Running in Cold Weather

Running in cold weatherI remember the first time I went running in cold weather. It was below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and I thought that I had better bundle up if I was going to be outside for a full thirty minutes! So bundle up I did! I wore a hat, gloves, a scarf, warm fuzzy socks and those earmuffs that have the wire in them and can be folded up.

If you have ever run in the cold, or even run outdoors at all, you might see where I went wrong. Ten minutes into the run I was a sweaty mess with a scarf that kept falling off and earmuffs that I wanted to throw into the nearest trashcan (since they were digging into my ears). There is a better way friends. Learn from my mistakes and make running in cold weather as pleasant as possible.

First of all, abide by the running in cold weather rule of thumb: dress as though it is 20 degrees (F) warmer than it actually is outdoors. Yes, wind chill can come into play so maybe change it to 10 degrees on a windy day, but the basic principal stands. You will usually warm up 10-20 minutes into your run, at which point you wont want to be bogged down by extra clothing.

Running a race in cold weather: If you are running in a busy race, such as one with 40 thousand runners (I did one like this a month ago), you might want to consider the amount of time you will be waiting outside in the cold before you the race begins. It might be a good idea to wear extra clothing. At most races, items of clothing left on the side of the road will be cleaned and donated to local homeless shelters so you can wear extra layers and toss them when you no longer need them to run in the cold.

Stick with your usual running clothing material. I found out the hard way that just because it is cold outside does not mean you should change the type of material you usually wear to run. Wear breathable, sweat wicking clothing that is comfortable and won’t chafe when running long distances.

Layer up properly. I did at least have this part right when I started out, but I did it with the wrong materials. You can always take off a jacket to tie around your waist, but it is tricky if you are trying to be stylish with a long-sleeved tee layered under a short-sleeved one. I have even seen some runners wear a jacket underneath their short-sleeved shirt which makes me scratch my head. You really cannot predict how exactly you will feel once you start running. It’s always best to be prepared to remove a layer of clothing instead of being stuck with what you are wearing.

Wear comfortable accessories. That scarf I had on my first time running? Big mistake. It was some kind of heavy, scratchy wool that I thought would keep me warm, but it irritated me instead. The earmuffs I wore that dug into my ears? Another big mistake. Now I only run with headband style earmuffs — they’re comfortable throughout the run, and I can let them hang around my neck when I get too warm.

Try to wear pockets. If you’re like me, my hands get warm then cold, warm then cold through an entire run in the cold. It’s handy to have pockets instead of having to hold gloves when your hands get too warm. Also if you’re like me, your nose might tend to run a bit so you can always stash a tissue or two in a pocket.

Lastly, safety first. Try not to run on snow or ice unless you have the right traction. I know you might be training for a race and it tends to be better to run outdoors when training, but consider the risks. Is it really worth running in the cold or icy weather if you might injure yourself in the process? If you need to run outdoors then consider purchasing ice cleats or clips that can be put on your regular running shoes to help keep you upright when running on snow or ice.

If you are running in cold weather, don’t make the same mistakes I did. It is possible to have a good run outdoors no matter what the temperature if you do it right. Layer-up, make sure it’s breathable, and don’t use anything that’s too bulky!

Also see: Ladies’ Guide to Warm Weather Running Clothes

Tell me..

Have you ever run in the cold?

Do you have any minimum or maximum temperature requirements for running outdoors? Mine range is usually from 20 to 80 degrees (f).

Originally posted 2013-11-26 14:46:50.

Vitamin D Deficiency During the Winter

Vitamin D Deficiency in Winter

Daylight savings has come and we have had our first snow dusting in the Twin Cities. It is time to start considering the risk of vitamin D deficiency — the days are getting shorter and a tad drearier, especially here. I never actually realized this, but it gets darker earlier up north since we are further from the equator. This means less hours of sunshine and less direct sun rays, which can be a bit of a problem since sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. 

Vitamin D is essential to the body for maintaining proper amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Vitamin D also aids in the absorption of calcium which helps keep our bones nice and strong. According to the Mayo clinic, vitamin D deficiency could cause rickets, or malformation of bones, in children and osteomalacia, or weakened bones and muscles in adults. Low levels of vitamin D is also thought to cause depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder in some individuals, with fall and winter being especially high risk times.  The FDA’s daily recommendations for vitamin D are 600IU for ages 1-70 and 800IU for those over the age of 70, but according to other research this might just be the bare minimum. So what are ways we can obtain the needed vitamin D during the darker winter months and avoid vitamin D deficiency?

Dietary sources typically only make up for 20% of our overall vitamin D intake, but it doesn’t hurt to load up on these foods during times of lower sunlight.  Here are few foods to help you avoid vitamin D deficiency: Fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel or salmon. Six ounces of salmon contains over 600IU of vitamin D. Eggs (in the yolk). Fortified foods such as milk, orange juice, soy milk and cereals. Beef liver. Cod liver oil (if you get desperate) which used to be a very common vitamin D supplement.

