Quad Cramps

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Quad Cramps –How to fix them and avoid them.

For runners and triathletes, fewer things are more painful than quad cramps. During my first Ironman 70.3, I personally suffered from agonizing quad cramps during the first 10k of the run. There was a brief time where I did not think I would be able to make it through the run. Quad cramps can be debilitating, and in this post, we will discuss ways to fix them and keep them from coming back.

First, it’s important to know that there are several things that can cause quad cramps. The most common cause is improper nutrition – you’re dehydrated or don’t have enough sodium (salt) in your body.  Other causes for cramps can include fatigue, and working a muscle when it is “short”, or contracted, and not fully extended.

Whatever the cause, muscles can anticipate contraction, and can simply contract on its own.  This is one of the primary reasons that muscles often cramp towards the end of a race or long training session.

There are four muscles that make up the quadriceps. Of these four muscles, the rectus femoris is the most prone to cramping because it attaches above the hip and below the knee and crosses both joints. This muscle works harder than it’s other quadriceps counterparts. As a result, the rectus femoris has the greatest opportunity to contract when it is short because there are two things that can shorten it – knee extension and hip flexion.

So how do you fix a quad cramp? Remember that when a quad muscle cramps, it is shortened or contracted. The key is to stretch out the contacted muscle so it extends. BUT BE CAREFUL. A contracted muscle needs to be slowly stretched and extended. DO NOT yank it. It needs to be carefully and gradually stretched. You can do this by holding your foot and slowly pulling it up towards your butt in order to stretch out the quad muscle.

There is the possibility that reciprocal muscles can cramp. In other words, if you quad cramps, there is the possibility that the opposing hamstring muscle can also cramp. This is exactly what happened to me at Ironman 70.3 in Tempe.  The cramps were so debilitating because my quads and hamstrings were cramping at the same time. In an effort to avoid this, as you are stretching the quad muscle, be mindful not to hastily contract or fire the hamstring muscle. Take precaution to keep your entire leg as relaxed as possible while stretching the quad muscle.

Once you have sufficiently stretched and extended the quad, it is time to get hydrated. Make sure you take in plenty of fluids and increase your salt intake. Increasing your salt intake and keeping your electrolytes up, will also help to prevent additional cramping elsewhere.

Prevention of cramps is also key. This certainly does not mean that you will suddenly be immune to cramps, but there are things that you can do to help prevent cramps. First, make sure your muscles are properly trained so they are less prone to fatigue. For quads, incorporate exercised into your strength training routine such as squats and lunges.  Also, stay hydrated. This applies to training and not just racing. Hydrate before, during and after workouts, and make sure that you maintain proper electrolyte levels.  You can also employ dynamic warm-ups such as knee-ups, skips, etc. This will gradually warm the muscles up in preparation for a hard workout.  Regular stretching can also help keep your muscles loose and limber.

Employ these simple concepts into your training and racing, and you should lower your risk for cramping. Stay safe and enjoy?

Brent Holderman is an ITCA certified triathlon coach, host of the Tri-Experience podcast, owner of Rockit Sports Online, and an Ironman 70.3 triathlete.

Dynamic and Static Stretching

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Dynamic and Static Stretching

There has been a long standing debate when it comes to stretching.  Some have tried to discredit or minimize the value of stretching, however, it is the position of this coach that proper stretching techniques are in fact beneficial to athletes, particularly when it comes to increasing flexibility and improving performance.

Part of the stretching debate lies in the argument of dynamic vs static stretching. What I have found to be most beneficial is to incorporate both dynamic and static stretching into your routine for best results. Personally, I try to employ more dynamic stretching prior to a workout or training session, while incorporating static stretches post-workout. In this post, we will take a brief look at each.

My personal belief is that, opposed to static stretching, dynamic movement warm ups (pre-workout) prepare working muscles more adequately for strenuous training, while minimizing the risk of injury. Why? Dynamic movement stretches are ideal because they prepare joints for movement, and muscles for optimal activation. By employing dynamic movement stretching, you can initiate movement of joints and muscles through repetitive motion, all while moving a particular body part farther with each repetition.

Let’s use the hips as an example. By reducing hip stiffness prior to your run or ride, your hip muscles will work more efficiently and economically during your workout, all while reducing the risk of overuse injuries. Here are some simple dynamic movement stretches for the hips that you can try before your next workout:

Inchworms –    Start in a “push-up” position with your arms extended as if you are going to do a pushup. From this position, without moving your hands, walk your feet towards your hands. When you cant get your feet any closer to your hands, walk your hands back out in front of you to return to the pushup position and repeat the movement. If you need to, in between repetitions, lie on your stomach arch your back up in order to stretch the spine.

Leg Swings – for this movement, you can simply stand perpendicular to a wall (with your side to the wall). Simply take your outside leg and swing it back and forth, gradually increasing the height of each swing. Turn and repeat the exercise with the opposite leg.

Walking lunge – perform a deep lunge in order to stretch the hips. For an extra stretch, at the bottom of the lung, twist your torso away from the back leg.

 

Now let’s take a brief look at static stretching. As opposed to a dynamic movement stretch, static stretches  are designed to hold a joint or muscle in a particular position in order to loosen or stretch the muscles. This type of stretch should not be difficult or overly challenging. Holding the stretch position for anywhere from 30-60 seconds will help to increase flexibility in the muscle tissue. However, keep in mind, that static stretch movements done prior to working out, may actually prevent the muscles from firing properly.

Quad Stretch – while standing, grab your rightfoot and raise it up towards your glute while pushing your hips forward in order to stretch the quad. Remember to pull your foot up slowly and do not yank it. Hold the stretched quad for 30-60 seconds.

