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And other random thoughts…

By Raymond Onyango.

At the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Usain Bolt attained a mind-bending top running speed of over 43 kilometers per hour en route to breaking the 100-meter world record. His astonishing time of 9.58 seconds accorded him the sole bragging rights to the title ‘The worlds fastest man’. Furthermore judging by his scorching form at the London Olympics, that title does not seem set to change hands any time soon. But how would Usain Bolt stack up against the other ‘worlds fastest man’ Kenya’s Patrick Makau? In 2011, in the very same city of Berlin, the then 26-year-old Makau beat, Ethiopia’s Haile Gabreselassie’s earlier record by a huge margin of 21 seconds to set a new marathon record of 2 hours 3 minutes and 38 seconds. His performance excited running pundits, and gave new impetus to the hope that we may yet see a sub-two hour marathon run, within our lifetime.

If the two were to run head to head in a marathon race, Usain Bolt should theoretically have the upper hand. Assuming that he maintains his world record pace all the way, the speedy Jamaican would be done with the course in  about an hour or so, by which time Makau should be just over the half way mark. That’s the theory; in reality Usain Bolt simply doesn’t stand a chance and, judging from past athletes that have tried switched sports, he would be lucky to even make it to the finish line. In November 2006, seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, was forced to eat a hefty dose of humble pie, after crossing the finishing line of the New York Marathon in a positively pedestrian time of 2 hours 59 minutes. Armstrong who is now embroiled in an ongoing court battle over doping allegations was then revered as a gritty, hard-edged competitor and cancer survivor. A man whose insane level of fitness was legendary even among fellow cyclists on the tour; keep in mind that were talking here, of men for whom a 2420 kilometer bike ride, is all in a days work! In a post race interview with the Associated Press, he described the marathon, a ‘mere’ 42.2 kilometers, as the hardest physical thing he had ever done in his life.

What is evident from the examples above is the fact that even at the highest levels of professional sport, genetics and body type and choice of sport play a huge role in determining success. Usain Bolt’s unique genetic blue print makes him unbeatable over the 100 meter distance, but I can bet you he wouldn’t be anywhere near the podium at a marathon. Lance Armstrong has the physiology to be a great cyclist, but the very same traits that make him great at cycling – stocky legs, chunky calves and considerable bodily heft, work profoundly against him as a marathon runner; an event where leaner, lighter men have a clear advantage.

Slow Twitch Vs Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

In his article ‘Usain Bolt Outruns Human Nature’ Barry Petchisky observes that human beings appear to be specifically designed for distance and endurance running. Given enough time, he notes, there is nothing we cannot outrun. This is in large part because human beings have a remarkable ability to cool down. Our body’s sparse hair and numerous sweat glands allow us to lose excess body heat very effectively, so effectively in fact that we can even out race a horse over a long distance.

Our muscles, on the inside look something like a bag of spaghetti – several individual strands of individual muscle fibers all encased in a tough outer layer of connective tissue that makes up the actual muscle. The muscle fibers are further divided into two kinds, slow twitch muscle fibers that are generally fatigue resistant at low intensities and fast twitch muscle fibers that generate large amounts of speed and power at high intensities but generally fatigue quickly.

Most of us have about a 50/50 distribution of fast and slow twitch fibers, in our muscles but the worlds best marathon runners generally have very high percentages of slow twitch muscle fibers as well as a unique ability to mobilize the energy stored in fat tissue and convert it into fuel for prolonged periods of exercise. The riveting London 2012 Olympic men’s marathon final was a classic example of how marathon runners rely not so much on muscular strength as they do sheer muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich plotted his move wisely, feigning fatigue and lulling the Kenyans into a false security. When he made his move unexpectedly at the 37-kilometer mark, the Kenyans Kirui and Kipsang simply didn’t have the legs to match him and they could do nothing but watch the Olympic gold run away from them.