Get all the sunlight you can in the winter. Again, sunlight is the best way for your body to get vitamin D. In a time when we are all worried about skin cancer, it is still recommended that we get a moderate amount of sun for vitamin D production. The body actually stores extra vitamin D in the fat cells to avoid seasonal deficiency.   On a sunny day during the spring or summer for someone with moderately tanned skin and moderately close to the equator (yes, a little unspecific), it only takes being outside for 15 minutes with face and hands uncovered (including no sunscreen) for the body to produce enough vitamin D. During the winter, try to walk outside for 15-20 minutes during the sunniest part of the day several times per week, if not daily.

Recommendations for the amount of sunlight needed can be tricky since adequate vitamin D production is based on a number of factors. First of all, the darker your skin, the more difficult it is for the UVB light to penetrate and produce vitamin D. It also depends on where you live. The further away from the equator you are, the less direct UVB rays you get. It also depends on the time of the year, and as we discussed, the winter months produce the low amounts of sunshine.

Cautious tanning bed usage. Although large amounts of time spent in a tanning bed are not recommended due to the risk of skin cancer, these beds still produce UVB light that your body can turn into vitamin D. The Vitamin D Vouncil recommends caution with tanning beds, but still suggests a short period of time in a bed that contains more UVB than UVA light. The rule of thumb recommended by The Council is half the amount of time it takes your skin to turn pink (for a freckled gal like me this is probably about 4-5 minutes).

Supplements are also an option. Always be careful when taking supplements as you never want to over dose, especially on a fat soluble vitamin such as vitamin D. The upper tolerable level for vitamin D is set to 10,000 IU for all forms of vitamin D.

Low levels of sunlight can be a bummer for the mood and the body, but you can easily obtain the vitamin D you need though adequate UV rays, foods, and supplements to keep happy and healthy during the winter months. Avoiding vitamin D deficiency is easy and can result in vast improvements in your health. (Always check with your doctor before taking new supplements, starting a new diet, or using a tanning bed.)  

Tell me…

Are you affected by the dark days of winter?

Have you ever had cod liver oil?

Sources for “Vitamin D Deficiency in Winter:”

Originally posted 2013-11-21 09:45:29.

All About Shin Splints


All About Shin Splints

Nothing scares a fitness enthusiast quite like the thought of getting injured. Due to this fear, developing shin splints is probably in the “Top Ten Things That Would Make Me Cry” list of anyone who loves engaging in physical activity. If overlooked, this nagging injury can elevate from very minor to debilitating pain in no time. Knowing how to avoid shin splints will keep you more consistent in the fitness game.


Ben Franklin’s saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds very true when it comes to activity-related injuries. Injuries are obviously inconvenient and can set you back on the road to achieving your goals. Aside from your health, injuries will rob you of your time and money spent going to orthopedic doctors, chiropractors and/or physical therapists. Shin splints are a chronic injury as opposed to acute — this means they develop over time. Since chronic injuries are not abrupt they can always be avoided.

What are Shin Splints?

The medical name for shin splints is “medial tibial stress syndrome” — this means just to the inside of your shin bone is under too much stress, resulting in pain and inflammation. Over time the stress to the calf muscles forces it to pull away from the bone, severely aggravating the periosteum (the outermost layer of your bones).

The pathology of this injury starts with faulty biomechanics in the feet and ankles. This can be caused by genetic structural problems (flat feet), supinated feet (unusually high arches) calf tightness, or a slew of other less-than-desirable physical traits. Your feet are designed to evenly displace force, but when imbalances are present they act as roadblocks, redirecting more force toward one area. Most people develop shin splints soon after they start exercising following a break. This means the imbalances existed, but they did not notice due to a lack of physical activity.

Structural Balance

Whole body structural balance should be employed in every exercise program. This means a healthy dose of mobility, stability, flexibility and balance work should be prescribed alongside strength training. Proper biomechanics are of the utmost importance while executing exercises and stretches. Incorporating foam rolling, mobility drills and static stretching can nearly guarantee that you will stay shin splint-free. 

Foam Rolling

I could go on for days about the benefits of foam rolling (instead of listening to me rant, check out Kenny Hager’s informative foam rolling article). In regards to shin splints, balancing the tension of your lower leg muscles and other connective tissue is the most important thing. Roll each gastrocnemius – calf muscle – back and forth with as much pressure as possible without causing pain. Also roll out your anterior tibialis – the font of your calf, just outside your shin bone, and peroneal muscles – the outside of your calf. Normally 10-20 rolls per muscle is sufficient, and can be used prior to, and after strength training. The most important part of foam rolling is consistency; one bout of foam rolling will not fix your problems. It has to be a habit.


Tight calves are very common among the active population. Overtraining, injury and/or faulty biomechanics can all contribute to tight calves. To test your calf tightness, sit down with your legs straight out in front of you. Loop a belt or towel around the ball of your foot and pull back toward your body. Do you feel tightness of the back of your calf? If so, add this stretch to your post-exercise routine. Hold the stretch 20-30 seconds for three repetitions on each leg.


