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Category Archive: Health/Wellness

How to Increase Your Running Speed

Running coaches share their tips on building speed for both short and long distances.

Speed is key to running — and not just when it comes to your morning jog or sprinting for the bus when you’re late for work.

“It doesn’t matter whether you want to be a great runner or just include running as part of your fitness,” says coach Pete Magill, author of SpeedRunner. “Speed is at the crux of every distance, whether you’re training for a 5K or a marathon.”

That’s because legs that move swiftly and efficiently are legs that have endured speed training. Sprinting has been shown to build muscle, improve ankle strength, and boost bone density. It balances blood-sugar and hormone profiles, burns fat, and increases aerobic capacity for long, slow efforts of endurance sports.

Moreover, running faster can help you avoid injury because you are moving more efficiently, says Magill. It can also help you set a new personal record, which isn’t a fitness requirement but can motivate many runners.

The idea of speed workouts often intimidates those who worry about injuries or prefer to remain in their running comfort zone. But Magill argues that we ought to rethink our attitude about speed.

“The word ‘speed’ scares people,” Magill says. “But what we’re really talking about is just varied-pace work.” He asserts that it’s beneficial for all runners to train at a variety of speeds regardless of their goals or expertise.

“For beginners, the first goal should be just to complete the distance,” explains Rebekah Mayer, Life Time Run national program manager. “But even from the beginning, interval training can be very helpful.”

Magill and Mayer share their advice for building speed safely and efficiently.

TECHNIQUE TIPS

Build a Strong Foundation

To get speedy, you first need a strong, stable base. Magill recommends that runners with no speed background follow a resistance-training program once or twice a week for three weeks before attempting challenging running work-outs, such as hill repeats and sprints.

“If you can strengthen your muscles and connective tissue before you put them to work, you’re way ahead of the game,” he says.

For resistance training, focus on lower-body and core exercises, such as squats, step-ups, single-leg deadlifts, Nordic hamstring curls, eccentric heel drops, and plank variations. (See Resistance-Training Exercises below for step-by-step instructions for these exercises.)

Improve Your Stride

Half of the power from every stride comes from elastic energy, stored in connective tissue when you land and released when your foot leaves the ground, Magill explains. So, it’s important not only to strengthen muscles through traditional resistance training, but also to train your connective tissue — including tendons, ligaments, and fascia — and nervous system.

Exercises and drills that involve a plyometric component, such as bounding, jumping, and skipping (see drill 2 below), help your muscles and nervous system optimize this elastic recoil when you run.

Respect Recovery

Once you incorporate speed training into your routine, it’s doubly important to prioritize recovery. Mayer recommends alternating between all-out interval sessions and long, slow efforts — with high-intensity work making up about 20 percent of your training and low-intensity runs composing the remaining 80 percent.

This approach is called “polarized training” and will not only help you make improvements but also give your muscles and nervous system time to recover.

She recommends two sessions a week dedicated to varied-pace or speed training, with at least 48 hours of recovery between workouts.

Recovery is a two-phase process, adds Magill. “First, you’re rebuilding and restoring tissue that was damaged. Then comes supercompensation, a phase in which you’re not just back to baseline, but at a level above where you were before the initial workout.”

DRILLS

Drill 1: Straights and Curves

Run this drill on an outdoor, quarter-mile track. Beginners can start with two to four laps; more advanced runners can work their way up to two miles (eight laps).

  • Warm up with a mile of easy running.
  • Then, starting at one corner of the track, sprint the length of the first straight or long part of the track.
  • When you come to the first curve, jog or walk if necessary. Continue alternating between running the straights and walking the curves.

Drill 2: Skipping and Strides

Do this drill in an open space where you can run in a straight line for at least 20 yards. More advanced runners can work up to 50 to 70 yards.

  • Skip to your endpoint.
  • Jog back to the starting point.
  • Run with varied strides to the endpoint: Take off with a short, quick stride and gradually lengthen your stride to increase your speed until you’re running at a controlled fast pace. Gradually slow down as you reach your endpoint.
  • Walk slowly to return to the starting point.
  • Repeat this drill with high skipping (aiming to get higher off the ground with each skip) and then with long skipping (aiming to cover as much distance as possible with each skip).

