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The Art of Movement

Posted by: pshields on Tuesday, January 27, 2009 - 07:04 AM Print article Printer-friendly page  Email to a friend

The Art of Movement

By Dr. Mark Cucuzzella

January 26, 2009

If you are training for an event, striving to improve your health and fitness, or have a desire to experience less discomfort in your endurance activity, then read on. Although this article focuses mostly on running, the principles apply to all endurance activity. Most of us understand that you must train if you wish to run well and for greater distances. What is mostly ignored in running is the concept of practice.

Imagine if you take up golf and were told to get buckets of balls and each week hit more balls harder and hope that the result would be effortless, precise rounds of golf. Or you desire to finish a triathlon with limited swim skills and hope to get better in the water just by fighting it harder each day. Seems crazy for these sports, yet we allow runners to "just go run" with more and harder miles until something breaks down.

We are going to introduce how to practice for running. Practice is fun as you will see more relaxed movement develop, painless efficiency, improvement in your speed and confidence. So how do we practice for running?

1. Understand and fully develop the aerobic system

2. Learn good form first, then add distance, then maybe some speed efforts

3. Practice hydration and nutrition for your event

4. Put it all together for an endurance event

Building the aerobic engine

For running, you need to develop the correct system - the aerobic system. This is the highly efficient system utilizing oxygen and fat metabolism. The modern analogy is this: Each of us is blessed with a hybrid engine - actually millions of hybrid engines - at the muscular level. The electric engine is your aerobic system - it is highly efficient and can go all day on minimal added fuel. It is resilient to breaking down. In your body, this is fat metabolism at the mitochondrial level of your muscles. The physiology is complex but the practical implications are this: Producing ATP allows muscle contraction. Exercising super hard - sprinting - with anaerobic respiration produces two ATP per molecule of glucose (not efficient). If you lower the pace a bit to an oxygen utilizing zone, you get 36-38 ATP per molecule of glucose - this is the gas engine, somewhat efficient as we can store enough glycogen and blood glucose to give 90 minutes or so of activity.

Now, if you can develop the mitochondrial machinery to break down fat into glucose your efficiency jumps exponentially- 460 ATP per fat molecule. This is the electric engine. If you have ever driven a Prius, you see the subtle mixing of gas and electric that you cannot detect. Your body is doing this all the time in exercise. You want more electric!

Many of us are constantly running out of and replenishing the easily accessed glycogen tank and blood glucose. When blood glucose levels drop, we crash. Mind and body sense an overwhelming fatigue. Topping off this tank at high levels of exertion is problematic as we do not feel hungry. Blood is being shunted from the gut to the active muscles. Even if you do force down calories, it tends to sit there, or worse, toss back up.

When this occurs you have options - walk, shelf the pride, and refill your tank a bit. Or take the more comfortable option and call it a day.

To constantly access the deep fat burning tank, you must train correctly. Some added glucose is still important, as we are most efficient in hybrid mode with the majority of the power coming off electric (fat burning).

So how do you build these mitochondrial factories in your muscles so your hybrid engine is at optimum performance?

The analogy is this: Your goal is to build a bigger engine - build millions of mitochondrial factories and the capillary blood supply to deliver the oxygen to them. The heart and lungs are the fuel pump - the engine is the millions of fat and glucose burning mitochondria in the muscles.

The good news is that it is all about running easy. For most highly motivated excercisers, the definition of easy is not uniform. The pioneer was New Zealand's Arthur Lydiard who trained the best middle-distance and distance runners in the 1960s. His system is based on months of aerobic training followed by measured increases in intensity as events approach.

His principles still apply in almost all modern training. Lydiard's runners were taught what easy was under the master's eye. Most of us do not have a master teacher, so how do we learn this pace? The secret is a heart-rate monitor.

The modern masters of this technique are Lance Armstrong, six-time Ironman champ Mark Allen and British marathon legend Priscilla Welch.

Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, describes Armstrong's training in "The Ultimate Ride."