While testing for calf flexibility some of you will not feel calf tightness; instead your ankle will feel “stuck.” This represents a lack of joint mobility (often misconstrued as muscle tightness). Limited mobility means that the small bones in your ankles are not articulating together the way they should. The half kneeling ankle mobility drill is a great start for those of you lacking mobility.

Start in the half kneeling position – on one knee with the opposite foot in front of you. Gently rock your weight forward, pushing your knee toward and past your toes. Hold a dowel directly in front of your big toe to guide your movement. Unlike static stretching, you should not hold mobility drills. Rock gently to the point of being “stuck” and then rock back to neutral. Do this 10-20 times on each ankle prior to strength training. To increase difficulty, perform this drill without shoes, making sure your arch does not collapse. An alternative is to wear minimalist shoes, which have been shown to help you disperse weight more evenly.


Originally posted 2013-10-31 11:19:06.

Palisade Creek Trail, Tahoe National Forest: Trip Report

Are you looking for a sweet weekend hike or backpacking trip near Sacramento?  Look no further than the Palisade Creek Trail — it offers everything from granite, water-falls, and thick forests, to great opportunities for climbing some awesome peaks. The hike is about a total of 22 miles long — 11 miles both ways. The Palisade Creek Trail is located only an hour and a half away from Sacramento, and the trailhead is not too far off of I-80, on the way to Lake Tahoe. The trail starts at the Cascade Lakes and ends at the North Fork of the American River. The trailhead is relatively easy to get to, but keep in mind that there is a three mile dirt road you’ll have to drive on to get there. If you don’t have an SUV, sports wagon, or some other off-road worthy vehicle, don’t worry, you can still make it. I successfully reached the Palisade Creek trailhead in my Honda Fit.

Directions to the Palisade Creek Trail from Sacramento:

  • Take the Soda Springs/Norden Exit
  • Turn right onto Donner Pass Road
  • Turn right onto Cascade Road
  • Take first right on to Pahatsi Road
  • Continue onto Kidd Lake Road

Notes: Once onto Kidd Lake Road, you’ll soon reach the unpaved portion of the road. Continue straight on the dirt road (without turning off for any of the other campsites or lakes). The road will dead end at the Palisade Creek trailhead and parking lot. You’ll park between the Upper and Lower Cascade Lakes, right next to the dam.

My hike on the Palisade Creek Trail:

I went on an overnight solo trip and left the trailhead at about 2:30 pm on a Saturday (October 12th, 2013). I knew I wanted to ascend Devil’s Peak (almost 8,000 feet in elevation and right off of the Palisade Creek Trail), but I decided to try and make it to the end of the the trail first and save the ascent of Devil’s Peak for the next day. Hiking at a relatively steady and fast hiking pace, I reached the bridge crossing Palisade Creek and the beginning of the descent to the North Fork American River at about 5:00pm.

It started getting dark on my way down into the valley, which made me anxious about reaching camp before dark (especially after I spotted several signs of bears along the way, including a couple of dug-up beehives). Thankfully it only took another 45 minutes to reach the end of the trail, so I had plenty of time to set up my tent, eat, and hang a bear bag before dark.

At the end of the Palisade Creek Trail, you’ll find a nicely constructed bridge that crosses over the North Fork American River. Cross over, then hike down the river a bit to discover the beautiful Heath Falls.

The water pouring over the smooth granite was gorgeous during the day, but it was even more magical and stunning under the light of the moon. I discovered that you have a lot of time in the dark on your hands when you’re backpacking by yourself, so I experimented with a little moonlight photography.

The next day I woke up at 5:30am and checked my bear bag. It was undisturbed, so I happily pulled it down and got to work brewing some coffee.  OK, I’ll admit it, I didn’t brew it, so much as I added a little pack of Starbuck’s Via into hot water. At 6:30am, I set out and headed back up out of the valley with the goal of ascending Devil’s Peak. Ascending out of the valley and up Devil’s Peak on the same day was a bit more challenging than I anticipated!

I made it to the base of Devil’s Peak by about 10am. The climb up took a little longer than going down, plus I stopped a few times to take pictures. After eating an early lunch, I set my bag down and started working my way up to the top of Devil’s Peak’s razor sharp ridge.

There are several ways to ascend Devil’s Peak. I climbed up using a trail/creek bed from the northeast side of the peak. To get to this trail, simply cut across from the Palisade Creek Trial, near the north end of the peak.  You’ll soon come to a small meadow/marsh at the base of the peak. Cut across the meadow, just to the left of a large dead pine tree.  You’ll run into a trail that wraps around the base of the peak.  Follow the trail to the right/north until you come across a small trail trail at the very north side of the peak that veers off, making it’s way up the peak.  Follow the small trail until you reach a rocky gorge.  There’s no trail from here, just a steep, crumply, rocky gorge.

