Hopping: Paula Radcliffe, Mo Farah and me

On Saturday, I repeated the hopping test. I consider the distance covered in 5 hops on one leg is a good test of running-specific strength.  Seb Coe used to do a similar test.  He could cover 25 metres on 8 hops, but as a cronky old-timer my target is much more modest.  Before the episode of arthritis that afflicted me in January 2010, I could cover 9.71 m in five hops on the left leg and 9.24 m on the right.  The discrepancy between legs reflected the fact that previous episodes of arthritis had affected my right knee more than my left.  In contrast, the episode in early 2010 attacked my left knee (in addition to my left wrist and neck).  The arthritic pain lingered through most of 2010, causing me to minimise forces transmitted through the knee.  By December 2010,  I had lost about 20% of my hoping strength, and now my left leg was weaker than my right; I achieved 7.39 m on the left and 7.44 on the right.  My attempts to remedy this loss by plyometrics in early 2011 were thwarted by recurrence of pain in the left knee.

Several other health problems also interfered with training but by late summer 2011, I was once again able to train regularly.  As described in recent posts, in the following 11 months I trained regularly, unhindered by illness or injury, and my aerobic fitness improved greatly.  But by July 2012, I was stuck in a rut.  I found it very difficult to maintain a pace of 5 min/Km for more than a few Km despite evidence of good aerobic fitness.  It appeared that I had such small reserves of muscle strength that even at 5 min/mile pace I was recruiting not only all my type 1 fibres but also most of my type 2 fibres.  Not surprisingly, I could not maintain such a pace for more than a few Km.  A repetition of the hopping test in July confirmed that lack of muscle power was the problem. I covered 7.45 m on the left and 7.77 m on the right.  Eleven months of mainly aerobic training, with a modest amount of hill work and interval training, had produced only a 2% improvement in hopping.

At that stage, I commenced a ‘quick and dirty’ program of weight lifting – ‘dirty’ in the sense that I built up the load quickly, rather than painstakingly developing by the technique and basic all round strength necessary for safe lifting at near maximal capacity.   But at that stage, there would be no prospect of going to maximum loading before the RH half marathon in September so I spent a few weeks building rapidly to moderate loads before returning to predominantly aerobic training for the final few weeks.   In the event, the strategy worked. I ran a reasonably good half-marathon, and then a few weeks later, a satisfying 5K.

Because maximal-effort hopping presents significant risk of musculo-skeletal injury for an elderly person, I perform the test sparingly.  Nonetheless, by last Saturday it was time to repeat it, both to confirm that my training since July had indeed produced an increase in hopping performance, and to provide a base-line for assessing future improvement.   I achieved 8.65 m on the left and 8.46m on the right.  Thus in the past 3 months, I had improved a further 8% , and have now recovered about half of the strength that I had lost following the arthritis in 2010.   In contrast to the 2% improvement produced by 11 months aerobic training including some hills and intervals, 3 months that included a mixture of weights, drills and further aerobic training produced an 8% improvement.   This evidence of increased hopping distance accompanying the improved running performance provided addtional confirmation of the conclusion that I was stuck in a rut in July on account of inadequate muscle power to utilise my aerobic capacity.  The fact that my hopping performance is now about halfway back to where it was at the beginning of 2010 indicates that there is scope for further improvement in hopping capacity, and hopefully, also in running speed. Nonetheless, the question of whether weight training is useful for distance runners remains a matter of controversy

What do the Kenyans do?

In a balanced review of the issues, Pete Pfitzinger remarks with a touch of irony ‘the Kenyans are so secretive in their iron-pumping that no one has ever seen them lift. Travel to Ethiopia, and you will see an equally impressive absence of muscle-building.’  This observation is indeed reason to consider the issues carefully before embarking on a time consuming and demanding weight lifting program.  However, Pfitzinger’s observation must be set against the evidence that very demanding resistance training is not unknown in Kenya.  The fascinating video of the BOSS Baltic team including Asbel Kiprop (1500m gold medallist in Beijing and world champion in 2011) training in the rain at Iten stadium in November 2011 reveals an extremely demanding session that included dragging car tyres around a water-logged track; running against a restraining waist band; and intense plyometric jumps over a series of hurdles.

The experiment with N=1

While there is abundant scientific evidence that combining weight lifting with aerobic training improves running-specific factors such as running efficiency and time to exhaustion when running in the upper aerobic zone, there is no large study that has demonstrated that weight training improves racing performance at any distance from 5K to marathon.  However each athlete is an individual and must weigh up the evidence of what is likely to be helpful for him or her.  There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence regarding the benefits of weight training for individual runners.  How closely do the anecdotes match my own situation?

Paula Radcliffe

Her fourth place in the 10,000m final in Sydney in 2000 demonstrated yet again that Paula lacked the strength in the final lap required for victory at the highest level of competition.   In an attempt to define the problem, Irish physiotherapist, Gerard Hartmann asked Paula to do 20 hops up and down from a 16 inch high box as fast as she could. In contrast to Kelly Holmes who had had achieved 20 hops on and off the same box in 12.5 seconds, Paula took 27 seconds on her first attempt. This led Hartmann to devise a program of plyometric exercises and heavy weight sessions. In 2002, Paula won her first senior world title (long cross country in Ostend, Belgium) and also won her debut marathon in London, in a time only 8 seconds slower than Catherine Ndereba’s world record of 2:18:47.  Later that year, in Chicago, she staked her claim to ownership of the world record by slicing 89 seconds off Nderaba’s best.  The following year, in London in April she recorded the awe-inspiring time 2:15:25, a mark that remains unchallenged.

In my post six months ago following Mary Kietany’s victory in the London marathon in April, in which she shaved a few seconds of Katherine Ndereba’s best, I speculated that a new generation of Kenyan women might be about to mount a serious challenge to Paula’s record.  I should also have added Ethiopian woman to the field of contenders as Tiki Gelana had recorded 2:18:58 in Rotterdam a week before Kietany’s win in London, and Aselfach Mergia had broken the 2:20 mark earlier in the year in Dubai.  Indeed there was no reason to limit my horizon to Africa as the second fastest female marathon runner of all time is Liliaya Shobukove of Russia with a time of 2:18:20 in Chicago in 2011, while about a dozen other woman including Mizuki Noguchi, Irina Mitenko and Deena Kastor have recorded times under the 2:20 mark.   However, so far there has been no sign pointing to an imminent quantum leap in women’s marathoning.  Since April, the only woman to get anywhere near 2:20 was Aberu Kebede with her winning time of 2:20:30 in Berlin in September.  Paula’s record from 2003 looks as secure as ever.

