Posts in triathlon
High Intensity Interval Training Improves Endurance Performance

Among Boulder endurance athletes many training variables are utilized to promote beneficial adaptations within our bodies.  These adaptations to the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems lead to improved future performances in practice and competitions.  One training variable includes interval training where athletes complete portions of endurance exercise at a high intensity followed by a recovery period.  As these intervals are completed, athletes are able to train at this intensity for a longer cumulative duration (multiple intervals) than if they tried to complete the same intensity and duration over a single bout.  High intensity interval training (HIIT) programs, where the intervals are held close to maximum efforts followed by recovery periods, are gaining momentum among endurance athletes.

A recent article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research examined the impact of HIIT programs among triathletes (Garcia-Pinillos et al. 2016).  Athletes were timed on a sprint triathlon before being divided into two groups: one continued their current triathlon training and the second continued their training except substituted their run training for HIIT.  Athletes in this group completed 3-4 sessions of HIIT/week consisting of 100m and 400m distances, as well as, 30-120 second run intervals over 5 weeks.  At the end of the 5 weeks all athletes were tested again on their sprint triathlon performance. 

The authors reported improved run and swim performance after the HIIT leading to faster times among the trained group.  This study adds evidence to support the use of high intensity, low volume interval training among endurance athletes. 

Is my endurance training enough to build strength and muscle mass?

Triathletes have no shortage of aerobic exercise each week as they train for all 3 components of their sport, but often what they leave out is strength training.  Strength training has been shown to reduce injury risk and improve performance in swimming, cycling, and running.  The impact of this training is most noticeable in the athlete’s economy during each component of the event allowing them to sustain a higher power output, at a relatively lower level of aerobic capacity, compared to individuals who do not strength train.

In an older study authors examined the impact of strength training on muscle strength and muscle size among athletes who completed resistance training, running, or swimming for at least 10 years (Klitgaard et al. 1990).  The authors reported older athletes who completed resistance training had muscle cross section area and strength similar to younger sedentary individuals.  Surprisingly, the subjects who only competed running or swimming activities had similar muscle cross sectional area and strength to their sedentary peers.  The authors concluded that the regular performance of only endurance exercise was not able to prevent the loss of strength or muscle size associated with the aging process.

Endurance athletes are encouraged to perform regular strength training to slow the effects of aging and to improve their performance within their sports.  To learn more about how to incorporate strength training into your workouts contact a local Physical Therapist.



Factors Impacting Ironman Triathlon Performance

As the triathlon off season carries forward into the Spring athletes should be focused on the evaluation, treatment, and/or prevention of last season's nagging injuries.  Specifically, athletes competing in Triathlon should see a reduction in their endurance training and a corresponding increase in weight training.  The additional time placed on weight training in the off season will lead to fewer injuries and improved performance come Spring.  In addition to resistance training a recent article was published examining factors shown to impact future Ironman performance. 

Knechtle et al. and colleagues published a review article in the Journal of Sports Medicine examining predictor variables shown to be associated with a successful completion of a future triathlon (2015).  After examining the available evidence the authors broke the predictor variables into the following categories: age, prior experience, an athlete's sex, training, anthropometry, and origin.  The most important predictor of a faster time in the Ironman competition was an athlete's age.  Male and female athletes between the age of 30-35 years old demonstrated a strong correlation with successful times during the race.  In addition, a previous fast marathon time, a high volume of training and speed work, low body fat %, and an origin from the United States were also associated with a successful finish.  The authors suggest athletes and coaches should plan a transition from sprint to full distance triathlons to maximize factors such as age, training, and prior triathlon experience.  

Predicting Injury in Runners from the Physical Therapy Exam

We have previously written about the functional movement screen (FMS) and its' ability to predict injury although more recent research has called its' predictive ability into question.  The highest quality research on the FMS has occurred in NFL athletes or those training for the NFL combine.  The research demonstrates the predictive value of these tests may be less powerful in endurance athletes.  As the diagnostic utility of these 7 tests falls it requires the clinician to incorporate other data from the subjective and objective examination to determine an athlete's injury risk.  An important aspect of the FMS that should not be overlooked, regardless of an athlete's sport, is their emphasis on movement quality.  Poor movement patterns may be secondary to a loss of joint mobility, strength, coordination, or balance and can lead to injury if not corrected.  In a runner, a poor movement examination on the treadmill may indicate the need for gait retraining by a Physical Therapist.  

