Photo from the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Miler by Ali Engin. Permission to use header photo must be obtained through Ali Elgin.

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

Friday, 19 October 2012

The simple math of flexibility and strength

As SR left for work this morning and I was sitting on the floor with two whaling children he asked "what are your plans today?"

"I plan to spend the first hour of my day bending over backwards as far as I can."


That's me: the woman in the front in black. Exactly how I stood for one hour.

This illicited no comment from SR other than perhaps a smirk.

In reality, I spent today writing a research article for our hospital's yearly report.

There is, in my house, and I believe many places in the world, the misconception that becoming more flexible makes you weaker or is otherwise dangerous.

I remember doing a physiology lab where we discussed the different factors that can contribute to muscle strength and... the longer the muscle, the more strength potential you have. I'm not saying that just because you have long muscles that they are strong, but the longer muscle is capable of becoming stronger than the shorter one. (please tell me if my logic is flawed!) It thus of course follows that if the weight carried is the same, speed will increase!

And the hotter the tendons and muscles - the more you can stretch them.

This is why Bikram Yoga works for improving running times. Or at least, this is my preception of it.

Runners (and cyclists) spend way too much time all cramped up in a ball. If they could stretch out their muscles more, they could unlock their potential.

I was swimming yesterday and had a neuromuscular epiphany. After hours the previous days of stretching my arms above my head and other arm stretching activities in yoga, I was finally able to REACH my arm WAY out in front of me, just as I have been told repeatedly to do. I didn't consciously try to do it. It just happened and my lap times improved dramatically. I think my body just did it because my shoulders and upper arms were no longer cramped like usual.

Don't believe this will also work for running? Fair enough.

But here is the website of Lene Hjelmsø, a Danish woman who just represented Denmark in the half marathon World Championships. She has a recently set a half marathon PR of 1:16:52. She was the fastest female Dane at the World Championships. And what does she practice regularly other than Bikram Yoga?

N of 1? Perhaps.

In other news, would you believe I haven't run since the marathon? I feel like someone is sticking a knife into my right calf. No running - none - until that knot is gone.

This is apparently not an injury I can "run through". But I honestly don't think any running overuse injuries can be run through.

Edit:
And now, a Mattias Montage from our bike ride around Næstved this evening.




23 comments:

cherelli said...

Hmmm, this Bikram Yoga direction of yours is interesting, seems like a great complement to your running, esp giving you something to do during injury! For me, doing so much stretching of my shoulders used to help my swimming immensely because of that extra reach...I need to be doing more of that again. Happy research paper writing (sorry, bending over backwards).

mmmonyka said...

I need to look up what that Bikram Yoga thing exactly is. (Although of course there will not be any classes around here, we do not even have Target here so you can imagine what a hole this is:)

I was always taught to stretch by my coaches, because it is supposed to be good for you for those exact reasons you mentioned.
However, I have also read this http://hillarybiscay.com/2012/02/21/qa-stretching/ and some other article saying that Brett Sutton does not allow his athletes to stretch, and well we all know about Wellington, and Spirig won the Olympic gold and Steffen just finished second in Kona.
And then there are a lot of other Olympic gold medalist who stretch each day.
When I was doing research about my ITB problem, most articles said stretch, but there were a few articles that said never stretch because making the muscles looser makes it worse by not holding things in place.
It is interesting, isn't it? I actually never heard before that stretching could be bad and I was amazed!

SteveQ said...

Some runners never stretch and don't need to; Frank Shorter once famously said "You never see racehorses stretching before a race." (They also retire when they're 4 - how flexible were you at 4?) There's also a correlation that shows that runners who stretch get injured more often, but that's probably because injury-prone runners start stretching after they start getting injured; also, improper form in stretching can cause problems (I once had knee problems because I was torqueing a knee doing a stretch wrong). That said, flexibility increases range of motion, which in turn creates longer lever arms, which can generate more force and greater speed. [btw, SR's blog isn't letting me comment there]

sea legs girl said...

Steve, I'm honestly not just playing devil's advocate here, but 4 year olds are very flexible. Babies are extremely flexible and do yoga naturally. I am certain horses also stretch naturally before races and if they could do Bikram Yoga, they'd probably be faster. :)

I have never been a big believer in stretching because it never worked for me - but I now know it is because I was doing it ineffectively! Sure some very talented atheltes never do yoga - but does that necessarily mean it can't help the rest of us?

I will tell SR to look into the blog problem!

SteveQ said...

Umm, 4 year-olds being flexible was the point I was making. I do 40-42 different stretches, most originating from yoga - if a stretch doesn't feel like it's doing anything, I quickly move on until I find one that shows I'm too tight. It makes for a total of about 10 minutes that way, which is time well spent, I think.

Anonymous said...

I am really, really not trying to be that rude anon. person on a blog, just saying the same that I would in real life: Mattias is super adorable, however it makes me uncomfortable to see him in loose straps with no helmet atop a bike seat. Helmets save lives - especially for little babies with soft heads. - Shannon in KS

maria said...

Yes, horses do stretch! I've seen them do a downward dog type stretch (bowing down with forelegs out in front of them) and stretch out each hind leg individually straight backwards. Not every horse does this. And they don't seem to make it a "practice." : )

Horse owners will often make their horses stretch by manually manipulating their legs and using carrots as bait to get them to stretch their necks. There are many how-to magazine articles about this. But mostly though, there's not stretching but instead the warm-up before exercise.

