Hips and Glutes – Also Important in Swimming

Being somewhat bitter about having to swim in the first place, I am determined to get the most out of being banished to the pool. So, even though I am not actually a swimmer or particularly interested in becoming one over the long term, being stuck with it short term has made me get interested in various points of technique.

Right now my big area of concern is my kick because it has no power. Why does it have no power? Because of the exact same problem I have as a runner – tight hips and weak glutes. These are two problems that make me a 9 minute mile runner instead of the 8 minute mile runner I’d like to be.

Not coincidentally, it is also likely part of my issue with the posterior tibial tendinitis. It’s an overuse injury, but one that I might not have been prone to if my hips and butt were doing what they are supposed to.

This hip and glute problem carries over into swimming, apparently. So, I figure that if I can fix it in the pool, it might also help my running.

From what I have read, it’s a two-part problem – in order to get more power from the kick, I need to engage my glutes and have more flexibility in the hips (glutes apparently can’t engage when the hips are stiff – which makes sense since they are in opposition).

How does one do this? There are 3 things to focus on:
1) Keep the knees straight – don’t let the knee do the work the hips should be doing. The knees shouldn’t be locked, but they shouldn’t really be bending much either. Straight but soft.
2) Think about squeezing the butt while kicking- this gets the glutes activated and puts the kick motion into the hips instead of the knees.
3) Point the toes. This helps the water move in the right direction, and keeps the ankles from acting as a drag anchor.

I’ve always been relatively good about the knees and toes, but the butt squeeze seemed to be the missing piece of the equation. Without it, keeping knees and toes straight meant I wasn’t getting power from them, but I wasn’t getting it from the hips either. So I had no power coming from anywhere.

Incorporating the butt squeeze definitely added some speed to my kick but I also note that it makes me WAY sorer than I’m used to being when I swim. So, it must be doing something, right?

The other piece is to loosen up the hips. I try to stretch them but most of the stretches I know don’t seem to do all that much. They always seem to get the quads – the hip flexors get sore, but they never seem to get more flexible.

So I decided to consult the trusty internet and found this helpful video.

I tried it and it seems like one I can actually do on the pool deck. Also, it feels like it gives a good stretch to the hips without stretching or tightening the wrong things.

Pool Running

On Monday, I still thought I had a plan in place whereby I would be getting back to running and doing PT and all would be well, but I also knew I was having ankle pain and that when that is the case, running on it was not a great idea. So, since Monday was supposed to be a running day, I decided to try something new: pool running.

However, what I did not do was actually investigate ahead of time how you are supposed to do pool running. I mean, it sounds like the name tells you what you need to know: get in the pool and start running. Right?

But no. There is a right way and a wrong way, and there is a bit more to it than just dunk and go. Although, that was my approach. I just went to the pool and found an open lane. It happened to be about 3.5 feet deep. My legs would be underwater, I figured that was probably enough, so I jumped in and started to run.

It didn’t feel so great. There was still quite a bit of impact on the ankle, it was very hard to stabilize the foot underwater for the landings, and the tile tears up the bottom of the feet. So, my little experiment was sort of a failure.

Being the sort of person I am (shoot first, ask questions later) I decided to go home and figure out why what I was doing didn’t work.

For starters, you are supposed to be completely submerged. Most sources recommend you do pool running in 5′ or more of water. Your feet should not be touching bottom. As you are running completely submerged (well, except for your head of course), there will be no impact on the foot structures. This is the part that is important for injured runners such as yours truly to prevent reinjury.

You are also supposed to try to maintain proper running form – standing tall, high cadence, etc. You basically are just running in place, or with slight forward motion, under the water. This is the part that provides running specific training. Evidently your body will try to turn this into a dog paddle or half baked swimming, so you are supposed to be wearing some sort of flotation device so that your legs are working on running, and not trying to keep you afloat.

There is also another type of pool running that involves a tether and not being completely submerged, but that isn’t what you want to be doing with an injury.

This following video gives a good overview of how to do a pool running workout.

Some other resources I found helpful include:
Pool Running and Why You Are Doing it Wrong from StrengthRunning
Head for the Pool from Runners World
Best Pool Running Workouts by Eat Run Read

Now that I know what I was doing wrong, I will probably try this again the right way and maybe incorporate pool running in place of regular running in my workout plan.

So I guess I can keep being the Eat and Run Mom – I might just be doing the running in the pool for a while.

Your turn:

Pool running: have you tried it?
What other exercise is good for injured runners?

Eat and Swim Mom

I’m sitting here with sore shoulders right now, from doing one of the few forms of exercise that I can still do on my sore ankle. Non-weight bearing is pretty much where it’s at for me until further notice, so it looks like I will be doing quite a bit of swimming until this ankle situation gets sorted out. And spin classes (mostly sitting down). And whatever else I can come up with that does not involve standing or moving around upright.

