Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Conversation with Fitness Expert Jonathan Ross

This week I had the privilege of having a phone conversation with  fitness trainer Jonathan Ross. Jonathon is a multiple award winning fitness trainer who most recently won the 2010 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year. He has a blog for Discovery Health called The Everyday Fitness Blog and is the author of the just released book Abs Revealed.

If you are curious how I got to talk to Jonathan, it came about in a very serendipitous way. I happened to be on Facebook a couple of Sundays ago, when a post came up from the people at TRX Suspension Training Systems. It mentioned that the first three people who correctly answered three questions would win some TRX swag. It was a trivia contest celebrating the book release of Jonathan Ross's "Abs Revealed". It also mentioned that one of the first three respondents would win a phone conversation with Jonathan Ross. I ended up being the second person to answer the questions (you had to be quick) and later was notified that I won the phone conversation too.

I immediately ordered the book so I would have it before the phone call and checked out some of Jonathan's videos online. I have and love my TRX suspension trainer, but I am very much a beginner at using it despite having 4 of the TRX DVDs. The TRX Pendulum was the first I found and it is a really good one.

This is one of the videos from the "Abs Revealed" book, which is the first book to include exercises for the TRX Suspension Trainer. Jonathan got in email contact with me and we set up a time for the call. He also wanted to know if I had a couple of questions in mind to send his way. Being a long time distance runner with all sorts of functional and biomechanical issues, I quickly gave him an overview and sent him a link to my blog. I looked forward to the phone call, but wasn't sure how it would go. Would he be a trainer who was anti-running (particularly for someone like me with so many issues) or would he just go through the motions during the call to fulfill his obligations? I would have been pleased just to have him answer a couple of questions from his book.

I was pleasantly surprised when he got on the phone and was very complimentary on my willingness to pursue my own fitness goals despite my issues and on how much I had done on my own. He had actually read my blog to find out about my issues and how to best answer my questions and give me the best advice possible. Without seeing me in person, he thought it would be hard to see all that was going on in my body, but he did put together a few exercises beforehand that he thought would help me out to get back to running which is the activity I love to do. Jonathan began describing and explaining three exercises in particular. I found his explanations clear and I was able to visualize exactly what he was saying, even though two of the exercises were unlike anything I have encountered before, and I have done a lot of research and reading on all sorts of exercises. I was writing notes like crazy as he talked as I realized that I was hearing some real creative and applicable advice. The exercises were designed to address some of my asymmetries and imbalance issues and I immediately saw the rationale and thinking behind each exercise. The time went by quickly, but it seemed like I was on the phone for hours, because Jonathan gave me so much detailed information. My brain was popping by the end and I was very tired from just all the great things I was hearing and trying to capture. Let me just say, Jonathan Ross it a true professional. He gave me more that 100% of his time and his advice was creative (not some rehash of the same old movements) and sensible. He was also extremely motivational and complimentary and made me believe again that I was on the right track and doing the right things in trying to get my body to behave again. If you go to Jonathan Ross's AionFitness website, you will see that Aion comes from the Greek word meaning age and eternity. He explains:

I believe that fitness is a life long pursuit of living to your maximum physical potential. I will teach you to enjoy movement and physical activity, and to use your body like it was meant to be used.

Fitness is about being able to do the activities you enjoy without feeling your body complaining to you or limiting you in any way.

Aion Fitness = Fitness for a Lifetime!

That is exactly what I want out of my fitness and running and I thank Jonathan for a super phone conversation full of great advice that fulfills my goals and helps me on my way to moving and running correctly again. Thanks also to the TRX folks for putting on the contest and giving me this opportuning to learn a little bit more of how to enjoy adn maximize my own fitness.

So what did Jonathan teach me? The first move was something simple called "toe raises". This is pertinent because I have hip problems and hip problems are often tied together with feet problems and I have those too. I am also adjusting to new orthotics due to a toe problem called Functional Hallux Limitis. My current hip problems that have put a stop to my running are probably due a lot to jumping into to using new insoles to correct the problem this summer. Within a couple weeks of using them, I had bumped my mileage up to an 85 mile week (including 52 miles in 3 straight days). I was correcting one problem, but starting a new one! The toe raises also help with balance and help to keep my arch from collapsing. The point is to sit or stand flat-footed (and barefoot)and lift up either the big toe or the four other toes. It sounds easy, but I found I couldn't even figure out how to lift up the big toes on their own. Try it, is it easy for you? I am slowly getting some control over the big toe, but it is hard to lift up and even get some toe awareness going. This is a great little exercise I can do anywhere.

