Monthly Archives: February 2011

How I became a runner. (sort of)

Beginning running is very hard. I always tell people that I am not a runner. I just pretend to be one. I am a firm believer that runners are born and not necessarily made. I lost 85 pounds and then I started running. Because I run a lot now people assume that I did that by running. In fact, I was never much of a runner. In High School I played three sports but why would I run if I wasn’t going after a ball or trying to score? I am now convinced that runners run because of their bodies, they don’t get their bodies because they run. An elite male runner is maybe 150 pounds at the most. I am still around 200 pounds depending on the day. I have wide shoulders and I lift weights a lot. For me to get down to that weight would be very hard. I have run two half marathon’s and am contemplating running a full this year.
When I first decided to try running I remember having trouble completing two miles. This was after I lost 85 pounds. I was a 12 letter varsity athlete in High School. I played college baseball. It took me 3 months of running once a week to get my calves not to severely cramp up. I needed some motivation. Men’s Health Magazine is one of my favorites. If you follow my twitter twitter.com/JoeLopez55 you know that I often retweet posts from Men’s Health. At the time I saw an event called the Urbanathalon. It was a ten mile race with obstacles such as cabs, building stairs, and even rope climbs. I was pumped for this event. It was a perfect combination of strength and running. It sounded a lot cooler than just running a marathon. Not knowing a lot of about these events I decided not to sign up until I was sure I could complete the event and not embarrass myself. A funny thing happened along the way. I got pretty good at running. I was following a 3 day a week training program which I did my long runs on the weekends. About two months before the event I was up to about 6 miles so I decided to sign up for the event. I logged online and saw that the race was sold out. I had no idea that there was a maximum number of people for the event. All my work didn’t go to waste. I found a half marathon in Jersey City one week after the original date for the Urbanathalon. I signed up immediately for the Newport half marathon and two months later in a steady rain I completed my first ever race in 2 hours 3 minutes and 54 seconds. A half marathon for those of you who don’t know is 13.1 miles. It was a lot of fun with a good crowd. The finish line had lots of free giveaways with food and drinks for the runners. I was hooked. Some races have themes and people wear costumes. Some races have bands along the way and free beer which is always a good thing. Some have whole weekends dedicated to the event. You can explore new cities and give yourself an excuse to get out of town for the weekend. The dinner the night of the race is always the best. After Baltimore my wife and I went to a Spanish Tapas restaurant and the Sangria was flowing. On top of me being a fitness fanatic I am also a bit of a foodie. Although I painstakingly watch my diet I like to indulge on a nice dinner on a special occasion. Finishing a race is always a special occasion. Signing up for a race even if it is a one miler or a 5k can give you the motivation you need to get started. Find a race near you by going to Runnersworld.com or Active.com. While I still don’t consider myself a runner, I like competing against myself. I like going for a nice long run on a beautiful spring day. How often do you get time to yourself? Nothing to do but focus on your breathing and get in the rhythm of your own thoughts. If you have tried running in the past and have failed try again. Remember my first try at it. Months and Months of sore calves and hurting feet. Go one step at a time. Take it slow. I would start with just one run a week. Your body will tell you what you need. I promise if you give it a shot you can learn to love it like I do. As you get better and your confidence grows you will begin to realize that the journey to the race is what makes you stronger. The race itself is just time to have fun and relax. So find a race near you and sign up. Maybe I will see you at my next race. Maybe I can finally do that urbanathalon.