After his Tour de France recovery, he would go into winter/spring aerobic system building, setting his aerobic threshold HR at 145, no higher. The aerobic threshold is the fine and mostly undetectable line where you are converting from more efficient fat energy to the more accessible glycogen and glucose energy. The former has limitless supply, the latter is good for about one to two hours.

Armstrong rode thousands of miles, became leaner and generated more and more power and efficiency at the low HR. He ate amazingly little before or during his rides, teaching his body to fat-burn. When he was no longer improving at the low HR, he knew he could build no more "factories" - his engine was as large as it could be.

It was time now to train the anaerobic system required for sprints, time trials and breakaways on final mountain climbs. Armstrong had full access to his "gas" tank for these measured efforts, using his electric engine at all other times. Other riders were not so fortunate and were spent at the time the hard effort was needed.

Another master of this is Mark Allen. He describes his evolution to this method in his Web site. He discovered that running harder and harder was not the answer. Skeptic of lower effort training, he put a heart-rate monitor on and at a pace of 8:15 per mile, his HR monitor would beep at the preset 155. Convinced to take the slow burn approach, he took a year and ran at 155 HR. After this year, he was running effortless 5:30 miles at the same HR.

Priscilla Welch won the 1987 New York Marathon at age 40, a feat likely never to be repeated. She took up running as recreation in her 30s. Welch was a master of efficiency, with 10k times only a trace faster than her marathon speed. She pioneered the "Maximal Aerobic Function Test."

She was a believer of the powerful feedback of the heart-rate monitor. In her build-up for races, she did the bulk of her training below HR 150; she would not exceed this even if it meant walking up a hill. She would judge her fitness not by a "time trail" (all-out effort over a distance) but by the Maximal Aerobic Function Test. Her HR was set to go no higher than 150, and she would measure her time over a 5-mile course.

So how do you determine what this "go-no-higher" HR is to maximize aerobic development? The high-tech way is testing CO2 expiration in an exercise physiology lab. The change point in expiratory gases is when you are making the shift from aerobic to anaerobic. Most of us do not sense this until it is too late in our efforts. The simpler and more practical way is to apply the Maffetone Method. Phil Maffetone has been the coach and advisor to many world-class marathoners and triathletes.

The 180 Formula

To find your maximum aerobic heart rate:

1. Subtract your age from 180 (180 - age).

2. Modify this number by selecting one of the following categories:

a. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation, any hospital stay) or on any regular medication, subtract 10.

b. If you have not exercised before, you have exercised but have been injured or are regressing in your running, or you often get colds or flu or have allergies, subtract 5

c. If you have been exercising for up to two years with no real problems and have not had colds or flu more than once or twice a year, subtract 0.

d. If you have been exercising for more than two years without any problems, making progress in competition without injury, add 5.

For example, if you are 30 years old and fit into category b: 180 - 30 = 150, and 150 - 5 = 145. This is your maximum aerobic heart rate. For efficient base building, you should train at or below this level throughout your base period.

To summarize, what all this means for you as you start or develop your program:

For optimum performance, it is critical to develop the aerobic system. Most have not fully developed this. This is not "no pain, no gain," but rather "no pain ... good."

A few of us have good cues to what aerobic pace is and can run in this happy and efficient zone without the feedback of a monitor.

Others of us are more hard chargers and need a feedback tool not to help us speed up, but to slow down.

It takes months to fully maximize this system. Only then, and when your event is nearing, is it wise to add speed. Doing speed too early can lead to burn out and injury. There are no short cuts or six-week plans.

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The Art of Movement | Log-in or register a new user account | 3 Comments
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Re: The Art of Movement

(Score: 1)
by ahsnazam on Dec 01, 2012 - 09:55 PM
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Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among the leading topics of our time. I appreciate your post and look forward to more.

Re: The Art of Movement

(Score: 1)
by plashka on Jul 24, 2013 - 09:33 AM
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You have proven that you are qualified to write on this topic. The facts that you mention and the knowledge and understanding of these things clearly reveal that you have a lot of experience.

Re: The Art of Movement

(Score: 1)
by satuerin on Oct 10, 2016 - 03:56 AM
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