The second is an exercise I am familiar with, but I am familiar with so many exercises it is hard to know which are the good ones to do for my own conditions and which are not that important. Because I run and move with the left side shifted ahead of my right side, Jonathan thought this would be good for me. Basically, you sit tall with a ball between your knees, hold your arms across your chest and rotate left to right for a set before rotating to the opposite side. This exercise works the obliques and I think is another easy and essential exercise to do, particularly when I even find it hard to turn around to look behind me when I run.

The third exercise is really great. Why didn't I think of this one? I think it will help my sore adductors as well as my wayward left leg with its instability. It is a standing internal and external rotation for each leg. You do it by standing facing forward on one leg and rotate the other leg across the body in front and moving around it  like the hand of a clockback toe-tapping the ground for balance as you go. If you stand on an "+" marked on the ground you can see your improvement as you go.

These are all great exercises that Jonathan picked out for my specific needs. I think they are really great and I am thrilled that he took the time to tailor the phone call to my needs. He also gave me some tips for using my orthotics, for using my TRX (do one legged exercises for the lower body) and a progression of very slow lunges where I am to work on the weight shifting from one leg to the other and back. This is all good stuff and I can see why Jonathan Ross is such an award winning trainer. He treats you with respect, is positive and affirming in his comments, and is creative in his approach to problem solving. I was not given cookie-cutter exercises, but the exercises were individualized to meet my needs.

His new book is called Abs Revealed and we didn't even talk about that. I am still reading through the book but it has solid advice on food and nutrition as well as a progression of exercises utilizing a variety of exercise tools like the TRX as well as Bosu and stability balls. Each exercise has positioning and technique explanations as well as performance tips. It is very readable and has color photographs on its big glossy pages. My advice is to get yourself a TRX Suspension Trainer. It is such a great tool for runners that is full of possibilities and if you want a good book on using the TRX to strengthen your core, this is definitely it. I have to get my running under control and then I can really work on getting some killer six-pack abs!!

In this video Jonathan Ross answers some questions about abs training and his book.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Exactly the Same Week after Week

30 years ago Nov. 1980 when it was much easier to run!

This weeks running; Sunday 4 miles on the treadmill, Tuesday 1 mile on the treadmill, Saturday 8 miles

Nothing worth reporting on the running front but wanted to bookmark today's run for future reference. I woke up feeling great and balanced today with no muscle or joint pains. I knew my left adductors were tight still, but wanted to try a run just to see where things were at, knowing that I will probably be sore for a few days afterwards. This run went just like the 8 milers I did a couple weeks ago and the 8 milers a couple weeks before that. I think that all the times that I have been able to complete an 8 miler the past two months that they have all progressed basically the same. So there is a pattern to follow if a doctor can figure it out.

To clarify and remember what happens with my hip I am writing it down here. First of all, I started each run feeling great. I don't seem to have the inflammation and tightness around my hips and quads that I had all summer when I was training and racing through it. As I ran down the road, and after the first few steps of remembering the process of running, I felt great. I had a pretty good even stride and I felt strong. This is the way I would like to feel. After about 1/2 mile, I could feel a tightness in the adductor, that stingy cord inside the leg that up into the pelvis. The tightness would spread first in front of the cord about an inch forward and then in back of that cord into the back of the glutes. It would feel really iffy running this way and each run I would think of returning home so as to not injure things more, but what the heck, its not getting better anyhow. After about 3 miles, the left hip would be unbalanced a bit, but things would feel a bit looser. I would focus on running loose and balanced and things would then be pretty good. Today, the stride felt really nice and much more balanced then during the summer. If I could just run with a stride like this without the pain, things would be the best they have been in years. I could keep a pretty good training pace as I ran down the road, but if I tried to go faster things would tighten up.