This originally appeared as “No Speed Limit” in the March 2019 print issue of Experience Life.

 is a personal trainer in River Forest, Ill.

Full Issue can be found on Experience Life Magazine.

The Right Fuel for You

One important facet of training, nutrition, is just as tedious to add to your routine as all the other elements. In the same manner in which we diligently select our training shoes, gear and schedule; we should be applying to our nutrition.

Today we will focus on nutritional supplements. In this day and age, there isn’t an hour that passes that you are not reminded of the awesomeness of X product or the earth-shattering results of Y product.

Let’s face it, sometimes we need that extra kick to get us through the day. Not all supplements are created equal. There are powders, drinks, gels, energy chews and bars. Whether you feel like you need a boost during a long run or are curious to train with a product that will appear on course, here you will fund a guide to what’s best for you and your training plan:

Sports Drinks

Examples: Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water

Ideal intake: 110 mg of sodium / 6-8% carbohydrates per 8 ounce serving

Sports drinks are primarily a mix of carbohydrates and water which quickly and easily fuel your body with an energy boost while keeping you hydrated. The sodium in these drinks help to retain fluids and nutrients which leave the body through sweat. Adding protein to the mix could elevate your endurance and has been found to help an individual perform better than a non-protein drink. The proper balance of these elements is essential. Read your labels before buying. These energy drinks should only be consumed when training as they are heavy in sugar and have little nutritional value.

Energy Gels

Example: GU, CLIF Shot, Gatorade Energy Chews

Ideal Intake: 25 -30 grams of carbohydrates / 50 mg of sodium

Energy gels have the same function as energy drinks – quick energy – in a super concentrated form. Generally supplied as on course supplements during long runs, gels are easy to consume and fast acting. Be wary of caffeinated items as they will help you last longer but bring with it an equally egregious crash. We recommend that you train with gels as they highly body specific and what may work on most may not work on you. All gel intake should be accompanied, at minimum, by 16 ounces of water.

Energy Bars

Example: CLIF Bar, Powerbar

Ideal Intake: 200-250 calories / 5 grams of fat & fiber / 10 grams of protein

These are great nutritional supplements as they are filled with carbohydrates and protein but are more filling and able to satisfy hunger best during long runs. Energy bars are the most diverse and nutritious of the list as bars are often filled with good grains and fiber. When shopping for the ideal bar, it is best to picture when you would be eating the bar – prior, during, post – a run. The rule of thumb weighs in on lighter fiber, heavier carbs with plenty of water for during and heavier, protein based bards for pre or post runs.

 

Cruisin’ in the USA

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had never experienced such a sense of pure, ecstatic joy up until my 12th year of life when I received what would be a life changing gift: my first bike. As my hands shook, I did my best to delicately remove the red ribbon my mother had attached to the handlebars. I could barely see what I was doing through the tears welling up in my eyes. Having asked for nothing else for three whole Christmases, birthdays and heck, even national holidays (Labor Day sales always had the best selection), this light pink Schwinn Talula cruiser before me was the stuff of dreams.

Complete with a basket and bell, I could not wait to take it out and ride it into the sunset. Or, how it turns out, ride it around the block a couple of times before I had to change for church. Your first bike is a rite of passage. The possibilities and freedom that it allotted you as a young adolescent to explore the neighborhood and meet new friends; the independence it bestowed as you rode it to school. These are still the same sensations and attributes that cycling continues to provide even as adults.

Pedalin’ Prowess

In recent times, there has been a steady boom in the integration of cycling back into our daily lives. The boom is largely responsible for the new onslaught of bike sharing programs, commuting options and the reemergence certain sports, such as triathlon, to keep cycling in the mainstream. It is the flexibility and accessibility of these features, coupled with its environmentally friendly consumption and health benefits to its users that it continues to claim and revolutionize our cities today. In just Chicago alone, there are “200-plus miles of bike lanes and 13,000 bike racks…(With a plan to have) a total of 645 miles of lanes by 2020.” Below we look at some of the newcomers to the bike scene, the benefits to cycling and the importance of sharing the road.

