Take a break or you will risk your body demanding one

Many runners train for marathon after marathon in the hopes of running a personal best and/or qualify for the Boston Marathon. You know how it is. Train for 12-16 weeks for a goal, then on race day it is 90 degrees or  30 mph winds, making it impossible to meet your desired finish time. So, you take a week or two off and then train for another 26.2 mile journey, and another and…. This eventually will result in training oneself into a long  unwanted “break”-an injury and complete fatigue and marathon times get slower.

runner laying on streetRead more here on the lost art of recovery.

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Fivefingers on trial

vibram21Did you fall prey to the barefoot running trend a few years ago?  Sure, there is some evidence that those who grew up walking barefoot, walking for transportation 10-50 miles a day on dirt, will have strong feet and adapt to running some barefoot.

Does that describe your background? Or were you one of the ones that felt it could be a short cut to faster race times because it is easier to change shoes than lose weight or work on running form?

Well, as with any new fad, it takes time for the truth to surface. Read more here on the class action lawsuit against Vibram FiveFingers.

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Wheat Belly or Calorie Belly?

wheat_field_pictureAlthough it didn’t start the craze, it did not help that Lady Gaga told Australian cable news that she was “on a mission to lose 10 pounds by eating wheat free”…. “hoping that it will give her the energy she needs”. But more recently, with the publication of the diet book Wheat Belly by William Davis, this myth’s popularity is really taking off. But, not your pounds, as it suggests.

Whenever anyone goes on any restrictive diet, they usually end up eating less food and can lead to a temporary weight loss. This is not a long-term solution to someone who is trying to attain a healthy body weight, and more importantly, will risk health consequences as a result of leaving valuable nutrients out of their diet.

However, if you are diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten-free (wheat free) diet is warranted. Read more about gluten-free diets on post Grain of Truth.

This “eliminating wheat rage” makes it difficult to eat fast food and large portions of breads, bagels, pasta, pizza, cookies, muffins and dozens of other foods that most people easily overindulge on. And, what foods are left? Meats, fruits and vegetables- all of which are more difficult to over consume. But this restricted diet will quickly lead to boredom and over time low in important types of fiber, and the key nutrients magnesium, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B6, folic acid and if you do not consume lean meats you will become deficient in iron and zinc. These deficits, along with low glucose for the brain and muscles will leave you fatigued,….low on energy and constipated.

Yes, we easily get confused to the point of being overwhelmed and want to try the latest  quick-fix fad diet or supplement because someone we know “swears” by it. And runners are particularly vulnerable because they want to do everything possible to lose weight and get that competitive edge.

But, if you want to shed some pounds AND keep it off, focus on eating smaller portions of a variety of nutrient dense foods, including whole grains, Strive to cook more healthy options at home instead of eating out since we always consume more calories when we eat out. And of course exercise. Read post Nutrition Facts or Quackery for more on some tips for making informed decisions and how to evaluate various sources of nutrition information.






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Want to be a stronger runner? Here are 10 core exercises you can easily do in your own home

Strengthening your core is crucial for injury prevention and becoming a more efficient, stronger runner.

Challenge different muscle groups at the same time with 10 core exercises 3 times a week.

 Squat1. Squats

Work your glutes, hamstrings and quads with squats.

  1. Stand in front of a chair or bench or an imaginary one.
  2. Slowly lower yourself as if sitting.
  3. Don’t go lower than 90 degrees; and be careful not to hyperextend your knees.
  4. Slowly stand up.
  • Beginners start with 5 reps for 3 sets and advance do 10 reps for 3 sets.


2. Wall Squat

This is really challenging and works the entire lower body.

  1. Stand against a wall; bring your feet a few feet away from the wall.
  2. Slowly slide down the wall as if you’re sitting in an imaginary chair.
  3. Make sure your feet are flat, under your knees and square. Knees should not be bent past your toes.
  4.  Have your favorite music playing and hold the squat position as long as you can and keep your stomach muscles tight and back flat against the wall.
  • Beginners start with 20 seconds, and advance try up to 2 minutes. Do this version once a week and after a month, you will be surprised at your progress and increased strength!


3. Lunges

Another great exercise for your glutes, hamstrings and quads, lunges also help improve balance.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and hands on your waist.
  2. Take a long step forward with one leg.
  3. Lower your body slowly until your front knee is at a 90 degree angle. Be sure to keep your torso upright.
  4. Return to starting position by pushing up on off your front foot. Repeat with other leg.
  • Beginners start with 5 reps/leg for 2 sets and advance do 10 reps/leg for 2-3 sets.


4. Push-ups

There’s a reason people are still doing these old-school moves. They work your chest, triceps and core. Be sure to keep your abs tight and focus on the floor as you slowly lower and push your body up and down. Inhale as you lower; exhale as you gently press up. Your hands should be a few inches wider than your shoulders.

