Tuesday, May 29, 2012

10 Tips to Run a Faster 5K

Last week I ran a 5K and got a new personal best for that particular course and ran my fastest 5K in 10 years. That got me thinking about some of the little things I have learned and fine tuned over the years. I admire serious runners, but I don't pretend to be one. I'm just a recreational runner and the advice I'm about to give is aimed to that same group, so if you run a 5K in under 18 minutes, you don't need to keep reading.

1-Train well in advance- The most obvious way to improve your time for any running event is it to prepare and train before hand. There is no substitution for preparation, so the most important thing you can do to run faster is it to train well in advance to improve your conditioning.

2-Get quality rest- This not only applies to getting enough sleep the night before the race, but letting your body rest and recuperate before a race rather than put it through a hard workout prior to the event.

3-Don't forget the little things- Tie your shoes well, wear appropriate gear, and keep your toenails trimmed! I know this sound like "no duh" advice, but it's a shame to overlook such simple little things and have them negatively impact your performance.

4-Fuel your body- If you are running a long distance event, you may want to carb load, just don't do a Michael Scott by wolfing down your Olive Garden take out while you are standing at the starting line. Learn what eating routine works best for you so you don't have to take chances experimenting before a race.

5-Get hydrated- You should be hydrated long before you start running and stay hydrated along the way. When you become dehydrated, you can only function at a fraction of your peak performance.

6-Use Music- I know many serious runners frown on music, but if you like to run to music, listen to something that will keep your pace and cadence where it should be. I have a couple songs I like to run to because I know if I stick to the beat, I will run a mile in exactly 7 minutes, so it keeps my pace consistent. Songs in the 180 beats per minute category are ideal. Keeping you cadence up can be hard to do if you are listening to Kenny G.

7-Warm up before the race- I used to wonder why some people were wasting their energy sprinting and jogging around before the race began. I now understand the value of getting your muscles and joints warm and loose to allow a better range of motion and to prevent injury.

8-Pace yourself- I usually have a pretty fast first mile and feel good about myself until I start getting passed on the last mile by all the disciplined runners who were smart enough to pace themselves. It's no fun to run out of gas because you started too fast.

9-Kick to the finish line- As you near the end of the race, you'll see a big finish sign, a cheering crowd, and your adrenaline will be pumping. Take advantage of these factors and push hard to the finish line.

10-Mentally prepare- Envision yourself running the course successfully. Know what to expect can be a huge psychological boost. I really like running a race course on my own a couple days before the event so I know what to expect and can visualize what it will be like.

As you apply these ten tips, they can add up and make a big difference and help you run a faster 5K.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Dose of Inspiration

I always enjoy seeing motivational transformations. I came across this video a couple weeks ago and found it to be very inspiring for several reasons. It's one thing to be overweight and then get back into shape, but when injuries are involved and medical professionals tell a person that they will never be able to walk unassisted, it would be very easy to accept their expert prognosis and give up.

Arthur believed he could change and exercised the will power and patience to do so. Since he lacked mobility, he was not able to do traditional exercise, so he did low impact isometric exercises. I think it is very interesting that he was able to make such an amazing transformation by practicing yoga.

It's amazing what people can do when they believe they can change and are willing to put in the required work to accomplish their goals. What do you want to change in your life?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Biggest Loser Insights

I was recently watching some old episodes of The Biggest Loser and found it to be very entertaining and motivational, but there were several things about the show that concerned me. Below I list 5 areas of concern that I keep noticing whenever I watch the show.

1) The contest is geared towards super heavy contestants. It's always more dramatic to see someone drop 120 pounds than it is to see someone lose 40. It makes for exciting television to see someone lose 25 pounds in a week, but it really bothers me when I see contestants or viewers feel like a failure because they were only able to lose 2-3 pounds during the week. It sets some unrealistic expectations for the average person. I know people who have wanted to audition for the show, but they knew they don't have a chance unless they were extremely overweight so they tried to gain more weight in order to help their odds of being a candidate.

2) There is too much focus on the weight scale. I'd like to see more emphasis on body composition and measurements. I know these other parameters are tracked and calculated, but the show focuses so much on that giant obnoxiously suspenseful scale.

3) The competitive nature can get ugly. The concept of voting someone off and forming alliances should be saved for shows like Survivor and Fear Factor, not for people who are working to improve their health. I'm all for competition and think it can be healthy, but I don't like the way they pit contestants against each other in certain scenarios.