Sprinting on the other hand is a whole different animal that is powered primarily by the ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibers. Fast twitch fibers are responsible for quick reflexes and explosive type movements. All of the world’s best sprinters have a disproportionately huge percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers and this evident from their  lean and powerfully muscular physiques. Unlike slow twitch fibers, which derive their energy from the breakdown of fat tissue, fast twitch fibers are powered by the breakdown of an enzyme stored within the muscle known as Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP. ATP provides huge amounts of energy through anaerobic metabolic processes, but runs out quickly, which means its only good for the short-term -10 to 45 seconds or so.

These key physiological differences between sprinters and long distance runners are the reason why no single athlete has ever excelled at both the sprints as well as the middle or long distance events. So to answer our initial question  – Can Usain Bolt win a marathon? Probably not, but then again it is almost certain that Patrick Makau will never win an Olympic sprint final either!

Have an awesome week, will you!


Cardio Rules!

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The 3 Commandments Of Cardio Training

By Raymond Onyango.

When it comes to cardiovascular exercise, there are two types of people The enthusiasts, who can go on all day and the disinclined, those who are averse to any form of cardiovascular exercise and would rather have a tooth extracted without anesthesia than spend 20 minutes on a treadmill. Whichever the case, the fact of the matter is that we all need to accumulate at least 20 to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every single day. There is a growing mountain of evidence to support the fact that engaging regularly in cardiovascular exercise is a major form of insurance against virtually all lifestyle related diseases including, hypertension, diabetes and cancer, but of even greater interest to the majority of us is the fact maintaining a lifestyle that crates ample opportunities for engaging in cardiovascular exercise, is still the most effective way to shed unwanted weight and enhance your physical appeal.

By definition, an exercise qualifies to be referred to as cardiovascular if it if it has the following 3 attributes

a. It should be sustained over a period of 15 minutes or more. If it’s too short in duration it does not really tax your cardiovascular system enough to convey many of the life saving benefits of sustained cardio.

b. It should be rhythmic involving a consistent pattern of lower or upper body movement as is the case with activities like running, cycling, swimming, squash, soccer and many others.

c. It should elevate your heart rate and increase your rate of breathing. A majority of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise can be ascribed to these two factors and the adaptations they inspire in the body’s vital organs including the heart and lungs.

Unfortunately there are an overwhelming number of myths about cardiovascular exercise that persist out there, clouding our judgment and often times leading us astray, which is why I set about today to outline to you, the facts you need to know about cardiovascular exercise, so that you can get the most out of it.

Warm Up

Number 1 on your list is common sense; warm up! Warming up means preparing your body for the workout ahead. Physiologically warming up allows your circulatory system to pump oxygen rich blood to your working muscles, preparing them for the increased demands of exercise. Specialized glands in your joints step up the production of a special lubrication fluid, known as synovial fluid – reducing friction in the joints and protecting them from injury. Your tendons and ligaments become more elastic as your body temperature rises with the warm up improving your range of motion – cold muscles don’t absorb impact or stain as well as warm muscles.

On a mental level, the warm up allows you o leave the office and life behind and concentrate on the moment. It gives you the opportunity size up your potential on that particular day and decide weather to up the tempo or go easy. All around the warm up helps you to prepare both mentally and physically for exercise and reduces the chance for injury – so why would you fight with that? My own personal rule is that your warm up must take up a quarter of the total time you dedicate to a cardio workout. For instance a 20-minute workout should include a mandatory 5-minute substantive warm up. You will exercise injury free for years!

Hit your Cruising Altitude

The entire purpose of the warm up is to get you up to your cruising altitude. Your cruising altitude also known, as the aerobic zone is the point at which your heart rate is approximately 65 to 85% of its theoretical maximum. Did I loose you there? Lets go over that again, on a scale of 0 to 10, with zero being the amount of effort you expend while sitting on the couch watching telly, and 10 being the amount of effort you expend when running for your life, after a close encounter with a street thug on a dark night you want to work somewhere between level 6 and 8. You should be able to answer to your name but you shouldn’t find it possible to hold a conversation.

