The running time sweet spot, how your breath can enhance your workout, and more
Every athlete knows that education is a crucial part of performance.Sportand exercise research, insight from top trainers, science, andtechnologyhelp you to better understand your body so you can craft a healthier lifestyle, workouts, and recovery plan.
In this installment of theweekly news series, Matt Berenc, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute, addresses some of the week’s fitness research and news stories.
Is barefoot running back in?
The Science: Many fitness enthusiasts believe running barefoot is natural and healthy because, from an evolutionary standpoint, shoes have only been around for a second, says Berenc. “However, as this study points out, there is still not conclusive evidence that proves whether long-term barefoot running is good or bad.”
EQX Expert Insight: “Since you’ve been walking around in shoes your entire life, your feet have adapted to being encased in a protective and supportive shell,” says Berenc. This can make them “lazy” and decrease their natural stabilizing abilities. And while there are benefits to allowing your feet to interact directly with the environment (from improved proprioception to enhanced muscle function to better posture) proceed with caution. “Being barefoot will change how your foot hits the ground which creates a new stress for your body to get used to,” Berenc warns. So if you want to give barefoot running a try, integrate it slowly into your routine. Berenc’s advice: Start by walking around barefoot for 10 minutes a day, progressively building to 20-30 minutes a day over the course of a month. If that feels comfortable, start running barefoot at a very low volume (start with just five minutes at a time).
Can a regular running routine add years to your life?
The Science: Runner’s World reported on a review paper published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases which looked at the long-term health benefits of running. “The findings suggest that running has an extremely positive impact on reduction in risk of dying, linking every hour of running you log to a potential addition of seven hours to your life,” says Berenc.
EQX Expert Insight: “Before you chase immortality, know that there is a catch,” says Berenc. In the study, it was running in moderation, around 30 to 45 minutes per day, which was associated with these potential benefits. “This length of time is likely enough of a stressor to challenge the body and trigger the positive physical adaptations,” says Berenc. “Doing more is not necessarily bad for you, but the closer you get to the extreme ranges of training (in time and/or distance) the greater the diminishing potential returns on health."
How does deep breathing impact athletes and when is it most beneficial?
The Science: The New York Times reported on new research out of Stanford University, done on mice, which looked at the mechanisms behind the benefits of deep breathing. It turns out, “taking deep breaths is calming because it does not activate the neurons that communicate with the brain’s arousal center,” according to the NYT. Beyond mice, this has implications for fit humans as well.
EQX Expert Insight:“Breathing exercises are hugely beneficial and especially immediately after a workout,” says Berenc. Here’s why: Working out triggers athletes’ sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous systems. While this response can lead to winning the game or a great workout, it can be detrimental if it persists once you’re done. That’s why breathing exercises should be one of the first steps in the recovery and regeneration process. “Through focused breathing you are essentially signaling to the brain that you are safe and that your body can relax,” says Berenc. “Beyond recovery, breathing can also be a great addition to targeted breaks in play, such as halftime, allowing the athlete to quickly rebuild mental and physical energy in a short period of time.” Focused breathing can be as simple as sitting or lying still and breathing into your abdomen (what’s called a diaphragmatic breath) instead of your chest.
What’s the best motivational strategy for athletes?
The Science:A study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology looked at how motivation can change over time—whether the goal is to buy a house, save up for a vacation, or lose weight. “The findings suggest that at the outset of pursuing a goal, the excitement of success is the source motivation; the further along you go, it may be the desire to avoid failure that keeps you making the effort to sustain change,” says Berenc. And this can definitely be applied to your fitness goals.
EQX Expert Insight: One of the best ways to ensure you stay on track is to set goals that you are intrinsically motivated to achieve in the first place. It should be something that you are doing for yourself because it is truly important to you and not based on external validation, says Berenc. “This can be referred to as your “why” and will likely keep you going even when times get tough,” he adds. Another trick is to set a performance target that is measurable: a time to beat, a skill to master, or a weight to lift. For example, a golfer at the driving range could set a specific target for where the balls are going and adjust his technique until he finds success, Barenc says.