Use extreme caution and make your way to the top of the peak through the gorge.  Once you get to the top there is extreme danger of falling off of the east side down a straight drop. Avoid this danger by staying just west of the ridge.  Enjoy the amazing views! It took approximately 1 hour to reach the top of Devil’s Peak from Palisade Creek Trail.

Overall, the Palisade Creek Trail offers amazingly diverse scenery and terrain in such a short distance. You’ll come across plenty of wildlife and a variety of trees, flowers, and shrubs. There are numerous lakes and streams, providing plenty of access to water, and there are a number of excellent camping spots. If you look carefully, you might even find a few petroglyphs and old California Indian acorn processing holes in granite near the American River.

Another cool thing about this trail, is that it’s free to use. There aren’t any camping or parking fees required. Just remember, leave it better than you found it! I found several plastic bottles left behind.

Happy hiking on the Palisade Creek Trail!  Would love to hear about your trip!

Originally posted 2013-10-15 12:06:29.

Cross-Training for Runners

You might be training for a big race and need to run x number of miles a week. Or maybe you just love running, and that’s the only type of exercise you want to do.  The thing is, your running muscles need regular rest to perform at their best. Cross-training is an effective way to rest your running muscles and avoid injury, while maximizing your running performance.

Cross-training helps build balanced muscle function. Using the same muscle groups over and over can create weaknesses in the supporting muscles that increase the chance of injury. Cross-training also helps to change up your routine so that you don’t get bored of running half-way through your training (believe me, it happens to the best of us!).

So what kind of things can you do to cross-train? A variety of activities! Don’t over think it! Check out this list and find a couple of options that you would enjoy doing the most, so that you don’t dread your cross-training days but actually look forward to them.

1. Elliptical. This is a pretty standard form of cross-training, since it was built to simulate the movement of running without putting so much strain on your joints. You can usually adjust the settings to target specific areas of the legs. While exercising on the elliptical machine, it can also be fun to put on your favorite show or read an interesting magazine to help time pass more enjoyably. (See Gym Fears and Misconceptions if you struggle with heading indoors to workout)

2. Dancing. Join a Zumba class, get out on the dance floor at a wedding, or turn up the music in the privacy of your own home. I decided that all the dancing I recently did at two weddings in one weekend should count as some serious exercise (think super dorky wedding line dancing and jumping up and down to songs like YMCA)!  I calculated that my small frame still burned 300 calories per hour dancing, so if you’re of average size, then you’ll burn even more calories when you get your groove on.

3. Strength training. Using free-weights or doing bodyweight exercises are both great ways to target specific supporting muscles for running and should be done 1-2 times per week along-side running. (See 5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners)

4. Biking. Biking is a great complement to running because it isn’t hard on the knees, and it helps to build up the muscles in your quads. You can choose between riding an indoor stationary bike or getting outdoors, depending on the weather or your mood!

5. Swimming. I’m not an avid swimmer myself, but the awesome thing about jumping in the water is that even if you’re walking around in a waist-deep pool, your muscles are still getting torched due to the extra resistance.

6. Walking. Walking is basically the same motion as running, only easier on the knees. Walking medium to long distances (the number of miles depends on the race you are training for or your comfort level with distance running) helps to build endurance in your legs. Depending on how quickly you’re going, walking can build your cardiovascular endurance as well. I prefer taking walks outdoors when I can, but walking on a treadmill makes it fairly easy to multi-task by reading a magazine or good book (just make sure you have good balance and that you use the safety clip).

Whenever you’re cross-training, always try to make your workout about as intense or as long as a week-day run would be.  Devoting just as much energy to a cross-training session as you would to a run, will help you build the cardiovascular endurance or strength that will support your running ability.

If you haven’t integrated any of the above cross-training activities into your weekly routine, pick a couple to try for the next few weeks.   Then, track your running times and see how your performance has improved!


1. Are you training for a race right now? Which one?

2. Which of the above options will you choose to integrate into your workouts this week?

Originally posted 2013-09-30 16:41:54.

5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners

Believe it or not, training for running a race involves more than putting miles on your running shoes. Strength training is an important part of race training. Integrating strength training into your running routine will help prevent injury, build up supporting muscles, and increase speed over time.

Running activates numerous muscles throughout the body, but one of the most important areas is the “core.” The core includes the abs, back, and hips.  According to Runner’s World, core strength improves running performance and reduces risk of injury. I can personally vouch for the importance of core training too.  Last year, when I didn’t include core training in my preparation for a race,  I experienced breathing issues, as well as the much-feared “side stitch.” Avoid the mistake I made and be sure to train your core for better running performance.  

One great move to increase ab strength:

Planking. Planks can be done from the forearms or hands in a basic push-up position, as well as on each side of the body to target your obliques. Hold a front plank and side planks for 30 seconds each (or no longer than you can maintain perfect form) for severals set. Or test your strength to see how long you can hold the plank (with proper form).

