Posts Tagged ‘athletic performance’

Aquatic Therapy & Training Made Me a Better Athlete

December 9, 2008

Growing up, I was never a “water person”.  In fact I was the only one of my friends who wasn’t on the local swim team – even though I was the only one with a pool in my backyard. My sports and physical activities were strictly land-based — soccer, running, tennis and ballet. The only time I took to the water was to cool off on a hot summer day. Furthermore,  I had almost drowned twice by the time I was 2 years old – so an aquatic environment was not exactly my comfort zone. Frankly, if someone had told me back then that I would eventually earn much of my living by working in a swimming pool I would’ve laughed!

My passion for aquatic exercise and therapy began out of personal necessity. As a former competitive runner, I discovered the benefits of aquatic therapy and training 23 years ago after suffering from many running-related injuries (partly due to my congenital scoliosis for which I wore a back brace for 3+ years in high school). Rather reluctantly, I began running and exercising in the deep end of a warm swimming pool wearing a flotation belt to take the stress off of my injuries. Much to my surprise, the pool not only became a refuge for me, it became a great cross training tool, by enabling me to exercise hard while helping my injuries heal. It also helped me maintain my sanity during that frustrating period as an athlete.

In addition to healing power of the warm water, I came to discover the performance benefits of aquatic training. For whereas most athletes leave the pool behind when their injuries heal, I continued training in the deep water even as I transitioned back to land running with great results. In fact, upon my return to competition I knocked 20 minutes off of my marathon PR (personal record) and later qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials. Furthermore, I became a faster, stronger, more resilient runner and (other than falling during a race!) I’ve never had a major running-related injury since and, though I no longer compete, today I still running regularly at age 49. I truly believe aquatic sports training gave me an edge over my frequently-injured competitors by both improving my overall strength and conditioning and preventing injuries. I used to call the aquatic workouts my “secret training weapon”.  After finishing my masters in exercise physiology in 1996 I went on to become a certified aquatic therapist and today  I spend many hours a week in warm water helping other athletes heal as well as achieve their competitive goals.

Bottom line:  I would never have experienced success and longevity in my running career had it not been for the water.

Be Well,

Carolyn

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Cleaning Up Your Training Table

October 21, 2008

I gave a Sports Nutrition lecture/workshop this past weekend – so lately I’ve been focused even more than usual on nutrition and athletic performance. I believe that you what you eat affects their performance arguably as much as your physical training.  Have you examined your training diet lately? You might be in the best shape of your life, but if you’re not eating for peak performance you may not be reaching your full athletic potential. Or, maybe you recognize the importance of sports nutrition, but get lazy when it comes to preparing meals and eating wisely. Or, maybe you eat healthfully but have gotten into a nutrition rut by consuming the same foods day after day.

Whichever category you fall into, now is a good time to take a nutrition inventory and clean up your training table. A nutritious diet can also improve your recovery from hard workouts and injuries. Furthermore, being in great shape doesn’t make you invulnerable to cancer or even heart disease so it’s important to eat well for long-term health, not just the 10K your running or century you’re cycling next weekend.

Get Out of Your Food Rut

You burn out on food by eating the same things day after day the same way you do by performing the same workouts week after week.  Are you getting sick of chicken and eggs?  Try ostrich, buffalo, tempeh, tofu. Are you tired of oatmeal and brown rice? Try quinoa or millet. Are your vegetable selections limited to spinach and broccoli? Try mustard greens, brussel sprouts or bok choy. Or try a new ethnic food or restaurant. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian and Tai foods can all be a nutritious and tantalizing part of your training table.

Fast Food Does Not Make You Faster

Next time you drive by a McDonalds, keep driving. Fast food is fine once in awhile when nothing else is available, but don’t make a habit out of it. You can probably afford the extra calories, but fast food also contains excess sugar, sodium and saturated fat. Grocery store delis, submarine sandwich shops and bagelries are good alternatives when you’re short on time and money. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have sandwiches and salads freshly prepared daily.  Stick with lean protein sources, whole grain breads and go easy on the mayo. Supplement your meal with fruit or a side salad.

Get into the Snack Habit

Frequent snacking aids in keeping your blood sugar level which in turn helps sustain your energy level by continually replenishing your muscle glycogen stores. Make a habit of snacking on convenient, healthful foods, such as fresh and dried fruit, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, turkey jerky, whole grain crackers or pretzels. Carry them in your workout bag and your car and stash them in your desk at work. (see some more snacking ideas at the end of this blog).

Balance and Moderation

Just like physical training, nutritional training all comes down to balance and moderation. There are no magic foods, instead the optimal training diet incorporates a variety of wholesome choices from the four food groups as well as some well-earned treats (in moderation of course). It’s also important to get a balance of calories from carbohydrate (45-65%), protein (15-25%) and fat (15-39%).

