RUN FASTER (WITHOUT ALL THE WORK)June 1st, 2010
RUN FASTER (WITHOUT ALL THE WORK)
Sure, you need to do long runs, tempo sessions, and hill repeats to get stronger. But you don't always have to break a sweat in your quest to set a new PR or shave a few seconds off your daily loop. Make this to-do list part of your daily routine.
By Kelly Bastone
DO THIS In the Morning
Set Your Alarm
Embrace your inner early bird. British scientists found that when cyclists exercised at 6:45 a.m., they could sustain an intense pace for a longer period compared with when they exercised at 6:45 p.m. Your core body temperature is lower in the a.m., so it takes longer to overheat from exercise performed in warm conditions, says lead researcher Ruth Hobson, M.Sc., a doctoral student at Loughborough University in England. Plus, levels of cortisol (a hormone that helps break down fat for fuel) are higher at daybreak, "which might help you run a little farther, faster, and with more energy," says Hobson.
Hard training taxes your immune system, leaving you susceptible to colds and worse. Reinforce your defenses with probiotics—live, "good" bacteria available in dietary supplements and foods such as yogurt, cultured milk products, miso, and tempeh that maintain a healthy balance of microorganisms in the digestive system. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that when elite distance runners took a daily probiotic supplement, they experienced fewer days of cough and cold symptoms; when symptoms did occur, they were less severe. The added stores of good bacteria may strengthen the body's mucous membranes and make it harder for invaders to penetrate, says lead researcher David Pyne, Ph.D. Stay sniffle-free with a daily serving of yogurt or kefir (a cultured milk drink); look for items containing the Live & Active Culture seal, which identifies products high in probiotics, says Tara Gidus, R.D. For year-round health insurance, take a supplement containing 14 to 30 billion active bacteria. "There may be more germs around in winter, but colds can also strike during the summer race season, when they can force runners to miss critical training days," says Gidus.
Down Some D
"Years of evidence suggests that vitamin D improves athletic performance," says Bruce Hollis, Ph.D., of the Medical University of South Carolina. In a recent research review, Hollis found that athletes who absorbed the vitamin through ultraviolet light or supplements exercised faster, stronger, and with greater endurance than those who missed out. Receptors in our muscles and heart absorb the nutrient, which may, in turn, stimulate muscle function, says Hollis. Since sunscreen blocks the wavelengths that produce D, try a supplement instead. Take 2,000 to 4,000 International Units per day, depending on your age.
Get a Buzz On
University of Illinois researchers discovered that athletes who consumed caffeine (the equivalent of about two to three cups of coffee) before high-intensity workouts felt less muscle pain throughout the session. Caffeine may help block receptors involved in the processing of painful stimuli, explains lead researcher Robert Motl, Ph.D. "The possible implication is that athletes could push harder during training and competition, and experience greater adaptations and improved performance," he says. It's still unclear if lower doses have the same effect, but start with a single cup of joe or black tea 30 minutes to an hour before your run to make sure you can tolerate it, says Gidus. Caffeinated gels typically contain 20 to 50 milligrams of caffeine, compared with 80 to 150 milligrams in a cup of coffee. As a result, they provide a slightly weaker prerun pick-me-up. Gels do provide carbohydrate delivery to working muscles, however, so take a couple of them with you on your runs, Gidus says.
Pull On Tight Socks
Sport a pair of compression socks and you'll not only look like a (dorky) superhero, you might run like one, too. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that the squeeze from the stockings may stimulate an increased flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles, which helps them work more efficiently, and can significantly improve running performance.
Lace High and Snug
Runners who used the highest (seven-eyelet) and tightest lacing pattern experienced reduced pronation velocity and stress on the foot. Running in a poorly laced shoe can cause the foot to slip around and force the wearer to use more effort to push off, which hastens fatigue, says researcher Marco Hagen of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.
Clear Your Head
Speedwork after a tense power meeting? Better make it an easy day instead. Mental fatigue may lower runners' perceived tolerance for physical endurance, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Runners who reported feeling mentally worn-out reached perceived exhaustion on a treadmill test nearly two minutes earlier than their rested counterparts. "Mental tiredness made the workout seem harder," says Christopher Travers, M.S., an exercise physiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Schedule tough sessions on days you know you'll feel rested and upbeat. Or "work out in the morning, before you get bogged down by the day's mental challenges," says Travers.
