Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review - Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, andMove with Confidence

Back pain sucks. Not only does it suck, but it can suck the life right out of you. For me it all began when I was 19 and spending many hours in the gym lifting weights. First it was a small twitch. Then it was a little more. Shortly thereafter I was at a chiropractor trying to correct my issues. I did get the problem corrected - even if just temporarily - but, like many other people, have dealt with periodic back pain for a long, long time.

After moving on from heavy strength training to Ironman training it can still be an issue for me. Don't get me wrong, it is not the chronic pain many people deal with. But it is there and, while core work has helped, having pain still sucks.

In 2013 I was having more trouble than normal with my back, specifically when in the aero position on my bike. I was looking for a positive solution to the issue when I heard Ben Greenfield mention the book Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move With Confidence during an Endurance Planet podcast. Greenfield described the book as a different approach to both core work and reduction of back pain. I decided to make the $17 investment and see what the fuss was about.

Foundation is a very fast and informative read for 288 pages. The book's author, Dr. Eric Goodman, was a young athlete who had problems with back pain that was much more debilitating than my own. In his search for a solution he developed what eventually became the core idea of the book - that lower back pain comes as a result of overloading smaller muscles due to poor mechanics.

Essentially, we can get lazy with the way we move, causing bio-mechanical issues. When this happens, the body needs to be reconditioned to use the correct muscles while moving through the world. Based on a series of 10 simple but powerful movements, Foundation teaches you how to properly load your muscles and move. The focus turns to the large muscles of your posterior chain - glutes, hamstrings, middle back, hips - to take the pressure off of the smaller muscles that have become overworked.

Going through the routine takes less than 10 minutes. For those of you who have done some basic yoga you will recognize some of the movements. Goodman does change the focus of the specific movements to create the desired effect.

In the few months I have been incorporating these movements into my routine I have noticed a number of positive changes. First, my posture is much better. Like many others, I had become lazy without noticing. The change is not just when I am standing, but when I am sitting, running, or biking. When I swim I feel like it is easier to maintain a streamlined position (or at least what is streamlined for me).

The second big change is a noticeable decrease in lower back pain. As I began properly loading up my glutes, hamstrings and middle back with the stress of swim/bike/run - even standing and sitting - I became more comfortable, my body more stable. While I know I will never be 100% pain-free, I am as close to it as I can be. A nice side benefit has been not needing to see my chiropractor for quite some time.

The approach that Foundation takes to core training and/or back pain is both different and more effective than anything I have ever come about. I feel better when sitting at the office, and I feel better while exercising. If you have chronic back pain I highly recommend giving this approach a go. All you have to loose is $17 ... and that chronic pain in your back.

Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move With Confidence can be purchased at here.

You can find more out about Dr. Goodman and Foundation Training at his website.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rule #4: The 20-Minute Rule

Ever have one of those days. Maybe you didn't sleep real well, or just had a stressful day at work. Whatever it is, you just don't feel like working out. Sure, you have a 3,000M swim workout on the schedule but man, hitting the couch and watching some tv sounds like a great option.

Then you remember reading somewhere about overtraining. Not so sure exactly what the advice was, but "everyone" knows overtraining is bad. So you head straight home, convinced that you are in a state of overtraining and need "rest" to avoid digging a deeper hole.

But is this the right thing to do? Maybe. Maybe not. If you are deep into a training cycle, pushing your personal limits, it is a real possibility you may have pushed beyond your recovery capabilities. A few days of active recovery or even straight up rest could be the right course of action. A seasoned endurance athlete will know exactly what this feels like. It is different than your normal heavy legs or dragging at the end of the day. And true overtraining and adrenal fatigue are a completely different beast that can happen. You can read more about that here.

So, assuming you haven't been beating down your body for weeks/months without adequate rest and recovery, my experience tells me that lack of desire to train is more of a mental thing than a physical one. Thus, the 20-Minute Rule.

When you are having THAT day, go and start the workout. Using the 3k swim workout as an example, get to the pool, stretch out, and get in the water. If you're anything like me, not so hard getting in the water, a challenge to actually get your head under water and push off for the first length.

Suck. It. Up.

After warming up, give yourself a minute and start your main set, whatever it may be. One of two things will happen - you will either start the main set, hit your expected times and start to feel better, or you won't. After a few reps in the main set - about 20 minutes into the workout - you will know where you're at, and you will know what to do.

Still feel like crap, not performing well? Get out of the pool, shower up, call it a day.

Hit your times? Continue on. Finish the workout as planned.

I've been here more than I care to admit with all three sports. Of those, I can count on one hand the number of times I called it a day. Every other workout, once I got moving I started to feel better, sometimes even great, and was able to get the scheduled work done.

Properly training for your "A" race is a process that takes months of hard work. Over that time you won't always feel great, and you won't always have that gung-ho attitude every time you swim, bike or run. Give it a go for 20 minutes and see what happens.

Train hard. Stay focused.

You can find the first three rules here, here, and here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Off Season Update

It's been almost one month since I started my off season and things are going well. For once I have decided to embrace it and can honestly say that I have lost some fitness, gained a little weight, and caught up on the sleep I had been neglecting. I have also gotten some of the stuff I had been putting off completed ... but not nearly as much as I (or The Queen) would like.

