ICYMI: My previous two posts on my experiment with Ready to Run: Part I: Posture and Part II: Foot strike and shoe type.
Aaaand after a brief hiatus, we’re back with Part 3 of the Ready to Run series! Today I’m going to talk through a few more of Kelly Starrett’s standards of running readiness and what happened when I tried them out on myself.
Standard I: Compression Gear
Ah, compression gear. We see it everywhere, but does it work? Should we bother? Kelly seems to think we should.
I consulted the literature, and found a systematic review done in 2013 on the effectiveness of compression gear for running performance and recovery. Here are their findings:
“Results indicated small effect sizes for the application of compression clothing during exercise for short- duration sprints (10–60 m), vertical-jump height, extending time to exhaustion (such as running at VO2max or during incremental tests), and time-trial performance (3–60 min). When compression clothing was applied for recovery purposes after exercise, small to moderate effect sizes were observed in recovery of maximal strength and power, especially vertical-jump exercise; reductions in muscle swelling and perceived muscle pain; blood lactate removal; and increases in body temperature. These results suggest that the application of compression clothing may assist athletic performance and recovery in given situations with consideration of the effects magnitude and practical relevance.”
And here’s what I think. Compression increases blood flow. So does exercise. So…when you run, and your gastroc-soleus complex is working hard…blood is already flowing there? So it seems to me that compression gear during an endurance session is redundant and unneccessary. It’s also hot AF. I personally find compression socks to be highly uncomfortable during a sweaty workout!
Compression gear for RECOVERY, however….I’m sold. I bought myself a pair of compression socks, as well as compression shorts, given my hip pain. I like to work out in the morning, before class, and do NOT like to wear compression gear under my clothing. Nope nope nope, it’s uncomfortable. But, I found that wearing it for the few hours between end of class and bedtime really helped decrease my soreness. The following mornings, my muscles felt a lot more ready to go.
Disclaimer: I still don’t know if the compression gear actually did anything to my muscles. It may have been purely psychological. But hey….an effect is an effect, right?
Another note: Following my recent hip surgery, my entire surgical leg was swollen for about two days post-op. I wore my compression socks the first two nights (no way was I gonna try to shimmy into compression shorts after a hip surgery..) and it REALLY helped return the fluid to my heart. So, compression socks DO at least have that tangible effect! Thus, I 100% think they’re worth a shot if you’re looking for a boost in recovery.
Standard II: Hydration and Electrolyte Balance
This standard sounds like a no-brainer, but I bet most of us are a lot less well hydrated than we think we are. And it has a huge impact on our athletic performance and, more importantly, our overall health! The vast majority of our body is made up of water. Most importantly for endurance sports performance, water helps keep our blood volume high enough to maintain adequate cardiac output and stroke volume to get oxygen to your working muscles. If blood volume is high enough, your body can do this without jacking your heart rate and blood pressure up too much. Of utmost importance, even more so than your working muscles, is maintaining high blood flow to the brain! This is why dehydration is often marked by symptoms such as confusion,delirium, pre-syncope, and syncope…or, on a smaller scale, feeling foggy. In Ready to Run, Kelly also explains that proper hydration allows your tissue layers – skin, fascia, muscles, connective tissue, nerves – can slide past each other during movement, keeping your body a well-oiled machine. Indeed, an article published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition states, “Water, in combination with viscous molecules, forms lubricating fluids for joints…..By maintaining the cellular shape, water also acts as a shock absorber during walking or running.”
Okay cool so water is somewhat important, yes? But that’s not the whole story – you need electrolytes too! Sodium, Postassium, Chloride, and Magnesium are the main electrolytes (charged minerals) you need to worry about. I’m going to skip over all the biochemistry here (you’re welcome), but basically, electrolytes play a pivotal role in your heart’s electrical activity and contractility. I have personally felt the consequences of attempting intense endurance exercise with dangerously low sodium levels – I suffered arrythmias and several episodes of syncope – yes, passing out – during my runs. It was not pretty. I was forced to take a month off and drink a lot of Gatorade while my sodium levels recovered.
So, bottom line, as Kelly says, it’s not enough to just drink water. Hydration means optimal water AND electrolyte balance. Here are some of his suggestions to achieve this:
-Drink a full glass of water first thing on waking up. You can have coffee too, but water first.
