Sunday, December 12, 2010
Sports Science Blog.
What is most surprising about the book is that, in spite of being endorsed by Runner's World - a magazine which appears to make a living out of trotting out the same old hackneyed populist articles year in, year out - is that it proceeds to debunk pretty much every myth about running there is. I was already familiar with the myths about drinking to replace lost body weight, about lactate acid causing fatigue, about pronation and motion control shoes, about cramps and electrolyte imbalance but there were a couple of new ones for me too: namely, the myth that VO2max is an unalterable determinant of your running potential and the myth that you can never do too much stretching. On this last point, according to the popular thinking on stretching, the one single adaptation that the body makes in response to running that is detrimental is that the muscles shorten and become less flexible. It does seem strange that we should have evolved in this way if it were truly detrimental; however, the authors claim that the rigidity increases the energy return in the stretch-recoil response of the muscles and that too much flexibility actually slows you down. I'm quite pleased about that as I have always been rubbish at stretching. (This is a good example of how we choose to believe what suits us.)
This book is by no means a smart-arse attempt to be contrary or, indeed, to fuel conspiracy theories. It is, if you like, the equivalent in the field of Sports Science to books written by Steven Hawking for the layman (except that it is somewhat more credible). The sports science that filters through running circles and running magazines corresponds to research which was current a number of years ago; just as in any science, the paradigms are always shifting and human knowledge is becoming more profound.
Matt Fitzgerald has also written a book called "Brain Training for Runners" which is also very good, if not a little bit spun out. In this book he expands on what is essentially Tim Noakes' "Central Governor" theory that fatigue in exercise is induced by the brain so as to avoid catastrophic damage (or death). Of course, just as anyone who has suffered from a mental illness will be too aware, this doesn't make it any less insurmountable. Still, there are a number of implications and this book studies what you can do to improve your performance.
Many people say that Total Immersion is nothing new - that all modern swimming techniques put emphasis on buoyancy (hydrodynamic body position), moving your body past your hand rather than ripping your hand through the water etc. The distinguishing features of Total Immersion seem to be that (a) it is aimed at long distance (and especially triathlon) swimming, encouraging a very economical two beat kick and (b) that, instead of separating the upper body from the lower body, you work on the whole kinetic chain from the ankle to the shoulder, rather like a golf swing. You are positively deterred from using kick boards, fins and pullbuoys. The technique made a lot of sense to me as I could see the parallels with rowing.