Maybe I will have to change the name of the blog?

Here are some possibilities:
Eat and Swim Mom
Eat and Run in the Pool Mom
Eat and Stationary Bike Mom
Eat and Do A Lot of Knee Push-ups Mom
Eat and Pet the Cat Mom…

20140528-134746.jpg

That’s one vote for petting the cat.

And yes, in the absence of running posts, the Eat and Run Mom has been reduced to posting gratuitous cat pictures. That’s how far the mighty have fallen…

So okay, enough whining. Since I can’t run, today was a swim day. And you know what? Swimming is some hard damn work! I suspect that is why I have never particularly cared for it in the past. It’s probably more work than it should be since my stroke is not so great. Something to work on while swimming endless laps for the next few weeks I guess.

Running is so easy – at least, the way I do it, it is. Or was. Can’t say the same for swimming.

Another issue I have with swimming is that unlike running, it’s not just strap on shoes and go. There are two clothing changes involved – before and after.

Plus, the whole showering up afterwards thing is a pain. I can run around town all day long in my sweaty workout clothes if I want to, and nobody looks at me funny. They might not want to stand too close to me, but otherwise it’s not a problem. Can’t walk around town in a wet swimsuit though, or you get refused service in public places.

Also, if I swim, I have to wash my hair more often than twice a week. Those are precious minutes I am never getting back. Actually come to think of it, that part is kind of nice – for me and everyone else.

Showering in peace. Just one more thing I’ve missed since I had kids!

So anyway, I swam laps for about 30 minutes while my youngest monkey was in a swim lesson. I definitely felt it a lot in my butt, lower abdominals, lats and shoulders. Felt like a good workout, and it hurt less than I remember.

If I could work up to an hour at a time a few days a week, I’d definitely feel like I accomplished something.

Okay – now it’s your turn.

If you couldn’t run, what kind of exercise would you do?

How do you feel about swimming? Love it, hate it, or neutral about it?

How To Get Faster

One of the things that is coming out of my PT sessions is that the old adage about having to choose speed or distance and that it’s really hard to work on both is really true. I tried doing both and screwed up my ankle.

For right now, it is looking like I am going to have to choose speed, since my ankle can’t handle the stress of doing a lot of long runs right now. So my plan is to focus on speed at the shorter distances.

But, how does one get faster, anyway? Obviously, running lots of miles doesn’t make you fast, so what does?

Run Eat Repeat just posted a vlog about this topic, 5 Tips to Run FASTER.

In a nutshell, her advice is to:

1) Do speedwork. Duh. A lot of people try to get faster by just running more miles. This was basically my plan in 2013. It works a little bit just through an increase in fitness, but you will reach a point of diminishing returns pretty quickly. And then you injure yourself…

There are a lot of different kinds of speedwork. Some people do 800s, 400s, tempo runs, sprints, strides. I couldn’t tell you pros and cons of any of them, but the point is you need to do some kind of speedwork in order to actually get faster. (I.e., go faster to get faster).

Since I am going to focus on shorter distances, and I lost a lot of fitness with surgery and injury, I am starting out with 400 repeats. When my endurance improves I’ll probably go to 800s. But for now 400s is good. On Thursday, I did 5×400 repeats for a total workout of about 2.5 miles. It was actually supposed to be 6×400, but I was so tired after 4 that I backed way off on the 5th repeat and gave up entirely on the 6th. Gotta start somewhere though.

The repeats were run at 9:15, 8:45, 8:15, 7:45, and 8:45. Next time I probably won’t make that jump to 7:45 until the last repeat, but I just wanted to see if I could do it. Since the answer is just barely, I will have to save it for the end next time.

2) Speed up your cadence – Again, go faster to get faster. This is actually a form issue that I’ve been working on for a while. The ideal running cadence is supposed to be somewhere around 180 steps per minute. Mine tends to be slower, so I downloaded an app for my phone called Metronome Beats to use when I run. There is a little ball that bounces back and forth and I try to match up my footfalls.

3) Run with someone faster – this is one I probably won’t be doing very often since most of the runners I know who are faster are running the longer distances.

4) Maintain an optimal running weight – better known to most people as losing some weight. I suspect this is an item I need to consider. I am not overweight in a general sense, but what is optimal for running faster is not necessarily the same as your weight that would otherwise be considered normal or ideal. Gravity sucks for runners, even more than for the average person. I know this because I ran on an “antigravity treadmill” this week and noticed that with 25% of my weight removed I was suddenly considerably faster and had a lot less ankle pain than I normally do. So I think it is something I need to look at.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be ridiculous about this. It’s important to maintain perspective, after all. Also, running is not an excuse to be anorexic – So how do you figure out what is a healthy, optimal running weight? I’m not sure, so I’ll have to look into it and write a post just on this topic. I think 10% of my body weight would probably be a doable number, though, and a healthy one that at one point I have weighed and maintained during my adult life.