Some moves to increase lower back strength:

If you’re a runner, it’s crucial that you give special attention to strengthening your lower back. I suffered a back injury a couple of years ago, which had to do with the fact that all I was doing in my training was running. Lower back pain is common today, a product of sitting in the same position for long periods at a desk, or at the opposite spectrum, from standing in the same position all day. The mild back pain caused by lack of movement can generally be relieved with strength training. (Be sure to check with your doctor if you have moderate to severe lower back pain before attempting any of these exercises.)

Bridges. Lie on your back with feet on the floor. Tighten abs and glutes to raise your body off of the floor towards the ceiling. You can do a number of reps in a rhythmic up/down motion, or hold the position for a period of time. Do 15-20 reps or one 30 second interval for a set.

Back extension. This move can be done with an exercise ball or with weights. Lie face down on an exercise ball, with hands behind your head and feet against a sturdy object (such as your couch or a wall). Squeeze your glutes and raise yourself slightly off the ball until your body forms a straight line. Hold the raised position for 30 seconds or do 10-15 repetitions for a set.

(See links below for more lower back exercises.)

Here are some moves to incorporate to develop supporting or stabilizing muscles in your legs:

You’d be surprised at how many runners neglect training their legs, since they figure they are getting their leg workout in when they run. Yet, running without strength training can cause weaknesses and imbalances in the leg muscles. When these supporting or stabilizing leg muscles are weak, incurring an injury while training or racing is more likely.

Single leg squats. This move focuses on building stability in each leg. Stand in a squat position, but place more weight on one side and only keep the toe of the other foot on the ground. Squat down, with back straight and focus on the one leg going down and up. Do 10-15 of these on each side for a set.

Dead lifts. This move simultaneously works multiple leg and core muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, quads, and back muscles. With legs slightly bent (to prevent injury) stand with feet at a hips-width apart, free weights or bar in front of you (with bar centered over the top of your feet). Keeping your back straight, bend slowly at the waist until your weights or bar come to your knees (or wherever you feel comfortable). Focus on feeling an equal stretch in your left and right hamstring. Do 15-20 reps for a set. Read this article for more on dead lifts.

You can use all of the moves in this article for a quick strength training routine to support your running, doing 2-3 sets of each. Remember, focus on form over quantity for the best results!


Do you integrate strength training while training for a race?

Have you ever been injured while training for a race? How are you healing and/or preventing this from happening again?

Sources: Runner’s World article: Strength TrainingRunner’s World article: The Core of the MatterDiary of a Semi-Health Nut: 10 Moves for a Strong Lower Back.

Originally posted 2013-09-24 15:38:07.

Surf-Specific Strength Training

56th_2012_09_29-7Wave surfing requires a unique combination of anaerobic and aerobic strengths.  A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that the the primary activities performed by surfers can be broken down into the following percentages:

  • Aerobic Paddling – Approximately 54% of time in water
  • Anaerobic Sprint Paddling for Waves – Approximately 8% of time in water
  • Standing and Riding Waves – Approximately 4% of time in water

Correlating well with these activities, another study found that top competitive surfers had one primary strength in common: anaerobic paddling power.  While there are undoubtedly a number of others skills involved in surfing, paddling power is perhaps the most important factors for being able to catch the waves that provide the best rides.  

Once a wave is caught, however, a number of other factors come into play. The four primary athletic abilities surfers should work to improve include: 

  • Pulling power and endurance: Anaerobic rowing power is directly related to paddling power.  Improve paddling power by performing barbell rows, cable pull-downs, seated rows, and cleans. Use heavier weight to gain strength (an amount you can do about 5 sets of 5 reps with) and higher reps to build muscle and paddling endurance (for example, a weight that you can perform 4 sets of 10 with). 
  • Pushing power: Pushing power is essential for the “pop-up” phase of getting up on the board while catching a wave. Improve pop-up power by performing push-ups (especially plyometric versions like claps push-ups or using a medicine ball), bench-press, and burpees.
  • Core Strength/Balance: One you’re up on the board, turning and controlling the board requires balance and twisting at the hips; it’s all in the core.  There are a variety of ways to build core-strength.  Deadlifts and squats are two of the best core and leg strengthening exercises, but there are other-surf specific exercises that are good too.  Some surf-specific core-exercises include performing kettle-bell cleans while balancing on a Bosu ball, performing squats on a balance board, or walking a slack-line.  
  • Squat Strength: Squat strength is another important part of getting up on the board as well as controlling it once you’re riding a wave.  Squat/leg strength is closely related to core strength.  Some great exercises include squats, cleans, wall-sits, and box jumps.

Remember, surfing requires a unique set of endurance and power, so be sure to vary your workout.  Also, in all of the studies related to surf performance, overall strength wasn’t as important as relative strength.  In other words, how well you’re able to surf is directly related to your ability to effectively and quickly move your own body weight.  Weight-lifting with explosive but controlled movements will help you develop the power you need to catch waves swiftly and effectively.  

For a few examples of surf-specific exercises, check out the videos below.  Have fun!