As I watched the video of the BOSS team training in the rain soaked stadium in Iten, I was struck by the contrast between the male athletes and the lone female athlete wearing a red top and blue trousers.  She too dragged the tyre around the track, and battled persistently against a restraining band tethered to a post, but the power of her legs paled in comparison with that of the men.  I do not know what distances she races, and wish to draw no conclusion other than noting that the video provided a graphic illustration of the major gender difference in strength, a difference that is manifest in the power of the movements that are required for running.  In my post in April I had speculated that women should less severely disadvantaged relative to men in the marathon than in shorter events because the event is largely fuelled by reserves of fat, but I think that speculation missed a crucial point. Even the marathon is an event requiring strength, a point illustrated not only by Sammy Wanjiru in Beijing but even more dramatically by Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich in London in April of this year.  His powerful surge shortly after the halfway mark crushed most of his opponents.  He tried a similar tactic in London in August.  But whether it was merely the heat of that August day or the fact that his body was beginning to fatigue after three top-level marathons within 10 months (starting with his near world record breaking win in Frankfurt in October 2011), his strength failed him in August and he faded to third place behind Stephen Kiprotich and Abel Kirui.    Nonetheless, it is clear that the men’s marathon is a test of strength as well as aerobic capacity.   I suspect that Paula stands unrivalled among female marathoners not only on account of her tremendous aerobic capacity but also on account of the strength program that Gerard Hartmann designed for her in light of her dismal hopping test performance in 2000.

However Paula’s story has a sad coda.  After dropping out of the marathon in Athens in 2004 apparently due to complications arising from treatment for a leg injury; her subsequent game but ill-starred attempt in Beijing in 2008 following a stress fracture; and then a failure to even get to the starting line in London in 2012, her Olympic dreams have been dashed.  Of course luck plays a role.  But the video of her world record breaking run in Chicago in 2002, and of her spectacular run in London the following year, reveal a runner tensing almost every muscle as she strains to drive herself onward. Perhaps the unwarranted muscle tension provides a clue to the contrast between her unrivalled performances when her body lasted the distance, and the numerous occasions when her body failed her.   I understand that Gerard Hartmann made a determined efforts to help her reduce the head bobbing that characterised her running prior to 2002, but I wonder whether she might have added an Olympic medal to her otherwise unrivalled record if she had devoted more attention to integrating her strength into a well coordinated, relaxed running style.

Mo Farah

In a press conference shortly after Mo Farah’s dominant performances in the 5000m and 10000m in London in August, Alberto Salazar described how, when Mo joined him team in Oregon 18 months earlier, he was a skinny distance runner who performed strength exercises like a 90 lb weakling.  He recognised that if Mo was to fulfil his potential and hold off the world’s best in the final lap of a 5000m race, he would need strength.  Salazar got him lifting weights alongside Galen Rupp, and the transformation of his physique was dramatic.  In Alberto’s opinion, the seven hours every fortnight spent lifting weights in the gym played a more important part in Mo’s victories in London than the 110 miles a week of aerobic training.

Thus,  anecdotal evidence regarding both Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah indicates that in individuals in who have an identifiable deficit in strength, resistance training including the lifting of heavy weights can produce worthwhile improvements in running performance.

My plans

My goal is to run a good marathon at age 70 but the first step is to run a half-marathon in less than 100 minutes.  I am now within sight of that goal, but I think the evidence that I am limited more by lack of muscle power than by my aerobic fitness in now unequivocal.  There are several options: I could build type 2a fibres by running long hills; I could increase my strength and endurance by training in a weighted vest, just as I acquired the power required to run a marathon in under 2:30 over forty years ago by spending many days walking and climbing up mountains with a pack weighing between 30 and 40% of my bodyweight on my back; or I could lift weights.  I think that in old age, as anabolic hormone production wanes, the surge of anabolic hormones produced by brief periods of heavy lifting makes weight lifting the preferred option.

Lifting weights will develop type 2a aerobic fast twitch fibres.  While these fibres are in themselves of considerable value when running near the upper end of the aerobic zone, especially on a hilly course, the major requirement for a marathoner or half marathoner, is abundant type 1 fibres.  Gehlert’s study of cyclists who switched to program of high volume/low intensity training demonstrates that type 2a fibres can be transformed to type 1 fibres, at least in those individuals who have a predominance of type 2a fibres prior to the switch in training.  Unfortunately, the role of other factors such as one’s genetically determined predisposition towards type fibre 1 dominance in promoting or inhibiting this transformation remain a matter for speculation.

Whatever plans I make for training, it will be a unique experiment on myself.  Neither anecdotal accounts of the experiences of others such as Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah, nor systematic studies of groups such as that conducted by Gehlert will answer the question of how I can best develop the muscle strength that I require.  However, the evidence suggests that the best strategy should include three phases: strength development; incorporation of this strength into a well coordinated relaxed running style: and finally the transformation of at least some of the type 2a fibres to type 1 fibres while I rebuild my aerobic capacity.

As outlined in a recent response to a query from Robert, my current provisional plan is as follows:

Phase 1 (8 weeks) : primary goal – strength development. The key activity will be high load, low repetition weight lifting, together with hills and drills to initiate the incorporation the additional strength into running-specific action, and a modest amount of low aerobic training to maintain my current type 1 fibres.  I anticipate increase in volume of type 2 fibres with only small loss of type 1.

Phase 2 (3-4 weeks): primary goal – incorporation of strength into running action.  I will do hills, drills and intervals to maximize incorporation of strength into a relaxed, efficient running action, with a small amount of weight lifting to maintain strength and a modest amount of low aerobic training. I will evaluate progress in a 5K time trial in January.  The anticipated main changes in muscle will be refined recruitment of fibres rather than a change in fibre composition.

