although the force is mitigated by the density of the water). For a runner rehabbing a lower leg injury, shallow-water running could pose a risk of injury. More important, balance and form are easier to attain in shallow-water running because of a true foot plant. Fewer core muscles are engaged to center the body, as in DWR, and there is a resting period during contact that does not exist in DWR. For our purposes, all water-related training exercises focus on DWR.
In performing a DWR workout, proper body positioning is important. The depth of the water should be sufficient to cover the entire body: Only the tops of the shoulders, the neck, and the head should be above the surface of the water. The feet should not touch the bottom of the pool. Runners tend to have more lean body mass than swimmers, making them less buoyant; therefore, a flotation device will be necessary. If a flotation device is not worn, body position can become compromised and an undue emphasis is placed on the muscles of the upper body and arms to keep the body afloat.
Once buoyed in the water, assume a body position similar to dryland running. Specifically, the head is centered, there is a slight lean forward at the waist, and the chest is “proud,” or expanded, with the shoulders pulled back, not rotated forward. Elbows are bent at 90 degrees, and movement of the arms is driven by the shoulders. The wrists are held in a neutral position, and the hands, although not clenched, are more closed than on dry land in order to push through the resistance of the water. The strength gained from performing wrist curls and reverse wrist curls are beneficial for this.
Leg action is more akin to faster-paced running than general aerobic running because of the propulsive force needed for overcoming the resistance caused by the density of the water. The knee should be driven upward to an approximate 75-degree angle at the hip. The leg is then driven down to almost full extension (avoiding hyperextension) before being pulled upward directly under the buttocks before the process is repeated with the other leg.
During the gait cycle, the feet change position from no flexion (imagine standing on a flat surface) when the knee is driving upward to approximately 65 degrees of plantarflexion (toes down) at full extension. This foot movement against resistance both facilitates the mechanics of running form and promotes joint stability and muscle strength as a result of overcoming the resistance caused by drag.
Due to the unnatural training environment (water) and the resistance created when driving the arms and legs, improper form is common when beginning a DWR training program. Specifically, it is common to make a punting-like motion with the forward leg instead of snapping it down. This error is due to fatigue of the hamstrings from the water resistance, resulting in poor mechanics. To correct this error, rest at the onset of the fatigue, and don’t perform another repetition until the time goal is met. Do not try to push through it. You won’t gain fitness, and you will gain poor form.
DWR is effective because it elevates the heart rate, similar to dryland running. And because of the physics of drag, it requires more muscular involvement, thus strengthening more muscles than dryland running does without the corresponding overuse injuries associated with such training. Specifically, it eliminates the thousands of impact-producing foot strikes incurred during non-DWR running."
"The biggest key to avoiding injury is really quite simple in concept
but much, much harder in execution—high adaptability. What does it
mean? Adaptability means that at every stage of your triathlon odyssey,
from planning to training to racing, you must be receptive to your
body’s signals in order to make quick and timely adjustments.
When setting up your training plan, it’s vital to plan and execute your training defensively. You’ve all heard the term that the safest drivers drive defensively, with a vigilant mindset and the wherewithal to recognize dangerous behavior. If you want to safeguard your body and avoid injury, planning your triathlon training with the same kind of defensive mindset is the single best thing you can do for yourself.
As you sit down to plan your schedule, listen for those instincts that may be telling you you’re overloading yourself or stacking too many workouts on top of each other, which may break down your body. Besides listening to your gut, you can use the following tips for planning your training defensively:
- Plan your running carefully. Unless you are one of the few triathletes blessed with the perfect runner’s body, flawless form, and near-perfect technique, pounding the pavement is the activity (of the three disciplines) with the highest probability of injury. A five-year study by Staffordshire University of 116 triathletes with differing abilities—from elite triathlete to weekend warrior—showed that 58 to 64 percent of all overuse injuries stemmed from running (Vleck and Garbutt 1998). Be very careful when increasing distance or intensity abruptly, without giving your body a chance to adapt. Always plan an easy workout after a high-intensity or long run and never increase your total weekly running distance by more than 10 percent from week to week.
