Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rope Skipping

For most runners choosing a different activity to do on their cross training day usually means getting on the elliptical x-trainer, biking or deep water running. What about me, what do I do for some cross training since I already swim, bike and run?

I get out my skipping rope. I've found rope skipping to be an excellent activity to add to my training routine. Especially when I was traveling. Prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I traveled extensively with our Singapore Badminton team as their physiotherapist. Whilst the players were training on court, I'll mix in some rope skipping and suicides (sprints from one court to another) and still be able to keep an eye on the players just in case they get hurt.

I've found it to be really helpful in strengthening the muscles and ligaments around the ankles -- good for protecting against ankle sprains. Just ask the players, I often doubled up as assistant coach/ fitness trainer when the head coach needed help with endurance training. I'll often incorporate my routines as part of their training. No ankle sprains in the lead up to the Olympics as a result. Plus they get to do something different instead of just running.

In addition, rope skipping is an aerobic session that's relatively easy to do, inexpensive and travels well. Be aware that skipping barefoot (in your hotel room) if you're traveling is more difficult than with shoes although it does work your intrinsic foot muscles more. Doing it on a carpet or exercise mat will be easier if you are planning on doing it barefooted. Start with ten minutes and build to thirty. You can alternate between double leg, single and alternate. If you get a chance to watch any competitive boxers skipping, you'll be amazed at their routines. If not check out any of the Rocky Balboa movies. And trust me on this, boxers are super fit. If you don't believe me, watch how Filipino southpaw Manny Pacquiao fights. 6 world titles in 6 different weight classes.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Morning Run Or Sleeping In

I got a question from one of my athlete patients just a while back, "I didn't sleep well. Which is better: going on my morning training run or sleeping in?"

My answer to the athlete was it depends. If it was just an occasional situation where say you stayed up to watch TV, you can still go for your training run.

But, if you haven't been sleeping enough over an extended period of time, it'll be better to sleep in. Rest is when the body heals, repairs and recuperates itself to adapt to the training stresses you've put your body through.

Just like in body building, the muscle grows when the body is resting not when you're lifting weights. In fact the muscle breaks down while you're weight training not the other way around. When you allow the muscle to rest it rebuilds itself bigger and stronger.

Not sleeping enough means not giving your body time to recover. Focus on your sleep needs first. When you've rested enough, you'll feel better and can make time to run later in the day.

Bear this in mind, sleep is a necessity not a luxury, especially for athletes. It's a training tool, running on empty won't get you far. For the rest of us mortals, skipping on sleep to fit in running, working and our personal lives will cause more problems than it solves.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Listen To Your Body

I've often been asked by my patients' what does "listen to your body" mean? When I say that to runners/ triathletes or especially my patients, I'm suggesting that they learn how to recognize their own body's fatigue or injury signals.

Most important in "listening" is to realize whether what you are feeling is real pain or just the discomfort of fatigue. You will definitely feel some strain if you have exceeded your limits be it running too fast, too long or both. This is normal as your body adapts to a greater load. Some minor aches and fatigue may linger on for a few days. If so have a day off or take a couple of easy sessions. I recall when I was a younger runner in my teens my calfs used to be so sore after track training for a few days especially early in the season. As I adapted and got stronger, they happened less at the later part of the season.

However, if you feel a sharp distinct pain in a specific area, if there is swelling &/or loss of range of movement, it means there is a more serious problem. Take a couple of rest days to prevent it from becoming worse. Seek help if it doesn't get better. This is especially so when you are racing. You may DNF for the present race, but at least you can probably race again later in the season. If you push on, you may actually be injured for the whole racing season.

I can testify to that, and I'm sure a lot of my patients (no names mentioned) can too.

Listen to your body. The longer you've been training, the better you will get at reading the signs of fatigue or injury.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Back Pain Stopping You From Sports?

Something interesting with one of my patients today. Some of the most notorious causes of low back pain, in both elite athletes and weekend warriors are not related to running or your sport at all.

Prolonged sitting is one of the things that actually hurts your lumbar spine. Compressive loads at your L5-S1 region are highest with sitting compared to standing or lying down. It's strange but true, standing actually exerts less stress on your spine than sitting.

I've actually found that competitive movement be it your cycling, running etc may merely aggravate a condition that is caused by the patient's daily activities.

Back to my patient, the back pain disappeared with treatment and minimizing prolonged sitting at work. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't run, bike or jump with back pain.

Treat the cause of the pain, don't just treat the pain.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Excuse (And How to Beat It)

I never run from Christmas Eve to New Year's. Yes, you read it right. I think of it as a well deserved time off. In fact I took two weeks off at the end of each season while I was still racing. Yup, two weeks of no swimming, no cycling & no running.

A regularly scheduled reduction or time off in your running every three to six months will help you stay injury-free and motivated even. The busy weeks between all the turkey you've been stuffing yourself with along with all the drinks and year end parties make it ideal for some down time.

However, when you don't run for longer than two weeks, it becomes harder and harder to start again. And extended stretches of inactivity coupled with festive eating and drinking are bound to result in some weight gain. Hence the motivation I was talking about earlier.

Now for those of you who have yet to start, even a minimal run every other day will help burn off holiday calories while adding some energy to your day.

So as the first week of 2009 comes and goes, remember to take it easy and get started slowly if you still haven't started running. Remember a short run is better than no run.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Running in New Direction Can Prevent Injuries

Did I get your attention? If you have been injured this past year and have started running again recently, or you're just hoping to remain healthy and to run pain free, read on. 

Change 1 thing. It definitely looks odd, but running backwards will help you build stronger, more balanced leg muscles. It also provides a provides a more demanding workout than going forwards since more muscles are used. Forward running works your hamstrings mostly while your quadriceps work mainly to cushion the impact of your foot hitting the ground. 

When you run backwards, you maximize strength in your quadriceps since they work harder to push you backwards while your hamstrings do the reverse and cushion the impact of your foot striking the ground. 

Here's how to include them at the end of your runs. Find a flat and traffic free area. Start out slowly, run backwards for about 50 metres. Walk back and repeat. When you can do 10 comfortably, increase the distance to 100m. Once you become good at this, try running up a gentle slope backwards. Change one thing, to run better. (Photo courtesy of