Phase 3 (12 weeks): Primary goal – aerobic development.  I will do predominantly aerobic training with increase in length of runs; some weight lifting to maintain strength; drills. hills and intervals to maintain speed. The program will end with a two week taper to a half marathon in April.   I anticipate conversion of type 2a to type 1 fibres in this phase, but also hope to maintain a moderate proportion of type 2a fibres.

Ewen has picked up the gauntlet in a challenge to be the first to break100 minutes for a half-marathon in April.  My eyes remain focussed on the marathon in the long term, but in the short term, this virtual duel with a fellow spirit from the other side of the globe will add a little spice to my endeavours.

..

35 Responses to “Hopping: Paula Radcliffe, Mo Farah and me”

  1. Thomas Says:

    That’s a fascinating article, Canute. Do you have, by any chance, any details about the program Ger Hartmann gave to Paula Radcliffe? I have heard people talk about it in the past and some do indeed think it was the main reason for her subsequent performances, but nobody seemd do have any real insight in the actual program.

    • canute1 Says:

      Thomas,
      Thanks for your comment. I know only the outline of Paula’s strength program. The plyometrics included depth jumps, side bunny hops, forward bunny hops, and jumping off benches. The strength work included barbell work with heavy weights – especially squats, but also overhead press etc. Some of the advice she received on weights came from Max Jones, former UKA performance director, who acted as her strength and conditioning advisor..
      Overall, she typically spent a similar amount of time on stretching, plyometrics, core stability, barbell work and other strength training, as she spent running. Usually the strength session was late morning, after a snack following her main running session.

  2. Tim Huntley (@MyAthleticLife) Says:

    Can you describe your testing protocol for the 5 hops on one leg?

    Also, check out this youtube video of Linford Christie for a bit of plyometric inspiration (49 seconds into the video is especially cool): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q33pqu-zRas

  3. canute1 Says:

    Tim
    From a standing start, balancing on one leg, I hop forwards for five continuous hops on that leg. I do this on a mown grass surface and measure the distance from the start to the heel indentation produced by the fifth footfall. I then repeat on the opposite leg. I record the best of five sets of five hops. I do a very thorough warm up, including some moderate intensity hopping. Not only is it important to ensure the knee of the hopping leg is well lubricated, but also that the muscles of the swinging leg are primed to deal with the sudden eccentric forces involved in controlling the swinging leg.

    Thanks for the link to the wonderful video of Linford Christie. He puts the plyometrics of the African distance runners in the shade, but one would expect that sprinters would devote even greater efforts to developing power. One potentially important feature is the way he follows each set of hops with a short sprint – either directly from the last hop in the case of the two footed hops or shortly after regaining composure following the one footed hops. I suspect he does this to utilize the greater power that is available for a short period after extremely strong contractions, within his sprinting action, thereby teaching his neuromuscular system how to recruit large numbers of fibres with greater speed.

  4. Robert Osfield Says:

    Hi Canute,

    What weight training have you been doing and are planning for this round of training?

    How often do you plan on doing weights sessions?

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,

      I am in the second week of a program based largely on three barbell lifts: squats; overhead press and dead lift. I chose squats and dead lift because they both engage a very large mass of muscle thereby promoting anabolic hormone release while strengthening legs, trunk and arms, with the main emphasis on the posterior chain (glutes, hams and hip adductors) and quads. I have included the OH press because I am relatively weak in my upper body. However, my goal with the OH press is to ensure that my upper body (especially the shoulders) is not the limiting factor in my ability to do whole body exercises. I want to increase strength with minimal gain in muscle mass in the upper body.

      I do three sessions a week, consisting of warm up and 5×5 repetitions of each lift. I started with relatively light weights and am steadily incrementing the weight in each session. So far I have concentrated on developing a safe technique and have been incrementing weight by only 2.5 Kg is each session. I am still well within my five repetition maximum for squats and dead lifts, so in the next few sessions I will add 5 Kg increments to the squat and dead-lift to ensure that I reach a moderately taxing level by the end of next week. Thereafter I will adjust the size of increments to keep the weight at around the 5RM level. I am aiming to build to a 5RM of around 1.1-1.2 x body weight for the squat and 1.3-1.4 x body weight for the dead-lift after 8 weeks. These targets would be regarded only as beginner level in the weight lifting community but I think are reasonable strength targets for a distance runner. I am also doing body-weight exercises including push-ups and pull-ups for core strength, and leg raises from side plank for the hip abductors and core.

      In addition to the three strength sessions I am doing four running sessions per week – including strides and drills, but I will avoid very demanding running sessions during the strength building phase.

      I anticipate that in the next phase when I attempt to incorporate the increased strength into my running action, I will do ‘single leg’ lifts such as split squats with dumb bells. I will be interested to see if a weight session with few reps at high load immediately before a speed session facilitates incorporation of power into the running action on the principle that a brief intense session facilitates maximal muscle recruitment immediately after.

      • Robert Osfield Says:

        Thanks for details on the specific strength training you are doing.

        I don’t have weights, so am thinking more about what types of strengthening exercises I can do with just using my own body weight. So far I have started playing with hopping and two and one legged squats just using my own weight. I am also planning to try out some box jumps, but first need to find a stable enough box/step to jump and down from as really don’t want to end up injured from a dumb fall!

        Today I did my first run in a week and still my HR is way higher than usual, I still have the cold that has dogged me for over two weeks so this is likely to much of the reason. Being idle for most of the last two week may well be a reason too. Either way the strengthing exercises haven’t helped in a measurable yet other than a little muscle/tendon soreness.