4) The training is often too extreme. Pushing out of shape people to the point of exhaustion and yelling at them until they are in tears might appeal to some people, but I think it's a recipe for injury. One of the episodes I watched featured 4 contestants with injuries that were a result of over training. Gradual progression and reasonable workouts are safer, but not nearly as exciting to watch.

5) It's not realistic. The participants live full time at a secluded ranch with teammates in similar circumstances. Their meals are prepared for them and they have personal trainers to work them out. As appealing as this may sound, do you know anyone in the real world that lives under such circumstances? If you wanted to make it real, have them do the challenge while taking care of their family or while working a full time job and dealing with the stresses of everyday life while trying to get back in shape.

I hope this post doesn't come across that I'm trying to bash The Biggest Loser. Overall, I think the show is very motivating and entertaining and I love seeing people make positive changes to their body and adopt healthier lifestyles, but there are some subtle messages the show gives (perhaps inadvertently) that I don't care for because I don't believe those messages are healthy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A False Sense of Healthy

I get a kick out of the subtle marketing efforts that attempt to make certain foods appear healthier than they really are. Food manufacturers are not the only ones guilty of doing this. Many of us use the same techniques to try and justify that it's not such a bad thing to eat certain foods. I've written previous posts about the topic of kidding yourself.

Little things are often said or emphasized to make us think a food is more natural or healthy than it really is. I'm not saying the foods listed below should never be eaten, but it makes me laugh when I hear people emphasize certain ingredients in order to justify that a food is healthy. Here are some foods I've heard people promote in the past as being "healthy".

Carrot Cake- it's made of vegetables, it must be good for you.
Fries with skins on and seasoned with sea salt -extra fiber!
Vegetarian pizza-It's almost like a salad without the meat.
Apple Crisp- it's made of oats and brown sugar, not highly refined ingredients.
Ice cream with real fruit chunks- no syrup or or sugary toppings.
Candy Bars- chocolate is an antioxidant!
Blueberry muffins- blueberries are good for your eyes.
Low calorie potato chips- they have half the calories of other brands.

Some advertisers also like to tell us their products contain no MSG, no cholesterol, low sodium, sugar free, no trans fats, etc. on the labels of some products that would never have had these ingredients in the first place in an attempt to make a food look even more healthy.

If you are going to eat a food that you probably shouldn't, then I will admit that the lesser of two evils mentality can be helpful. I'm not knocking lower calorie foods or healthier choices, I'm just saying don't go bragging about how healthy or how clean you have been eating when your conscience knows better.

When I find myself sounding like a politician, trying to justify that my food choices weren't so bad, I now just laugh about it. We have a family joke when we are guilty of stretching the truth and we now just say "Oh that's healthy".

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why Good Form Is Important

Sometimes at the gym I see people performing exercises with picture perfect form and it's a thing of beauty, but it's more common to see people with horrible lifting form. Sometimes my back hurts just from watching them.

I've been guilty of poor form myself. There are times when I'm trying to beat a record or get a new personal best, so I cut corners and get sloppy. If I lift weights that are too heavy too soon, I will sometimes notice I am swaying and wiggling and look more like I'm trying to break dance than lift weights.

Here are some reasons why it is important to lift weights and perform exercises with correct form.

    1.You are more likely to injure yourself if you use poor form.
    2.You will not target the intended muscles as well if you have bad form.
    3. You are a setting a bad example for all of the new people who are watching you.

Here are some suggestions to keep in mind that can help you improve your lifting form:

* Don't let your ego get the best of you. Stop trying to impress or compete against others. Young guys are usually the most guilty of this.

* Warm up before exercising and adjust the increase to your work load gradually.

* Observe your form in the mirror (no, the mirrors at the gym are not just there for the narcissists).

* Remember to breathe while lifting.

* Keep constant tension on the muscle (avoid locking out between reps).

* Focus on the muscle you are working and squeeze the muscle for peak contraction.

* Lift slower. You are more likely to get injured with fast ballistic motions than you are with slow and controlled movements. You've probably seen the guy at the gym bouncing the bar off his chest with each rep when bench pressing.

* Workout with a friend. Not only can they spot you, but they can help watch your form.

I'm sure there are experts out there that may disagree with some of this advice, but I believe you will get a safer and more effective workout when you follow the above guidelines.