Goin’ Green and Fightin’ Fit

The health benefits to cycling are numerous. The calorie burning from just an hour of riding a bike can be anywhere from 500 – 650 calories. It is great cross training for new swimmers as the intensity and range helps build your lounges and air intake. Riding a bike works on multiple muscle groups from your quadriceps to your calf muscles; helping to keep you on point, in one swift pedal, with leg day. The beauty of biking comes from your environment. We often get lost in our heads when running or lifting weights but biking keeps you present and keeps you energized as it allows you to take on challenges as they come: hills, crowded pathways, the open road. As we mentioned earlier, it helps with cross training from other sports such as swimming and running as it eases up the exertion placed on your arms and feet.

In cities like Miami, where public transportation is more of a hassle than a benefit, new bike lanes in the downtown area and public parks have allowed for a cleaner, more affordable option to get around. According to the National Household Travel Survey, “Americans older than 25 accounted for most of the increase in cycling…” Millennials seem to be the driving force behind the sustainability and fitness efforts behind the recent surge.”We are more aware of the pollution crisis and the affect our negligence will have on future generations. We are living through stronger storms and more volatile weather all due to global warming. If there is anything to be done, it needs to start now.” states Chelsea Walsh of Biscayne Bay. In an effort to combat our ever increasing air pollutants, many jobs have offered stipends or perks to those employees who commute to work. In addition, these new lanes and special parks are being built in once abandoned and derelict areas of the city that will be transformed with beautification projects that include gardens and compost areas.

Learning to Share the Road

While there has been a reemergence in the pastime, there are still dangers to contend with when out on the road. When bike sharing first emerged, there was a major outcry against programs such as Divvy and Citi bikes as many stated that it would flood the already brimming crowds of bustling cities.. Having to be aware of tourist pedestrian traffic while in your vehicle is one thing, but adding speed and inertia has led to countless accidents and hospitalizations. Whether the error lies on the cyclist or the vehicle varies in each situation but for the most part the fault is two-fold. Ride sharing benefits the city as an extension of tourism but riders are novices to the layout and without proper protection. They are more focused on finding where they’re going than to their immediate surroundings. At the same time, there are more experienced bikers who neglect the rules of the road and will swirl past traffic and stop lights to beat traffic.

Many vehicle drivers forget to share the road and will make lane changes or turns without being cognizant of our bikers. I know I’ve been the recipient of foul and imaginative slew of words when cutting off a fellow cyclist. Bike lane improvements have been proposed in many cities to add items such as buffers, plants and cement partitions to further protect both entities on the road. The latest study, published as a research letter Sept. 1 in JAMA, documents “a rise in cycling-related injuries and hospitalizations among adults from 1998 to 2013. Adjusted for age, reported injuries rose 28 percent, and resulting hospitalizations increased 120 percent. There was also an increase, to 56 percent from 40 percent, of accidents that occurred on streets.”

Safety First

Education plays a vital role if we want to make any progress in fully and efficiently integrating cycling into our daily lives. While the idea of buying a car without seat belts is bizarre, slow progress has been made in properly educating newcomers to keeping safe. Yasamin Sabeti, a local Chicago resident brings up a good point: “One of the things that scares me the most is seeing so many cyclists without helmets. It is the only protection you have between outside negligence and your brain. Not sure why this is still an option and not a requirement.” There are many gadgets out there today to keep you protected and safe; ranging from lights to side mirrors to reflective clothing. The industry is growing with the popularity rise, with many local bike stores seeing a surge in both attendance and sales.

The surge of sports such as triathlon and cycling have also helped to educate the populace by bringing the importance of safety to the forefront. Many events are certified by upper governing bodies such as USA Triathlon, who adhere to strict guidelines when competing in one of their events. Kids will see their favorite celebrities in protective gear and will follow suit. Many schools are hoping to implement videos and programs into their curriculum in an effort to bring light to the severity of negligence in the same manner that drunk driving videos have done to first time drivers.

In essence, there is much innovation coming forth from the cycling world and it is interesting to see how cities and their populace continue to integrate and grow with the surge. Whether you’re an active commuter or a novice unwrapping their first bike with shaking hands, there is no denying the many strides that have been made for our favorite pastime.

See below for links to amazing biking programs in a city near you!