5) Form – this is one I’ve been working on for a long time. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things going on, so I just pick one thing at a time to focus on. A big one has been pushing off vs. reaching forward, not crossing the midline and staying quiet in the upper body. I’ve been able to improve some areas of my form but it is an area I really need to work on. Again, probably worthy of a separate post just on this topic.

In addition to these areas, there are a couple of other things I can do to get faster.

1) Strength train – I have a home exercise program from my PT sessions that I am doing, which is working on some of the weak areas in my “drive train.” My ankle injury occurred due to weakness in the hips and possibly lack of mobility in the big toe, which the exercises are supposed to address. An added benefit of improving strength and mobility in those areas should be an increase in speed.

2) Cross training – running is the best exercise for runners, but it is very hard to improve quickly when you’re coming back from an injury or a surgery by just running more miles. The body can’t take it. To improve cardio fitness without injuring myself, I need to do some other type of low impact cardio activity. So for now, I’m going to be running 2 – 3 times a week as long as my ankle doesn’t hurt, doing spin class a couple of times a week and using the elliptical and the Adaptive Motion Trainer the rest of the time. Plus strength training / rehab exercises pretty much every day.

That’s how I plan to get faster. Is getting faster something you’re working on? Tell me your plan in the comments!

Are You Genetically Lazy?

I have often wondered why some people like exercise and others don’t. When I was a kid I wouldn’t say I was a person who really enjoyed exercise, primarily because I wasn’t good at most sports due to lack of practice, and the fact I wasn’t good at it meant I didn’t want to practice, creating sort of a negative feedback loop.

As I got older I started liking it more, I think primarily because my tolerance for not being good at things got higher as I got older. Not knowing how to do something, or just not being good at it, wasn’t a blow to my self esteem. I knew that there were other things that I was good at, making lack of mastery in the sports arena less threatening. For instance, I enjoy running but I know I’m not and likely never will be a fast runner. And that’s okay. I find the exercise itself is rewarding, and I like how I feel after.

I know this is not the case with everybody. Some people really struggle with motivation to exercise. Which seems odd, because it’s something our bodies really need – you’d think that psychological issues aside, we’d all be equally motivated to do it. But science is showing that’s not really the case.

This video from ASAPscience shows that research is proving that there is a genetic mutation that can be responsible for some people’s couch potato tendencies.

I think there is also a habit and nurture aspect to this as well. For me, I am motivated inherently to exercise IF I’ve been doing it enough. When I’m fit, my body starts to crave exercise if I don’t do it enough. But if I let myself get out of the habit and out of shape, I will have no motivation at all – mostly because I know that exercise = pain if I’m not in shape. And it will take a few weeks of pain to get back to being in shape to the point where I enjoy it again.

So it is a habit – and one that you have to experience some pain to develop. There could also be a nurture aspect, in that if no one models for a child that it is possible to get past the pain to a point of enjoyment, and also that this is a desirable and enjoyable thing to do once you get that far, then that child might not have much motivation to seek out that experience. Which in humans, may play into a “generational couch potato” link as well.

On Sugar, Carbs and Moderation

Often times, when I need to post something to the blog, I scour my social media accounts to see what people are talking about out on Los Internetos. Today I happened across this interesting article by marathon training guru, Hal Higdon that my friend W “liked” on Facebook.

The article was about carbs – and the fact that runners need them.

This startlingly obvious fact (obvious if you remember high school biology, where we all learned that muscles make glycogen from carbohydrates, and glycogen = energy) sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of all the hype that exists nowadays around high protein / low carb diets.

It sometimes seems like you can’t shake a stick without someone telling you they eat Paleo, are are on a no sugar challenge, or are trying to convince you that their pizza crust made from cauliflower tastes good.

To which I say No. No, it doesn’t. And if you want pizza, have pizza, but have it with a salad and eat one slice like a reasonable person.

Notice I said one SLICE, not one pizza. This is the kind of detail that can get people into trouble.

I do think there is definitely some benefit to consuming less sugar, especially as compared to the diet of the average person in North America. Our food is full of ingredients our bodies didn’t evolve to handle in the quantities we are consuming.

But as with most things, moderation is key. Your body may not really need to be eating the amount of carbs that is typical here in the United States, but it does need some, especially if you are an athlete.

“Athlete” being defined as someone who places a large energy demand on their body (works out) on a regular basis. I always feel funny thinking of myself as an athlete – but I do work out 1 – 2 hours a day, as hard as I can stand. It is a big energy demand, even if all that work doesn’t pay off in speed, necessarily.

