Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gadgets, Gizmos and Goodies (part II)

EZ Run Belt

What on earth is the point of this I hear you ask, and who on earth would be seen wearing it? Its the creation of Joe Sparks, an entrepreneurial runner from Toledo (Ohio, not Spain) and he designed it especially to help people learn the Pose Method of running. As I have mentioned before, one of the distinguishing elements of the Pose Method is to concentrate on getting your foot off the ground (or "unweighting") as soon as possible. By simple equilibrium, this helps you land with your other foot as close as possible to underneath your centre of gravity, thus reducing braking, impact and other annoying things. The point is that, if you try to land correctly by focusing on your landing foot, you have to override your body's automatic landing system and inevitably tense up.

The running belt encourages you to lift your foot up directly under your "butt" because any deviation from this straight line provides extra resistance. The idea is to run for a few minutes with the thing on and then unclip your feet and run free. It comes with several different resistance levels and loops to which you can clip to suit runners of different shapes and sizes. I find that it is good to take it out for a spin every so often, just to remind yourself what it feels like to be running more correctly.

Swimovate Pool-Mate

I saw an advert for this watch in a Triathlon magazine and I thought it sounded too good to be true. For 60 pounds, it claimed, you get a watch which is capable of counting the number of lengths you do in a swimming pool and the number of strokes you take to cover a length of the pool. It claimed to perform this feat using a small accelerometer inside the watch.

It does exactly what it says on the box. It works absolutely perfectly, never missing a stroke. Without it, I tend to lose count after 80 or 90 laps and this can be a problem when training for a long distance event such as the Ironman. It also calculates your "efficiency" which is based on the so-called golf-score, the sum of the number of seconds and the number of strokes you take to cross the pool. In swimming, unlike running or cycling, because water is 1000 times denser than air, it is much more important to focus on how far you travel per stroke than the number of strokes you take per minute (cadence). It also calculates the calories you burn while swimming, although I haven't had a chance to check whether this is anything more than a calculation based solely on the time you spend swimming.

I have the basic version but they have recently brought out a "pro" version which allows you to download your data to the computer for further analysis; I think this would just depress me too much.

I think that the watch is good value considering what a niche product it is. It is not perfect, however. Firstly, the strap is a bit crappy and is molded to the watch so that, if and when it breaks, your watch is effectively rendered useless. It currently only supports crawl or freestyle but isn't programmed to recognize breast stroke, back stroke or butterfly and it is only useful for swimming in a swimming pool (that's to say, not in open water). However, the most irritating thing about it - and this is a fairly nit-picking complaint - is that its operation is pretty counterintuitve or at least it is to me. I can never remember when to press "start" or when to press "mode" and, may times, have ended up deleting the record I was trying to access. Still, this is something relatively easy for them to correct in future models. In spite of these niggles, it remains a permanent fixture in my kit bag and I curse myself the days when I forget to put it on for a swim.

Fist gloves

These are the antithesis of the hand paddles used in swimming training. They are useful in demonstrating and practicing the principles of Total Immersion swimming. As I have mentioned previously, where Total Immersion differs from other modern swimming schools is in the emphasis it puts on the kinetic chain. Rather than training the upper and lower parts of the body separately using fins, paddles and pull buoys, the idea is to train the precise coordination between groups of muscles that takes place, as in the case of a golf swing or the hitting of a home run. The difference with a golf swing is that you can propagate the ground reaction force through your body; in the water, you have very little anchorage. Nevertheless, if you put these "gloves" on, you notice two things: firstly, you lose the feel of the water and secondly, you can't anchor your hands; almost all your propulsion must instead come from this kinetic chain (or kick and roll). The surprising thing is that you can make reasonable progress through the water even wearing these absurd hand condoms. Of course, the real trick is - just like when you stop banging your head against a wall it feels great - once you take them off, you go flying.

I have to admit that I am slightly skeptical as to how much of the propulsion in swimming actually comes from this kinetic chain. On the other hand, it seems as though no-one really understands all the forces at work in swimming. As I start to take my swimming more seriously, I'll post more on this topic.


As you can see, Ironman TM has teamed up with Powerbreathe to give you the Ironman Powerbreathe. It came with a DVD following several athletes (including Luis Enrique, ex-Real Madrid player) through their trials and tribulations in the Ironman in Lanzarote. To be honest, at that time I didn't have any interest in Ironmans or Ironmen so I only got around to watching it fairly recently.

Anyway, this little device trains you inspirational muscles (nothing to do with your brain). It has a scale of difficulty from 0 to 10 - at only 2 I find it quite challenging to breathe in 10 times using it: afterwards my cheeks hurt as if I had blown up all the balloons for my kid's birthday party. This is probably because I never remember to use it. It seems like a great idea but I have yet to report any advances. What is great about it is that it is very portable and probably simulates some of the training stress of a very hard workout without the impact or potential interference with your aerobic base.

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