References: Association Between Anthropometry and Upper-Body Strength Qualities With Sprint Paddling Performance in Competitive Wave Surfers; Physiological Demands of Competitive Surfing; Anaerobic and Aerobic Fitness Profiling of Competitive Surfers

Photo Credit: Andy Langeland

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Originally posted 2013-09-19 14:09:43.

Weight-Lifting Exercises to Improve at Rock Climbing

Improving at any sport always makes it that much more enjoyable, and climbing’s no exception.  Of course, the best way to improve in climbing is to climb, but incorporating other workouts can speed the process along and provide a boost when stuck in a climbing plateau.  According to research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the two athletic abilities most correlated with climbing ability are the one arm lock-out and grip strength.  There a number of weight-lifting routines that can easily and  effectively improve these two abilities (there are also some great body-weight exercises, but that’s for another post). Here’s are the best weight-lifting options for improving climbing:

Cable Lat Pull-Downs and Variations: While cable  pull-downs don’t exactly mimic the muscle movements of a pull-up (or rock climbing), it is a very similar workout that targets the same major muscle groups.  The advantage of incorporating lat pull-downs into your workout is that you can focus specifically on back and arm strength by controlling technique and weight.  While weight can be added to pull-ups, it’s easier to add more weight to cable pull-downs.  Also, by doing one-armed pull-downs, cable can make it easier to focus on building equal arm strength.  

Try doing various repetitions, such as 3 sets of 8 to build more muscle or 4 sets of 4 to build strength.  Build climbing-specific strength by adding heavy weight and pulling the bar down and holding it in the flexed-arm position at the bottom for 5-10 seconds.

Weighted Pull-Ups and Variations: Weighted pull-ups perfectly mimic the primary muscles (including those in the core) that are involved in climbing.  The increased resistance will help build strength and climbing-endurance.  Even if you can only do a few pull-ups, doing one or two pull-ups with extra weight strapped on can help provide significant strength gains.

Try the same variations used with cable pull-downs.

Weight Pinches/Holds: A pinching grip is one of the more important, climbing-specific grips.  To build pinching strength,find a weight plate that is smooth on both sides, such as a rubberized plate, and squeeze it without bending your fingers, perform 6 reps of 10sec holds.  Remember to use the heaviest weight that you can still perform this exercise.  To build palm-gripping strength for round holds, grab the bottom of a kettle-ball and perform a similar routine, cupping the weight you would when palming a basketball.  

Wrist-Curls: This is one of the classic forearm strengthening (and thus grip strengthening) exercises.  Grab a barbell with an amount of weight you can perform 4 sets of 10 with.  Sit on a bench and place your arms on your knees, with your wrists placed just past your knees, then curl the bar towards you, using only wrist movement.  

Strapless Deadlifts: Usually deadlifts are performed primarily to strengthen the body’s major muscle groups (back, core, glutes, and quads), but they can also provide one heck of a forearm workout.  To focus on exercising your forearms, lift an amount of weight that you can hold in your hands for about 10 seconds, and perform 3-4 repetitions.  To avoid injury start to lower the bar before it slips.

Strong-Grip Technique: For all of the above exercises, especially the deadlift, experiment with gripping the bar as hard as you can during the execution.  Squeezing while lifting will more fully activate the muscles involved, as well as improve grip strength and endurance.

Sources: “Prediction of Indoor Climbing in Women Rock Climbers,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning; Relationship Between Anthropometric Characteristics of Indoor Rock Climbers and Top Roped Climbing Performance,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning

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Originally posted 2013-09-14 15:35:40.

Optimum Carbohydrate Loading For Ultra-Endurance Athletes

While I’m generally a proponent of eating a low carbohydrate (for weight-loss) or moderate carbohydrate diet (for sustainable health), a number of studies indicate that ultra endurance athletes, athletes who compete in events longer than 90 minutes in duration, perform better when they have an adequate supply of glycogen.  Glycogen is the body’s stored form of glucose, and is one of the primary sources of energy for endurance activities where the average percentage of vo2 max is greater than 65%. Glycogen stores, which are found in the muscles and connected to the liver, are best replenished by consuming an ample amount of carbohydrates.

While studies have found that ultra-endurance athletes on a low-carbohydrate diet can adapt to better utilizing fat for energy, it turns out that these athletes are not able to perform as well as a athletes with adequate stores of glycogen.  Numerous studies indicate that endurance athletes on high-fat diets experience greater levels of perceived exhaustion and usually aren’t able to perform as well as athletes on high carbohydrate diets.

While in rats and some people, it’s been found that extremely high fat diets (greater than 75%of the diet), do promote high levels of endurance in combination with training, the greater body of evidence supports high-carbohydrate intake for increased ultra-endurance performance.  Should growing evidence change this indication, we’ll let you know! Otherwise, follow the carbohydrate-loading recommendations below to optimize your ultra-endurance performance.  