- Lean toward safety. There may be several critical points in your training at which you feel a certain workout may be pushing it or that your body’s ability to safely finish that extra long run or that unusually hilly bike ride is suspect. Although some measure of risk is acceptable, there’s no shame in playing it safe by reducing the intensity or distance (or both) of these demanding workouts. If your gut tells you that you may be skirting that fine line between better performance and injury, err on the side of caution and make the necessary training adjustments. As you sit down to plan or review upcoming training, shave off some distance, notch down the intensity, or consider an easier course if you feel that your body may be on the brink of overuse.
- Avoid the superman syndrome. Anybody who has ever had a sports injury can probably point to a specific workout or a series of efforts over a short period of time that caused it. Unless injury is caused by something traumatic—a fall on the bike, a dog bite on a run—the root cause is usually overuse that can be clearly mapped in a training log. So if it’s so easy to document an injury afterward, why is it so hard to avoid one? Part of the answer is that we become so attached to our training that our self-image and ego become entangled in it, making it hard to accept the blatantly obvious warning signs. This so-called superman mentality can fool you into believing one more track workout or one extra set of ascending laps will do no harm. That’s why reviewing your daily training log entries from the previous weeks and months on a consistent basis is so important—it keeps you in tune with the reality of your recent training. Examining your log can provide valuable evidence that an injury may be imminent, giving you an opportunity to dial down training and allow your body an opportunity to recover from any cumulative muscle tissue damage from several weeks of tough workouts.
Strengthening can be a part of your routine and many might say say it should be. Triathlon, multi-sport, uses many of the muscles in your body during a race or brick work-out.
I like researching question like, "How can a muscle be strong and flexible?" "Is strength just the capacity for movement in relation to distance and time?" If so, strength training will always play a part of my training.
Here's an excerpt titled, "Developed back muscles prevent cycling injuries", from Cycling Anatomy, reprinted here by permission of Human Kenetics. One of the best things about this book is each exercise is explained in detail including which muscles are used, and how exercising that muscle groups is useful in cycling.
"The importance of a strong and fit back cannot be overemphasized. The back and spine provide the foundation for almost every activity performed, and cycling is no exception. Unfortunately, back problems are a frequent complaint of cyclists. Because of the bent-over position on a bike, back muscles are constantly engaged. This stress can wreak havoc on the body if it isn’t conditioned and trained to withstand the ongoing effort. In addition to withstanding the strain of the cyclists’ position, the back must also provide a solid base that enables a cyclist to generate power during their pedal stroke. Back muscles stabilize the spine and pelvis, allowing the legs to generate maximal power.
The best strategy for a healthy back is to proactively condition the body to avoid any problems before they arise. Take time to build strength in the back—this will pay dividends in the long run.
Stability Ball Extension
- Lie with the lower abdomen draped over a stability ball.
- Keeping one foot on the floor, arch the back while raising and extending the arm and opposite leg. The elbow and knee should be straight (extended).
- Slowly lower the arm and leg. Curl the body around the stability ball.
- Repeat the exercise using your other arm and leg.
Primary: Erector spinae
Secondary: Splenius capitis, gluteus maximus, deltoid
The erector spinae muscles must withstand enduring workloads when riding a bike. For the majority of rides, these muscles will maintain a forward leaning posture. If the back becomes sore or fatigued, the erector spinae muscles are usually the culprit. The stability ball extension is particularly effective because it provides full range of motion at maximal extension. This will counter the hours spent with the back arched forward on the bike. Added weights are not needed to make this workout effective. Remember that stretching and moving muscles through their complete range of motion will help get the most out of muscle fibers."