Then with about 2 miles to go, my hip starts to lose some stability. I can't get it loose again and I can't keep my pelvis balanced. Things would start tightening up on the front outside of the hip where the femur joins the pelvis and to the back outside as well. Today, I figured out what it happening to the hip to throw things off. This is when the femur goes back to being pulled  tight to the inside. It feels like the tight adductor or other muscle right in there starts tightening and strongly pulls the top of the femur over to the inside where it feels a bit jammed into the front inside of the hip socket which then throws off my mechanics and my stride. That is when my lower back and  the outside of the gluteals start tightening up and the hip feels jammed in place and I don't feel like running. I had to stop just a 1/4  mile my from my house 2 weeks ago as it tightened up too much to run. I made it home this time, but couldn't have run much further.

Unfortunately, I didn't get an appointment for the doctor (the physiatrist) until next month on November 30. I really wish they got me through the MRI. I'd really like to know if it is a labral tear, a sports hernia (athletic pubalgia), or some other strange injury that I can't figure out, but isn't that the doctor's job? I don't think it would be a stress fracture at this point as it has been over 2 months now.

Anyhow, it is a big tease when I can run those middle miles feeling about 80% balanced and pretty strong for the lack of recent training. I can't wait to get this fixed. It is in moments like those that I know I can beat this thing!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lots of Ideas for Recovering My Stride

Running cross-country for Wheaton College back in the fall of 1980.
Besides the wonderful fall weather and beautiful foliage, it is also cross-country and marathon season. This is absolutely the best time of year to be a runner. Unfortunately this fall,  I do not feel like much of a runner at all. I got my new orthotics two weeks ago and at first they felt great. I thought I would get used to them slowly and on the second day did 4 miles. I felt real good and did 8 miles the next day feeling even better. I then thought, I might have a long shot at finishing the Baystate Marathon on Sunday, even with the limited training over the past month and 1/2. However, the next few days found my muscles getting stiffer and stiffer as I walked around in the orthotics trying to get my body to adapt to them. By race morning on Sunday, I found it hard to even walk comfortably to the starting line. I stood around waiting for the start and when the gun went off, I let my brain win this one over my will. I knew it was not going to be a good day to run and any running I did would not be helpful or fun at all. I ran for 3 minutes and 12 seconds and pulled out of the race.
It has not been easy sitting around for over a month and a half and not running, but I have realized that my body cannot handle it in a healthy manner anymore. Everything is out of whack and running this way just reinforces all my imbalances. But thank goodness the medical establishment is to the rescue, I think! The last doctor wanted me to set up an appointment with a physiatrist. I tried to research as much as I could, but could not find a sports related physiatrist in the local area. I finally chose one nearby, based on the qualification that he looked young and my hope is he is up on the latest sport injury rehabilitations. Getting an appointment is another matter. You have to have your records sent over to his office. After figuring out how to do that, I have to sit and wait for them to call me. I did call Friday and they still don't have my records. I have the feeling this could take a long time. Update: I got an appointment and the earliest I can go in is Nov. 30. Nothing like moving through the medical system at a breakneck speed!

