As you may recall, I have set a goal to run a sub-60 second 400m dash before the end of 2012. Ideally, I would focus most of my training on the track, but my workouts at CrossFit Local have made me painfully aware that I must improve my overall strength and conditioning before I can make the speed gains I need. Even though I knew this to be true, I wondered if concentrating exclusively on CrossFit was helping, and my curiosity got the best of me.
This past Wednesday evening, I went over to the UNC track to participate in weekly races held by the Carolina Godiva Track Club and entered the 200m dash. About two months ago I ran a previous personal best of 32.6 seconds, and while I didn’t feel like the race this week was great (I decelerated quickly near the end), I was able to improve my time by 2 full seconds to 30.57.
For the first time since I started planning/training for a sub-60 second 400m run, I REALLY believe that my chances to achieve my goal are BETTER than 50/50, provided that I continue to put in solid work.
Almost immediately after starting CrossFit, I became aware of some pain in my left knee and on the outside of my left shoulder. I don’t believe this pain was the result of specific CrossFit workouts, but more likely my muscles were (and still are) out of balance from a lifetime of being sedentary. I have been careful to not further aggravate my knee and shoulder; however I realized that both probably needed some attention in order to allow me to exercise in a way that would limit my risk for injury.
About a month ago I found Julie Donnelly, a local sports massage therapist, who happens to be an expert on the type of pain I was having. In fact she has written several books including The Pain Free Runner and Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living (available on her website). It turns out that in both my shoulder and my knee, the problems were originating from other areas. The analogy she gave me was to imagine pulling on someone’s hair. They would feel pain in their scalp, but the problem would be where the pulling was originating.
In the case of my knee, the most likely culprit was the psoas muscle (attached to your lower lumbar, inserted through your hip, and attached to your femur). With a lot of time sitting in front of a computer my psoas muscle was in a contracted state and shortened. This shortening caused my hips/pelvis to rotate slightly forward which caused a lot of other muscles to be stretched out (hamstrings for example). Add in some serious exercising (squats and lunges in large numbers) and the long stretched out muscles tightened up even more and began to pull my kneecap slightly out of alignment (causing the pain/irritation).
The fix: Trigger point massage on the areas of my left leg that had knotted up and some ongoing stretches for the psoas. Let me give you fair warning if you have never had trigger point massage therapy. It isn’t a pleasant, spa-like experience. Getting a muscle to release out of spasm hurts a lot, but the relief is immediate.
The shoulder problem is also likely the result of chronic use of the computer (think rounding of the shoulders and hunching forward) but slightly more complicated. Basically I need to carefully build up strength in the shoulder and avoid moving into any range of motion that generates significant pain.
Undoing a lifetime of bad habits will take more than a few well intentioned weeks in the gym.
As regular readers will recall, I have been taking daily heart rate measurements to determine how exercise improves heart rate variability (HRV), a valuable measure of heart health. You can refer back to my post Do You Have a Healthy Heart? to learn about what I am measuring and why it matters.
Results for April
My seated resting heart rate has shown a decrease from 75.8 beats per minute (BPM) down to 73.1 BPM (a good thing). Also my chosen HRV metric, RMSSD, has increased from 25.6 to 28.1. Remember, increased HRV is what I am after, as a heart that shows a good degree of variability tends to be healthy.
In looking more carefully at my results (baseline, March, and April), the numbers are all fairly similar and within a standard deviation of each other. So rather than worry whether the numbers are “statistically significant” or not, I will be satisfied that the trend is improving.
Prediction: I will need several years of solid exercise before I see the type of improvements I am hoping for (resting heart rate around 60 BPM and RMSSD about 2x or 3x where it is now).
Other Thoughts on Exercise and the Central Nervous System (CNS)
I have spent quite a bit of time reading and studying the roles of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. As I learn more, I am absolutely amazed at the incredible complexity that is found in the mind-body connection. As an example, I can review my daily HRV measurements and see EXACTLY which days of CrossFit provided a strenuous CNS workout, and how long it took me to recover (usually 2 or 3 days). At some level my mind processes the intensity of the workout and decides how to regulate my heart rate for the next several days. Pretty cool!