In triathlon, excluding accidents of course, I think running is the sport that is hardest on your body. Your body takes a lot of pounding during a run. That is why you hear over and over again from the experts things like: - hard/easy days - don't increase more than 10% per week
Elite runners have coaches that analyze their gait and make adjustments. If you're serious about staying injury-free: - research it - read books - go to a good running store that can video and computer-analyze angles of pronation/supination to fit you in the right shoe - replace your running shoes often - if you run every day, have two pairs of shoes and switch off every other day - practice form running
Toward the the first two, I just saw a new book worth checking out. It's called Running Well. In the following article about the book, reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics, the authors explain some of the ways to avoid running injuries.
According to running expert Sam Murphy, [running] problems are often caused by errors in training and technique and can be avoided. Simple mistakes, including wearing the wrong shoes, increasing mileage too quickly, or not varying sessions enough, are responsible for 60 percent of running injuries.
"By learning the difference between training and straining and honing your technique, you can minimize the risk of injury and the training setbacks it inevitably brings,” Murphy says.
In the upcoming Running Well (Human Kinetics, November 2008), Murphy teams up with physiotherapist Sarah Connors to explain what she calls the seven deadly sins of running technique. To prevent injury, Murphy says runners should avoid these practices:
Overstriding. Trying to make a stride too big puts the muscles in an inefficient lengthened position, causing the foot to land in front of the knee and creating a braking effect. “Overstriding usually happens when you are trying too hard to run faster,” Murphy explains.
Wasteful movement. Runners waste energy by incorporating too much up-and-down movement instead of focusing on forward motion. “A common cause of a bobbing action is lifting the knees too high up in front and pushing off the toes,” Murphy says. A very short stride can also be to blame.
Overpronation. Overpronation results from pushing off on a foot with a collapsed arch. This foot position puts extra stress on the muscles supporting the arch, which in turn pull on their attachments to the inside of the shin bone.
Sitting in the bucket. Also referred to as sitting on the hips, this happens when the pelvis tilts forward and the hips push back. "This posture reduces the power of the hip extensors, stresses the lower back, and shortens your stride," Murphy says. “This posture is responsible for a lot of runners’ back and hip problems."
Excessive supination. Oversupination occurs when the foot doesn’t roll in enough and remains on the outside edge. This action reduces the foot’s ability to absorb the shock of impact and increases the risk of stress fractures, especially along the outside edge of the foot and shin.
Poor hip drive. Relying too much on the quads and hip flexors rather than using the hamstrings and gluteals to extend the hips reduces the power and length of the stride. Strengthening glutes and hamstrings can improve running technique.
Hip drop (Trendelenburg gait). A Trendelenburg gait occurs when the pelvis shifts too far from side to side. “As a result of weak adductors and abductors, the hip of the swing leg drops and the hip of the stance leg pops out to the side because the muscles aren’t able to hold the pelvis level,” Murphy explains.
Having spent many years training for fitness, it wasn't until the last few years I became aware of how delicate a balancing act it can be of knowing how and when to push yourself toward greater fitness and avoiding injury.
I have had many injuries and hope I've learned how to approach training with the long tern goal of staying healthy and injury free. I would often push myself too hard when I did not need to or it was not the right time to push. Maybe I did not give myself enough of a rest, either between intervals, sets, or laps. It absolutely is a science and the more I read and study, the more I am able to understand when and WHY I do the things I do.
With the idea of sharing that, I posed several questions to my physical therapy group that helps heal me, Elite Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC. Kelly Floyd started this the group and Joe and Lesley have joined in the last year. They are immensely qualified and have vast sports experience themselves as well as treating patients of all ages and ailments.
I treasure their input and advice. Here's some advice I hope you can learn from as well.
What are the training rules of thumb and why are they important to follow?
Always break a sweat before stretching. Think of your cold muscle as a piece of bacon out of the freezer. You bend it and it breaks! Heat it up and it bends much easier!
It all starts with the core, the area of your body from your diaphragm to your groin. When running, jumping, cycling, swimming, or weight training, sitting, standing, bending, you name it, keep your spinal alignment perfect. Your spine is made to be stabilized, not twisted and bent. That’s what our other joints are for.