Also I was all intrigued by Bikram yoga until I heard the part about the weird chanting. I don't think I could deal with that. I will stick to my quiet yoga!

sea legs girl said...

Steve- sorry I misunderstood about the 4 year olds! Sounds like you have found something that works for you - BUT you might be surprised that Bikram works even better :).

sea legs girl said...

Shannon - I was just wondering about that today. I was told with Christian that he should not wear a helmet until he was 2 because little kids necks are actually more at risk of injury with helmets on. I have tried to look up the newest guidelines and found something saying 9-10 months. I know I should know this being a doctor, right? :) But I don't. Do you know the age you are supposed to start using helmets at? I can't find a good resource at the moment.

sea legs girl said...

Maria- great tidbits about horses! Thank you. And as far as I can remember (been there quite a lot of times now) there is no chanting in Bikram, just a "dialogue" the teacher says, which is pretty close to the same every time. They do often ad lib during the savasanas though. But no chanting. Weird breathing exercise at the end though.

Olga King said...

I have few things without being dogmatic. Long time ago I watched NYC marathon taped on TV where and Kenyan tall gal and a Russian short gal entered Central Park together. Now, the Kenyan won, but bear with my point. That Russian gal was about almost 2-heads lower then the Kenyan, but when they ran stride to stride, they ran exactly "stride to stride" - the length of it was equal. I was amazed. Now, my own little story. I came to running after I began Bikram (as a healing of my broken back opposed to surgery option). When after 2 years into running I did a 50k and in 4 days ran a 1M on track, my club's members were amazed I didn't shuffle yet had a very long stride. Next case - I ran lots and lots over years in PNW and haven't gone to Bikram (or any other yoga, or stretched) for 6 years straight (for reasons not important here). While quality of my "workouts" were approximately at the same level (and yes, I was getting older, indeed), my pace/speed dropped drastically. When I asked someone to tape me not long ago on the track vs 6 years ago (mid-PNW times), the length of my stride was ridiculously shorter (now), while turn-over was relatively same. And last for now: you heard my hubby took 1 class of Bikram and 2 days later he ran 8M trail trial - he PR'ed by 6 minutes (not to mention he is able to walk not as a question mark) - one class. Who needs explanations, although I can come up with many.

Olga King said...

p.s. I keep doing Bikram (and wish I had time to do it 5 times more) not to get faster, or as fast as I was, anymore, but not to deteriorate as quickly as one does when aging and running:)

Ingunn said...

My dogs stretch all the time, and they're the fastest dogs I've ever seen! (Ok fine, that's because they're greyhounds.)

Danni said...

This is totally off topic (I hate yoga personally) but I thought of you during my 50 miler this weekend and your comment in a post about starting the race with the skinniest woman/women you've ever seen (something like that). I passed some of the skinniest women I've ever seen, as well as some women who are just simply perfect looking body-wise, and became even more confused by your thinking on these things.

Olga King said...

Danni, yeah, tell me about it...I passed many skinny guys too! :)

Tracizzle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sea legs girl said...

Danni, Just to clarify: she was the skinniest woman I had ever seen line up at the front of the pack. She did not look healthy or strong. I have certainly seen skinnier women as inpatients in the hospital. There are lots of women who are thin and stong and fast and healthy and they are in a totally different category. Once a woman starts losing muscle at the price of being thin, I think it looks bad and I don't promote it.

sea legs girl said...

Olga, great examples. So did it work for your back? How long did you practice before you saw results? What kind of back injury did you have?

Did you and Danni just run the same skinny people race?

Danni said...

Ah SLG I did not understand. Makes sense.

Olga King said...

Yes, it worked - 3 months it took to feel easier to put shoes on, 6 months to be able to stand up and sit down without hanging on my back and making faces, 1 year for eliminating pain for daily life (but not for backpacking trips or runs), 3 years to be (almost completely) pain free - unless you just ran a 100 miler:) I had herniated L3 and bulging L4. Took prescription meds 3 months, chiro, massage and spinal injections. Lost some feeling in leg too and reflexes. Was scheduled for surgery when discovered Bikram and took a chance, because my girlfriend who's done back surgery saw no improvement, yet was more stiff.

sea legs girl said...

Pretty awesome story, Olga. When I did my neurosurgery rotation I was so disappointed to learn how ineffective back sugery is and yet surgeons continue to "sell" it to patients and patients continue to want it. It would be great to do a randomized control trial: surgery vs. bikram yoga for lumbar back injuries. I think you and I both know what would work better, but the rest of the medical world might not.

Kate said...

I do not know the recommended answer to the helmet thing but was dropping in to leave a similar comment to Shannon's. I did not know about the neck risk, but it seems that the risk of impact on a paved surface to a baby's/toddler's head falling from the height of a bike seat, even if the bike were totally stationary, would be greater.

This is totally off topic from your post, but now that I've got myself going on the subject of helmets, can I just say that I think my biggest pet peeve here in the city is families riding where the kids all have on helmets and the adults don't. I really don't get that. I guess they think adult heads are invincible? People really underestimate the damage curb to head can do, even at say 5 mph. Okay, stepping off soapbox now. ; )

Carry on!

Katie said...

Mattias is such a cutie!

I'm not a huge yoga fan, but not b/c I haven't tried! Every single time I try it, I get nauseous. I know, I'm a weirdo. I get motion sickness very easily and for whatever reason all the bending (or placing my head closer to the ground than the rest of me makes me feel like I'm going to vomit.) It's really awful.

Congrats on your marathon PR! Sorry to hear your calf is injured though.