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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Evidence in Favor of Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP)

We have previous discussed post-activation potentiation (PAP) by which an explosive athletic performance is improved by doing heavy resistance exercise beforehand (see  A recent study provides further evidence of the effectiveness of this technique.

Matthews, Comfort and Crebin performed a study on ice hockey players from the English National League.

Experimental Procedure
On two different days, 11 players were timed for their maximal 25-meter sprint-speed on ice both before and 4 minutes after doing the following:
  1. resting
  2. sprinting while towing another skater
  • When the players rested between sprints, they showed no significant improvement in time between their first and second sprints.
  • When the players skated against resistance following the first sprint, their second sprint took a significant 2.6% less time than their first one.
Bottom Line
This study supports others that have found improvement in explosive athletic performance when heavy resistance exercise is performed first. The resistance exercise should call upon the same muscles used in the athletic performance. Using resisted skating in this study was a good way to achieve this goal.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Estimating the Caloric Cost of Running or Walking

A recently published article by Loftin et al. in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (vol. 24, no. 10, pp. 2794-2798, 2010) measured the caloric consumption per mile of 19 normal-weight walkers, 11 overweight walkers, and 20 marathon runners. The subjects were about evenly divided among males and females.

  • Caloric consumption was more related to lean body mass than to total body mass
  • Men burned more calories per mile than women
  • Men and women did not differ in calories consumed per mile per unit body mass
  • In terms of calories per mile per unit body mass, marathon runners burned significantly more than normal-weight walkers who burned significantly more than overweight walkers
The following equation was developed from the experimental data to predict an individual’s caloric consumption per mile:

Men weighed in kilograms:
Calories per mile = (0.789 x kg body mass) + 43.5

Men weighed in pounds:
Calories per mile = (0.3586 x lb body mass) + 43.5

Women weighed in kilograms:
Calories per mile = (0.789 x kg body mass) + 35.8

Women weighed in pounds:
Calories per mile = (0.3586 x lb body mass) + 35.8

Bottom Line
The equation can be useful for those interested in estimating the caloric cost of their walking or running workout.

The Drawback of Exercising on Unstable Surfaces

Stability training, mainly in the form of lifting weights while standing on unstable surfaces, became somewhat popular with the advent of the Bosu Ball, which is a hemispheric ball about 2+ feet across mounted on a flat plastic base. The idea is that the instability of the surface brings muscles into play that are required for maintaining stability; muscles that would be minimally involved when exercising on a stable surface.

A study by Chulvi-Dedrano et al. in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (vol. 24, no. 10, pp. 2723-2730, 2010) tested force production and muscle electrical activity during deadlifts on a stable surface and on two different unstable surfaces.

31 young adult subjects did the following:
  1. Isometric deadlift in which the lifter pulled upward maximally for 5 seconds against an immovable bar
  2. Dynamic deadlift in which a barbell weighing 70% of the individual’s maximal isometric deadlift was lifted for 5 repetitions 
Lifting force was measured during the isometric efforts. Muscle electrical activity of the lower back muscles (paraspinals) was measured during both the isometric and dynamic lifts to indicate how hard the muscles were working. Both of the lifts were done on the following 3 surfaces:
  1. Stable floor
  2. Bosu Ball
  3. T-Bow (a curved board that can rock laterally as one stands on it)
  • In the isometric deadlift, both the force produced and the muscle electrical activity were significantly higher on the stable surface than on either unstable surface.
  • In the dynamic deadlift, muscle electrical activity was significantly higher on the stable surface than on either unstable surface
Bottom Line
This study backs up other ones that have shown that exercising on unstable surfaces does not provide as much stimulus as stable-surface training to the main muscles (prime movers) used to effect the exercise movement. It has previously been shown that more weight can be handled when lifting on stable than unstable surfaces, providing greater stimulus to the muscles. In view of these factors, training on unstable surfaces is not best for increasing the size or strength of the major muscles. However, since such training does bring stability muscles into play, it can be effectively used as a supplement to training on stable surfaces, especially for athletes who engage in sports in which maintaining stability is of major importance (e.g. hockey, figure skating, snow-boarding, gymnastics). The major part of the resistance workout should still be on stable surfaces.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Minimalist or “Barefoot” Running Shoes

For decades, running shoes were rated by Runner’s World magazine and other organizations largely on their ability to absorb shock. As a result, manufactures made heels and soles increasingly thick to rank highly in the ratings. This led to shoes that were quite bulky and thickly padded. In a countermovement to this trend, and inspired by a track coach who included barefoot running is his training programs, Nike came out with the first of the modern minimalist shoes, the Free, in 2004. This lightly-padded shoe was only intended for occasional use, not full weekly mileage.