At this point a number of things happen, Your ejection fraction – the amount of blood your heart pumps out with each beat increases, getting much needed oxygen to hard working muscles. Your heart rate – the number of times your heart beats in a minute rises from an average of 72 beats per minute (bpm) to as high as 150 bpm or more depending on your age and the intensity of the exercise. Given that your heart is a muscle and responds to exercise like any other muscle, elevating you heart rate in this manner makes the heart stronger and more efficient at its job – the trade off for you is that you live longer and probably sidestep heart disease altogether.

All this activity needs to be fueled, and the body’s preferred source of fuel in this aerobic zone is fat or adipose tissue. This is the link between weight loss and cardiovascular exercise. At least half of your entire cardio workout should be spent within this zone. Your body only has a limited supply on energy stored in the muscles, and this is exhausted almost as soon as you begin to workout, so the body must generate more to keep you going. It does this by breaking down fat tissue in the presence of oxygen to yield the energy that keeps you moving. This is also the reason why your rate of breathing as mentioned earlier, is an important indicator of just how hard you are actually working; breathing faster during exercise is a sign that your body’s metabolism is revving up, consuming calories and planting you firmly on the path to leanness.

If you are pushing hard enough, you should work up a light sweat fairly easily. Sweating is a good thing, not because it melts away the fat (other wise, you would loose weight just sitting in the traffic on a hot afternoon) but because it is a great indicator of the speed of your metabolism. Heat is one of the by products of cellular metabolism, as your body converts fat to energy – heat is created. Some of this heat helps to catalyze the process but most of it has to be let go of, other wise the body would overheat to dangerous levels. You body accomplishes this by producing sweat, which cools down your body as it evaporates from your skin. The short of it; if you are working hard enough to sweat consistently for at least 50% of your cardio workout, you are definitely burning calories!

Prepare For Landing

Until quite recently cooling down was thought to be very instrumental in helping to flush out the lactic that accumulates in our muscles, but new research seems to suggest that cooling down has little if any effect on reducing muscle soreness after a workout. It seems that when it comes to fighting that next ay stiffness, a gradual warm up is actually the most powerful tool at your disposal. However, the one thing the scientific community agrees about cool downs is the fact that they encourage blood flow out of the muscles and allow the heart rate to come down quicker than it would if you just topped exercising immediately. When the body stops moving suddenly after intense exercise, blood can pool in the extremities especially the legs causing dizziness, nausea and even fainting – a gradual cool down will help you avoid this.

A slow reduction of pace over 5 to 10 minutes will do the trick. You may also want to consider an effective addition to your post workout routine in the form of a thoroughly stretching. Stretching has been shown to boost muscle recovery and help prevent stiffness after exercise, and it is best done when you are still warm and your muscles are in their most pliable state. You might also want to grab a carbohydrate rich snack within no more than 20-30 minutes after the end of your workout to help you replenish your blood sugar levels and avoid hypoglycemia – or low blood sugar. Carbohydrates eaten within a short period after exercise are readily synthesized to replace glycogen stores in your muscles and boost your immune system recovery.

Have a cardio intensive week will you!

Try This At Home!

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A Devastatingly Effective Weight Free Workout.

By Raymond Onyango

Ladies and Gentlemen: It is said,  ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’ and here at the beginning of the year, we have the perfect chance of doing something our about our physical appearance rather than just merely talking about it. Of course doing something means that when you get off your screen right after reading this, you will have a simple, effective plan of action that you can put into place immediately, without leaving room for further procrastination. This plan is composed of simple but highly effective exercises that need little, if any equipment to perform and which can guarantee you even better results than some fancy health club membership if you actually get around to doing them.

This ‘plan’ is built around a training concept I fundamentally believe in’ because I have see it work consistently, on heaps of occasions – Circuit Training. Circuits are great because they are complete; they give you strength and cardio in one neat package that’s time efficient, genuinely effective and infinitely exciting. With circuits boredom is not an option, the quick reaction time will keep all of your senses engaged and your attention riveted, the quick movement will get your heart racing like a lawnmower and the never ending variety will satisfy your need for challenge and sustain your interest – it doesn’t get better than this!

