Monday, April 25, 2011

Something interesting: The value of springy muscles

I'll need some help with the conclusion to this blog-post. I have the plot, but it's without resolution. The interesting thing I discovered after going 11 days without running (or cross-training) was that my legs had regained a springiness that I haven't felt in a very long time. A springiness reminiscent of what I remember from my (somewhat) serious 800 and 1500 metre racing days twenty years ago. It's not a measurable feeling — purely subjective, but very alluring.

The thing is, I know I also lost aerobic fitness over those 11 days. My first run back was 10k in 56:34 at an average HR of 139. Prior to surgery, I would have run about 53:15 for that heart-rate. So, on the face of it, 3 minutes slower. But, my legs felt amazingly good! I was expecting to run 60 minutes for that amount of effort after 11 days off, so were springy legs worth 4 minutes of speed?

Not long ago I read a blog post by Steve Magness about muscle tension — specifically, the value of retaining muscle tension during the taper for a race. What has me intrigued after my little unexpected experiment is the idea that there could be value in holding onto some muscle tension during training (or at least not straying too far away from that happy state). I'm addressing the following questions to readers on the experienced side of the age of 35, for I don't think spring-less muscles are a problem for younger folk. Do you think it's worthwhile trying to train in a way that promotes the retention of springy muscles? If so, how could this be done? If it means sacrificing weekly or monthly 'mileage', how much could I sacrifice and still retain a high level of aerobic fitness?


Blogger RICK'S RUNNING said...

Ewen, I think the answer is a combination of plyometrics [bare foot], dynamic stretching and massage to brake down micro fibres and scare tissue.
Marius told me the self massage is very important, especially for master runners.
And doing regular strides at a good pace!
Some articles to read:

4:56 pm  
Blogger RICK'S RUNNING said...

Sorry try this;

5:00 pm  
Blogger Girl In Motion said...

First off, Happy Birthday! As for the springyness, I noticed the same thing after my 2-week layoff. But the thing is, you get faster quite quickly so it's not really a choice between 4 minutes or springy legs. I think the takehome from this may be that you can do with more recovery, or at least, you might want to try altering your current recovery patterns so that you can keep your legs fresher.

4:08 am  
Blogger Thomas said...

I think it's a bit more complicated than that.

As far as I know, high muscle tension is good only if you are going to run a shorter race. If you're running a half-marathon or even a full one, you do not want this.

4:51 am  
Blogger Ewen said...

Thanks Rick. I was thinking that regular strides at a good pace would be worthwhile (and the plyos, dynamic stretches). Will check out those links - thanks.

Thanks for the b'day wishes Flo. You're making me feel real old ;) Yes, I'm wondering how I might schedule recovery, both within weeks and months - also what to do with that recovery - just rest or do something different (to regular running)?

Thomas, interesting point. My goal race is the 5k distance so springy legs would be helpful there. I wonder about the 2:04 marathons being run these days - if springy legs are leading to these times (compared to the 2:08s/10s) of the old days, or if it's just competition and opportunity.

9:54 am  
Blogger strewth said...

Happy happy birthday young man. Enjoy your new springiness - always important at your age. Try chasing a few kangaroos:)

10:58 am  
Blogger Robert James Reese said...

I'm on the wrong side of 35 to answer your questions. :-) Even if I wasn't, I don't have a good answer.

11:49 am  
Anonymous Joe Garland said...

I'm not sure about "springy muscles" and don't know that I've ever felt "springy" or "bouncy" as Magness speaks of. Thanks for the article though. I've had lots of issues, sore quads most recently, but don't know that I've lost what bounce I have.

I'll send you back to the John ("someone can run 2:03 in Boston") Kellogg item I stole last year, on speed for oldsters. I've long included lots of fast, full recovery stuff through my post-base phases to develop a consistency of form for my other workouts. It's an important part of Daniels.

In you comment to me, you mentioned Pete Magill. In his recent (not-yet-online) article on counterintuitiveness, in addition to his thing of running hard downhill for sore quads he talks about trying to find a core level of miles as an antidote for "dead legs," as opposed to giving them a rest. I can email you a pdf if you'd like.