Miami, FL

Chicago, IL

New York City, NY

Denver, CO

San Diego, CA

 

Works Cited
Brody, Jane. “Cycling 1o1 Needn’t Be Collision Course.” 21 Sept. 2015 https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/cycling-101-neednt-be-collision-course/

Old Dog, New Tricks

As we get older, we tend to stay set in our ways of thinking and behaving. We learn what works for us, and we tend to stay content in our comfort zones. However, studies have shown that a childlike approach to life in certain situations can actually be beneficial to our aging brains!

 

Over our lifetime, we have learned to integrate our many years of education and skill building into our current thought processes and how we approach our everyday lives. University of California-Riverside psychology professor Rachel Wu, PhD published an article supporting the idea, however, that in order to protect our brains as we grow older, stepping outside of our comfort zones and incorporating a more youthful approach to life is important. She states that “across your lifespan, you go from ‘broad learning’ (learning many skills as an infant or child) to ‘specialized’ learning (becoming an expert in a specific area) when you begin working, and that leads to cognitive decline initially in some unfamiliar situations, and eventually in both familiar and unfamiliar situation.”

 

There are six key factors that can help explain the difference between the broad learning and specialized learning:

 

  1. OPEN-MINDED VS. CLOSED-MINDED. AS WE AGE, WE’RE LESS LIKELY TO TRAVEL OUTSIDE OUR COMFORT ZONES.
  2. CONSISTENT ACCESS TO TEACHERS AND MENTORS VS. NO ACCESS. THEY’RE OUT THERE, OF COURSE, BUT WE SELDOM SEEK THEM OUT.
  3. A GROWTH MINDSET VS. A FIXED MINDSET. ONCE WE’RE SETTLED IN OUR JOBS, MOST OF US FEEL LIKE WE KNOW ALL WE NEED TO KNOW.
  4. A FORGIVING ENVIRONMENT VS. ONE IN WHICH FAILURE COMES WITH CONSEQUENCES. WHY TAKE A RISK WHEN IT COULD GET YOU FIRED?
  5. A SERIOUS COMMITMENT TO LEARNING VS. A LACK OF PERSEVERANCE. THE OLDER WE GET, THE LESS LIKELY WE ARE TO SOLDIER ON THROUGH DIFFICULT SUBJECTS.
  6. LEARNING MULTIPLE SKILLS SIMULTANEOUSLY VS. A SINGULAR FOCUS. IT’S HARD ENOUGH TO LEARN ONE NEW THING AT THIS AGE, SO WHY PUSH YOURSELF?

(list provided by Experience Life)

 

In relation to this, an article published by the Harvard Medical School stated that “challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active, but pursuing a hobby or learning a new skill can function the same way.” Keeping our minds fresh and active has also been proven to diminish signs of dementia as we age!

 

According to Psychology Today, as we age, we still have an inner child dwelling us, even though some adults are unaware of this. The inability to recognize this metaphoric child within us, however, can lead to many behavioral, emotional, and relationship difficulties in our everyday lives. According to Stephen A. Diamond, PhD, “to become adults, we’ve been taught that our inner child–representing our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity and playfulness–must be stifled, quarantined or even killed.” The very qualities that positively mirror our inner child can be lost or forgotten as we age, and, in turn, can be detrimental to our health and well-being. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the non-profit organization called the National Institute for Play, has studied the benefits of incorporating fun and childlike activity into our everyday lives. His research has stemmed back about 40 years, and has proven that fun and play time can actually decrease a person’s risk of depression and feelings of being ‘stuck’. So, not only does a childlike approach positively affect our aging brains, it is crucial for our mental health as well!


Getting comfortable in our everyday routines is something that is bound to happen to most people at some point. However, as we age, it is important that we do not remain stuck. Rather, it is essential that our minds stay active, and we force ourselves out of our comfort zones every once in a while.

Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?!

 

CK

 

 

Works Cited:
Cox, Craig. Experience Life. “Pumping Irony: New Tricks for an Old Dog.” https://experiencelife.com/article/new-tricks-for-an-old-dog/
 Cutter, John. Orlando Sentinel. “It’s important to learn new things as we age.” http://www.orlandosentinel.com/health/aging/cycling-into-aging/os-growing-old-learn-new-skills-20160606-story.html
Diamond, Stephen A. Psychology Today. “Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/200806/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-the-inner-child