        I do wonder if I should just concentrate on getting my areobic fitness back up to somewhere near normal before embarking on lots of strengthening exercises. Also for the analytical standpoint starting off when ill is probably going to throw off attempts at monitoring responses to strength training in fitness markers such as HR to pace relationships.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,
      I think it is best to recover fully before any demanding strength sessions, though if you are moderately well recovered this is am opportunity to practice your technique while remaining well short of exhaustion.
      I my view, all distance runners can profit from at least a moderate amount of regular strength development including core work to minimise the deterioration of posture in the later stages of a long event, and ‘safe’ plyometrics (eg moderate intensity hopping) in order to maintain a reserve of ability to withstand the eccentric contraction that occur at every foot fall when running. The question of whether it is worthwhile undertaking heavy lifting (ie near the 5 repetition maximum , or above 87% of 1RM) is less clearly established. For an athlete with demonstrable lack of muscular strength I think it is likely to be worthwhile, but maybe less relevant for a naturally strong runner

      I believe spit squats, descending to where the hip is below top of patella, is the best running specific body-weight exercise. The split squat is a version of single leg squat in which the non-working leg is supported on a step or low box behind the body. Supporting the non-working leg facilitates deeper squatting. The split squat can be augmented by hand-held weights (ideally with dumbbells but you can probably improvise). 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each leg with 10 Kg in each hand is a demanding exercise for me. Squatting deep develops both the posterior chain and the quads. Some people argue that deep squatting is bad for the knees but I am more impressed by the argument that the unbalanced development of quads with half squats ultimately places more stress on knee. Despite past knee problems die to arthritis I get no knee pain provided I keep the knee pointing in the same direction as the foot.

      Press ups are an excellent core exercise – I consider than better than the plank because on stabilises the trunk will exerting a dynamic force with the limbs
      .
      It is necessary to be very cautious with plyometrics. I would do them after the body weight exercises when muscle recruitment is likely to be most efficient. I think that bunny hops and hopping on one leg are very good for runners. I am less convinced about depth jumps because they are less like running and more dangerous.

  5. Robert Osfield Says:

    Canute,

    My father is struggling with arthritis in one of his knees right now and as you’ve got through a few boughts now you will know what he’s going through. Recently he’s done a bit of running but is struggling with knee pain, he believes the cartiladge in the knee has been compromised. From your own experience are there things that helped you recover and manage the condition?

    Thanks for any wisdom you can provide.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,
      I am not sure that my experience amounts to wisdom, but here are my non-expert thoughts on the subject. My own experience is consistent with the scientific studies that show that people with arthritis benefit for strength development, though I would refrain from resistance work during the acute phase of rheumatoid arthritis. Over the years, I have experienced a reduction in pain levels during the chronic phase of arthritis, from regular body weight exercises – typically 15 minutes 3 times per week. Squats have been beneficial for my knees. Holding my arms extended horizontally sideways at the shoulders and flexed at the elbow has relieved neck pain. More recently, a variant of front squat with quite heavy weight proved beneficial for my wrist. If there is torn cartilage, exercise might be harmful so this should be properly investigated

  6. Ewen Says:

    Echoing Thomas’s comment (and your reply), it was good to see the rough details of Paula’s program. I wonder if in subsequent years (to the 2:15) did she change the program and if that was a factor in her not replicating the 2:15? Or was it more due to injury and aging?

    Interesting to see the details of your lifting program – also the protocol for your hopping. I must take a tape with me next time I’m down at Calwell. I take it you’re measuring from the toe of the foot you’re balancing on to the heel mark, so you’re actually ‘robbing’ yourself of a little distance there. I’ll do the same though.

    • canute1 Says:

      Ewen
      In fact I do include the foot length in the initial hop, but the essential thing is to be consistent.

      With regard to Paula Radcliffe, I understand that in Jan 2009 she was typically doing two weight sessions (with barbells – eg squats and cleans) and three core sessions (mainly body weight) per week. I am not sure how much plyometrics she was doing at that time – that was within about 9 months of the stress fracture of the femur that restricted her preparation for Beijing. I believe she was also experiencing some foot problems throughout that period – she had had foot problems off and on since the stress fracture in 1994. It was the foot that eventually caused her to withdraw from the Olympics in 2012. Maybe she was forced to cut back on plyometrics on account of these skeletal problems.

      In the end, it has almost certainly been the series of injuries that has prevented her recovering anything like her form of 2003. The issue of whether the injuries could have been prevented is largely a matter of speculation. I suspect she was always inclined to push herself too hard, but thta was also part of the explanation for her success. She appeared to be continually seeking the most appropriate form of cross training to allow her to keep fit while recovering from injury. She did quite a lot of work on the elliptical in 2008.

      In general I am inclined to think that plyometrics are potentially very helpful for a runner, but also very risky. I personally limit myself to various forms of hopping, mostly at only moderate intensity, and never when I am tired.

  7. Robert Osfield Says:

    Hi Canute,

    I just came across this research paper that looks of interest:

    “Aerobic exercise training induces skeletal muscle hypertrophy and age-dependent adaptations in myofiber function in young and older men ”

    http://jap.physiology.org/content/113/9/1495.abstract?etoc

    Robert.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert

      That is interesting. I have only read the abstract and therefore do not know anything about the prior level of training of the participants, which is a crucial factor in interpreting such studies. Nonetheless, it is encouraging that muscle volume, MHC type I and MHC type IIa all increased after the aerobic training, especially in the older men. The fact that ability to exert force did not increase (it actually decreased in the younger men) while MHC IIx decreased and there was no change in total protein or myofibrillar protein suggest that the aerobic training produced a transformation of type IIx to type IIa and type I. Since MHC type IIa and type I are characteristic of aerobic fibres, these changes are beneficial for a distance runner, but are less likely to increase speed. If this speculation is correct, it reinforces the value of doing weight training (to promote generation of additional contractile protein), and either concurrent or subsequent aerobic training to produce a conversion to type I. Although traditional teaching suggests that the aerobic raining should follow a period of weight training, there is growing evidence that concurrent weight training and aerobic training increases both strength and aerobic capacity.

      • Robert Osfield Says:

        Canute,

        I’m inclined to go further and suggest, based on the little tit-bits of evidence, that it may actually be beneficial for some athletes to do a phase of strength training with a modest amount of aerobic then high volume aerobic training with very little high intensity work. This approach would specifically attempt to build Type 2a fibers whilst maintaining Type 1 then convert them as much as possible to Type 1.