I do have ideas of what I want to try if the physiatrist does not work, unfortunately all ideas might cost some money and I have a kid in college, so I have to be quite sure about what I might do. Here are my ideas:
Resistance Stretching:
Because my left hip is still unstable and pinching tight even while even walking around and my left adductors are tight and almost painful when running, I feel I need someone who can move and manipulate muscles and joints around. Unless it is a labral tear, the muscles around my hip need a lot of loosening up. The loosest my muscles ever got was when I went to a resistance stretcher, a couple of years ago and I could do that again. One thing I might try is to go down to Boston and get worked on by the originator of resistance stretching and author of the book,The Genius of Flexibility: The Smart Way to Stretch and Strengthen Your Body, Bob Cooley (mega expensive) or one of the other trained stretchers at his clinic (expensive). This would help the tightness in my muscles, but I am not sure if it would retrain the patterns of movement that I have. My hope would be that it loosens my muscles and allows my orthotics to work with the idea that I could then more easily generate new patterns of movement without the restrictions I now seem to have.
I thought when I went through the entire rolfing series a few years ago that all my problems would be solved. It was an interesting process, however it did not last long. I never felt better than after a rolfing session. I had twelve. My thinking is that the rolfing fell apart for me because my feet, because of the hallux functional limitus, kept collapsing and I reverted back to my poor movement patterns as compensation. Now that I have orthotics to correct the FHL, maybe a rolfing tune-up would help my body heal and strengthen. I met a Gate City Strider this summer who goes to a rolfer about an hour away who is also a physical therapist. I was hoping that at the last doctor's visit, I would be allowed to pursue going to this PT, but the doctor wants me to see a physiatrist instead. I also noticed that the rolfer that I went to in the past is now a trained resistance stretcher. However, interesting that sounds, she never really fixed me in the first place, so it may be good to go to someone new for a fresh set of eyes. For those that don't know, rolfing is not really massage. Massage is for your muscles, rolfing is for your fascia, the covering around all your muscles and connective tissue. The goal is to give your body "space" so that it can go back to alignment.
Retrain My Muscles
Another option is related to a book that I started reading this week called Muscular Retraining for Pain-Free Living. I really enjoy the reading as it gets technical about muscles and functioning of the body, but it is written in an easy to understand way. What I like is that it talks about a kinesthetic sense to the body and how it moves. No matter how much therapy and things I have tried, I firmly believe that my mind has its own movement map of how to move, and that what it thinks is correct is actually incorrect patterns. This book explains all this and then offers a series of exercises to reteach your body for proper movement patterns. They exercises are simple enough and they seem like a mix of Egoscue and Feldenkrais movements. The descriptions of the exercise, what they hope to achieve, and the author's notes on what you should feel are all clearly written. This is something that is missing from many books I have seen. I have started doing some of these exercises and a few of them pull and loosen my muscles in all the right ways. If I think these have an impact, I could make an appointment with the author, Craig Williamson. It would be a bit of a drive as he is in Portland, Maine, but I am at the point where I really need to find the right expert to fix things.
Gait Analysis
Recently Running Times has been putting out a series of videos called "Fixing Broken Runners." There are two videos (video one and video two) of the UVA Center for Endurance Training. I found that there is gait analysis being done at the Boston Running Center in Boston. This sounds really interesting, but I would be worried that it shows me what I already know about my stride. I am not sure of the therapy to fix things. I need more than to just be told what I need to fix.
An Athletic Physical Therapist
Finally, last night I discovered some excellent videos from a website called Athletes Treating Athletes. The website has informative videos which they call the The A-Tx-A Self Treatment System. Currently, there are 13 videos in the self-muscle masssage section. I have only had a chance to preview a few of them, but I like the teaching style, the descriptions, and the techniques that are illustrated. I have a house full of trigger-point tools like regular foam rollers, The Grid, and most recently the RumbleRoller, and all sorts of other things I have tried. I also have some DVDs put out by Trigger-Point, but these videos look like they are the most thought-out and descriptive videos to learn self-massage techniques. It also seems that the Physical Therapist. Leigh Boyle, who is putting this website and videos together works out of Plaistow, NH. That is less than an hour away. She is also an athlete and Ironman triathlete, so she would know the endurance athlete's body. I also like the fact that she is sharing her knowlege and doing an excellent job at it.
Here is the video I spent time with last night and then tried out. It relieved a lot of tension in the front of my left lower leg. I am a slow learner at figuring out how to work with trigger points, although I have been trying for years. I really like this book, Trigger Point Therapy for Low Back Pain: A Self-treatment Workbook, and have been slowly reading it. I worked my calf and soleus trigger-points for a few night a couple weeks ago, and that worked real nice. I did overdue it because I could not find them again the night before the Baystate Marathon and I think that is some of why I felt a bit off. Maybe it was time to work on other muscles like these:

