Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Check Your Finger Lengths

There have been numerous studies over the last few years that focus on "digit-ratio". All of these studies involve the length of your index finger (2D) vs. the length of your ring finger (4D). In women, the length of both fingers is usually equal. In men, the ringer finger is usually slightly longer.

No that you've examined your finger lengths (you know you did), I'll tell you what the research has shown.

Apparently, our fingers hold information about how much testosterone and estrogen we were exposed to in the womb. So, the longer one's ring finger relative to one's index finger (small 2D:4D), the more testosterone you had. And that testosterone has an effect on the brain, and on the body. If a boy has an increased amount of testosterone before birth, he is likely to be born with a very efficient heart and vascular system.

A few of these studies even looked at fetuses as early as nine weeks gestation and found that the ratio was already established and did not change...even through puberty.

Another researcher found that men with smaller ratios also had higher mental toughness, optimism and aptitude towards sports.

Some people are even starting to look at finger lengths of young people in an attempt to predict future athletic ability. I'm sure there are some coaches out there somewhere that are already sneaking a peek at a recruit's hands.

Some of these studies even related one's sexual preference, musical abilities, and the likelihood of having autism or getting cancer to their digit ratio...but I won't go into any of that here.

Think I'm making this stuff up? Do a quick internet search for "index and ring finger length" and see what you find! 
So the good news for me is that my ring finger is indeed longer than my index finger (see picture to the right).

All of these studies are quick to note that simply having a relatively long ring finger does not necessarily guarantee either talent or success in sports. Many, many other factors play important roles in developing your full potential.

So there's your conversation starter for those awkward moments around the Thanksgiving table!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Off Season Weight Lifting

I'm finally getting back into a routine. I've settled into doing short, high-intensity training sessions. Right now I'm swimming once a week, while biking and running twice a week. Most weeks I end up taking two days off completely...hope to cut this back down to one soon. In addition to my triathlon specific training, I'm doing something new this off season - power lifting.

After my 30-45 minute training session each morning, I hit the weights. I'm focusing on doing what are traditionally known as power lighting or Olympic style lifts. I use heavy weight and only do 3 sets of 6-8 reps of each. Here's what I currently do in a typical week:

Swim (30-45 minutes of intervals)
Lifting (bench press - flat or incline, dumbbell flys, dips, abs)

Bike (Spin class or 45 minute of interval work)
Lifting (squats, leg press, stiff-leg dead lift, calf raises, hip abductors)

Run (30-45 minute tempo or fartlek run)
Lifting (military press, upright rows, bicep curls)

Bike (Spin class or 45 minute of interval work)
Lifting (Deadlift, clean & jerk, lat pull-downs, rows, abs) 

FRIDAY - off

Run (30-40 minute run at steady pace)
No lifting, stretching and hip strengthening exercises

So what benefit do I expect to get from doing this type of strength training (other than getting some muscle back that I've lost)? To build a stronger foundation for power and strength in the water, on the bike, and on the pavement.

I know that a lot of triathletes and runners shy away from this type of heavy lifting because they don't want to pack on too much muscle. After all, added weight will only slow you down, right? While there's definitely a fine line between being strong and being too heavy, 3 months of this type of lifting isn't going to get me so big that my neck disappears. 

I'm constantly amazed at what the human body can do and how it can adapt. Triathlon and other endurance events use slow twitch muscles. As a result of spending 9+ months training my slow twitch muscles for Ironman, my fast twitch muscle fibers have shrunk. The days of me sprinting up and and down a basketball court or playing racquetball are years on the past...and it shows. While I was in the best shape of my life while training for Ironman, I doubt I would have been able to play a full court game of basketball or even jump high enough to grab the rim. I plan on doing (as of right now) lots of shorter races next season. I will be calling some fast twitch fibers into action for these races, so I'm trying to wake them up now!

Another benefit to this type of lifting is to rebuild the tendons, ligaments and joints that took a beating this past season. This will hopefully reduce the risk of injury in 2012. 

If you plan on implementing some or all of these lifts into your off season routine, please follow the links above and concentrate on your form by doing them in front of a mirror. I started using very light weights to get my form down before stepping up to the heavy stuff. Doing these lifts with incorrect form will always result in an injury.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Comparison: Ironman and Natural Childbirth

Ok, so based on the title of this blog, I'm sure that I already have some women ready to give me a piece of their mind. Obviously, I have never, and will never, experience child birth first hand. Don't get me wrong, I am in no way saying that I could even do it...but just hear me out on the similarities. By the way, I have discussed this with my wife on several occasions and she agrees with me (for the most part).

I've had the privilege of witnessing my awesome wife deliver our two beautiful children. I was right by her side from the moment the contractions started until we were holding our newborns. I went to every single Obstetrician appointment with both children (I even call her our OB). I didn't miss a single Bradley Method class before our first child was born and coached her through both labors. I've witnessed it all...up close and personal. 

I've also completed an Ironman triathlon. I trained for 8+ months and completed a 2.4 mile open-water swim, 112 mile bike ride and then ran a full 26.2 mile marathon...all in 12 hours.