        This reason why I suggest this is that I’d be concerned that too much aerobic training when strength training might suppress the Type 2a development, and too much strength/high intensity training whilst doing the aerobic phase would suppress the conversion of Type 2a to Type 1.

        Going with such an approach would be to aim for Type 1 predominance over all other types of fibers which wouldn’t approach for most runners. Ultra-marathoners would probably be the ones to benefit the most.

        A big variable not fleshed out with these studies and pontification is an individuals current balance of fibers and how they respond. For one that struggles to develop Type 2 fibers might end up just strengthening their Type 1 fibers in response to strength training, which of course is a perfectly useful response. Or it could be that such athletes just need a stronger and specific stimulus to develop the Type 2 fibers.

        With the experiment of 1 it’s an interesting problem to know just where one might fit with natural disposition to type of fibers and training response that happen. For myself I’m pretty sure that I Type 1 fiber dominant, with few Type 2b fibers, but just how much my Type 2a fibers come into play I’m finding it hard to pin down.

        Do you know of good ways of working out the balance of fibers and the type of response to training we might see? I’m guess race performances at different distances would probably a good place to start.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert

      Thanks for your comment. The clear cut periodization that you suggest is what I am currently planning, but there are some recent studies showing that concurrent resistance sessions and aerobic sessions produces increase in both strength and in aerobic capacity. Some of these studies suggest that the effect of concurrent training is greater the sum of both alone, while others suggest that both aspects of fitness improve but somewhat less than the sum of each alone. At this stage I am not sure it is possible to identify what accounts for the differences in outcome. I suspect that genetic predisposition and prior training history are likely to play a part. I think one can safely conclude that concurrent training is an acceptable practice, but in at least some circumstances, marked periodization might be preferable.

      I am still weighing up the evidence, but at least for the moment, I am persisting with a predominant focus on weights and only a small amount of aerobic training. I ran only 3×8 Km this week but did four weight sessions including two fairly demanding sessions. I have been steadily increasing the weights lifted, and I am approaching the point where the weight I am lifting for 5 sets of 5 reps is not far short of 5 rep max for all three different types of lift. I expect that for the next 6 weeks the weight sessions will be quite taxing, and I will carefully monitor how well my body copes with three sessions per week. If I cope well I will gradually introduce some fairly high intensity running, but I will not do any long runs until the New Year.

      Muscle biopsy is required to identify one’s fibre composition reliably, but that would only be justified as part of a well designed scientific study. As you suggest, the next best estimate is probably a comparison of performance at different distances. It is intriguing and somewhat paradoxical to note that my performances at distances from 100m to half marathon in recent years all correspond to a WAVA of 74-75%. However, my best 100m and best mile were both recorded before the arthritis 2 years ago, and would almost certainly be substantially less good now. I am hopeful that if I can recover my strength, I can get my performance at short distances back to around 74-75% and perhaps achieve even better than 75% over the longer distances, consistent with my belief that I, like you, are most likely to be type 1 dominant.

      • Robert Osfield Says:

        Thanks for the explanation of you current training. You current training is far more strength specific than I picked up and perhaps even more so than I was envisaging for myself.

        I just put my recent 39:36 10k @ age of 43 into a online WAVA calculator and got 72%, so you got me beat! When I was a early teenager the performances I put in was up in the low 80’s, done on a diet of low mileage interval training and weekend races and hill walks.

        This rather begs the question whether I can come close to this WAVA percentage. Could strength training be the key? Interval training? Looking at my training this year my efficiency is closely coupled with mileage so it does look I respond well to volume. Injury is main thing that is holding back my training though, get over that then I can start playing with intervals and higher volume.

        On the strength training front something that might be useful to try popped into my head last night. Inspired by doing high resistance weights or polymetrics and then low resistance high cadence work/sprints it occurred to me for a distance runner might find it useful to do weights then a burst of 100-Up exercises.

        http://hundredup.com/learn-georges-100-up-running-exercise/

        The advantage of this coupling would largely convenience – you can easily combine weights/polymetrics with the 100-Up in one venue, and you can do both barefoot – no need to don your shoes to head out doors. The barefoot aspect is another training stimulus for both strengthening and brain/muscle coordination/balance.

        The 100-Up needn’t be 100 reps, and cadence and knee lift could be varied to regulate the stimulus. While I haven’t done any regular bouts of 100-Ups when I have tried it I’ve found it very demanding on the hip flexors, which is both good and bad – one needs to be careful with building up to it. The cadence aspect is of interest for distance runners for efficiency and the ability to vary it as we fatigue during a race. The exercise is also likely to help with improving elastic properties of ones time on stance.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,

      I think the combination of a strength session with 100-up is well worth exploring. In the past I combined body weight exercises (eg squats, hip swings etc) with 100-up because it appears to be a effective way of recruiting muscles that are primed for action by the resistance work into a precisely organized, rapid movement that closely resembles the action of running. Since high load/low rep lifting primes the neuromuscular system for strong recruitment, I consider this applies even more strongly to the combination of high load/low repetition lifting with the 100-up.

      This week I am planning combining lifting with Magill drills with the aim of achieving a similar incorporation of the strong muscle contraction into running-related movements. One of the Magill drills is high knees, which has some similarity with 100-up.

      Chris MacDougall has popularised the barefoot performance of the 100-up. I am dubious about this because of the possibility that non-conscious ‘softening’ of the knees to absorb impact might lengthen the time on stance and thereby diminish the power of the rebound. This is perhaps less of a concern for a distance runner than a sprinter. In my own case, on account of my downward protruding metatarsal heads, I consider that some padding under the ball of the foot is essential.

      With regard to the issue of why it is difficult to match one’s youthful performances, there are two main physiological changes with age that are likely to be relevant: decrease in maximum heart rate and decrease in skeletal muscle strength. It is not easy to prevent the decrease in HR max with age. One factor that contributes to the decrease in HR max is loss of the adrenaline receptors in the heart, thereby making the heart less sensitive to the affect of adrenaline. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that HRmax decreases less in resistance trained individuals than in endurance athletes.

      • Robert Osfield Says:

        Man it’s impossible to come up with something you haven’t already thought of! It’s good see that I’m not daft in thinking about combing strengthening and 100-Up.