Anterior + Lower Leg from Leigh Boyle on Vimeo.
I will be spending time studying the rest of these videos and maybe I can get a referral to get some work done someday. So even though I no longer feel like a runner anymore, when the time is right, I have some new options to explore. Choosing the right option is going to be a tough decision.
The good news is that I only have my running idiosyncricies to complain about. This blog's purpose is to share ideas as well as to track my progress and ideas for myself. It is a lot of fun, but I would guess that someone reading it might think that I complain about running injuries a lot and that there is not much else going on in my life. I feel extremely fortunate that all that I have to complain about is running. It's not really complaining, but I enjoy the curiousity of trying to solve this running problem and I don't intend to give up. Otherwise, life is great: family, friends, and work are all great and so I have the energy and desire to figure this out. I would like nothing more to again feel the enjoyment of running fast, loose, and free.
Finally, I also have to look at the obvious. At the top of this page is a picture of me running cross-country in college. At the end of my senior year my right hip got really sore and I couldn't run without pain days before my final cross-country race. Almost too late, I figured out the problem. I carried my wallet in the right hip pocket of my jeans. This was causing the problem. I kept the wallet out but it was slow coming back to normal. I ended up being in last place in the midwest regional championships race at the one mile mark. At which point, my hip started relaxing. I turned it on and passed runners throughout the race and ended up with my fastest ever 5 mile race.
The obvious thing is my sitting posture. I sit a lot and this is not good. My computer chair is a horrible chair and I end up slouching and not sitting straight nor do I balance properly. The obvious is to find a better way to sit and a better seat. Duh! I better start working on that, too!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What is a Physiatrist???

Today I completed only my 3rd run of the month. I wasn't too happy with a doctor today, so I went for a run. The past two weekends, I dusted off my running shoes and went for one 8 mile run to just see if things are improving in my left hip. I haven't run much since the beginning of September (and have gained about 10 pounds-yikes!) and was hoping for a sign that things were getting better. Both runs started off great. My legs and hip felt fine, without the stiffness that I had in the left hip all summer. I was thinking I might be healed.

But about 1/2 mile into each run, the muscle or bone right on the inside crease of where my leg meets my pelvis would start hurting. The inner thigh muscle then would start tightening up. As I ran, the tightness would spread around the inside and then at about 4 miles my glutes would start tightening up like they did all summer. As I ran things would get tighter and tighter all around my hip. Saturday, I had no choice but to stop just 1/4 mile from my house, not because I was tired, but because it started shutting down on me. The next day, after both runs, I would have to fight all sorts of sore and stiff muscles (not running sore-but out of place sore).

After failing to complete two MRIs, I was to see an orthopedist this morning. I was looking forward to see what the next step would be. So much of my malfunctioning hip sounds like a labral tear (what they wanted to check out on an MRI), but I wasn't ruling out a stress fracture, or some other problem. I was expecting to be sent to Boston for an MRI (where they can put you out!) or maybe get a cortisone shot to see if that would help things.

The new doctor did a few tests of moving my joint around, measured leg lengths and then said that she didn't think I have a labral tear at all. She said she looked at the x-ray (which the previous doctor said showed nothing) and said that I have a little bit of arthritis. I always assumed "arthritis" is the "name" given to something that you are not sure of and that you don't want to treat. I guess that was the easy answer. She said I was good enough to run again. "Hello", I have been trying that and something is still wrong. If I could run every day, I most certainly would.

This was a ridiculous appointment, coupled with the fact that I was her first appointment of the day and it still started over 1/2 hour late. She said she would like to refer me to a Physiatrist. She wrote down 4 local names (which I can't even read it is so poorly written). I asked her if they worked with athletes and she said she wasn't sure, but she said I could research it myself if I wanted to find someone different. I don't know anything about physiatrists. It seems that a physiatist is a medical doctor who focuses in on rehabilitation (rather than surgery). They are like a physical therapist but with more training. They treat the whole body and not the symptoms with a lot of different approaches. It sounds good to me, but where do you find one that specializes in sports injuries and if it worked so good, why do I never hear runners talk about them? I see that they also work with accident victims, amputees, the elderly (almost there), and people with other needs so I am not sure that every one has the training, knowlege, insight, or desire to work with a runner that refuses to stop running. I am sure great ones are out there, but is that person nearby and how do I find him or her? I will be working on it, however. Hopefully, I can find someone real good!

So even though it was a lousy appointment and I think I was just gracefully "shown the door" I can only hope that I find the right physiatrist and find a way to figure out what is wrong with my hip and how to fix it!

