Monday, August 25, 2014

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Looking for a full body, cardiovascular workout?  Try indoor rowing.

Rowing has become more and more popular over the past few years.  It’s a fairly simple cardiovascular activity using the entire body.  It's easy to learn and entirely up to you to control the time, distance, and intensity.  Rowing is great for burning calories, increasing your stamina (through heart rate training!), and strengthening your muscles.  It’s also a low impact activity with much less pressure on the joints than walking, running or jumping.  Joints move through a wide range of motion and when I say the entire body is working, I mean the entire entire body.  With every stroke you are using your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, pecs, biceps, triceps, deltoids, lats, and so on.

Technique is important.

Before you hop on a rowing machine and start rowing, make sure you learn proper form.  Technique is important to keep you injury free and more efficient so you can row better and faster.  Some of my clients are worried about straining the lower back during rowing exercises but if done correctly, power comes from the legs putting minimal stress on the lower back.

The Rowing Sequence

There are two phases in the rowing stroke: the recovery phase and the drive phase.  These two phases can be broken up into 4 positions: Recovery, Catch, Drive, and Finish.

During the recovery phase, your triceps work to extend your arms out in front of you and your upper body (abdominals flexed with back muscles relaxed) is leaning forward at about a 30 degree angle.  Start to bend your knees allowing the seat to slide forward.  The catch position is when your shins are vertical and the balls of the feet are in full contact with the footplate.  To protect your knees, you never want to compress your legs past that.  Your arms are still straight with shoulders level.

The drive phase begins with arms straight and upper body still leaning forward at 30 degrees while beginning to push off the footplates with your legs.  During rowing, power is generated in the drive phase with the muscles of your legs.  Your shoulder muscles are also contracting during this time.  As you straighten your legs, lean your upper body back at 30 degrees, using your core to support your lower back.  Use your biceps to bring your hands back in a straight line toward your lower ribs.  Your glutes and hamstrings are also contracting to extend the hips.  This brings us to the finish position with legs extended, arms at the lower ribs, flat wrists, upper body engaged and still at 30 degrees, head neutral with neck and shoulders relaxed.

Adjust the damper setting

The most common misconception about the Concept 2 Rower is the damper setting.  I’ll admit that I even had this all wrong.  On the Concept 2 Rower, the lever is 1-10 on the flywheel.  The damper setting does not control the level or resistance.  Let me repeat.  The damper setting does not control the level or resistance.

The damper setting controls how much air flows into the flywheel cage.  High settings will allow more air in which takes more work to spin the flywheel.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you will go faster or farther, it just means you will work harder and your muscles will fatigue quicker.  Lower settings allow less air flow making it easier to row.

How do you change the resistance?  You pull harder!  It depends on the leg strength and power behind your push off and how hard you pull using your arms and back muscles.

Start with a setting or 3-5 and experiment with different settings.  Typically 3-5 is ideal for aerobic exercise and building endurance.  Higher settings turn your aerobic exercise into more of a strength workout.

Warm up & start out slow

Before you begin a rowing workout, warm up for 3-5 minutes.  Start out slow and gradually increase your time, distance, and intensity.  Getting too ambitious your first few sessions on the rowing machine will set you up for injury!

Focus on your breathing

Breathing is often overlooked when exercising.  With each inhale, you are filling your lungs with fresh oxygen and supplying muscles with nutrient rich blood whereas each exhale you are flushing out the bad carbon dioxide and waste.  Holding your breath, breathing too fast or too shallow will have an effect on your workout.  Our goal during rowing is deep and relaxed breathing and creating a breathing rhythm related to the rhythm of each stroke.

Most rowers either take one breaths per stroke: inhale during recover, exhale during the drive.  Rowers rowing at high intensities may sneak in a quick second breath per stroke.

See what works best for you and continue the same breathing pattern throughout your workout.  This will keep your muscles happy with continuous and regular oxygen supply.

Last but not least—have fun!

Blog post by Jen Skiba.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Race Week Taper Mode

Whether you’re running the beautiful and prestigious 7-mile Falmouth Road Race course in Falmouth, Massachusetts next Sunday or preparing for your goal race of the year, race week is a very important week.

Let me start out by saying – nothing you do in the week (actually two weeks) before the race will benefit you in terms of aerobic fitness levels, speed, or strength.  Your last long run should be 2 weeks out.  One of the hardest things about taper can be learning to trust your training.  However, cramming in an extra long run or logging mega miles will only lead to tired and heavy legs or even worse… over training and injuries!  You have done all the hard work (hopefully!), now is the time to let your body rest up and prepare for the big day.

I am a big believer in training plans.  There are a million to choose from but the right training plan, if followed, can set you up for a great race.  Sure there are things that we cannot control—like the weather—but doing all the little things that we CAN control make all the difference in the world.