Amount of Carbohydrates for Optimal Training and Competition
The optimal amount of carbohydrate consumption for ultra-endurance exercise it thought to be between 2.5 and 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight.  Of course, this is a big range.  This means if you weigh 150 lbs and regularly run more than 90 minutes per day, you’ll need 375 – 675 grams of carbohydrates per day.  You can start to narrow down this range by topping out your carbohydrate intake at 600 grams per day.  At least one study indicates that carbohydrate levels above 600 grams may not provide additional benefit.  Further narrow down this range by calculating your basic macronutrient and energy needs to determine how many additional calories you need from carbohydrates.  For example if your basal metabolic rate (the calories you burn just living) is 2500 calories and you burn an additional 3,500 calories running a 50k, then you should eat the full 600 grams of carbohydrates, which equals 2,400 calories.  However, if you only burn 1,475 calories running a half marathon, then you’ll only need to consume the minimum of 375 grams of carbohydrates (375 X 4 cal = 1,500 calories).

Ratio of Macronutrients
The best ratio of macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) for ultra-endurance athletes is a topic of debate, but I think the current evidence suggests that a balanced ratio, high in proteins, is optimal for muscle regeneration and energy production.  

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Start with the amount of protein your body will need to repair itself from the tremendous catabolic effects of endurance exercise — approximately 1 to 1.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you’ll need a minimum of 150 grams of protein per day (600 calories from protein).
  • Aim to meet approximately 40% of your body’s basal metabolic need for calories by an intake of healthy fats (butter, avocados, coconut oil, meat, eggs).  For example if your basal metabolic rate is 2,000 calories, aim to get 800 calories from fat (89 grams of fat).  Fat is vital for a healthy nervous system and for repairing cells.
  • From there, fill the rest of your caloric need in with carbohydrates based on your amount of training/competition.  For example, once you’ve obtained 1,400 of your calories from protein and fat, you’ll still need 600 calories from carbohydrates (150 grams of carbohydrates) just to meet your minimum calorie need, assuming it’s 2,000 calories.  So, if you burn an additional 3,000 calories per week running, then you’ll need to include an additional 750 grams of carbohydrate in your diet, which can be spread out evenly throughout the week.  To optimize glycogen storage, you can also concentrate the consumption of these 750 grams of carbohydrates in a few days, which will help you achieve the recommended 2.5-4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.

Macronutrient Overview

  • Protein – 1-1.4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight
  • Fat – 30-40% of total basal metabolic calorie need (daily calorie need without exercise)
  • Carbohydrates – 2.5-4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight, depending on energy expended in ultra-endurance training.
  • A side-note: For the most part, high quality fats and carbohydrates are interchangeable for energy needs, feel free to vary the ratios of carbs and fat based on your individual calorie needs and how you are feeling during exercise.  Keep in mind that eating the most balanced ratio of protein:fat:carbs possible will promote improved digestion, nutrient absorption, and stable blood-sugar levels.

Quality of Carbohydrates
While carbohydrates are frowned-upon in paleo and low-carb fitness circles, the evidence indicates that its not the amount of carbohydrates that negatively impacts health, as mush as the quality of carbohydrates.  Get as many of your carbohydrates as possible from whole-food, nutrient-rich sources, such as greens, sweet-potatoes, beets, carrots, quinoa, and raw, unfiltered honey.

Avoid processed sugar, such as that found in candy, sugar, ice cream, and other refined foods.  These types of sugars negatively affect the body’s health in numerous ways. Read our previous article on Why Sugar is Toxic for more information.

Carbohydrate Loading
The original method of “carbohydrate-loading” involved a seven day process of limiting carbohydrates for 3-4 days during intense training, followed by 3 days of rest and carbohydrate gorging. While effective at increasing glycogen stores, this method proved taxing and disrupted athletes’ ability to engage in optimum training levels before an event. 

The most recommended form of carbohydrate loading is merely an extension of normal carbohydrate fueling.  Instead of drastic depletion and repletion, ultra-endurance athletes should increase the amount of their carbohydrate intake towards the upper level of 600 grams per day,  starting 3-7 days before a competitive event, while simultaneous tapering down their amount of training.  

Best Times for Carbohydrate Consumption
For optimal energy supply and glycogen repletion, healthy carbohydrates should be consumed immediately before and immediately after training or competition.  

  • From 2 hours to 30 minutes before an event, endurance athletes may experiment with consuming .5 to 1 gram of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.  The more carbohydrates one plans to eat, the earlier the carbohydrates should be consumed.
  • Endurance athletes should also aim to consume about .5 grams of healthy carbohydrates within 30 minutes after an event. 

Amount of Carbohydrates During the Event
Endurance athletes can digest and utilize approximately 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute of activity. Thus, during ultra-endurance events, athletes should be consuming about 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour.  Just remember, everyone is little different in terms of what they are able to digest, so the actual amount will take a little bit of personal experimentation.  You may be able to utilize anywhere between 45 and 75 grams of carbohydrates per hour.  