Turn It Up
Tap into your tunes and you'll run harder for longer. Researchers at London's Brunel University found that students listening to motivational music ran 15 percent longer than those who ran in silence at the same intensity. Additionally, the listeners reported a more positive mood, right up to the point of exhaustion. Music's tempo and rhythm, when coordinated with the stride of the student, may be responsible for the performance boost—but not all playlists are created equal, says lead researcher Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D. In a separate study, Karageorghis found that songs with 120 to 140 beats per minute are best for keeping your spirits up during a run (study subjects ran to tracks by Queen, Madonna, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Since wearing earbuds while running can be dangerous, keep the volume down and stick to familiar routes that offer good visibility so you can see who, and what, is around.
Check Yourself Out
Runners who watched their reflection in a mirror-type setup while exercising on the treadmill improved their running efficiency, reports a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. The feedback may boost your sense of stability, which may translate into better form. "It's like running behind someone," says study author Nicola J. Hodges, Ph.D. "It's easier to adopt the pace and rhythm of the person in front of you." That's because we humans naturally try to match the rhythm of our surroundings—whether we're clapping at a concert or running in a pack.
DO THIS After You Run
Add Water to Ice
Bounce back faster after hard workouts: Add water to your ice pack to reduce pain and swelling. The combination is more effective than ice alone at lowering muscle temperatures, according to a study in the Journal of Athletic Training.
Go Faster at Crunch Time
Fast sit-ups recruit more muscles than slow ones do, reports the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Translation: Greater overall ab strength—and speed. "Strong abs contribute to faster running because they help maintain good running posture, especially during explosive movement," says Thomas Cappaert, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and Certified Athletic Trainer at Central Michigan University. That said, he warns that performing ab exercises at speed can lead to injury. Increase the tempo gradually and practice good form: Don't hunch your shoulders, and maintain a stable posture without flattening the normal lumbar curve at the base of your spine.
Go to Bed Already
Shaving seconds off your runs may be as simple as spending more time in the sack. A Stanford University study concluded that athletes who increased their sleep to 10 hours per day (including naps) clipped more than half a second off their sprint times. "Sleep is your body's rest mode," says William Sands, Ph.D., Director of the Monfort Family Human Performance Research Lab. "It's the one thing you can guarantee will help you recover and improve your performance overall." Shut off all technology one hour before bed to let your brain relax. Soak in a hot bath for 15 minutes before turning in; the heat will raise your core body temperature, which helps you drift off faster, says Sands.
News You Can Lose
Ridiculous conclusions throughout history that have—thankfully—failed the test of time
Among the Athenians, only upper class men deserved athletic opportunities and were trained to perfect their physical beauty through exercise—everyone else was limited to watching the upper crust compete, according to Athletics in Ancient Athens.
If your Dad was a dud as a jock, you will be, too, implied physician George Cheyne, M.D., in An Essay of Health and Long Life. Today, researchers suspect that while genes do provide athletic pluses and minuses, dedicated training plays an important role, too.
If you're going to bathe, you should do so only after exercising, warned Adrian Peter Schmidt, fitness expert and author of Illustrated Hints for Health and Strength for Busy People. He claimed that the stimulation of a cold bath is "too severe and the reaction, though sometimes pleasant, is anything but invigorating, as depression soon follows."
Over the hill? Forget running—it'll stress your heart, said doctors. "Back then, people over 40 were even encouraged to move from a two-story to a one-story house to reduce their exertion," recalls Kenneth Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., founder of Cooper Aerobics Center, who is credited with starting the modern fitness movement.
Your fitness score at the end of the exercise manual How to Keep Fit and Like It, by Arthur H. Steinhaus, Ph.D., was determined in part by how well you answered such crucial questions as: "Do you know the best safeguards against atomic attack?" Other determining factors included your tendency to spit on the sidewalk and how regularly you "check light, heat, ventilation, and safety hazards at home and at work."
Had a heart attack? Don't run. As medical professionals began to challenge that notion, Cooper says, doctors predicted that, "America would be full of dead joggers." A decade later, researchers recommended that heart attack patients could—and should—resume an exercise program.
In Cooper's bestseller Aerobics, he promoted the revolutionary concept that aerobic exercise was a cure-all, and felt that marathoners were immune to heart attacks.
Doctors fretted that women who jogged risked a prolapsed uterus, a condition where the connective tissue holding the uterus weakens, causing it to descend into the vaginal canal or, in severe cases, fall out. "My gynecologist told me I'd better be really careful about that running thing, that it could cause problems for my uterus," recalls Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a race number. "He cited no evidence, but acted as if this was confirmed truth. Of course, he was smoking a cigarette as he told me this."
Running is bad for your bones. Or so went the widely held notion that "wear and tear" from running increased your risk for osteoarthritis. However, a recent study spanning nearly 20 years and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that arthritic knees were no more common in long distance runners than in nonrunners.