Question is what makes a good circuit? For a circuit to be effective, it needs first and foremost, to be balanced. Balance means that upper body exercises must be matched by lower body exercises to preserve proportions and antagonist muscle groups, must be trained in opposition with agonist muscle groups in order to maintain harmony in the interaction of the body’s various muscle groups. When these principles are ignored, two things are likely to happen, in the former scenario, you will end up lopsided, like so many men who only train their upper bodies but have spindly legs; in the latter scenario one group of muscles, say the abs, can overpower the lower back, throwing your spine out of whack and inviting numerous unpleasant aches and pains not to mention medical bills and loss of productive man hours.

Secondly, when you are working with your body weight, you need to be creative! To this end there are two things you need to keep in mind – one is ‘progression’ and the other is ‘leverage’. Lets start with progression – progression simply means planning a growth curve that allows your to introduce new challenges to your body, by building on skill you have already learnt. Through carefully administered progression you can coach your self from say, the total inability to do a single pull up, to being able to polish off a dozen of them in perfect form. It also gives you a measure of your progress outside of the traditional yardsticks of weight on the scale and inches on the tape; it is the qualitative counterpart to these quantitative measuring tools. Further to this it adds the key element of variety, which as you well know, is the spice of life. Variety sustains interest and interest sustains adherence, which in turn guarantees results, and so the wheel turns…

As for leverage, a simple shift in your body position can make a tremendous difference to the level of difficulty an exercise presents. Learning to use the right kind of leverage will allow you to make simple exercises more challenging and difficult exercises more attainable by teaching your to position your body in the most helpful position for you to achieve your goals.

All right enough with the talking, lets get down to business. Here are the exercises, the breakdown of which muscle groups they influence and a host of ideas to either upgrade or down grade your level of difficulty.

Here goes:

Nail the Push up

Muscles Targeted: Chest  (pectorals), Triceps (triceps brachii) and shoulders (deltoids) as prime movers, but the entire core and lower body is hugely involved in maintaining your stability in this position.

Get It Right: The push up is a common exercise but remarkably few people get the form right. For the right effect, your body should form a straight line, running from your shoulders though the hips and the knees, right down to your ankles. For this to happen the core muscles must be engaged and active the whole time. Your hands should be placed slightly outside of shoulder width apart, to help you maximize your range of movement, and protect your elbows by shifting your weight into the chest, shoulders and triceps, the three prime movers in this classic exercise.

Keeping your elbows tracking in a straight line and in alignment to your wrists, lower your body over a 4 second count until your chest is just an inch or two off the floor, pause for 2 seconds and power up slowly taking no less than 4 seconds to return to full extension. These may prove to be the most difficult ten seconds you have experienced in a long time and some of the most effective. Aim for 10 to 15 reps at one go, it if comes to easy try the harder version but if you find this too intimidating, try its baby cousin – the kneeling push up.

Criss Cross To Firm Abs

Muscles Targeted: External abdominal obliques, internal abdominal obliques, rectus abdominis (the famous six- pack) and the tranvese abdominis – basically every single abdominal muscle group.

Get It Right: This exercise incorporates all the movements, save for one (extension – bending backwards) that you would ever make from your core, flexion (bending forwards) rotation (turning sideways) and stabilization (maintaining your posture).   To do it right lie on your back with your knees up above you at a 90 degree angle, same for your hips – I call this the 90/90 position. Interlock the fingers while picking your elbows up over your head and bringing the palms to rest at the back of your head.
Pay close attention here act strictly from your abdominal muscles and use those to peel your spine up off the floor from the head up until the shoulder blades are an inch or so away from the floor – it is important that you do not pull on your neck at this point or you can be sure you are not getting it right yet.
Done correctly the effect of this will be to activate your abs and protect your lower back in the same motion by nestling the latter firmly against the floor. Now think of drawing the right knee to the left elbow, while extending the opposite pair of limbs away from each other, switch sides and aim for 12 to 15 reps. you can make this exercise more demanding or less so simple by regulating the distance to which you extend your legs. Make sure to breath in one way and to breath out the other way.

