Saturday, June 15, 2013

Try Everything...No, Try Nothing...What To Do

"Training is the hard part to enjoy the fun part, whatever your sport is" - Mohammed Ali

Close to where I live, there is a Cross-Fit Gym. I have never stepped inside it, nor do I know exactly what they do. In my mind, it's a great money making idea on the concept that you get fit by pushing heavy things. Most gyms have you pushing their several thousand dollar machines, but at Cross-Fit somebody saw Rocky pulling a sled filled with rocks through the snow training to fight the Russian Fighting machine, Ivan Drago, and said "Hey, I'll bet I can get some guys to lift a tire, or move a railroad tie, or drag a giant chain and get them to pay ME!". Don't you love America. Actually, being a Physical Therapist, I actually love the concept. You make a muscle work against a resistance and it will respond to the weight, not the appearance of the weight. When I teach my patients exercises in the clinic, they say "I'll have to go WalMart and buy a 2# weight". I quickly inform them that you fill a half-gallon jug halfway and you have a 2# weight. Fill it all the way, and Voila!, you have a 4# weight. So, why not lift a tire instead of a shiny chrome-plated dumbbell? 

So, anyway, I'm driving to work yesterday a little ways past the gym, and I see this poor guy running in the grocery store parking lot with a (probably) 8-10# kettle ball being held to his upper shoulder. He would take 15 or so steps and then switch to the other side. I'll give him this, despite obviously not enjoying his punishment exercise, he was persevering. The light changed and I had to get going, but I wondered what possible advantage running like this would accomplish. Yeah, sure, I get the weight thing, but his body mechanics were so shot to hell, he: #1) would soon be injured, and #2) never be able to do this long enough to gain any possible positive training effect. But, some trainer told him to do this, and off he went hoping to improve towards his fitness goal.

So, this is not CROSSFITWITHAL, it's RUNNINGWITHAL, so where am I going with this? Well, it doesn't matter how you get your training advice, you have to admit there is ton of it out there. We have well qualified trainers and coaches, books, videos, and of course the always present magazines, like Runner's World. I'm not picking on RW...I've been a reader since I began running over 30 years ago...but, you have to admit their advice does seem to bounce around like a ping-pong ball. Sure, the pendulum of training does swing, but their pendulum can swing from month to month! If you use their advice exclusively, you'll be so confused, you won't know whether to run left-right or right-left. Some coaching guidance is just terrible. But there are pillars of light in the dark (locally, like Danny Haralson), providing sound advice when you need it.But, have you ever noticed that some runners know exactly what to do, but others seem constantly lost? Every runner faces overwhelming information overload when it comes to planning their training or treating an injury. There’s an endless amount of advice out there.

Unfortunately, it can be really difficult to know what to do when you're treating an injury yourself, or trying to implement a self-designed training plan to improve your running. So many runners do nothing specifically– they fall prey to paralysis by analysis. They get stuck in a vicious cycle of dealing with constant little injuries, not knowing whether to run, lift, or rest, or being terrified of changing their status quo, which ain't working either.

Even worse, some runners tackle an injury or their training with a haphazard and uncoordinated plan that’s like the shotgun approach –  try as much as possible and see what sticks. There’s no progression. There’s no consistency. There’s no system. They try everything. They try nothing. Every runner WANTS to reach their goals, but obviously “figuring it out” doesn’t work if you have no plan. Every one of my patients WANTS to get better, but without a plan (and a simple one so they follow the plan), their approach of sitting on the couch waiting to get better probably won't work. Runners are WAY more disciplined than most of my patients, but the shotgun approach to training or injury treatment...sampling random workouts, exercises, rehab treatments, and routines to see what works...usually won't get the job done. Inevitably, nothing will work if there’s no plan.

If you have a training or rehab goal, the truth is that random workouts don’t work. Successful runners all use systems to achieve their goals. Sampling is great for appetizers at a party, but it doesn’t work with running. Sure, if you're just running for fitness, or if you're in a cycle of your training where cutting back is the best thing, then that's where you need to be, but if it's improvement you're searching for, have one or two key workouts each week that you don't shy away from. 
Beginner runners who don’t know how to train for a race do all kinds of wacky things with their training. They will soak up any verbal, written, or social media advice they can get their hands on. And, not knowing any better, they will mix them all together figuring they're all good so the body will figure it out. Beer, spaghetti sauce, and chocolate ice cream are all good, but I doubt mixed together they would make a tasty treat. A few months using this appraoch will yield either injury, or if you're lucky, no improvement in your fitness level.

The body improves when you train consistently or rehab consistently. You stress it repeatedly at an acceptable improve. It's that simple. When your training bounces all over the place  you don't give your confused body a chance to adapt. A plan doesn’t ask anything ridiculous of you, just to do the work so you can adapt and improve.

Even more common are those runners who get injured and don’t know how to get healthy. They’ll take 1-2 weeks off right away and won’t do any rehabilitative exercises during those recovery weeks. Then they’ll “get serious” and start icing every other day and using a foam roller a few times per week. Next is the cross-training cycle: they’ll sign up for a Body Pump class at the gym to “get a strong core” and use the elliptical when there’s time. Then they'll do some exercise they saw on the internet, but never know if they’re doing anything to help, but give up after a week 'cause they still hurt. Finally, they say "the heck with it" and run with the injury and things go further south from there.  

We Love Options. But the problem with options is that we end up doing too much. We try a fitness class. We muddle around in the weight room or use a stationary bike for 20 minutes. We try everything – but in effect we’ve tried nothing. There’s no progress, no fitness gains, and no lasting result. It’s that Stress-Adaptation principle, applied hundreds and thousands of times, that makes runners faster.

Sometimes that process can be repetitive. All good training is a little bit boring – the macro elements of mileage and workouts are repeated over and over again. If I want to improve my trail running so I can drag my butt around the trails in a race, I better get my butt off the flat roads and onto the trails to train.
With your training, always have somewhere to go.That somewhere to go is your goal. Ask some of the veterans you run with what has worked for them in the past. I'll bet they have certain key workouts that they won't stray from. I've often said "Don't learn the recipe, learn the technique". Stick with something you enjoy doing and ask yourself "Does it have a purpose". Don't use the Try Everything, Try Nothing Approach!

But, please, even if it seems like a good idea, don't put a 10# kettle ball on your shoulder and go for your run. I just don't think that's the ticket to a faster time (except in the local Kettle Ball Carrying 10k).

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world" 


Chuckles said...

Thank you so much for this post, Allison! It is as though you were speaking directly to me. Great writing and advice here, thanks.

Al D. said...

I think I might have been writing to a lot of folks, including myself. It's so easy to bounce around trying to everything but not really giving anything a chance. Thanks for reading and commenting.

John Twitty said...

I also enjoy your posts, but only recently was pointed to the blog. Hope to meet you at Oak Mtn one day. I ran the 50k there in May that you recently wrote about. Keep up the good writings!

Al D. said...

Thanks so much John. Glad you enjoy the blog. It helps to write down all the craziness this sport gives us.I always get excited when someone enjoys reading it and comments. I'm sure I'll see you at OM one day. I'll be the guy riding shotgun for everybody up front.

Yo Momma Runs said...

Great post! I am definitely a victim of ping pong methodologies. Part of that is to prevent boredom, which helps me keep at it, so I guess it sort of works for me. But it's kind of like the idea that some special meal plan is going to magically make you lose weight, when the real formula is to take in fewer calories than you use in any given day. With distance running, you have to put in so many miles to be able to comfortably (sort of) spit out a marathon.

And I agree that Danny Haralson is great! We just started working together at Life Time, and I feel like I'm getting to know a legend.