  • Push- ups on knees

It is better to do the exercise correctly and do more reps/sets then to struggle and sacrifice form. So if the traditional version is difficult for you do it on your knees and get the same benefits. Be sure to first place a towel down for your knees.

  • Beginners start with 3-5 reps for 2-3 sets and advance do 6-8 reps for 2-3 sets.

5. Bicep/Hammer Curl Rotations

This movement works the entire bicep.

  1. Start with your elbows at your sides, palms facing up, and a weight in each hand.
  2.  With one arm, raise the weight towards your shoulder; rotate palm so it faces inward.
  3. Slowly lower (not drop) your arm and rotate the palm up. Be sure not to use the wrists to rotate the weights.
  4. Repeat with the other arm.
  • Beginners start with 5 reps/arm for 3 sets and advance do 10 reps/arm for 3 sets.


6. Lateral Shoulder Raises

Lateral, or side raises, help tone the shoulders and build the muscles in your back.

  1. Stand tall with knees slightly bent and arms at your sides with weights in hands.
  2. Raise your arms straight out to the side bringing the weights up to shoulder height with your palms facing down; be sure to keep your abs tight and your shoulder blades drawn together.
  • Beginners start with 3-5 reps for 3 sets and advance do 8-10 reps for 3 sets.


7.  Arm Raises

  1. Stand tall with arms raised at 90 degree angle.
  2. Slowly raise arms over your head so they are straight and touch fingers keeping arms at side at all times. Helpful to watch your form in the mirror.
  3. Lower your arms to starting position do not let them drop.
  • Beginners do 10 reps for 3 sets and advance do 20 reps for 3 sets.
  • After you can do 100 raises without sacrificing form, do it with your shoes in your hands or weights.

8. Lateral Leg Lifts

This is an amazing way to tone your glutes, target the outer thighs and obliques, and improve balance.

  1.  Balance on one leg while slowly raising and lowering the opposite leg out to the side.
  2.  Be sure both hips and shoulders are facing in the same direction, keep your chest open, and try not to swing your leg. Focus on slow movements.
  • Beginners start with 10 reps on each leg for 3 sets and advance with 10 sets for 5 sets.


9. Bicycle Crunches

You should do a variety of sit ups during the week. This one, also known as “criss-cross”, works the lower abs, obliques and helps hamstring flexibility. Make sure you keep the legs long, toes pointed, and stomach muscles engaged and do not forget to breathe.

  1.  Start on your back with knees bent, feet in the air.
  2.  Crunch up and hold.
  3. Twist your left shoulder towards your right knee as you extend and straighten your left leg.
  4. Return to a neutral position before switching sides.
  • Beginners start with 10-15 on each side for 2-3 sets and advance do 20-30 each side for 2-3 sets.


10. Superman/woman

This works your entire core.

  1. Start on the floor on your stomach with your arms reaching out in front of you.
  2. Very slowly, contract the abs and raise your arms, head, and chest off the ground while contracting the glutes and lifting your legs a few inches off the ground. Try to imagine your arms and legs reaching towards opposite walls.
  3. Focus your gaze on the floor, reach your arms and legs long, and hold for 10 seconds.
  4. Rest and repeat.
  • Beginners start with 5 reps for 3 sets and advance try 5 reps for 10 sets.



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Why do strides?

Last week I was telling the runners my Ten Mile Training Program that before they do intervals they should first warm up a few miles and do a few strides. Before I could continue explaining the purpose (all my runners know that I insist they understand the purpose of all workouts), I was asked “what is a stride?”   Great question!

First let’s review some basics. To run fast, the central nervous system has to increase the number of motor units recruited and increase the frequency of stimulation of the motor units.  Thus, running fast is a strong stimulus for the central nervous system. While most of a distance runner’s training (yes, 10 miles is considered “distance training”) is cardiovascular and metabolic in nature, sometimes you have to focus on the neuromuscular aspect of performance; strides and intervals are two ways to do this.

But what makes strides so distinct is that they can be useful before intervals and races or be used as an “interval” or speed workout by themselves.

Purpose: to get your heart rate up, to increase stride rate by recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers, which increases speed and to increase stride length and leg muscle power, causing a greater propulsive thrust. The short bursts of speed also improve your coordination and running form. It’s about making fast movements efficient, so doing strides after a fatiguing interval workout  defeats the purpose of the strides. When you’re fatigued, stride length naturally decreases.

How, when and where to do strides:

• Strides should be short in length, 50m-150m or 10-30seconds but not longer than that or they introduce another type of metabolic demand. Do them on a flat surface and aim for fast, smooth, but relaxed not a forced effort as they should not feel like you are doing intervals. Make sure to have an easy jog between each one to fully recover. Do not rush the recovery.