        W.r.t barefoot and 100-up, I see running barefoot on a hard surface as something you have to train your body for. I want the stimulus to develop stronger soft tissue and bones, and muscle coordination.

        I would expect one would alter the muscle activation when shod vs barefoot when doing 100-Up, I certainly more aware of my ground contact. However, I don’t think soften my muscle activation and increase my contact time. Rather I think I could achieve lower contact time as the lighter foot would make it easier to use a higher cadence. I am reasonably well adapted to a mid-foot strike and regularly run in minimal shoes (Vivobarefoot Neo + Inov8 Trailrocs) so this probably helps me when transitioning to barefoot.

        For someone with a foot issue such as yourself I can see that going barefoot could easily lead to injury when doing a rapid set of 100-Up.

        As for HR max decreasing with age, I agree this will be the case, but… the age grading should be encompassing this and other age related performance losses, which is the point of the WAVA is it not ;-)

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,
      I agree that if you increase cadence you will probably have a shorter ground contact time. The point I was trying to make is that you are likely to exert less force on the ground when barefoot. A sprinter needs to develop ability to exert a large force on the ground. This might be less of an issue for distance runners. Certainly if you are wishing to enhance your ability to run either barefoot, it makes sense to do the 100up barefoot.

      However, I remain unconvinced about the merits of barefoot running even for distance runners. A recent study from Kram’s lab in Colorado shows that efficiency is greater with light shoes relative to barefoot – the light shoes in their studies were Nike Mayflys which weigh only about 136 gm. http://uk.reuters.com/video/2012/05/18/a-little-cushion-makes-for-faster-runnin?videoId=235266120
      In a subsequent study they demonstrated greater efficiency on a padded treadmill (with about 9mm of padding of the type used in Mayflys) compared with a hard-surface. http://www.asbweb.org/conferences/2012/abstracts/261.pdf
      It should be noted that the studies were supported by Nike, though nonetheless, I think Kram’s team are scientifically fairly sound.

      With regard to WAVA, yes, WAVA allows for decease in HRmax and strength, but I understand that WAVA is based on the best performances by older runners relative to the best by young adults. WAVA allows for the amount of deterioration that occurs in those who remain at the elite level into old age. It is likely that those who break world records in old age had the potential to be elite when younger and subsequently suffered less than the average amount of deterioration with age. If you want to avoid a deterioration in WAVA, you cannot afford to suffer a deterioration in performance with age appreciably greater than to that of the individual who set the world record for your age. If you deteriorate at the average rate, it is very likely that your WAVA will decrease. So if you want to maintain your WAVA level, it makes sense to minimise deterioration of HRmax and/or strength.

      • Robert Osfield Says:

        Hi Canute,

        I think you rather missed the point about doing 100-Up barefoot, or at least how I use it. It’s specifically a training tool for strengthening the foot, this strength you carry over to when you are running shod. This is exactly the same concept as you doing weights – you are doing it to strengthen your body, I don’t believe this means that you are planning to go out running with weights carried above your head!

        As for the barefoot vs shod vs barefoot with cushioning. These studies are interesting. Please note that the study shoes that cushioning increases ground contact time not reduce it as you are suggesting. Looking at this evidence it suggests that sprinters should practice barefoot.

        Another bit of evidence about sprinters is that they don’t sprint in cushioned shoes, and it’s known that harder tracks favour sprinters over long distance runners. At the London Olympics this issue was discussed extensively – the track was relatively hard and great for sprint world records, but tough on the distance runners.

        Mechanically the desire to have short time on stance for sprinters requires high stiffness of the lower limbs and all the way down through the feet to the ground. Strong feet that can handle the loads is exactly what sprinters need, and the strongest stimulus you can get for building this strength is running hard on hard surfaces.

        For me, I am no sprinter and have no aspirations for sprinting, my preferred distance is an ultra, so low ground contact time is not critical, instead low time in air is more critical to reducing peak loads – so faster cadence achievable with lighter footwear is an advantage. So I still want strong feet that can handle wearing relatively minimal and lightweight trail shoes for long periods.

        I like to view my whole system as trainable, from the soles of my feet upwards. I think all too often the shoe is seen as the solution to the foot needs when running and specific strengthening of the foot is neglected.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,

      I do not disagree with the idea of doing the 100 up barefoot to strengthen your feet, especially if you do it on a surface that is not too hard. As you imply, we are addressing slightly different issues. My primary purpose in recommending a drill such as 100-up immediately after a weight lifting session is to incorporate the more powerful recruitment of muscle fibres that occurs for a short period after lifting heavy weights, into a running-related movement. I consider that Kram’s data regarding efficiency provides grounds for proposing that lack of padding results in an involuntary avoidance of exerting maximal force against the ground.

      As illustrated by the study of Weyand (Journal of Applied Physiology, vol 89, p1991, 2000) faster speed is achieved with greater ground forces. While a surface that is too soft makes it difficult to achieve strong ground force, if the surface is too hard, a barefoot runner will non-consciously refrain from exerting maximal push against the ground. Sprinters benefit from a firm surface, but do not run barefoot on concrete.

      Clearly the optimum degree of padding depends on the firmness of the surface as well as on the padding in the shoe. On the basis of the finding by Kram’s team that efficiency is maximal for either a light weight shoe (such as the Mayfly with a 9 mm EVA sole)) on a firm surface, or barefoot on a treadmill with 10 mm of EVA, I am inclined to think that 10mm of EVA foam between foot and a hard surface is the best available estimate of what is optimal at the speeds that were employed in Kram’s study, but further research is required to identify the metabolically optimum amount of cushioning at various different speeds. Whether that the padding is in the shoe or on the surface probably does not matter.

      I also agree that it is sensible for runners to strengthen their feet, and maybe it is practical to include that in your general strengthening session. But to maximise the incorporation of more effective recruitment of muscles that is facilitated by lifting heavy weights, I think the evidence suggest that this will be most effective when padding is adequate to prevent involuntary avoidance of exerting a large force against the ground.