Proponents of minimalist running shoes say that, because of their light cushioning, people running in them alter their gait to lessen shock. Such changes include landing on the midfoot or forefoot rather than the heel, shortening the stride, increasing stride frequency, and lowering peak impact force. This is claimed to reduce this risk of tibial stress fracture, plantar fasciitis, and other overuse injuries, and to strengthen the feet. Biomechanical testing has verified that Africans who grow up running barefoot strike the ground with only a third of the impact experienced by U.S. runners in shoes. Lightweight shoes also lower the energy cost of running, so a runner can go at a faster pace at the same level of exertion, which translates into faster race times.  However, running experts have cautioned that any switch from heavily cushioned standard running shoes to minimalist shoes must be gradual in order to allow the muscles, bones, and tendons of the foot and leg to adapt.

The minimalist running shoe movement accelerated significantly with the publication of the 2009 book, “Born to Run,” which revealed that the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico get fewer injuries than U.S. runners even though they wear very thin rubber sandals and run extremely long distances. Manufacturers other than Nike came up with their own versions of minimalist shoes. Vibram, an Italian company, introduced its Five Fingers model, in which each toe is individually gloved. It weighs a scant 5.7 oz and has a heel thickness of only 7.2 mm (compared with up to 38 mm on heavily padded “cushion” or “motion control” shoes). This model is now the leader of the minimalist shoe market.

Other running shoe companies have jumped on the minimalist bandwagon. Saucony came out with its Kinvara model, which has somewhat more protection than the free and is intended for regular, rather than occasional, use. New Balance will debut its Minimus in February, which the company says will give a free-foot feel but still have cushioning in key spots. Merrel will put out its Barefoot Collection in February with a sole from Vibram and a very light upper. Also in February, Nike will supplement it Free line with its Lunar Eclipse lightweight stability trainer. Addidas will introduce a light, fast, everyday shoe in the Fall of 2011. Other companies that do not plan to introduce minimalist shoes have been making their existing models lighter and more flexible. Yet there is concern within some shoe companies that runners may switch to minimalist shoes too rapidly and subject themselves to injury.

An important factor in how long it takes to adapt to a minimalist shoe is the difference in thickness between the forefoot and heel padding. It can range from zero for a shoe with no difference between the thickness of heel and forefoot padding, to a 12 mm greater thickness of heel than forefoot padding. If one has been accustomed to running in a heavily padded shoe with a large difference between the padding thickness of heel and forefoot, the adaptation time to a minimalist shoe should be considerable.

As of now, there have been no published articles comparing the injury rate of runners wearing minimalist shoes vs. those training in standard shoes. However, many of the runners who have switched to minimalist shoes swear by them. Yet few market watchers expect such shoes to ever capture a major share of the running shoe market. Currently, no more than 10% of running shoes sold could be called minimalist.

Bottom Line
While few studies have been done on minimalist shoes, evidence suggests that such shoes do alter running gait so as to reduce the degree of foot-strike impact and also allow the foot to flex in a natural manner while in contact with the ground. However, since most Americans have grown up walking, running, and playing sports  in supportive shoes with heels more thickly padded than forefeet, the adaptation to relatively flat and lightly padded shoes can be difficult and potentially injurious. Additionally, such shoes offer little protection against foot injury that can occur when stepping on a rock, tack, or other object. Those who are willing to accept the risk of trying such shoes should do so with caution and increase the weekly mileage they run in them very gradually. It remains to be seen whether the benefits of minimalist shoes outweigh their risks.