Weavers Way Bulk Bin Maddness
Quick side note: I did have the time to head down to Philly last week for a gathering of local co-ops as a representative of the Bethlehem Food Co-op and visit the Weavers Way Grocery Food Coop. Neat little store with really, really awesome bulk bin section (which was really the entire upstairs). The selection was amazing. Can't wait to get our store up and running in Bethlehem. If you are interested in keeping your food spend local, supporting your community farmers, and/or higher quality food for your family, you should check out our website, come to a meeting, then become a member.

The one big problem I have this time of year - even when I'm faking an off season - is a lack of focus. I love my routine, which means I fall apart when I don't have a clear, well-packed agenda when I wake in the morning. But maybe it's a good thing that I'm as relaxed about it as I am ... maybe that's the point.

Physically I'm feeling pretty good. Most all of the nagging little things have gone away and the legs have some life in them. The one little hitch has been the strain in my right shoulder, a result of moving some furniture last week. While it sucks, at least it happened in December and not January.

I've also been enjoying my time back in the weight room. Yes, there are some who feel that strength and power needs to be developed specifically for the bike or the run, which is an argument for another time. What I will say is, I believe in the power of straight-up strength training, the basic, multi-joint exercises variety. No better way to get stronger and add power than some good old fashion squatting and deadlifting. As a side benefit, both these exercises, when performed correctly, are probably the best way to build core strength.

Anyway, my training has been sticking with the plan and rules I laid out here. I haven't raced since Philly and don't plan on racing until February. Mileage has been low as has the intensity. And yes, I have been training outside in the cold weather, caught the snow storm on Tuesday (both by choice), but I have avoided the cold rain and have avoided riding outside for weeks.

Swimming has been completely put on hold due to the shoulder strain. I really haven't been consistent in the pool since September, lacking motivation, so this really wasn't a big deal ...until it was a big deal. Funny how this works. Now that being out of the pool isn't by choice, the motivation to swim has started to come back. I'm now thinking of the injury/timeout of the water as a good thing.

Starting this week my training volume will slowly increase into the new year. My plan is to put in a solid run base starting in January, so, by design, the next few weeks will see most of the increased volume go to the run. Any biking I've done has either been on my $400 mountain bike, in a spin class (believe it or not), or some easy spinning on the trainer. Hopefully I will be back in the pool next week for some short, easy yardage.

As usual, we are planning on welcoming in the new year by running South Mountain on December 31. I think this is the 12th time, maybe. Always a lot of fun, with the added benefit of knowing just how out of shape you've become over the holiday season. The run is about 10 miles, starting at Sand Island. The loop takes you over the mountain via Hayes Street, through the Stabler arena area, then back over on Mountain Drive South. If you are local and are interested in the deets let me know.

Finally, Mrs. Claus had her annual visit to Casa de Soden with the annual cookie delivery. And when I say cookies, I'm talking 86 varieties made from scratch, freshly baked two days ago. I question my ability to make a batch of cookies from a mix and she does all of this. Always appreciated at home, then by the Magellan Financial crew at work.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Joy of Running

Before I called myself a triathlete - and after my weight lifting days - I viewed myself as a runner. Training for a marathon I would follow Pfitzinger or Jack Daniels (the coach, not the whiskey) in my pursuit of whatever the time goal was this time around. Chasing a goal is motivating. Running in heat, cold, rain, snow was fine with me, just get me to the race fit and with happy legs. Training for a race gives purpose. Training for a race gives focus. There are goals, both big and small.

And then it happens ... the race arrives and the season ends. All of a sudden there's not a race on the schedule. Well, not a "real" race anyway. After the big goal race, racing becomes more a social thing. More like a hard workout than something I was training to do. With no structure, nothing to point at for motivation, motivation can be hard to find. At this point in the season, many people have trouble getting out the door. I am not one of those people.

As I have discussed recently this is my off season, which I describe as a time for easy workouts, when and if I'm motivated to do them. Every year, so far anyway, a strange thing happens. Every year I'm motivated to run.

This morning I left my house at 5:45 am in the dark of the morning for a run. It was early, but it didn't bother me one bit. The pace was casual. I wore my Garmin, but didn't look at before hitting the stop button. I ran my favorite route; the one I am most comfortable with;  the one I refer to as my "home course."

If you don't have one of these you should. My home course is 8 miles, but I can shorten it to as little as 5 miles or extend it to 10 miles.I know these roads better than the township road crews that care for them. I know the tangents and I know ever mile marker. I run these roads enough to have a waving relationship with the school bus drivers as well as the regulars on their way to work. There's even a long distance runner who drives to work about when I'm out there, Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand, who raises his cup to me when we pass.

I'm not the only regular out there either. "Old Man Ed" was out walking today, as was "Bike Guy" on his way to work. "Bike Guy" made me think for a second that I should be on my Madone. That feeling quickly passed.

Funny thing about these roads - I think of them as mine. I got really upset when the chipped and tared a section a few years back; I cheered out loud when they properly paved that same section six months later. Come springtime, when the fair-weather athletes start to hit the streets again, I admittedly get a little offended that they are on MY ROADS. Where were they on that cold, windy days in February?

Running is my gateway drug and the reason I ended up an Ironman.

Don't get me wrong, I love riding my bike and I (for the most part) enjoy hitting the pool. But at the end of the day, it all comes back to the joy of  running ...

Train hard. Stay focused.