More Food For Thought

The following are additional tips for spicing up your diet:

 

– Have dinner for breakfast (and breakfast for dinner)

Don’t think of breakfast foods as strictly for breakfast. Particularly if you work out in the late afternoon or evening, you may want to make lunch your most substantial meal and eat a lighter breakfast food, such as oatmeal and a fruit/yogurt smoothie or whole grain toast and scrambled eggs, in the evening. Conversely, if you do most of your heavy training in the morning, you may want to substitute your morning cereal with traditional stick-to-your ribs dinner fare. (I must confess I sometimes include salmon and even lean meat in my breakfast after a hard interval workout).

– Explore a farmer’s market

For the freshest local produce head to your local farmer’s market. You can’t beat the freshness of locally grown, seasonal  organic produce and often it’s sold at bargain prices.

– Clean out your fridge

I realize this might be a scary endeavor, but it’s time to clean out the old before bringing in the new. Ditch leftovers and make room for the healthy foods you’re going to buy.

 –  Incorporate new recipes

Make one night a week recipe night and try a new recipe from a cookbook or food magazine.

Be well,

Carolyn

MORE PRE- OR POST-WORKOUT SNACKING IDEAS

Whole Grain cereal and milk

 

Plain low-fat yogurt with banana or berries

Apple and string cheese

Almonds and fruit

1/2 of PBJ or turkey sandwich

Sliced apple dipped in peanut or almond butter

Edamame and fruit

Turkey Jerky and fruit

Whole grain pretzels and milk

 

Healing Waters: Sports-Specific Aquatic Workouts – Part II

October 5, 2008

In my last blog I outlined the key benefits of aquatic athletic conditioning and rehab. Here, we’ll break it down sport by sport to look out how specifically to train in the pool.

SPORTS SPECIFIC WATER TRAINING

 

In addition to the healing power of water exercise as part of a rehabilitation program, water training can also help prevent future injuries by balancing the strength and flexibility of opposing muscle groups. To perform well in any sport you must train for the specific demands of that sport. Golfers must develop their swing, tennis players must strengthen their strokes and marathoners must run for miles. By taking the same training principles into the water, however, you can swing, run, jump and kick again and again – improving your skills and your sports-specific fitness and preventing potential injury. Sports-specific water training addresses every component of fitness, including strength, cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility and balance. Furthermore, the more you can duplicate specific sport skills in the water, the more you’ll be able to enhance your performance on land.

 

Golf

Golf is a sport that demands strength, power, stability and flexibility, particularly of the trunk muscles. Furthermore, because of the unilateral nature of golf, it is important to work both sides of your body in order to promote equal strength and flexibility. Take an old club into chest-deep water and slowly and smoothly swing through a full range of motion of your swing, noticing any choppy movements. Repeat ten times and then repeat ten more times in the opposite direction to balance your body.

 

Tennis

Like golf, tennis is predominantly a unilateral sport that relies on trunk stability. Bring an old racket or club into chest deep water and practice your forehand and backhand, concentrating on your form. For leg strength and speed, practice plyometric moves such as bounding and leapfrogging and perform shallow and deep water sprints across the pool, with recovery jogs in between. Wear a flotation belt for the deep water sprints. Finally, try some lateral “shuffling” in the shallow end to mimic the side-stepping movements you do when transitioning from a forehand to a backhand.

 

Running

Deep water running can be a great adjunct to the pounding of running on land and it can also provide an additional upper body workout – something land running doesn’t offer. Wearing a flotation belt, try running in the deep end. Simulate your land-running form as closely as possible by bending and extending your legs. Bend your arms and swing them by your sides in opposition to your legs, pointing your elbows straight behind you. Cup your hands for extra resistance. Try water running at a steady pace for 30 to 45 minutes or do some interval training. Make it even more challenging by deep water running without a flotation device.

 

Cycling

Cyclists can duplicate their workouts in deep water by wearing a flotation belt. Extend your arms in front of you as though you were grasping handlebars and cycle your legs, circling your lower leg forward as though pushing your pedals around a complete revolution. To improve your ankle flexibility and strength, plantarflex your foot (toes toward the pool bottom) during the downstroke; dorsiflex your foot (toes toward your head) during the upstroke. Incorporate some interval training into your workout.

 

Basketball

 

Basketball players must possess speed, power, aerobic and anaerobic capacity and a killer jump shot. Unfortunately, this high impact sport is injury prone and training on a hard court day after day can take its toll on your knees, back and feet. By bringing an old basketball and a partner into waist-high water you can practice your jump shot with only half the impact. Better yet, install a backboard next to your pool and you don’t even need a partner. If you’re injured you can practice your jump shot in the deep end by squatting on a kickboard and pushing off to a no-impact, standing jump. Volleyball players can also benefit from this type of training.