A Note on Weight-Loss Versus Athletic Performance
Keep in mind that these recommendation are for ultra-endurance activities of 90 minutes in duration or longer.  Also, such high-levels of carbohydrate intake are primarily for improving athletic performance, not for weight-loss.  If weight-loss is your goal, it may be better to stick with a low-carbohydate/high-protein diet and mix your endurance training with high-intensity exercises, such as sprinting and weight-lifting.  

Sources: “High Carbohydrate Versus High Fat Diets in Endurance Sports,” by Asker E. Jeukendrup; “Endurance and Ultra-Endurance Athletes,” Jones and Bartlett Publishers

Originally posted 2013-09-03 17:35:05.

Product Recommendation: Lems Boulder Boot

If you’re looking for a minimalist boot with a barefoot-like feel for backpacking or hiking, look no further.  At CREUS, we only recommend products that we truly believe in.  One of our goals is to help you find products that are of the highest quality and good for your health–Lems Boulder Boot meets both of these qualifications.

I tested Lems Boulder Boot a couple weeks ago on a 25 mile backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail (JMT).  My wife, a couple of friends, and I did an “out and back” from Tuolumne Meadows to Donahue Pass.  After wearing my Vibram Five Fingers on the Lost Coast Trail, I decided that for the JMT I needed a shoe that would provide a little more ankle support and warmth, as well as keep the dirt off my feet.  After shopping around, I decided to go with Lems Boulder Boot, and it didn’t disappoint.  Here are a few things I liked about the boot:

There are very few minimalist boots on the market right now.  Among the boots that are available, the biggest issues are the design and quality of the sole.  Most of the boots I looked at are either “minimalist-inspired” and still have a slightly built up heel, or the soles are of questionable durability.

The Lems Boulder Boots has a perfectly flat sole, which allows the foot to follow a natural gait pattern and the arch to function as it should.  I’m of the opinion that hiking in a zero-drop boot also helped prevent my feet from sliding forward (which can scrunch the toes and cause blisters).

HIking-john-muir-trail-minimalist-bootsExcellent Ground Feel
Lems has managed to achieve what feels like an optimal sole thickness for backpacking.  The soles were thick enough that I didn’t have to worry about every detailed foot placement, Iike I’ve had to do when backpacking in Vibrams Five Fingers, but thin enough that I could feel the ground.  

For me, having good ground feel is a very important part of backpacking, for two reasons: For one, I enjoy feeling the ground beneath my feet, experiencing the wide variety of terrain I’m walking on.  With ground feel, my feet become another avenue for experiencing and remembering the amazing terrain.  Secondly, adequate ground feel, with zero drop, provides improved traction and a lower center of gravity.  Combined, these two factors improve balance and can help prevent twisted ankles (which often occur because of the increased torquing leverage caused by thick soles).

At 9.9oz, Lems Boulder Boots are one of the lightest boots on the market. If you’re a backpacker, you know that the lighter the gear the better!  These boots feel lighter than many trail running shoes I’ve worn, making each step airy and enjoyable along the trail!

Durable Construction
Amazingly, the lightweight construction doesn’t seem to interfere with the boots’ durability.  More miles are needed to discover the actual endurance of the boot, but after the 25 mile hike over rough terrain, the boots look little worse for wear.  Keep in mind, I was hiking a 50lb pack, and I weight 205lbs, so the boots were definitely taking some pressure against the hard granite.  From what I can tell, the soles incurred little wear, the stitches are tight, and there are no signs of anything coming unglued.  

Probably the most important aspect of any boot or shoe is the level of comfort provided.  Thanks to their soft-lining and spacious toe box, Lems Boulder Boots are very comfortable.  My toes had plenty of room to wiggle around in and my fore-foot had plenty of space to spread out (both important when it comes to backpacking).  I should also mention that I was the only one in the group not to get any blisters, and this was the first time I wore the boots other than around the house!

Another advantage of Lems Boulder Boots is that they provide the comfort of ankle support.  It was great to know that I had the benefits of a minimalist shoe with the extra protection of an over-the-ankle boot.  Thanks to the good ground feel, I don’t think I ever slipped, but if I had, I’m happy to know that the boots would have provided some protection against spraining one of my ankles.  


Other Considerations
If you’re looking for a completely water-proof or technical mountaineering boot, then Lems Boulder Boot probably isn’t the right fit for you, but they’re a an awesome step in the right direction as far as minimalist boots go.  Lems Boulder Boots are water repellent, but they don’t have a one-piece tongue, and you aren’t going to want to go marching straight through streams with them (but you shouldn’t have any problem walking across boulders in the stream).  

Also, if you aren’t an experienced bare-footer or wearer of minimalist shoes, backpacking or hiking in Lems Boulder Boots isn’t a good idea until you’ve had some practice.  If your feet are used to wearing shoes with built up heels and arch support, it will take some time before they are strong enough to hike or carry weight while wearing minimalist shoes.  For more on the benefits of minimalist shoes and/or barefoot running, read our previous blog on barefoot running

To check out Lems Boulder Boots, visit Lems Shoes!
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Originally posted 2013-09-03 13:15:27.