I could have bought a nice television or an iPad or something really cool, but I got these instead so I better show them off!

On another note, I picked up my permanent orthotics last night (three weeks after getting them molded for my feet). Not only are they expensive (I think that is the most I have spent on any one item in a long time) but they seem really fragile. That could be good or it could be bad. They are the lightest orthotics I have ever had. I had a pair in the 80s and another in the 90s and they were like boats. The base is reduced in size compared to what I have had in the past and they are incredibly light. They feel like they are made out of chalk and that they could break or dissolve in a few days of use. It has a seemingly flimsy covering with the cutouts for my 1st MPT joint (to treat Functional Hallux Limitis). They are extremely light in my shoes and have a different feel than the generic FHL insoles that I have been using since the summer. I think the cutout for my joint is deeper and my feet roll differently in them.

One thing that I hope is that they may help my hip. I have wondered is if the "off the shelf" insoles might be helping my FLM, but at the same time hurting my hip. An angle or balancing point may shift my foot, leg, and eventually hip into a position that stresses my hip. While many things got better for me in my foot through the use of the insoles all summer, my hip seemed to get worse and worse.

As I ran in them today, I liked the feel of them in my shoes and apppreciated the lightness of them. I noticed my foot working a bit differently and I noticed that as I ran the tightness went from the inside of my hip to the front outside of my hip joint and that was new, as if I was using the joint in a different way. I have decided that I will try to run more, but for smaller distances (I ran 4 miles today) to keep my glutes from acting up and tightening. Maybe things will improve.

I will be on the starting line of the Bay State Marthon on Sunday. I would like to see how far I can go before  the tightness sets in. Maybe I'll only get a few miles in. Maybe I will get a 1/2 marathon in. Who knows, maybe the orthotics will work and I can jog the whole 26.2 mile thing. I don't give it much of a chance, but if the hip doesn't hurt, it would be interesting to do a marathon after barely running the past month and a half! At least, I can cheer on my teammates out on the course once I do stop.

On a final note, I have used many different types of foam rollers, but I think I have found that best foam roller ever made. I have been using this for two weeks and it is quite a monster and can hit muscles in ways that a traditional foam roller cannot and it feels better than it looks as it can really isolate tight spots and trigger points.

I also got this book today. I am going to need something for my abs after all the weight I have gained after shifting from my favorite pastime (running) to my second favorite (eating ice cream). Actually, I have an opportunity to talk with the author, Jonathan Ross, on the phone next week and I want to be ready. He is one of the countries top trainers and I look forward to asking him about the use of the TRX as well as what insights he might have to fix my imbalances. Here is his website for his book "Abs Revealed".


Monday, October 11, 2010

Amazing Marathon Finishes

At yesterdays Chicago Marathon, Olympic Champion Sammy Wanjuri puts up a tremendous back and forth battle before finishing the race with a crushing sprint.

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

Here is a slow-motion view of Wanjiru finishing (and collapsing)..

Not to be outdone, in the Netherlands, Charles Kamathi won the 27th edition of the Eindhoven Marathon in a 3 man sprint (or at least they say he was the winner).

And probably most inpiring is the 2:47:50 run by Joan Benoit-Samuelson at Chicago to be the first woman to not just run a sub 3 hour marathon in 5 different decades, but also to join the very short list of runners who have run sub 2:50 marathons in 5 different decades. I had no doubt she would do this, after talking with her briefly in August.

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

Haile Gebrselassie: The Greatest

Here is an excellent video from Flotrack where they traveled to Ethiopia to meet with the greatest distance runner ever, Haile Gebrselassie. In this video Haile talks about growing up and being "outside", his start in international running, his best year-1998 (and he is still going for world records), education and poverty, and the keys to winning.

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

Every year, I show his video biopic, "Endurance" to my students. Unfortunately "Endurance" only made it to VHS and is out of print (come on Disney, get this out on DVD!). However you can watch it on youtube: start here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What to do with your old race t-shirts...

Go try for a world record. This guy is wearing 155 t-shirts all at once. It took him 4 hours to get them all on, so that is like a marathon in itself!