All three of theses events (birth of my two children and Ironman) were life-changing experiences for my wife and I. Both required a great amount of physical and mental strength. It's really hard to put into words what it takes to get through labor without pain medication or to complete an Ironman. You can't adequately describe it to anyone that hasn't done it themselves and you aren't even sure if you can do it yourself...until you do. Once you do it, you love to talk about it and to hear other people's stories about how they did it.

Some other similarities between natural childbirth and Ironman :
  • You train/plan for 8-9 months for both
  • The anticipation build-up is almost too much to handle
  • Learning to control your breathing and muscle tension is critical to success
  • Somewhere along the way, you will question yourself and your preperation
  • You are going to have to go to the bathroom at some point. It will most likely be at an inconvenient time.
  • It's a long journey...somewhere between 10 and 16 hours are typical for both.
  • Support from friends/family is essential
  • Both have "transitions". Ironman transitions are much easier!
  • The worst part is right before the finish, but you know that you are almost there, so you push through the pain
  • Whatever pain you had to endure is quickly forgotten once you see the end is in sight
  • The experience makes you amazed at what the human body is capable of
  • Both are accomplishments that you can brag about for the rest of your life
  • Within a few days, you forget about how hard it was and are ready to do it again
  • You will probably walk and little funny for a few days afterward
  • Nursing injuries will be required for a few weeks once it's over
Feel free to add any other similarities that you can think of.
One HUGE difference is the prize that you get at the end. All I have for Ironman is a hat, shirt and a medal. My wife got real, live babies!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Running Myths

The more you run, the more you want to know about how to improve your stride, increase your pace, extend your distance and prevent injuries. You start to read articles online and in magazines. You pick up tips from other runners that you talk to. Heck, maybe you even read a blog or two! With all this information, you are going to come across lots of things that are just not true. So what are some of the bigger myths that are floating around the world of running?

> Stretch before you run. FALSE! If you want to avoid injuries, I beg NOT do static stretching before you run! Stretching muscles before they have warmed up is a recipe for disaster. While the jury is still out on whether stretching at all is beneficial, there is no debate that by stretching muscles after they are warm and loose drastically reduces your risk for injury. I prefer to do active stretching prior to a run. Some skipping, kick-butts, grapevines and single leg swings. Save the toe touches and quad stretches for after your workout!

> Strength Training is not important. FALSE! If you follow this blog, you know that lack of strength training led to an injury four months ago that I am still dealing with. Sure, running makes your leg muscles strong, but using resistance or weights adds even more strength...improving performance and helping to avoid injuries that result from unknown weak areas or overuse.

> Running is hard on your knees. FALSE! This is one myth that has been out there for a long time. Non-runners or people that jumped into running too quickly will tell you that it will destroy your knees. I challenge you to find a study that proves this. You won't find one, it doesn't exist. You need to do cross-training and strengthening exercises in addition to your running, but I promise you...done correctly, running is not detrimental to the life of your knees.

> Minimal shoes will cure all injuries. FALSE! You knew this one was coming. If you go out and buy a pair of barefoot or minimalist shoes and start to run in them, you will actually increase your chance of an injury. It's the latest craze, so people believe the hype. These types of shoes help to improve your form, but it's nothing that can't be done while wearing your "normal", cushioned shoes. In fact, new research even shows that heel-striking isn't even bad as long as you land under your hips. I'm not saying that minimalist shoes are bad, but use them in moderation...especially at first!

> Long Slow Distance running is the only way to train for a half or full marathon. FALSE! I've done eleven half marathons and two full marathons (include those as part of triathlons). I've trained for these several different ways. I've also written training programs for other runners/triathletes that are doing these long distance races. I can tell you from experience that you do not need to go out and do long, slow runs in order to get the stamina necessary to run 13.1 or 26.2 miles. If you go out and run slow during your training, all you are doing is training yourself to run slow. The majority of your workouts should consist of fast running (intervals, tempo runs, fartleks) and hill work. You can do a long run once in a while to test your fueling or just prepare yourself mentally for running a long time...but even these runs are not necessary to prepare for a long race.

> Cramps are caused by dehydration or low sodium. FALSE! This is going to fly in the face of just about everything else you read, but I've recently come across some interesting data. Muscle cramps or spasms are most often caused by fatigue, not lack of water or sodium. While staying well hydrated and nourished is important, studies are now showing that if you drink before you are thirsty, all you are doing is adding water weight. You should only drink to thirst. Drink only when you are thirsty, not every time you see water. This is a lot easier to do if you carry your own water with you and don't rely on the aid stations. The human body also has an amazing ability to retain sodium. If you are seeing salt in your sweat, all you are doing is excreting the excess sodium that your body is holding from the food that you have eaten recently. Don't believe Gatorade or Powerade...your body has more than enough sodium/electrolytes to make it through a marathon. Don't get me wrong, I've believed that you needed a certain amount of sodium intake per hour during long runs (I took electrolyte capsules during all of my half and full Ironman triathlons this year), but I now think that this was unnecessary. More on all of this in a future post. If you think I'm crazy, check out this link.

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