If this idea of mind-body connection is intriguing to you, you might be interested in the following research paper: “From catastrophe to complexity: a novel model of integrative central regulation of effort and fatigue during exercise in humans.” The three key conclusions are as follows:
- “… all physiological functions are … regulated by CNS control mechanisms to ensure that bodily harm does not result.”
- “The conscious sensation of fatigue does not arise directly from the action of metabolites in the periphery, but rather from the regulatory centres in the subconscious parts of the brain, the function of which is to ensure homoeostasis during exercise. Therefore the distinct sensation of fatigue is not directly related to a physical end point, but is rather an interpretation of the effect of the current level of activity on future exercise capacity and any threats that immediate and future events pose to the maintenance of homoeostasis.”
- “As the sensation of fatigue is an emotion rather than a physical state, pacing strategies and their control during self regulated exercise—the journey and not just the end point—are probably the most important phenomena in exercise physiology.”
So remember, that fatigue you feel as you try to finish one more pull up, it’s all in your mind.
A few weeks ago, I posted that I had signed up for a one month boot camp at CrossFit Local. With one more day to go I wanted to offer a few thoughts about the experience and my exercise plans for the coming few months.
- Boot camp was incredibly challenging in spite of my belief that I had built an OK base of conditioning doing Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint for Fitness (PBF). That isn’t a negative against PBF, but rather on me for doing it incorrectly (taking rests between each movement).
- 6:15am is too early for me to exercise. Even though I was getting up only 45 minutes earlier than normal, my body wasn’t quite primed to work that hard.
- After the first few sessions, I was INCREDIBLY sore. That subsided but I was still tired on the day immediately following the workout.
- Without a doubt, my fitness level improved during the month, and I learned to pace myself better. The proper pacing (in my opinion) is at about the effort level you would use to run 2 miles, not a 400 meter sprint.
- I found muscles (i.e. soreness) in my upper back that I never knew existed (from using kettlebells).
- Most of the boot camp exercises were based on bodyweight movements; however “real” CrossFit incorporates much more of a strength training component using free weights.
The verdict: I have signed up for the next step which is a Foundations class. Over the course of a few weeks, I will be introduced to the remainder of the CrossFit experience in preparation for the normal Workout of the Day (WOD). Probably the biggest reason for me to take this next step is for accountability. Yes, I could do much of this at home (for free), but would I push myself as hard?
More luck will be needed!
photo credit: Biggunben
Here are a few quick comments and several links to things that I have been reading (or watching) recently:
- Yesterday we harvested our first asparagus spear of the season. Yum!
- CrossFit - It was pretty tough to get up and down the stairs yesterday (after two workouts). Clearly I have not been doing proper squats (need to go much deeper). This morning I can actually walk without pain which is encouraging.
- This is probably the most awe-inspiring track performance I have EVER seen.
(hat tip to CrossFit Local )
- Speaking of running – After reading Born to Run, I was hungry for more information about human evolutionary adaptations specific to running. This paper, Endurance running and the evolution of Homo, provides a lot of compelling evidence on the topic.
- Lastly check out Chris Masterjohn’s new article on “Fatty Liver Disease.” Eating high fructose corn syrup (drinking sodas) combined with not getting enough choline (eggs and liver) can produce a condition that damages your liver in a way similar to consuming too much alcohol.
photo credit impicard
Tomorrow it begins – at 6:15am to be precise. Thanks to the Daily Deal at Groupon, I am signed up for a one month “boot camp” at CrossFit Local. Normally $150, this 12 session, structured introduction to CrossFit was priced right at $39. What a deal!
As some readers may recall, I have been following Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint for Fitness for a couple of months (with good success). CrossFit is similar in that the focus is on short duration, high intensity workouts that improve overall functional fitness. The benefit to CrossFit is that I will be receiving regular instruction and community support.
So it is with excitement AND apprehension that I am approaching tomorrow morning. I believe my overall fitness level is still pretty abysmal; however it has certainly improved, hopefully enough to get me through a tough workout.
Wish me luck!