Last year I wrote an off-season article with suggestions how to get more bang for your buck with your off-season purchases. I was mainly focused on buying some “immediate speed” (e.g., a new set of race wheels), in varying price ranges. This time I wanted to focus more on ways to make us stronger and better athletes, continuing to get faster and faster over time. I like to think of them as “speed for life.”
Trying to stay in the $100-250 range, focusing on strengthening our bodies and making us more efficient athletes, here’s my short list:
- a biomechanical/muscular engagement assessment
- swim lessons
- a bike fit
- a running gait analysis
First on the list is something for anyone that has had any physical issues this year, from an accident, trauma, or just due to overuse, I highly recommend that you get a some kind of biomechanical/muscular engagement assessment to determine areas of weakness which need your focus. Don’t forget that you are only as strong as your weakest link! There are personal trainers that are qualified to perform such an assessment, as well as all physical therapists. I asked our good friend Geoff Gray, DPT, at Elite Performance (full disclosure, an SBTC sponsor), for a few words on what he could do for an athlete looking for an assessment.
Geoff: The off season is the best time to address injuries or areas of concern. Most injuries in endurance athletes are overuse injuries, which typically come from a problem in mobility or stability. An evaluation by a Physical Therapist at Elite will cover all areas of range of motion and strength with a focus on how each specific area of the body can affect the whole system. Once we have identified areas of limitation, the PT will put together a customized program to help you reach your optimum potential to be injury-free in the upcoming season.
Another option, one that I just learned about, is called Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) and is a specific and unique process for evaluating an individual’s ability to develop efficient muscle contraction(s). Once an evaluation has been completed, a MAT certified trainer applies digital force to your muscle attachment tissue, a simple an effective way to reconnect our minds with our muscles, MAT being another tool to help recover muscle function for muscles that have become weak through inactivity and/or inactivation. Muscle compensation is a problem we all have where one muscle or groups of muscles literally pick up the slack for underperforming muscles/muscle groups. MAT is used to reestablish the connection to these unused/under-used muscles to restore balance to our bodies.
MAT is too hard to explain in a few words, so briefly, what MAT is not is: Longitudinal Stroking, Acupressure, Myofascial Release, Trigger Point Therapy, Chair Massage, Cross Friction, ART, Rolfing, Sports Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, or Reike. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE),
ACE: MAT is a system of training that is designed to restore balance and enhance function in the human body. When a muscle becomes too tight (hypertonic) or weak (inhibited) it can affect the function and range of motion (ROM) of the joint it crosses. The foundational principle of MAT is that muscle tightness is a form of protection in the body and is secondary to muscle weakness. For the complete write up from ACE, head to their website at: http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/2111/q-and-a-muscle-activation-technique-mat-training/.
The closest local certified MAT trainer is Blair Ferguson, MATm, RTSm, down in Ventura Training and Athletics. I have not worked with Blair, so I asked him for an overview of what someone could expect when they pay him a visit.
Blair: My MAT assessments are $150 and they take 90-120 minutes. We go through a thorough health history with a nine page questionnaire, basic vitals, circumference measurements, standing postural examination, lying postural examination, global testing, range of motion exam, and depending on health history, a cervical influence screen, a respiratory mechanics screen, and a foot examination. Only after all the information is gathered can we develop a plan and a course of treatment. You can contact Blair at 805-794-3056 or 805-794-3056, or visit their website at: www.venturatrainingandathletics.com.
After your assessment it will be up to you to perform the exercises the MAT trainer gives you to strengthen your weak areas. And don’t think lifting heavy weights in the gym, or light weights with lots of reps. This is more in line with old school isometric exercises, focusing on body position and engaging the single muscle/muscle group, in question. For more information, the MAT homepage is here: http://www.muscleactivation.com/,
If you’re lucky enough to be injury free, I would suggest focusing on your weakest sport. If you don’t think you have a “weakest sport”, maybe you think they’re all weak! ;), then I’d suggest looking at the your results in each of three separate sports compared to other athletes in your age group, to see where you can gain some time. Focused training on just one sport for 1-2 months, while we rebuild out training base, can easily translate into faster race times.
Starting with the swim my suggestions are simple, work privately with a coach or swim with a coached Masters group at least once a week and focus on form, using the other 1-2 days a week of swimming to practice the changes to your stroke. More time spent just working on correct form versus training against the clock, this time of year especially, is something that we all should be doing, for the physical as well as mental break. It has been said that it takes up to 100,000 yards to remove and replace a bad habit in your swim stroke with a good habit. And keep the dialog up with your coach as you continue to improve, as many athletes start out working on their stroke, make a small improvement, and then stop trying to improve.
If you’ve never had your swim stroke video recorded this is also something that I highly recommend. We’ve all seen videos of fast swimmers and how it should be done, and many of us think that we probably look very much like that, but be prepared for a shock, as no in fact we do not look like Missy Franklin or Ryan Lochte in the water, even if in our minds that’s what we see. Actually seeing yourself in the water can be an eye opening experience. Sitting down with a coach and reviewing your form with suggestions and drills to correct the form breaks, then training and doing another video recording session after working the drill(s) into your normal stroke, can be very enlightening.
Up next time in Part II, bike fitting, how aero is aero?, and a run gait assessment.
Fred Maggiore, USAT Level I Coach