A recent article by Hotta et al. examined the ability of the FMS to predict injuries in 18-24 year old competitive male runners (J Strength Cond Res. 2015).  Each athlete was scored on the 7 examination items during the preseason then followed through the running season to determine the predictive ability of these 7 tests on the development of future injury.  Prior authors have reported a score of less than 14 indicating poor movement patterns is predictive of future injury.  Hotta et al. found this composite score had a low predictability for running injuries.  Conversely, two tests including the active straight leg raise and deep squat had high predictability for running injuries.  A runner with a poor score of these tests had a 10 times greater risk of injury during the season.  

This article continues on prior research indicating the complete 7 tests may not be appropriate for all sports and athletes.  Instead, specific examination tools like the overhead squat can be combined with gait analysis and other running specific examination tests for a more predictive injury screening.  

Economic Cost of Running Injuries

Mend Physical Therapy has previously written on the prevention and treatment of running injuries  in multiple prior blog posts.    Running is very common form of exercise in the United States and here Boulder County. The vast majority of runners will sustain an injury in the upcoming year which will prevent them from training or competing at their intended levels.  Our prior posts have described the risk factors for these injuries and our ability to prevent them.  In particular, having a twice a week running specific strengthening program and a Physical Therapy assessment of your running gait may create the biggest impact and keep you on the trails.  

Once an injury is sustained an athlete faces an impact on both his or her training and possibly their finances.  These may be in the form of changes in footwear, running coaches, gait analysis, physical therapy visits, diagnostic tests, etc.  A recent article in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport documented the economic impact of running related injuries among athletes training for an upcoming race event (Junior, L. 2015).

Junior et al. followed 53 runners training for an upcoming 5K, 10K, or 10 mile race.  All runners participated in run training programs put on by the upcoming race events.  These programs consisted of written materials on race preparation and weekly supervised group run training sessions based on experience and ability levels.  The supervised program consisted of a warm up, cool down, and 60 minutes of run training over 5-10K focused on speed development.  

Over half, 32 out of 59 runners, sustained a running related injury during the training period with 85% of these injuries being classified as overuse in nature.  Interestingly, the authors noted a higher percentage of running injuries in the experienced group compared to those with <1 year of running experience.  Of the running related injuries, 73% caused athletes to miss upcoming training sessions and 34% lead athletes to seek medical attention.  These individuals sought medical attention from their primary care MD or a medical specialist, with 38 receiving Physical Therapy care.  

The economic impact of these injuries among these 53 runners was significant.  $6200 was spent on these 32 athletes, 66% of this cost (direct cost) went towards direct health care consultations.  Each injury was broken down into a direct cost and an indirect cost due to lost time from work.  The indirect costs from loss of work time were twice that of those directly related to health care consultations.  Due to the high financial impact of running injuries, the authors recommend runners be given injury prevention programs to prevent health care expenses and time off of work due to injury.  

To learn more about how you can prevent injuries contact the experts at Mend Physical Therapy

Maximizing Your Dynamic Sports Warm Up

In a previous post we highlighted the importance of a dynamic warm up to gradually increase cardiovascular work, improve mobility, decrease injury risk, and improve performance.  Conversely, traditional static stretching has been shown to reduce run, sprint, and jump performance in athletes.  Clearly, these static holds should be held until an athlete's cool down period after their practice or event.

The improvement in performance following dynamic warm up is attributed to a phenomenon known as post activation potential or PAP.  PAP is the improvement in the muscles and nervous system's ability to contract and perform immediately following a brief, short contraction of the muscles.  This dynamic contraction improves the communication between the nerves and the muscles, as well as, the ability of the muscle to receive commands from the nervous system.  One example of this would be utilization of plyometric exercises where one jump is immediately followed by a larger, faster second jump.  Many variables can influence PAP including intensity and duration of muscle contraction, an athlete's training status and the time between a dynamic activity and the performance of interest.  A recent article examined the impact of lunging, a standard part of any dynamic warm up, on jumping performance.  

Horan et al. examined 43 healthy adults (24 women) and measured the metrics behind their vertical jumps including height, peak vertical ground reaction forces, flight time, and others at both baseline and after a dynamic warm up consisting of multiple sets of alternating split squats (J Strength Cond Res. 2015).  The authors noted an increase in vertical jump height after up to 4 trials of 20 split squats.  The increase in jump height is thought to occur secondary to an improvement in the neural and muscular output of the lower quarter following the dynamic warm up.  

Athletes should utilize a dynamic warm up which reflects the demands of their individual sport to improve performance and reduce injury risk.  A lunge is an excellent lower quarter exercise for mobility and strength and can be utilized in multiple planes and directions of movement.  Consult your Boulder Physical Therapy experts for more information on how a dynamic warm up can improve your performance.