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Yoga for dummies

The single best athletic activity that athletes can do is yoga. Athletes put their bodies through grueling tough stress on a daily basis. Often they are doing the same movements over and over again. Imagine a baseball player who swings from the right hand side. He can develop an imbalance in his obliques, hip flexors, and lateral rotators of the hip. The largest and most often used of these is gluteus maximus. Sticking with the baseball theme, have you ever noticed that baseball players only run in one direction? Tightness in the hips can lead to not being able to change directions as quickly. A tight hipped athlete is a slow athlete. When you study any sport you will find areas where overuse injuries hinder athletic performance.
Yoga can also be used as part of a strength program. Especially for the older athlete who has spent many years developing their base with lifting weights. There is only so many times you can keep increasing the weights before something has to give. Take a look at my last post, “Mr. Universe doesn’t have a Jump shot”, to find out how I feel about single joint exercises and athletic performance. Anyone who has held a warrior 1 or a chair pose for a minute can tell you how tough yoga can be on your legs for muscular endurance and strength. One of the NBA greats Kareem Abdul Jabaar started doing yoga way before it was trendy in the 1970’s. He only played NBA basketball at 7 Feet tall until he was 42 years old. He ended his career as the NBA’s all time leading scorer. Another more current NBA player is also a big fan of yoga for his workouts. Baron Davis of the Clippers is also a big fan of yoga. In 2007 Men’s Health magazine voted him as having the best body in professional sports. He has started kind of a trend among other NBA players by bringing in his personal coach Kent Katich to help his teammates understand the benefits.
A lot of times when someone brings up yoga the immediate response is not good. Men overall and athletes tend to think of yoga as not being too manly. Kent Katich has countered this with blaring hip hop music during his yoga sessions with the NBA’s Clippers. He also doesn’t refer to poses as their traditional yoga names such as fish pose and Crow pose. He instead just told the players how to place their bodies in the positions. Bend forward and touch your toes sounds better than swan dive to professional athletes.
Another person I am a big fan of is Mark Vergesten of Core Performance powered by Athletic Performance in Arizona. Mark is the director of player performance for the NFL player’s association. He has helped countless athletes get combine ready at his facility. His website has a section called Movement Prep. If you look at all of the videos you would realize they are all yoga poses. Taking your body through it’s full and natural range of motion will help stretch and lengthen tight tight areas that are in need of a makeover. Movement prep shows your body how it should be able to move. Most often for people who have never done it they quickly realize that their bodies don’t move that way. Competitive athletes should wonder why and try to fix these postural alignments. Once again for whatever reason the word yoga can bring about fear and hatred at the same time. Movement prep sounds more scientific. Athletes don’t have a problem doing movement prep.
A lot of people work out constantly. What makes some of them elite athletes and others just a step slower to react in athletic situations? Posture may be a key factor. Your body was designed a certain way. Throughout our lives this posture breaks down over time. Every day life can lead to a hunched and rounded upper body. It also can lead to a pelvis tilt which can be caused by tight hamstrings and can lead to lower back pain. In the time I have been sitting here typing this article I am hunched forward with my shoulders rounded toward the computer and an unnatural curve in my lower back. Many people spend their lives at desks writing or typing on a computer. Imagine what this does to our bodies. People who drive for a living and spend hours in a car often have short and tight hip flexors. This inhibits the ability of the glutes to fire properly which can stretch the lower back to a point of chronic pain. Athletes break down their bodies even more by their performance but everyday people also have postural issues as well. If you have pain in your lower back or you have limited movement in your shoulders behind your head you need to try yoga. Most elite athletes have their shoulders drawn back and a nice natural S curve in the spine. This represents a balanced athlete whose body is in it’s natural state and ready to perform. Our ancestors were hunters. They needed to run to get food to feed their families. When we bring our bodies back to that of our natural ancestors we can best perform. Yoga is something that every person should try and especially athletes should do on a regular basis.

athletic yoga

Don't think this is athletic?

Mr. Universe doesn’t have a jump shot

Ever wonder why bodybuilders are never known for being great athletes? It’s because there is a difference in lifting for maximum definition and training for functional fitness. Sometimes athletes get so obsessed with their bodies looking good in the mirror they forget that rarely in sports and in life do muscles fire singularly. Not only do our muscles often work in groups but there is a thin layer of connective tissue called fascia. If you have ever cut into a piece of chicken just beneath the skin you may have seen this fascia. Until recently most scientists thought it was just another layer of gook that really served no major purpose when it comes to human performance and movement. In fact this connective tissue is interwoven throughout every major muscle in your body. It also helps connect each individual muscle fiber into bundles. It helps connect tendon to bone and bone to muscle. In fact the fascia is made of the same material as your skin and skeleton. It is just a different structure. Think ice to water. A study in 2008 found that the tissue even had conductive properties. When a trainer talks about muscles “firing” this fascia allows that to happen. This stuff almost wraps our bodies into one unit. Thus the reasons our bodies work as a unit instead of as individual muscles designed to flex and extend. Our bodies instead have what trainers refer to as a kinetic chain. For example, when a runner is having IT Band issues weak glutes are often the culprit. The glutes or in many runners cases the prirformis is a muscle running diagonally in the hip to but region. When this gets tight from running it can effect the IT Band and cause pain there. When the IT Band becomes inflamed the knee can start to hurt. So, if our bodies break down and feel pain as an overall unit then shouldn’t we train our bodies as an overall unit? Our bodies don’t recognize muscles, they recognize movement. Find a trainer who specializes in functional training and movement prep. Other than myself of course, I am a big fan of Core Performance. It is a website dedicated to athletic movement. It’s founder Mark Verstegen trains countless professional athletes for their sports and for combines and professional workouts. I would recommend the section called Movement Prep. It is a modern day version of stretching. A type of warmup that is designed to wake up the body’s fascia and release the tensions built up by the sport itself. If you are new to this I would recommend finding a trainer to help you execute these properly.

Super Bowl strength and conditioning

Take a look at this video. Todd Durkin is the trainer who works with the Green Bay Packer’s Quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He also works with last year’s Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees. Wow what a resume. In this interview he talks about his basic components when training an NFL quarterback. He mentions having great core strength. Any athlete generates 60% of their power from what we call the core. Think of a fishing pole. Your spine is just like that. When a fish is on the line it can bend the pole to one side or the other. When your muscles are out of balance, your spine is misaligned. All of the muscles that act on the spine need to be even distributed so that your spine is in it’s natural alignment. Each muscle group that makes up your core is a line on the pole. They have to be pulled evenly tight. Todd talks about making sure his athletes are trained symmetrically. If you only did chest exercises without strengthening your lats you will be out of balance. Your shoulders will be pulled forward because the front muscles are tighter than the back ones. Aaron Rodgers uses these principles to get him ready for an NFL season but the average person can use them in their every day lives. Symmetric training and core strength and key factors for everyone who steps foot in a gym. It doesn’t matter if you are an NFL quarterback or an average Joe.