If the race is on Sunday, run like your normally would Monday-Thursday with a day or two off.  Nothing crazy fast or out of the ordinary.  Try 4-6 strides at the end of your run to work on turnover.  Take Friday completely off as a rest day and use Saturday as a “shake out run” or an easy, easy 20-30 minutes max before you tear it up on Sunday.

If the race is early, practice running early.  Set your alarm to get out the door before work.  Your body’s energy levels fluctuate throughout the day depending on your sleep, stress, and nutrition.  If you always run in the morning and you’ve signed up for a night race, make sure to get in a few night runs to see how your body reacts and give it time to adjust.

Eat smart and stick to your regular diet.  Don’t try anything new—especially race morning and the night before the race.  Avoid spicy foods, seafood or anything with heavy cream that may upset your stomach.  During your training, you should have been practicing race nutrition.  The week of the race isn’t the time to experiment with new gels or different pre-run meals.  If you’re running a destination race, call the hotel ahead of time to see what they offer for breakfast.  If not, bring your own meals or stop by the local grocery store when you get to your destination.

Get some sleep!!  And I’m not just talking about the night before.  Try to get to bed a little earlier every night the week of the race.  Your body will thank you.

Drive the course.  Some runners like to drive the course beforehand, others do not.  Knowing the route can be beneficial if you are in new running territory and are nervous about the event.  You can scope out the finish line and all the hills to mentally prepare yourself for what’s to come.

Develop your race day strategy.  Have a plan for how you will tackle the run.  Do you have a goal time in mind?  Do you usually go out too fast?  Are you too conservative so you always feel like you could have done better?  Almost as important as having a strategy is being able to adapt.  What if something goes wrong?  How will you recoup and finish the race?  Maybe you’re having a bad day but never give up.  Take a look around at all the runners, volunteers, and race supporters.  Everyone out there on the course has their own story to tell about their training and struggles.  Appreciate the run and learn from your experiences.  There is always another race to redeem yourself.

Lay everything out the night before.  Pick out (and try on) your race day outfit.  Even better–wear your race day outfit for a run.  Don’t wear new sneakers the day of the race.  Make a checklist of everything you will need: bib number, pins, socks, sneakers, watch, Gu, Body Glide, etc.  Plan your breakfast.  Set your alarm early enough that you aren’t rushed.  Expect traffic.  Add in extra time because you know you will want to wait in a porta potty line and a dynamic warm up before the start.

Try all these race week taper tips and you’ll be arriving at the start line with fresh legs ready to rock a personal best!  Good luck!

Blog post by Jen Skiba.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide To Inner Excellence

Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide To Inner Excellence
By Gary Mack and David Casstevens

Most athletes focus simply on the physical aspect of a sport. Of course, one should do everything they can in order to be in top condition; the secret to reaching a goal has more to do than just the body. Our minds have more power than expected, with more and more athletes realizing that it can make or break a performance.

Strengthening and training the mind will require a little extra time, but the results have proven to be outstanding. Many athletes already have a strong mentality to keep them motivated, but they are doing a few things wrong that ‘Mind Gym’ explains. For example, in one chapter Mack and Casstevens reveal the effect of positive repetition to oneself. Say that you can AND will do something in order to get the desired result instead of focusing on something that you should not do. Say to yourself “Do not hit this golf ball in the water” and your chances of that ball landing in the water have massively increased. We may be on the track to doing a few things correctly, but there are tricks to the madness that must be learned and practiced.

Throughout the book there are techniques and lessons on learning how to master the mind in sports. One instrumental practice said to be a huge help is meditation before competing. Meditate about your greatest moments, and picture yourself doing everything right once again in an upcoming event. “If you take twenty athletes of equal ability and give ten mental training they will outperform the ten who received no mental training every time. This is what we call the head edge.” There is no arguing the facts. It’s time to get ahead of the game by preparing mentally.

For the full understanding, ‘Mind Gym’ relates a myriad of experiences that prove just how successful a person with a robust mind can be. There are probably thousands of tremendously useful quotes throughout the book, including “A positive mental attitude is essential to becoming the hero that is within you” and “Fear of failure makes failure more likely.”

There exists TWO answers to improving a performance and it is time that people start focusing more on the incredible power of the mind and not just the body.

-Keep this book in mind for either your present or future self, a family or friend. Give them the advice they have been looking for.-

Blog post by 2014 Summer Intern Geena Franciosi.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

4 Ways to Ease Sore Hamstrings

Massage your hamstrings.
Use a foam roll or massage stick to loosen knots in your muscles.

Mix up your routine.
Try cross training in the pool. A little variation gives your body a break from always doing the same thing and putting stress on the same areas.

Adjust your training volume every third week. 
If you’re a runner, cut your mileage by a third to a half to give your body time to recover. You can still train just as hard.

Strengthen your glutes! 
If your glutes are weak, your hamstrings will have to work overtime to pick up the slack. One idea: Include mini band walks in your workout to strengthen your glutes. Just make sure you’re feeling it in your glutes and not your hamstrings.

Blog post by Farran Jalbert.