 

TRANSITIONING BACK TO LAND WORKOUTS

Water is also a great transition environment if you’re rehabilitating a sports injury. You can use the different depths of the pool to gradually transition back to land exercise; working first in the deep end with no impact and then in the shallow water with half of the impact of land training. In water up to your chest, you are only 50 percent of your body weight; up to your neck in water, your body is only about 10 percent of its land weight.

FINAL WORDS OF CAUTION

Though pool workouts don’t leave you hot and sweaty, you do perspire in the water particularly on a hot day. So pay attention to your hydration. Also, it is possible to overdo it in the water, particularly because aquatic exercise is virtually pain-free. Increase the duration and intensity of your water training gradually the way you would with your land workouts.

 

Whatever you sport, incorporating water training can be a fun and effective way of increasing your skills and your fitness and staving off injury. The only thing limiting you is your imagination.

Until next time….Be Well!

 

EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS

 

Aquajogger/Excel Sports Science, Inc. (for flotation belts, tethers)

Phone: (800) 92209544

 

Sprint/Rothhammer International (general aquatic fitness supplier)

PO Box 3840

San Luis Obispo, CA 93403

Phone: (805) 541-5330

Healing Waters: Aquatic Workouts for Injured Athletes Part I

October 5, 2008

As we all know, sports- and fitness-related injuries are all too common. Fortunately, the water is an ideal environment for athletes to not only rehab their injuries, but also maintain or even increase their conditioning and their performance. In fact, the biggest misconception about aquatic sports training is that it’s only useful when injuries prevent land workouts, when in fact it can be a valuable, year-round cross-training tool for almost any sport or fitness activity.

My work as an aquatic therapist came directly as a result of my own success with aquatic rehab as an athlete. As a former competitive marathon runner, I discovered the performance benefits of aquatic athletic conditioning more than 20 years ago. Unable to train on land for several months because of injuries, I began deep water running. It allowed me to work out as hard as I wanted to without exacerbating my injuries and it saved my sanity in the process. Whereas most athletes give up aquatic training when their injuries heal, I continued training in the deep water with great results. In fact, I knocked 20 minutes off of my marathon PR (personal record). Furthermore, I was not only faster, but a stronger, more resilient runner.

From that point on I continued my aquatic cross training, had no serious injuries, knocked another eight minutes off of my marathon PR and qualified for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials where I placed 31st with a personal best time of 2:47:08. I truly believe aquatic athletic conditioning gave me an edge over my frequently-injured competitors by both improving my overall fitness and preventing injuries.

WATER WORKOUTS DEFINITELY AREN’T FOR WIMPS

Aquatic cross-training not only keeps you cool, it provides an intense, no- or low-impact, pain-free workout. It is the perfect complement to running, tennis, aerobics, basketball and other high impact activities. Famous athletes who have used aquatic training with great success when recovering from injuries include: heptathlete Jackie Joyner Kersee; baseball/football player Bo Jackson; tennis player John Lloyd; runner Mary Slaney; and basketball player Wilt Chamberlain.

Whether you choose swimming, deep water running or shallow water plyometrics, you can get both cardio and muscular endurance training in one workout. Furthermore, water enhances your flexibility so you’ll never leave the pool with tight, sore muscles. In fact, many people find they are able to stretch further in water as it promotes range of motion of joints and ligaments. Never flexible even as a child, I’m now – at age 41 – able to do the splits thanks to my aquatic exercise!

In my next blog I’ll focus on aquatic therapy workouts for specific sports.

Until then…Be Well!

Sports Nutrition: Optimal Fuel for Optimal Fitness

October 4, 2008

You’ve got your training down to a science, never missing a workout, scheduling regular rest days, religiously recording every workout, yet something still seems to be missing in your program. Have you examined your training diet lately? You might be in the best shape of your life, but if you’re not eating for peak performance you may not be reaching your full athletic potential.

Many athletes still do not realize that what they eat determines how well they perform. Others recognize the importance of sports nutrition, but get lazy when it comes to preparing meals and eating wisely. Other athletes eat well but have gotten into a nutrition rut by eating the same foods day after day. One of the reasons I became a nutritionist is that I discovered myself how much the quality of my diet affected my performance – almost as much as my training did.

Whichever category you fall into, now is a good time to take a nutrition inventory and clean up your training table. A nutritious diet can improve your recovery from hard workouts and possibly increase your performance. Think about it…you wouldn’t put cheap gas into your sports car would you? Treat your body like a Porsche, not a Gremlin by giving it high performance fuel.