      Of course, it is risky for a distance runner to exert very large forces for the duration of a marathon, but I suspect that a runner who has developed the strength to exert much larger forces than those required when running at marathon pace will be more resistant to fatigue and will in fact be less likely to suffer injury during a long race.

      • Robert Osfield Says:

        Hi Canute,

        I have re-read the paper on cushioning and metabolic cost again and have to agree with you, and correct my earlier assertion that barefoot had shorter time on stance. I’ve been thinking about this further an believe some interesting observations can be extrapolated from the paper and in particular there isn’t a simple relationship w.r.t time on stance. In order of time on stance, :

        0.225 sec, Barefoot and 10mm treadmill cushioning
        0.230 sec, Barefoot and 20mm treadmill cushioning
        0.231 sec, Barefoot and no treadmill cushioning
        0.242 sec, Shod

        In last place is the runner with shoes, and in second and third – barefoot and 20mm cushioning and barefoot are extremely close. So for this speed they chose to test at there clearly is an optimum cushioning of the ground for minimizing ground contact time, too little ground contact time goes up, too much and the same happens.

        Efficiency wise the the 10mm and 20mm cases are very close, with the 10mm edging out the 20mm case by 0.21%, but both are more efficient that just barefoot or the shod case. Given the ground contact time of the 10mm and just barefoot are almost identical we have to conclude that the majority of the efficiency improvement isn’t down changes in ground contact time.

        One aspect not picked out by the ground contact times is that the cadence is different in each of the conditions. The cadence goes down from the 200 for barefoot (SF of 1.671) and no cushioning through to the 195 for shod case (SF of 1.628), this trend isn’t surprising, but the cadence does seem rather high. I believe things get interesting when you start looking more closely at what the stride frequences tells us about the time in air, and from this time_in_air/time_on_stance ratio, if my maths is correct we get:

        Barefoot, time_in_air=0.068, time_on_stance=0.231, ratio=0.2953
        10mm, time_in_air=0.0701, time_on_stance=0.225, ratio=0.31164
        20mm, time_in_air=0.0728, time_on_stance=0.231, ratio=0.3153
        Shod, time_in_air=0.0651, time_on_stance=0.242, ratio=0.2691

        The time in air does seem quite short to me, also suggests that the peaks loads will be low, but this is for barefoot runners doing 8min/mile pace so not fast. I can’t recall the formula we used previous for estimating the peak loads given time_in_air and time_on_stance, I could derive it right now but have too many other things I really should be doing. The thing that does jump out is that Shod condition has the lowest ratio of all, it’s almost like the runners are adopting a shuffling gait, but with a forceful pull through of the lifted leg while still on stance to keep the pace up.

        Thinking about it now, I do wonder if the stance times the papers uses is the total stance time for both feet for one full stride… rather than just the stance time per footfall.

        If the figures are correct then it would seem that the ratio of time_in_air/time_on_stance is a better predictor of economy than time on stance. This would suggest the more powerful stride is the more efficient one. This finding would also support your assertion that too little cushioning would resort in less powerful muscle activation.

        So for the 100-Up case it would look to optimize stimulus for maximum force generation than a 10mm rubber/foam mat would be appropriate and done barefoot.

      • canute1 Says:

        Robert,
        Thanks. Your analysis is very interesting, though the reason I had not focused on stance time and cadence in my previous response is that the differences in time on stance are very small and apparently not statistically significant. There are not significant according to an independent samples t test. In this study there might be grounds for a paired sample t test (which usually is a more powerful test of significance), but it is unlikely that these differences would be significant even on a paired sample t test, so I do not think we should base firm conclusions on these values. However as you point out, cadence was higher with less padding, and consequently airborne time was less, and ratio of airborne to stance time was also less. So while I would not wish to over-interpret these small differences, I agree that the numbers are in line with what I would have predicted. With 10mm of padding, it appears that vGRF is greater and this is associated with greater efficiency.

        Overall, it appears we are in agreement. On the one hand we both agree that strengthening the feet is worthwhile, but we also agree that modest amount of padding will encourage greater force generation, which is one of the objectives during strength training session. With regard to force generation it probably does not matter whether the padding is in the shoe or on the ground, but the greater freedom to use the intrinsic muscles of the foot when barefoot is an argument in favour of having the padding on the ground.

        During a race it is probably also desirable to exert relatively greater force and achieve greater efficiency, though it might increase the risk of injury. If the primary goal is to run long distances without injury, one might be better off exerting less force. Therefore, the debate regarding whether barefoot running is safer than shod running remains an open question.

        In some of my debates with Pose enthusiasts I have found it difficult to get across the concept that one might sometimes be faced with a trade-off between safety and mechanical efficiency. I general, for the recreational runner, safety is the frist priority, but I believe that the best answer is to develop sufficient reserve strength that one can cope safely with relatively high vGRF.

      • Robert Osfield Says:

        Hi Canute,

        I think the relationship between high vGRF and most cushioning is interesting from an efficiency and training stimulus standpoint, but it’s also interesting from what it suggests about injury risk and proprioception.

        The observation that cushioning increases loading and loading rates with it, will be counter intuitive to most runners. It’s a finding that has been observed in other studies, and while this particular study didn’t focus on it the analysis I have done does suggest that it backs up these findings. Peak loads and loading rates have also been picked out as risk factors for injury so it’s no big stretch to correlate cushioning with increased injury risk.

        From the proprioception point of views it suggests to me that nerve endings on the feet are far more effective form of feedback to runners than any other nerve centers in the rest of the body. If the feet say you are pounding hard the body listens and tempers the loading and reduces loading on the feet and the rest of the body. I think it also suggests that it’s pressure rather than loads that we are responding to, as the loads on the feet are higher when running on the cushioned surface, but the load will be distributed more evenly. Could it be that the nerves also respond to loading rate rather than just pressure?

        It would be interesting to see how runners respond to sprung hard surfaces rather than foam cushioned ones. This would help tease out the relationship between local pressure and overall forces w.r.t proprioceptive response.

        Kinda… taken you off topic, sorry :-)

  8. canute1 Says:

    Robert,
    Thanks for that comment. Our conversation has strayed from the original topic, but I agree this is a very interesting issue. In particular I agree that the feet provide influential feedback. The question of what aspect of the impact that the brain responds to is a challenging question.