Squat To Improve Your Rear View.

Muscles Targeted: Buttocks (gluteus maximus and medius), Thighs (Quardiceps) Hamstrings (biceps femoris), calves (gastocnemuous) in the lower body, but the core muscles of the abdomen also play a huge role in maintaining stability.

Get It Right: If you are not squatting, you can’t claim to be training and that’s that. This is the single most important lower body exercise of them all and for good reason. They help you build quality muscle and are associated with a surge of muscle building testosterone in men – women need not worry about building Arnold Schwarzenegger type muscle, you typically have just one tenth of the level of testosterone your typical male has, but that does not in any way keep you from benefiting hugely from the muscle toning effect of this exercise. They build you overall strength like no other leg exercise in ways, which help your life on a practical day-to-day basis. They help you gain mobility and get rid of many a niggling back pain, because you need flexibility to squat right and equally as importantly they reinforce some of your most crucial weight bearing joints such as the knees, hips and lower back which will be a boon for you in your middle age when every one around you is succumbing to knee troubles.

Begin with your feet hip width apart or slightly wider and the entire sole of both feet firmly planted on the ground. You want to check that your body’s main weights namely the head, chest and hips fall in a long straight line. Now go ahead and break that line up by sending your knees forwards tracking over the toes and the hips backwards and downwards in the direction of the heels. Try and do this while balancing a light exercise book on your head to help you stay upright, the moment you feel drop the book or feel the need to pick your heels up off the floor you will be sure you are at the limits of your range of motion, you should then begin to make your way back up. Keep the reps slow and consistent and aim for at lest 20 to 25 good ones at one go.

Pull Your Own Weight With The Pull Up

Muscles Targeted: Lats (latissumus dorsi), mid back (rhomboids), traps (trapezius) shoulders (deltoids) Biceps (biceps branchii), forearms (branchioradialis) but again the entire lower body and core musculature are invoked otherwise you find yourself swinging wildly and out of control.

Get It Right: The pull up comes in several varieties depending on the grip employed. A supinated or underhand grip with the palms facing inwards may be the easiest place to start. Grip an overhead bar with your arms slightly inside of shoulder width apart. Engage your rhomboids and lats, using those to propel your chest up towards the bar taking your time to get there so as to eliminate momentum. As soon as you get there make your way back down in an equally slow and controlled fashion. Aim for 10 of these at ago, but do not be disappointed if you only make five. If you can’t make a single rep, try and modified pull up illustrated in the picture below. If you blow these away with ease try the pronated pull up or overhand grip.

Get your Core As Solid As A Plank

Muscles Targeted: Erector spinae, External abdominal obliques, internal abdominal obliques, rectus abdominis and the tranvese abdominis – basically every single core muscle group.

Get It Right:  Drop into the push up position on the floor with your weight resting on your elbows, which should be spaced about shoulder width apart. Draw the belly button up to the spine to engage the abs until you have a line running from the shoulder to the hip, maintain this line as you pick your knees off the floor, one after the other and bring your entire bodyweight to rest in the abdomen.  Keep this up for anywhere between 10 seconds to a whole minute, with respect to your physical ability. You could add a whole new level of difficulty to this by simply picking one leg off the floor or otherwise attempting the side plank variation.

Lunge Into Perfection

Muscles Targeted: Lunges place the most emphasis on the gluteus (buttocks) and hamstrings, but in reality they engage virtually every single muscle in the body. Moreover, lunges mimic everyday activities such as climbing stairs or the very act of walking it self and therefore perfecting this exercise has a huge carryover effect into your daily life and one that is impossible for us to ignore.