Get Out of Your Food Rut

You burn out on food by eating the same things day after day the same way you do by performing the same workouts week after week.  Are you getting sick of chicken and eggs?  Try ostrich, buffalo, tempeh, tofu. Or try a new ethnic food or restaurant. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian and Tai foods can all be a nutritious and tantalizing part of your training table.

Fast Food Does Not Make You Faster

Next time you drive by a McDonalds, keep driving. Fast food is fine once in awhile when nothing else is available, but don’t make a habit out of it. You can probably afford the extra calories, but fast food also contains excess sugar, sodium and saturated fat. Grocery store delis, submarine sandwich shops and bagelries are good alternatives when you’re short on time and money. Stick with lean protein sources, whole grain breads and go easy on the mayo. Supplement your meal with fruit or a side salad.

Get into the Snack Habit

Frequent snacking aids in keeping your blood sugar level which in turn helps sustain your energy level by continually replenishing your muscle glycogen stores. Make a habit of snacking on convenient, healthful foods, such as fresh and dried fruit, yogurt, sports bars, hard boiled eggs, turkey jerky, whole grain crackers or pretzels. Carry them in your workout bag and your car and stash them in your desk at work.

Balance and Moderation

Just like physical training, nutritional training all comes down to balance and moderation. There are no magic foods, instead the optimal training diet incorporates a variety of wholesome choices from the four food groups as well as some well-earned treats (in moderation of course). It’s also important to get a balance of calories from carbohydrate (50-55%), protein (20-30%) and fat (20-25%).

More Food For Thought

The following are some additional tips for cleaning and spicing up your diet:

1. Check out  a new grocery store

Gourmet health food stores are popping up everywhere featuring exotic produce and healthy convenience foods. You’ll also find the latest in sports nutrition supplements as well as nutritious hard-to-find items such as soy yogurt or wheat-free fig bars.

2.  Explore a farmer’s market

For the freshest local produce head to your local farmer’s market. You can’t beat the freshness of locally grown, seasonal  organic produce and often it’s sold at bargain prices.

4.  Clean out your fridge

I realize this might be a scary endeavor, but it’s time to clean out the old before bringing in the new. Ditch leftovers and make room for the healthy foods you’re going to buy.

5.  Incorporate new recipes

Make one night a week recipe night and try a new recipe from a cookbook or food magazine.

6.  Take a healthy cooking course or watch one on TV

Learning to cook healthful meals doesn’t even require leaving the house. Turn on the food channel and set your kitchen in motion.

7.  Have dinner for breakfast (and breakfast for dinner)

Don’t think of breakfast foods as strictly for breakfast. Particularly if you work out in the late afternoon or evening, you may want to make lunch your most substantial meal and eat a lighter breakfast food, such as cereal and toast or eggs, in the evening. Conversely, if you do most of your heavy training in the morning, you may want to substitute your morning cereal with traditional stick-to-your ribs dinner fare.  

Be Well,

Carolyn

 

 


 

Small Health Changes = More Change in Your Pocket

September 26, 2008

OK -so how did you do this week?  Did you make one small wellness change and did you stick with it throughout the week?  Personally, I’ve been trying to go to bed earlier.  I tend to stay up late reading – as it’s my best downtown and something I truly enjoy.  While I’m still able to get my 8 hours despite turning in late….I used to be an early riser and feel much more productive when I get up with the sun.  I’m trying to strike the middle ground – and go to bed earlier a half-hour earlier this week and see if I can at least stick with that. So far so good, but it’s definitely been challenging!  Had to sniff my essential oil of lavender, drink my warm  milk and get in my PJs in order to get sleepy….

On another note, I had my first physical this week in 4 years.  I know, I know, we’re told we should have the proverbial annual checkup.  Problem is, I rarely get sick so I usually have no reason to go to the doctor and don’t generally enjoy hanging out in medical offices.  I finally made an appointment a few months ago but kept having to cancel due to scheduling conflicts.  Anyway, I finally made it there this week and went through the usual poking, prodding, sticking and Q & A. Surely, there’s no more humbling experience than to be in your one-size-fits-all gown (who designs these things, anyway!) and have to go trotting down the hall to the restroom while you wait for your doctor in the exam room! Anyway, the cost of the annual physical is also daunting! As someone with a high medical deductible – it’s definitely costly.  

That said, by getting an annual (or more likely bi-annual)  regular checkup, I realize I may benefit financially by nipping a potentially costly health problem in the bud. Preventative healthcare is what I believe we should be practicing in this country and with ourselves. By proactively taking better care of ourselves we will save money in the long run as so many of our health problems in this country are lifestyle-related.  Anyway, stick with your small change and once you’ve fully adopted it, add another. Good luck!  And now, I’m getting very sleepy…..lights out!