Frog stretch – while standing with your feet about shoulder width apart, turn your toes outward, and squat down as far as you can, keeping your heels flat on the floor. While in the squatted position, use your elbows to press your knees outward.
Try incorporating these stretches in your pre and post workout routine. I think you’ll see increased performance and flexibility.

Brent Holderman is an ITCA certified triathlon coach, host of the Tri Experience podcast, owner of Rockit Sports Online, and an Ironman 70.3 triathlete.

 

Beat the Bonk..

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Beat the Bonk

We’ve all been there. At some point during your training or racing, we’ve all experienced the dreaded bonk. First, let’s start by defining what bonking is. In endurance sports such as cycling and running, bonking is defined as a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. In other words, “hitting the wall”.

In order to perform at peak efficiency, the body requires a steady supply of glucose. When those stores are depleted, the body naturally begins to slow down. Along with a decrease in performance level, we also begin to experience additional side effects such as headache, fatigue, disorientation and irritability.

So how do we address the bonk? What’s the cure? Milder instances of the dreaded bonk can usually be remedied by brief rest and the ingestion of food or drinks containing carbohydrates. These should be simple carbs that can be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. The chances of bonking can usually be minimized by ensuring that glycogen levels are high when the exercise begins, and maintaining glucose levels during exercise by eating or drinking carbohydrate-rich substances, or by reducing exercise intensity.

How can you take preventative measures to minimize your risk of bonking? First, always carry fuel with you. This includes liquids and solids that can be easily consumed during exercise. These may include sports drinks, gels, chews, Stinger waffles, etc. Secondly, learn to time your intake of nutrition accordingly. Taking in some simple carbs such as a banana, juice or sports drink 10-20 minutes before your workout will help to provide an additional boost of energy. You may also consider taking in some protein and healthy fat 20-30 minutes before a workout such as a banana with peanut butter. At meal time, try to aim for a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein. For example, 50-70 grams of carbs and 25-30 grams of protein. Also aim for about 10-15 grams of healthy fats. This will help maintain balanced  and sufficient nutrition.

Brent Holderman is an ITCA certified triathlon coach, host of the Tri Experience podcast, owner of Rockit Sports online, and an Ironman70.3 triathlete.

 

 

Finding the Sports Drink that right for you…

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Sports Drinks 101 – The basics of Sports Drinks

There are many choices when it comes to sports drinks. Different flavors, different brands, all with their claims of why theirs is the best choice for athletes. With so many choices on the market, how do you know which one will best suit your needs? The best way to start is with a basic knowledge of common ingredients found in most sports drinks, and the role they play in keeping you hydrated.

Triathletes need to utilize sports drinks because during training and racing, water alone is not enough to meet an athletes hydration requirements. On average, triathletes will lose approximately one liter of sweat per hour. Keep in mind, that this is an average, because sweat rates will vary from athlete to athlete, as will the composition of sweat lost. However, we can work with this average for general informational purposes.

What is sweat comprised of? Sweat contains water, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride. These are also known as elecrtrolytes. When we sweat, we not only lose water, but we lose valuable electrolytes as well. These electrolytes must be replaced in order to avoid dehydration and to maintain optimal performance. Some of these nutrients are more critical to replace than others, and we will focus on those.

The primary ingredient in sports drinks is water. It is first ingredient listed on any sports drink bottle. Keep in mind that sufficient fluid consumption is the most important thing to keep you moving forward during training and racing. Dehydration is not only detrimental to performance, but dehydration also causes slowing of gastric emptying, which further decreases performance.

In one way, shape or form, sugar is typically the next ingredient found in most sports drinks. It’s important to remember that a certain amount of sugar is not a bad thing when it comes to sports drinks. Working muscles require simple carbohydrates in order to stay fueled. Experienced triathletes understand that rapidly absorbed, simple sugars can result in extended endurance capacity and increased performance.

During exercise, training or racing, the body needs rapidly absorbed carbohydrates to fuel muscles, and not slowly digested complex carbs. With that said, two sugars are better than one. The stomach can process up to approximately 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour when a combination of two different simple sugars are consumed. This because the sugars are absorbed in the body by two different metabolic pathways. Studies have shown that a 2:1 ratio  of glucose to fructose, or maltodextrin to fructose, or a combination of glucose, fructose and sucrose works best. With that said, look for a sports drink that contains approximately 14-15 grams of sugar per 8 ounces. Higher concentrations of sugar can either slow gastric emptying, or can pull water into the intestine in order to dilute the excess sugar, which will result in GI distress.

When athletes sweat, sodium of the electrolyte that is lost in significant enough quantities, that it must be replaced during endurance training an racing. Just as sweat rates vary from athlete to athlete, so does the sodium content of sweat. Whether or not you are acclimated to hot and humid environments can also have an impact on sweat loss and sodium content. When looking for a sports drink, athlete should look for one that contains 460-1000mg of sodium per liter, or 115-250 mg per 8 oz. There are several benefits to maintaining adequate sodium intake. Sodium will increase you desire to drink, helping you to stay hydrated. Other benefits of sodium include maintaining fluid balance and blood pressure. It also helps the rate at which the small intestine can absorb carbohydrates and also decreases urine output, which helps to prevent dehydration.

Another mineral that is also found in sports drinks is potassium. Potassium is a mineral that helps to maintain proper electrolyte balance in the body. When considering a sports drink, look for one that has 20-90mg per 8 oz.

As mentioned at the outset, there are additional vitamins an minerals that are lost in sweat. These include magnesium, calcium and chloride. However, these particular minerals are not lost in significant enough quantities that they need to be replaced during exercise.

So when considering a sports drink, make sure to focus on water, carbohydrate, sodium and potassium.

Brent Holderman is an ITCA certified triathlon coach, host of the Tri-Experience podcast, owner of Rockit Sports Online, and Ironman 70.3 triathlete.