• Strides as your “interval” workout. Particularly in your build up training phase, prior to any formal speed workout, you can use strides as controlled sprints. Do an easy short run then when still fresh do several strides.

• Before intervals or before a 5k to -Half Marathon races. First run 1-2 mile warm up/easy run, then do your strides, timing them so you start the race very soon afterwards.

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Do you know how to lose weight?

Holidays are over and many are succombing to the latest “quick fix” instead  doing what we all know works. Exercise and eat healthy. Test your knowlegdge of common diet mistakes that was published by Sunny Sea Gold.

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Marketing is “fattening” to our kids

The rate of overweight and obesity among 9- to 11-year-old children in California rose from 33.5 percent in 1999 to 40.3 percent in 2005 and then appeared to plateau through 2009 at 37.1 to 37.5 percent.  But, has it? And even if so, is this good news?  No doubt that the parents are the main role model in children adapting unhealthy eating and exercising habits. But, the food marketing industry plays a role too.

Using data obtained through compulsory process orders to 44 major food and beverage marketers, the Federal Trade Commission found that the food industry spent $2.1 billion marketing food to youth in 2006.  A  recently released report compares 2006 data to 2009 data from the 44 original companies and four additional companies.  Although total spending on food marketing to youth dropped 19.5% in 2009,to $1.79 billion. Spending on youth-directed television advertising fell 19.5%, while spending on new media, such as online and viral marketing, increased 50%.

The overall picture of how marketers reach children, however, did not significantly change. Companies continue to use a wide variety of techniques to reach young people, and marketing campaigns are heavily integrated, combining traditional media, Internet, digital marketing, packaging, and often using cross-promotions with popular movies or TV characters across all of these.  (In fact, by 2010, 92% of toddlers had an online presence, which included photos on Facebook and social media profiles)

Cross-promotion was a hallmark of marketing food to young people, particularly children. In 2009, the companies reported more than 120 cross-promotions (up from 80 in 2006) tying food and beverage products to popular movies, TV programs, cartoon characters, toys, websites,video games, theme parks, and other entertainment venues. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,the Madagascar movies, and Night at the Museum were prominent in 2009 and were used to promote Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) meals, cereal, fruit snacks, yogurt, candy, carbonated beverages, and many other products. Promotions included TV and print ads for the foods featuring movie characters, toy premiums distributed with QSR children’s meals, movie characters appearing on packaging along with codes to enter contests online, co-branded websites with games and sweepstakes, and fruit snacks imprinted with movie images. Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network also licensed their shows and popular TV characters to promote a wide variety of foods to young people. SpongeBob episodes, for example, could be viewed on food company websites with cross-links between Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob website and the food company site.

Those techniques are highly effective. Consumer research submitted by the reporting companies confirms the “pester power” phenomenon – child-directed marketing and promotional activities drive children’s food requests. Children, in turn, play an important role in which products their parents purchase at the store, and which restaurants they frequent.  Read more here

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“Energy” or health risk?

Last week I was asked to talk about Nutrition to elementary school kids who are training for a 5k.  We chatted about making healthy choices and the importance of the foods we put into our bodies as it does become part of us. I was impressed that when I gave them a choice of soda or water they all choose water. It was apparent they were well schooled to limit their added sugar intake.

Then the topic of “Energy drinks” came up. I asked the question again, water or a “Go Girl” or “Red Bull” energy drink. The answer was not unanimous. Apparently, the sugar plus caffeine may be okay? The names of these drinks not only sound fun and exciting but the commercials target young people by using testimonials of top athletes and movie stars to promote them. Even at this young age they know they need “energy” for their running, so no wonder they are easily confused and reach for a Rockstar or a bottle of 5- hour Energy Shot.

Most parents wouldn’t think of letting their preteen guzzle three or four cups of coffee a day. But many aren’t as vigilant about energy drinks. They often don’t know the content in energy drinks, which contain large amounts of caffeine and other unregulated stimulants such as guarana, creatine or taurine and seem like they might be good for you. Not so, say pediatricians — in May, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a review of energy drinks stating that the caffeine and other stimulants found in them “have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.” Between 2006 and 2008, 1,200 cases of caffeine toxicity among kids younger than 6 years old were reported to poison control centers.         And, this week it was reported that the FDA confirmed that they are reviewing the reports of five fatalities and one heart attack Read More:

  • A 16-ounce can of Monster energy drink contains 160 milligrams of caffeine. That’s equivalent to about four cans of Dr. Pepper, or two cups of regular coffee.
  • A 12-ounce Rockstar 2X contains 250 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to six cans of soda, or more than three cups of coffee.

And, there is nothing in these products that an adult or growing child needs to be healthy. Bottom line is while we educate our young, as I did at this elementary school, and parents try at home, the FDA needs to be given more control to regulate, these “unregulated supplements” and manufactures should be more responsible in their advertising. There really is no debate here.