    • Robert Osfield Says:

      It occurred to me after making my last post that we should be able to train ourselves to respond differently to the feedback from our feet, and actively manipulate the external stimulus to achieve various training and racing goals.

      If our bodies get used to running without cushioning our brains will accept a higher level of sensory feedback from our feet that is safe. Will in effect desensitize how much we regular out force generation. Then when we want to generate more forces if we add modest cushioning we’d be able to extend the peak forces that our bodies are happy to generate. So train hard, race soft if you will.

      I’ll note that typically runners train in highly cushioned shoes and race in lighter weight less cushioned shoes. The light weight is good, and perhaps the level of cushioning might be closer to optimum for efficiency, but our bodies will certainly be aware of greater loads on our feet and likely to regulate force generation because of it.

      For strength training perhaps one should do weights barefoot on stiff floor to get maximum sensory stimulation and then the drills barefoot on modestly cushioned surface.

      So… finally I’ve gone full circle and able to get back on topic :-)

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,

      I agree with the logic of doing a substantial amount of training with minimal padding to help the brain adapt to the messages from the feet, but would be cautious. For example, in a week with high volume, I might not use minimal padding for the long run. At present I do most of my training in my road racing shoes which are fairly light weight, but wear my slightly heavier trainers when running on paths with sharp stones or gravel

      • Robert Osfield Says:

        Hi Canute,

        If cushioning does lead one to applying greater forces then it would be the follow simplification be appropriate:

        easier on your feet the harder it is on the rest of your body

        harder on your feet the easier it is on the rest of your body

        So.. for those long runs in cushioned shoes might we making it easier on the feet but increasing the loads on the rest of the body?

        I still do my long runs in more cushioned shoes, so I’m still following the usual doctrine. I am still consider myself transitioning from more built up shoes to more minimal so have been cautious. It’s over two years since I wore a conventional trainer, and about 1/4 of my miles over the last year have been in zero drop zero cushioned shoes (Vivobarefoot Neo Trails) so I’m probably quite a long way along my transition, but still the thought of running 20 miles without cushioning is quite daunting.

        Doing a long run without cushioning is something I will experiment with in the coming months. It will be interesting to see how me feet and the rest of my body respond. If the above rules are reasonable then we should expect my feet to ache more but the rest of my body should be stressed less.

        One last thing I should add is I’ve used my Neo Trails for almost all my recovery runs, I do find that it helps keeps my pace down and forces me to be more aware of my form. The extra sensory feedback brings it’s own pleasure, so previously where I’ve found recovery runs a drudge I rather enjoy just ambling along. It could also be that getting nearer to barefoot means that I’m reducing the loads on the rest of my body making it a more effective recovery run.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,

      The question of cushioning and safety remains uncertain. The original point I made was about the way to maximise the force exerted during a brief drill, during which repetitive stress injury is less likely than in a long run.

      In fact my experience from my younger days when I wore Onisuka Tigers (approximately zero drop with very thin soles) for most of my training on tarmac surfaces suggest that for a lightly built young person, the risks of long runs in minimalist shoes are not high. However, I am a bit more cautious now as my feet feel a little more vulnerable – probably due to atrophy of the fats pads under my metatarsal heads. Nonetheless, when it comes to safety, (especially the avoidance of metatarsal stress fracture) we simple do not have clear-cut evidence, so I tend to be cautious.

      The Vivobarefoot Neo trail shoe is a bit heavier than even my heaviest trainers (NB890v’s) which I use on stony ground. On tarmac, the NB890v’s feel very cushioned. I accept that even a minimalist trail shoe needs a fairly rugged sole to cope with rocks, but I am surprised by how heavy the Neo trail is.

      • Robert Osfield Says:

        I do wish my Neo Trails were lighter, but don’t find they are heavy weighing in at ~225g’s for my size 6 1/2’s. They are heavier than my Trailroc 245’s which are ~200g’s for the same size. The Trailroc’s provide more cushioning and a rock plate so the ground feel is less, but still feel some stones on hard packed trails through.

        There is no doubt that Trailroc is faster shoe all round, better grip, lighter and modest level of cushioning. I still find the NeoTrails worthy of inclusion in my shoe rotation as they are just so comfortable without socks and great for recovery runs where slow pace is very much the intent. I’d recommend use similar minimal shoes as part of a runners toolbox.

        On the topic of strength training, follows is a paper that finds protein supplementation effective for increase muscle mass and strength following resistance training:

        http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2012/11/06/ajcn.112.037556.abstract?papetoc

        My personal favorite recovery food/disk is chocolate milkshake or drink made from homemade yogurt+fruit juice. I’m guessing both these will qualify as providing a bit of protein.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,

      Thanks for the link to the meta-analysis on the effects of protein, on development of muscle mass and strength.

      Milk is almost certainly a good post-exercise recovery fuel, recommended by runners like Peter Magill and by strength gurus, such as Mark Rippetoe. Rippetoe actually recommends that people doing serious weight lifting should drink a gallon of milk a day- ‘GOMAD’. But that raises the issue of whether the goal is building strength or muscle mass. The two are linked, but perhaps surprisingly, not closely linked – probably because strength development depends on development of both muscle mass and muscle recruitment.

      People whose primary goal is building muscle need to consume a lot of protein. Rippetoe’s GOMAD disciples usually gain quite a lot of muscle mass. My primary goal is building strength, but I do need to develop at least some muscle mass, so I consume a snack containing about 20 gm of protein (often fish) after each weight session.

      After a running session, milk has the added advantage of achieving re-hydration in addition to a modest amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates in approximately equal proportion.

      I understand that Tim Noakes has become a strong advocate of avoiding bread, pasta and cereals and now recommends a diet with a fairly high protein content. He reports that since omitting bread, pasta, cereals etc and eating mainly healthy meats, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and fats, he is running faster than he has run for 20 years. I do not know what he thinks about milk, but as far as I can see, it fits well with his recommendations. However, his down-grading of carbohydrates has been rather controversial, especially because of his recommended diet is light on fibre.

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