Get It Right: Start with the stationery lunge, which places the least amount of impact on your knee joints and does not require much coordination. It is simple; begin with the left knee on the floor, toes dug into the floor and your right foot ahead of you with the knee tracking directly over the toes. Keep the head and chest aligned above the hips, while picking that left knee off the floor and bringing it up to full extension. Lower gently and try again for 10 to 15 reps if you have it in you. Change sides and repeat.  To up the ante try your hand at walking lunges, in the illustration above.

Tie It All Together

The idea behind circuit training is to keep your heart rate
elevated consistently, so that your muscle toning workout can double as a cardio one too, killing tow birds with a single stone and saving you time. This will only be possible if you maintain strict form and control, in the execution of these exercises, and limit your self to no more than a 30 to 45 second break between exercises. Attempt the circuit at least 3 times. With only 6 exercises and just about 2 minutes to execute each, the entire program would take you no more than 45 minutes, making allowance for a five minute warm up with a skipping rope and a 5 minute cool down stretch. Allow for a day’s rest in between circuits, on this rest day you can focus of a cardiovascular exercise such as walking or running or maybe even playing your favorite game- squash, Frisbee, rugby, volleyball or what ever else it may be. In one months time we will review our progress and update this program.

Have a busy week will you!

Run Like A Kenyan!

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Training Secrets of Elite Kenyan Runners.

By Raymond Onyango.

World beating Kenyan athletes

The year 2011 has proven to be a record year of sorts for Kenya’s top marathon runners. Even with the untimely death of our great Olympic Marathon Champion, the late Samuel Wanjiru; Kenya’s marathon runners have still managed to break the world record courtesy of Patrick Makau, who recently shattered Haile Gabreselasie’s previous record at the Berlin marathon.  Even more revealing is the fact that as at this moment, Kenyans occupy no less than 25 of the top 30 positions in the world marathon rankings. This year alone we’ve won  all six of the major World Marathon Majors, including – Boston, London, New York marathons, not to mention the hitherto elusive World Championship marathon Gold in Daegu Korea, where we promptly swept up all the medals on offer in both the men’s and women’s marathon races.

But what is it that makes Kenyans such great long distance runners?  And what can the rest of us mere mortals learn from these elite runners about how to run better, safer and faster?

Run Barefoot or Jump Rope

Go Barefoot!

It has been argued often, and rather controversially so; that  many of Kenya’s greatest marathon runners were inadvertently launched into their careers out of the sheer necessity of running several miles everyday, often barefoot just to make it to and from school. Whether or not this is actually true, is a moot point, but it does not negate the fact that  human beings are actually designed to run barefoot and have mostly done so for millennia i.e until the advent of the modern running shoes. One of the things you will very quickly discover about running barefoot, if take the trouble to try it for yourself; is that it forces you to land very lightly on the balls of your feet rather than much more heavily on your heels. This fact is what makes it such a saviour for your joints, in terms of minimizing impact and therefore injury!

Douglas Wakiihuri

When I first started out in my career as a fresh faced rookie fitness instructor about 15 years ago, one of the people who mentored me and took the time to teach me valuable lessons about keeping fit and running in particular was none other than Douglas Wakiihuri, the 1987 world marathon champion in Rome and a silver medalist at the Seoul Olympics the following year.

It was Douglas Wakiihuri, who first taught me how to skip consistently to the rhythm of music – an activity he would indulge in for hour after hour in the gym, stopping only to crank out a set of pull-ups here and there.

Skipping as it turns out is one of the best activities you can do to help your running, precisely because skipping, just like running barefoot, is all about how you land on your feet.

Muhammad Ali

Your legs are actually designed by nature to be excellent shock absorbers. When you are jumping rope and you land lightly on the balls of your feet, all of that force travels via the bridge of your foot, through your achilles tendon and up your calves into your hamstrings, quadriceps, and ultimately your hips, where it is again released back down the other leg as the kinetic energy which powers your very next step. This allows you to stay light on your feet, incurring relatively little impact on the body, a fact which will improve both your running speed and reduce your potential for injury.