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Goal Pace: Adding a purpose to your miles

It finally feels like fall weather, and the cooler temperatures will make it more pleasant for those of you who are in the midst of training for CIM or other fall/winter marathons and half marathons. If you are an experienced runner targeting a specific finish time, it is important to spend some of your training time practicing your goal race pace. These workouts help your body become more efficient at your goal pace (GP) and help to establish a neuromuscular rhythm. In other words, when you transition from your easy/steady state pace to run your faster goal pace, the central nervous system must increase the number of motor units recruited (when a motor unit is activated all of muscle fibers contract), and it must increase the frequency of stimulation of those motor units. Thus, running your goal pace on some training runs is a strong stimulus for the central nervous system, and it encourages consistent/routine recruitment of muscle fibers. In turn, this results in the development of a “memory” of the pace, an advantage on race day because it helps your exertion level decrease. While most of a distance runner’s training is cardiovascular and metabolic in nature, you also have to focus on the neuromuscular aspect of performance.

Especially for the experienced marathoner it is beneficial to add GP miles to the end of a few, but not every, long run. That is, your marathon GP plus or minus five seconds to account for hills, turns, winds, taking aid, etc. Running your GP on tired legs, at the end of a long run, is essential for a successful marathon. Depending on several factors such as your age and level of experience, over the course of training program if you can gradually build up to GP miles 30-60% of race distance without feeling like it is a “race” (i.e. without excess effort) then you can be very confident in reaching your time goal.

Another way you can add GP miles is in shorter tempo runs or tempo intervals. Examples:

  • For a tempo run, warm up 2 miles, run 3-6 miles sustained at GP, cool down 1-2      miles.
  • For  tempo intervals, warm up 2 miles, do 2-4 repeats of GP running that last about 8-20 minutes with a 2-5 minute recovery jog between each interval, cool down 1-2 miles.

For more on half marathon training, check out the November print issue of Runner’s World Magazine.

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Drinking calories leads to obesity

“Satisfy your sweet tooth and your coffee cravings in one indulgent sip”, states the Dunkin’ Donuts Website.

 I guess if you can stop at just one sip, it would not be that bad. But, if you drank the entire 32 ounce Dunkin’ Mocha Coffee it is the equivalent of drinking 4 chocolate frosted donuts, 1050 calories, 30 grams saturated fat and 30 teaspoons of added sugar!

Sodas have long been in the spotlight as main “empty calorie” beverage in our diets, but the emergence of “energy drinks” and sugar laden coffee drinks are quickly challenging soft drinks popularity, adding even more pounds to our waistlines. We know that the consumption of these sugary drinks play a role in the obesity epidemic; more than 12.5million American kids and 78 million adults are obese. The 40 years of increasing national girth have paralleled an estimated doubling of calories consumed from sugar-sweetened beverages-this is no coincidence.  Of course the American Beverage Association, which represents the soda makers  deny the link and state lack of evidence, that “by every measure sugar-sweetened beverages play a small and declining role in the American Diet. “

Well, while I agree there are many factors that play a role in why one becomes  obese, it is hard to deny that calorie consumption has significantly increased over the last century while the genetic pool has not changed.  And, most noteworthy is the increase in the amount of sugary beverages; plus the fact that Americans currently drink 21% of their calorie intake. But, if you need more evidence a series of studies was recently reported in New England Journal of Medicine and are among the first to show that consumption of sugary drinks is a direct cause of weight gain.

The researchers compared two groups of children, between the ages of 5 and 12, who were similar in most respects except that some were randomly assigned to drink a sugary beverage each day and some were given an artificially sweetened drink with no calories.

In one of the studies with normal weight children, those who drank 8 ounces /day of a sugary drink for 18 months gained more than 2 pounds AND accumulated more fat, than their peers who drank the artificially sweetened beverage.

In the other study children who were already overweight or obese were supplied with the same beverage treatment. After one year, the children consuming the sugar drinks were 4 pounds heavier and roughly half a point higher on the BMI scale than those supplied with diet drinks.

For adults, the new research strengthens the unnerving argument that regular consumption of high-calorie beverages may turn on genetic switch that influences our bodies to become fat.

“Clearly, calories from sugar-sweetened beverages do matter,” Yale University endocrinologist Sonia Caprio wrote in the editorial that accompanied the studies. “The time has come to take action”.

Recently, after extensive battles, a law was passed through Congress to require chain restaurants to list calories on their menu. The hope is when one goes to order the Mocha Coffee and reads it is more than half the calories they need for the entire day, they will choose a more nutrient dense beverage choice, or skip it altogether.  Meanwhile in September, the New York City Board of Health voted to ban the sale of sugar-sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces at 24, 000 restaurants, snack bars, movie theaters and sports arenas.  These steps will not erase the near-tripling of obesity rate over last four decades, but at least it is a start.

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