I’m an athlete – a slow athlete! But I’m working on it.

Anyway, the big question really is how much is the right amount of carbs to be eating, and what kind of carbs are we talking about. Hal’s article tackles this subject really well, so I won’t repeat it – you should read it.

But aside from knowing your caloric needs, and percentage of total intake and carb needs based on weight and activity, another really good guideline is to listen to your body. How are your moods? How often do you find yourself craving sweets? Eating too much sugar can lead to craving more, as your body experiences swings in blood sugar.

Are you having trouble finding the energy to get through your workout, or even just your day to day activities? Maybe you need to eat more good quality carbs.

My own philosophy on carbs generally, and sugar in particular, is that there really isn’t any food that is inherently good or bad. Most of the issues people run into with food have more to do with portions and how much we are eating, versus specifically what.

Even sugar (the refined white kind that people love to hate on) is not inherently bad, it’s more that the amount of it we are eating these days is way out of whack with what our calorie needs are, and out of whack with the intended purpose of sugar is. More than a teaspoon or two a day, is probably too much.

Sugar is a treat, a sometime food as Cookie Monster would say.

So my take is, I try not to get too worked up about the whole sugar thing, but also keep an eye on it. I have rules. My rules are:

1) I read labels to make sure that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are not in foods where they should not be. Or if they are, at least I am aware of it.
2) I try to ensure that when I do eat carbs, I balance them out with a protein of some sort (a cookie and milk, for instance). Fat tends to take care of itself.
3) I try to keep the refined sugar to a minimum without being obsessive about it. I’m not drinking my coffee without a little sprinkle of it. Neither am I going to pour in a giant pile of it.
4) I try to avoid sugar before noon – except for the coffee.
5) Treats are okay, but they can’t be an everyday, all the time thing.

An example of the philosophy is that we do eat cookies at our house, but when we do I try to make them myself vs. buying store bought since it is all too easy to let cookies become an all the time thing when it’s so easy to bring a dozen home from the store. Plus, if something is a treat, let it be a real treat – nothing is better than a homemade chocolate chip cookie. Maybe two. But not the whole batch.

Which is why I make them, we eat a few, and the rest I try to pawn off on other people.

What is your approach to carbs and sugar? Do you have rules. Do you do the Paleo thing?

Hello Fabletics – Goodbye Stinky!

I have not been paid to review or promote any of the brands or products I mention in my blog.

One of the things that sucks about working out a lot is how stinky the workout clothes get. Stuff tends to last about 4 months of regular wear before it gets so funky that it has to be replaced. The clothes still look okay, but the instant the body starts to heat up, the stink returns.

There are special products you can wash your clothes with, but they seem to mostly be about masking the smell with perfumes. The clothes still smell. The reality is, unless you want to be that person at the gym who stinks before the workout even starts, you have to replace the workout clothing pretty frequently.

Usually I get mine at either Target or Marshall’s, because I don’t see the point of investing a lot of money in something that has to be replaced so often. Marshall’s is kind of hit or miss, though, and Target is the danger zone. You walk in to buy a $15 jog bra, you leave with $300 worth of stuff to redecorate your living room.

Danger. Zone.

20140507-142936.jpg

Anyway, when you go through a lot of workout clothes, and you know you will be replacing them all the time, you are always on the lookout for a good deal.

That’s why I am really excited about Fabletics. It’s a company co-founded by Kate Hudson (the actress – not a selling point, but kind of an interesting fact) that makes cute workout gear that is in approximately the same price range as the higher end Target stuff.

What sets them apart is their VIP program. If you sign up as a VIP you get a full workout outfit (bottoms and top) for as low as $25 when you first sign up. Your first order might be a bit more depending on the styles you choose – but still a great deal. My outfit was $35 for 3 pieces.

After the first order, Fabletics selects a new workout outfit for you on the 1st of each month for $49.95. You have until the 5th to review the order and either accept it, skip the month or select a different outfit.

If you don’t accept or skip, you end up with a $49.95 credit in your account that you can use later. They do not automatically send you anything, and you are not obligated to buy, but you do have to remember to go in and review, accept or skip or you will be charged for a $49.95 credit.

You can also cancel your membership at any time with no fee, and they have a one-time “I forgot to review my order” refund policy on the credit. So if you mess up, they work with you to fix it.

It seems like a good program, and the prices are really great. I just signed up and ordered today, so I haven’t received anything yet. When I do, I will review the quality and sizing of the products I receive. For now, what I am excited about is the price and the program itself. I really like the styles the company makes, and I do go through a lot of workout clothes. So it is a great way to make sure I am replacing stuff often, so I don’t stink up the gym.

Where do you get your workout clothes? What do you think of a program like this? Would you ever try it?