By contrast when you hit the ground heel first, that force is transmitted straight up into your knees concentrated in  your lower back and other weight bearing joints with rather painful and many a times disastrous results, such as shin splints, worn out knee cartilage, torn menisci or displaced vertebral discs – all of which are avoidable injuries, but ones that far too many runners are never the less all too familiar with!

Control Your Fall

Once you have learned to run silently on the balls of your feet, it is time to incorporate another very important concept in running – The Controlled Fall. One of biggest mistakes made by many novice and experienced runners alike, is to increase their stride length in a bid to go faster, but this actually often produces the exact opposite effect.

Running is actually a controlled fall!

When you watch some of the world’s elite marathon runners, such as the Kenyan greats pictured  here above, you will be immediately struck by one thing – the turn over rate of their feet. One study that examined several of the world’s best athletes over the marathon distance concluded that the majority of them take an average of 180 steps every minute! The reason behind this is that taking smaller steps allows them to place their feet right below, or other wise behind their body’s natural center of gravity, which lies three or four finger widths below the navel.

Why is this important?

Notice how far forward they lean!

Your body has 3 main weights, the head, the chest and the hips all of which are stacked one above the other. When you attempt to run with a very drawn out stride length which essentially places your feet ahead of any of these weights, your immediately  incur a very significant breaking action with each and every step. This absolutely unnecessary breaking action not only wastes energy, it also compounds the direct impact on your joints ultimately leading to injury.

You should feel like you are literally falling forwards!

By contrast, learning run while leaning forward just to the point where you begin to feel like you are falling forward, allows you to initiate movement using nothing but the force of gravity alone. This saves you tons on energy and allows you to focus on maintaining turnover at the feet rather than literally throwing your entire body-weight around!

The second part of the equation lies in learning to take smaller quicker steps. You can do this by visualizing the ground as a bed or smoldering coals so hot,  you can barely let your feet touch its surface. This will force you to focus on quickly lifting up your feet from the ground as soon as they touch down. You will now have the force of gravity doing the work for you as you move forwards, with your stride opening up behind you and  your heels flicking up towards your buttocks, making for a very low impact running technique that will increase your speed and endurance while  helping to keep you free of injury.

Run Like A Kenyan

  • The further you lean forward the more speed you will get. Your lean is literally your speed.
  • Keep your stride short. Your foot should always land below your body, never ahead of it. Remember that the longer your stride the greater the impact on your joints.
  • Land on the balls of your feet. This transmits minimum shock to your joints and allows you to draw on gravity for propulsion
  • Keep your feet moving. Elite athletes take about 180 steps per minute; this reduces the amount of time you spend on the ground and therefore you loose less momentum.
  • Focus on picking your legs up when running rather than pushing off the feet as many of us do. Your major running muscles are actually your hip flexors and extensors, not your legs
  • Keep your whole body relaxed to help you save energy.
Have an injury free run this week will you!

Efficient Use Of The Cardio Theatre

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Understanding which machine is right for you!

By Raymond Onyango.

The variety of cardiovascular equipment on offer in your average health club has expanded considerably in the last two decades. In addition to age-old favorites like the treadmill and the stationery bicycle; Indoors rowers, elliptical machines and stair climbers are now standard cardio theatre fixtures in any decent health club.  On the one hand this has been a boon to the health and fitness industry because it has made it possible for a much larger number of people to access the benefits of regular exercise, but on the flip side it has also presented a new and unique set of challenges especially to the novice gym user.

With so many machines on offer, which one do you use? Do you choose the machine that burns the most calories, or the one that targets your butt or maybe the one that has the least impact on your joints? A fitness professional will advice you not to have favorites, after all every machine has its strengths and drawbacks and the best way to get ahead is to incorporate as much variety into your exercise schedule as possible.  However when there are intervening factors such as bad knees or lower back pain, that place limits your use of certain machines, it helps a lot to know the attributes of the different cardio machines, so that you can make a safe and informed choice.