-Consume an electrolyte beverage during your runs. Here it is important to note that Kelly does not necessarily mean sugary Gatorade. If your run is less than 90 minutes, you don’t need additional sugar or calories – just the electrolytes. He’s a big proponent of Nuun Hydration Tablets.
-When you eat, shake a little table salt on your food. When you’re not eating, carry a water bottle around and add salt to your water!
SO….what happened when I tried this?
First: I fully agree with Kelly about Nuun Hydration tablets. They’re the best. I generally don’t run or bike for more than an hour at a time (#PTschoolproblems) so I don’t need the calories from sports drinks. Nuun is only 7 calories a tablet (which is basically zero), and it’s not overly sweet or overly flavored. I started drinking it during my workouts and while I didn’t notice a difference in my performance, I DID notice a big difference in how I felt afterwards – it was a lot easier for me to maintain hydration throughout the day. Previously, I would complete a sweaty workout and be dehydrated till noon – I felt like I could never drink enough water. Drinking Nuun during my workouts changed that.
As for salting my food – I was already doing this, especially after my close call with sodium problems in 2014. I am a huge proponent of this: If you are an endurance athlete who eats a whole-foods, 80/20 healthy diet, YOU DO NOT NEED TO FEAR THE SALT SHAKER. If you have a history of hypertension, on the other hand, please do not start salting your food and water without consulting your physician
And, lastly, salting my water….ehhhh I’ll be honest, I couldn’t get behind this. Personally, I noticed the difference in taste and it really made me not want to drink. For me, I think it was a bit TOO much sodium – I was super bloated when I tried this. Hence, the importance of knowing your body. I think it’s important to have electrolyte replacements during and immediately after your workouts, as well as taking in some sodium throughout the day…but if salting your water isn’t appealing, salt your food and keep drinking that Nuun!
Standard III: No Hotspots!
This one is pretty straightforward. If one of your body parts is causing you pain – or discomfort, or it’s tight, or it just “doesn’t feel right”-especially if these sensations are occurring during your run – you should probably, you know, not run through it. The entire premise of Kelly’s book is to help you get yourself to the point where you can, most days, get out the door for your run without any of those nagging aches and pains. To ru through them when you have them would sort of undermine all the hard work you’ve been doing on both your mobility and your lifestyle. Needless to say, running through painful areas can lead to full blown tissue injuries. Shin splints turn to tibial stress fractures. Tightness at the back of your ankle becomes achilles tendinopathy. We’ve all been there – just don’t do it!! One run is not worth the risk. If you wake up with a hot spot, spend some time on mobility – if you can work it out, go enjoy your run. If you can’t – dial it back for the day.
And, it goes without saying that if you’ve got an ache or pain that’s been killing your running vibes for more than two weeks, and you haven’t had success fixing it on your own, then it’s time to call in the professionals! Find a direct access physical therapist in your area, preferably one that is experienced in working with athletes.
How did this go for me? Well, not to sound elitist, but since my hip injuries and the subsequent need for surgery, I do not run through pain anymore. Ever. It’s not worth it. If I am already running and I feel some pain, I stop. I try to work it out. Sometimes this is successful, and I can keep on keepin’ on. SOmetimes it’s not and I walk home. No big deal! If pain is preventing me from being consistent in my training, I make an appointment with my physical therapist.
One last thought: if something hurts during your run, this doesn’t mean you have to sit on your couch feeling sorry for yourself all day. Hit the gym for some cross training (the stairmaster is my personal fave), lift a weight or too (you should be doing this regularly to prevent hot spots, btw), or jump in the pool. Heck, maybe you should do this every once in awhile even without pain – VARIETY, I think, is the best kept secret in terms of building fitness and preventing injury!
Stay Tuned! I’ve got one more post for you concerning Ready To Run – talking about all of Kelly’s mobility-based standards.
Jequier et. al. Water as an essential nutrient: they physiological basis of hydration. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010; 64: 115-123.
Born, Sperlich, and Holmberg. Bringing Light Into the Dark: Effects of Compression Clothing on Performance and Recovery. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 2013; 8: 8-14.