And thanks to you and your ANZAC Day mention, I thought of the gratitude each country owes those who've served her.

12:25 pm  
Blogger Jog Blog said...

Hi Ewen. Glad you had a happy birthday and a nice break away in Wagga.

About your springy-ness - (1) feeling fresh after 7+ days off running can certainly make your legs feel springy, and even if under those conditions that springy feeling doesn't = fast, it's still a buzzy way to return to running so enjoy it :) (2) springy-ness which can be made to translate into speed can be achieved by incorporating plyometrics and short, sharp efforts into your training program. But (there's always a but ...) with plyometrics comes an increased risk of injury so proceed with caution. (3) Even though plyos etc can transform springy-ness into speed over short distances (up to 5km or 10km), there is plenty of evidence to show that improving 5km and 10km race times also correlates highly with faster marathon times so regardless of the race distance you are aiming at you can make that kind of training work for you. The only issues are moderate-high injury potential and how much grunt work you want to do - ie, plyos are a particular kind of "fun" :)

See you Sat for post long run coffee :)

1:18 pm  
Blogger Scott Brown said...

"Springy Muscles" eh? Have you tried "Viagra"!?

7:17 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

Hi Ewen. I do not have any experience of this but definitely feel that lack of springiness in my muscles causes me to run slower due to less range of movement. One day I plan to get around to these plyometric things. Thanks for reminding me of the value in this. Cheers, PB

7:31 pm  
Blogger Ewen said...

Thanks Strewth - I appreciate birthday wishes from young ladies. If they ever synthesise kangaroo tendons we'll see a sub-2 hour marathon and I'll be in the queue for a transplant!

Robert, it's something you have to look forward to ;) Run your mile/3k/5k PBs while you're still on the wrong side of 35.

Thanks Joe. Good stuff. I'll drop you a line re the Magill article.

Jog, thanks. Good advice. I'm slightly worried about the injury potential of plyos - not so much the sprinting and downhill repeats that Joe mentions. Looking forward to the coffee :)

Scott, haven't tried it as your wife told me it doesn't work for you. However... I might try injecting it into the achilles ;)

Paul, interesting about 'range of movement' declining. It's funny how the body often reverts to the smallest necessary range of movement to preform a task (like running long distances).

7:52 pm  
Blogger RICK'S RUNNING said...

Good article on why running shoes can reduce your natural spring;

P.S. Happy belated Birthday !

1:34 am  
Blogger Sling Runner said...

Happy belated birthday Ewen :)

Good topic. I agree with Rick that doing strides regularly, even during easy runs, are good to keep springs in the leg.

I remember a quote by Bill Rodgers about this 'jump test. If he could jump higher than 1 feet, he would be ready for a fast 10k. But if he could hardly jump, it meant that he was ready for a good marathon.

1:58 pm  
Blogger Ewen said...

Thanks for that Maffetone link Rick. My legs (usually) feel more springy in minimal shoes, as well as it being easier to feel what the feet are doing. And you're not as late as Scott Brown with the birthday wishes ;)

Sling, thanks for the wishes. I hadn't heard that one about Rodgers and 10ks/marathons. Also, going back to Joe Garland's comment about not having ever felt 'springy' or 'bouncy'... I'm wondering if that's because Joe is not short of fast-twitch fibres (being a former sub-50 400m man) and that he's always done regular speedwork?

5:48 pm  
Blogger Black Knight said...

Happy birthday!!!
Difficult to reply, it depends by our scheduled training and races. If we are focused on a main event I think that the muscle tension is important only for the shorter distances. If we enter many races we must balance our efforts and not to stress our legs.

4:21 am  
Blogger Ewen said...

Thanks Stefano. Now I'm a LOT older than you ;) I'm mainly interested in the shorter distances (at the moment), so I'm curious about the possibility that modulating muscle tension might improve the training sessions used for 3, 5 and 10k races.

9:27 pm  

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