Treadmill – The Fat Burner

Used properly the treadmill burns the most calories of any machine in the cardio theatre. It is also by far the most popular piece of fitness equipment in just about every gym around the world.  The major challenges associated with the use of the treadmill have to do with the steep learning curve required to master the biomechanics of using the machine and the relatively high impact incurred by the joints of the lower body.

For many beginners in the gym, the treadmill should not be a first choice, because walking on the machine is very different from walking on solid ground, and there is a lot of balance and coordination required to use the machine safely. Further to this, is the fact that the treadmill places enormous stress on crucial weight bearing structures in your body, such as your knees and lower back. Every time your foot makes strikes the ground, your knees bear an impact equivalent to four times your body weight.

This means that for an over weight individual weighing about 95 kilograms, each of their knees would be absorbing an impact in excess of 380 kilograms, while walking on the treadmill! For any one with existing knee problems or who lack muscle tone to support the knee structure, use of the treadmill might only serve to instigate or exacerbate injury.

You also need to learn how to balance the speed and incline functions of the machine to get the most out of your workout while minimizing wear and tear on the joints. As a general rule of thumb, if the incline or speed is so high that you must support yourself on the guardrails, then you need to slow things down to a more manageable level.

Stationery Bicycle  – The Joint Saver

The stationery bicycle, especially the recumbent variety, places perhaps the least stress on the joints out of all the cardio machines in the gym. Much of this has to do with the fact that you are not supporting your body weight, and there is no direct impact to the knees or lower back. The machines are also very easy to use, with little coordination required, which makes them perhaps the best fit for novices, the elderly and anyone nursing a prior recurrent knee injury or condition such as arthritis.

However injury is still possible on a bicycle especially if it is not well adjusted to suit the user in question. Most people place the saddle to low, meaning that their knees bend too much when they pedal, which can put pressure on the joints and result in soreness.  In the right position there should be a very slight bend at the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke. In this position the legs can crank out more power, meaning that you also burn more calories using the machine.

Rowing Machine – The All Rounder

In many health clubs I have been to, the rowing machine often lies unused and dusty, somewhere in a corner. This is unfortunate because pound for pound, no other machine offers as much of an all round challenge as the rowing machine. This machine works out virtually every single muscle group both in your upper and lower body, which means that you build some serious muscle tone and burn lots of calories in one stroke.  The main thing that keeps most people off the rowing machine is the fact that with so many muscle groups working together, you have to concentrate a lot on what you are doing while exercising some very refined motor coordination skills. This can be a huge challenge for a first timer at the gym, especially if coordination does not come naturally to you. Also, the fact that you have to engage the core muscles of your abdomen and lower back means that there is lots of technique required to keep you from injury especially to the lower spine.  This is a machine to work up to slowly, begin with short intervals of only 5 to 10 minutes and build up your endurance gradually.

The Elliptical machine – A Little Bit Of Everything.

The elliptical machine also known as the cross trainer is a fairly new entrant into cardio theaters worldwide having been invested only in the 1990’s. They have however proved to be almost as popular as the treadmill, and have a rabid following among gym goers world over. The huge benefit of the elliptical is that it offers you a little bit of everything. You get much of the benefit of running, but without the impact associated with the treadmill. You work both the upper and lower body but without the level of coordination needed for the rowing machine and you get the joint friendly nature of the bicycle while burning more calories because you are supporting your entire body weight.  The elliptical is a great machine for the novice to start out on, but also offers enough challenge to make it suitable for the most seasoned athletes, it really does give you a little bit of everything.

At the end of the day it is important to understand that no single machine is better that the other. The only thing that determines whether you use one machine or the other is weather it is appropriate for your current needs and fitness level. As I mentioned at the beginning however, the more variety you incorporate into your workouts, the more progress your will make. Have a lovely weekend, will you!