Monday, 10 July 2017 13:53

Weird Science: Is running backwards better for you?

You might have heard of this exercise trick. Running backwards is certainly not a new fitness idea, though it has yet to catch on as a trend. Studies have been conducted to test the effectiveness of running backwards and, apparently, when it comes to an actual comparison, running backwards actually has plenty of benefits when stacked up against normal “forward” running.

In his book Backwards Running, Dr Robert K Stevenson believes the sport would do well to remain a regular practice for any athlete interested in building stamina, strengthening leg muscles, improving balance, and adding variety to their workout.

The benefits of running backwards

Backward runners use their muscles differently to those who engage in forward strides. Studies have found that backward runners don’t generate the same kind of pent-up energy that requires a “push forward”. Instead, to complete each backward step, the runner will have to use more leg muscles than in forward motion, and this would cause an increased energy burn of about 30 percent when travelling at the same pace as when running forward.

Compared to forward running, it is definitely more strenuous, which could mean it is more effective in building fitness. A study done in 2014 found that even among walkers, those who participated in backward walking resulted in greater improvements to their physical performance than a comparable amount of forward walking.

Studies have also shown that backward running results in less strain on the knees. Thus, some athletes sometimes engage in the practice to rehabilitate from injuries to that joint.

The downside to running backwards

However, it is obvious that there is a downside to this weird and wonderful sport! Anyone engaging in running backwards would be blind to the objects they are running “towards”. One would be more prone to tripping over objects, or stumbling into things. Your coordination will definitely suffer a bit of a blow if you decide to take up this practice. It is, therefore, important to develop the right technique and to find the proper training ground.

Just don’t do it: Compression tights fail to curb runners’ muscle fatigue

Jetting off for a jog in snug-fitting compression tights won’t help a runner go farther or faster, according to a new study that’s not doing any favors for its sponsor, Nike.

The sports gear giant — which offers compression tights in every color of the rainbow — funded the study, which was conducted by sports medicine researchers at Ohio State University. It was meant to test a long-standing theory that compression tights tamp down on muscle vibrations during exercise and, in turn, reduce fatigue.

Researchers had 20 participants run on a treadmill for 30 minutes on two different days, sporting compression tights during one session and roomier running clothes in the other. The treadmill was equipped with sensors that could measure the force of each step hitting the ground and the force pushing the foot back up, and track how that changed over time. Researchers tested participants’ leg strength and jump height before and after each run to get an idea of how much wear and tear the workout exerted on their muscles.

The result? The compression tights were a bust.

They didn’t cut down on muscle fatigue or help runners keep up a fast pace for a longer stretch of time. (The researchers do say it’s possible the tights might help in ways that can’t be measured.) The results were presented Thursday at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting.

It’s relatively rare to see an industry-sponsored study turn up negative results — and even more uncommon for those results to be published and trumpeted in a press release.

Nutrition research, in particular, has been plagued by the problem of industry-sponsored studies turning up results favorable to industry.

There was the study that hyped canola oil as a way to cut down on belly fat — sponsored by the Canola Council of Canada. The paper that claimed spaghetti could help people stay skinny — sponsored by the pasta professionals over at Barilla. And how about the research finding that chocolate can boost your attention span — sponsored by Hershey. The list goes on.

Nutrition scientist Marion Nestle has looked at dozens of those industry-funded studies. Nearly all have reported results favorable to their sponsors, she said.

Publication bias — the increased likelihood that a paper will be published if the results are positive — affects scientific studies across the board, but it seems to be a particularly thorny problem for industry-sponsored research.

“Overall, the vast majority of studies that are published are ‘positive,’ but industry funded ones are even more likely to be positive,” said Lisa Bero, a health outcomes researcher who has studied the issue at the University of Sydney.

But the Nike-sponsored research doesn’t fall into that bucket. The company seems to have stuck to its motto: Just do it. And then, just publish it. Even if the research runs the risk of harming sales.

Why Athletes Need to Follow the Principles of the Power Stack

Power and the ability to sprint over and over again win games. This leads to a very important question: How do you improve these abilities?

While it may seem as simple as just throwing in some jump training and conditioning, it is not that simple. Power and repeat sprint ability are at the top of what's called the power stack. The law of the power stack is that you can only improve power and repeat sprint ability if you build them on a foundation of other important qualities.

It takes time to turn your body into a performance machine. In the fast-paced world of athletics, it is easy to give in to the pressure to skip levels. However, you have to respect the law of the power stack. You have to go in order. If you try to skip levels, you may succeed in the short term. However, you can also get hurt or hit a huge plateau far below where you want to be. Take the time, go in order and build each level of the performance stack. Reach your full athletic potential!

Level 1: Health
Effective training is built on a foundation of good health. As an athlete, if you don't have your health, you have nothing. If you have any injuries or other health problems, work with a trusted healthcare professional to deal with these issues first.

Also, make sure you are doing all the simple things you already know you should be doing to stay healthy and recover as fast as possible. These include proper sleep, rest, stress management, soft tissue work, washing your hands, brushing and flossing your teeth, etc.

Level 2: Movement Quality
Physical Therapist Gray Cook explained this in his Performance Pyramid. The idea is that performance is built on a foundation of movement quality. If you don't move well, you will never be able to actualize your potential and you will likely end up hurt. Basic movement competencies and proper exercise technique are the next level in the power stack. Also, at this level you want to work on your landing, jumping, stopping, starting, sprinting and cutting mechanics.

Level 3: Work Capacity
Once you are healthy and move well, it is time to build up your work capacity. This is your ability to handle work. Imagine for example that you have been sitting in a desk all school year and then you suddenly get an intense manual summer job. The first week is brutal because you don't have any work capacity. However, after a few weeks, you build this up and can handle the work.

If you don't have very good work capacity, you won't be able to handle the volume of training need to build things like strength, speed and power. I like to start offseason programs with a base-building phase of a higher volume work. Performing many sets of loaded carries builds work capacity.

Note: At times athletes need to gain muscle or lose body fat. If you need body composition changes, this is where you do it.

Level 4: Relative Strength
This is your foundation for power, and if it is a small foundation (i.e., you are not that strong), you won't get very powerful. You can also get hurt, as the best power exercises require a lot of strength to do safely and effectively. In addition, the stronger you are in relation to your body weight and size, the easier and safer it is for you to move your body around.

Level 5: Power
Once you are strong, you now have the foundation to get what you really need—power. Power is the ability to produce a lot of force in a very short amount of time. It is the combination of strength and speed. Power lets you out-sprint or out-jump your opponent.

If you play a collision sport, power is what allows you to knock your opponent off his/her feet. It helps you rapidly start, stop and cut. Power wins games. Once you have a base of strength, you can start to emphasize more power exercises such as: jumping, plyos, sprints, agility and explosive weight room movements.

Level 6: Repeat Sprint Ability
The final level of the physical performance pyramid is repeat sprint ability. This is being able to use your newly gained explosive power and speed over and over until the game is done and won. In the final phase of offseason training, the focus shifts to repeating fast, explosive movements with relatively short rest intervals. Preseason practices and scrimmages also play an important role here.