Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Stop Slouching!": Winged Scapula

Winged scapula is a common biomechanical deficiency which is caused by two things: short (tight) pectoralis minor and long (weak) serratus anterior/lower trapezius. In severe cases, it looks like a person's shoulder blades are poking up out his or her back. I saw one guy on the bike course at Lawrence 70.3 who made me cringe, his scapulae were so poky. But in a less severe case, the condition will show itself if you push hard against a wall with palms flat at waist level (not sure on the biomechanics of why this is the case, beyond the fact that this movement should use the serratus anterior and if they're weak it'll show up here). One of the other trainers at my gym did this once and completely grossed me out. He looked like a frickin' gargoyle.

So why should you care that your shoulder blades stick out like a pterodactyl's? First off, it destabilizes your shoulders. The shoulder is a pretty intricate area, and little things that might seem small (like an imbalance in the muscle that holds the shoulder blade against the ribs) can really FUBAR the joint in a dozen years or two. Injury is the first and primary concern with any imbalance I bring up.

But in a more immediate sense, it can also impede your performance; not like having no shoulders in twenty years isn't going to impede your performance (yeah, I have some athletes you might wanna ask about that . . .) The serratus anterior is a muscle you need for swimming, especially if you want to get that nice Serape Effect rotation going. Besides which, it's totally common for winging scapulae to go along with a protracted shoulder girdle, which probably means your rhomboids are weak too. And guess what other muscles operate in that Serape Effect thing. That's right . . .

What do you do about winging scapula? Here are some exercises and stretches that will probably help you (unless your problem arises from an impinged nerve in your neck/traps, but in that case you'd probably only have one wing).

Incline Shoulder Raise
Lie on your back at a slight incline. If you're at a gym you can use an incline bench. Otherwise, you can lean against a stability ball. Hold dumbbells (always start light!) in hands with arms extended. Your hands should be positioned directly above your shoulders. Now without bending your elbows, raise your hands; the movement should come from scapular protraction (pulling your shoulder blades apart). You can also add this exercise onto the end of a bench press--that is, protract your shoulder blades at the top of your bench press, using your serratus anterior to extend your range of motion. Although if you have winged scapula, you probably shouldn't be spending a lot of time on bench press; your pecs are too strong, remember?

Standing (Dumbbell) Scaption

Don't start with dumbbells. This is not an exercise that you use to pack meat onto your deltoids. This exercise is not intended to give you a good cut. It primarily strengthens the supraspinatus, which has got to be one of the most exposed and vulnerable muscles in your body. So do yourself a favor and take it easy when you begin this exercise.

Stand in a stable position, hands at your sides, thumbs facing forward (palms turned towards your body). Make sure your shoulders are back and down, your chest is lifted, and your back is in a neutral position. The movement is halfway between a front raise and a lateral raise. Raise both arms to the front and sides at about a 45 degree angle, simultaneously rotating your thumbs to face behind you (palms still rotated medially). Combination flexion, abduction, and external rotation! Whee!

Supine PNF Patterns on Ball
Lie with a stability ball under your shoulders and upper back, thumb of your right hand on your left thigh. Lift your arm up and over your head, rotating your thumb to face down. Similar to the above movement, except the movement is diagonal and you're reclining.

Isometric Wall Press
Stand about two feet from a fall. Raise your arms to roughly shoulder level and place them on the wall. Make sure shoulders are back and down, chest is lifted, back is neutral. Press into the wall by protracting the shoulders (not by leaning forward!) and hold. This is an isometric contraction for the serratus anterior.

Doorway Modified Chest Stretch
Stand next to a doorway or wall of some sort. Bend the shoulder and elbow and place the the forearm against the wall. Lean into the wall slightly and turn the body away from your arm. You should feel the stretch in your upper chest and arm. This is to stretch the pectoralis minor.


During this yoga pose, focus on lifting yourself with your back extensors, rather than pushing yourself up with your arms. Keep the shoulders back and down, the shoulder blades retracted, and the chest broad and lifted. Stretch long through the spine and then try to pull the breastbone away from the hips. Yoga poses are really too complex for me to adequately explain in this manner; follow the link for a more complete set of directions. Or--even better--go to a yoga class and have an actual yoga instructor help you! You should be going to yoga anyway.

Downward Facing Dog
Same note as above; I can't adequately explain a yoga pose in this blog. Partly because it's too complex, but partly because I'm not qualified. I can tell you that one of the many, many benefits of this posture is that it causes a continuous eccentric contraction in the serratus anterior, as long as you remember to keep your shoulders broad and low. Follow the link (or your yoga instructor's instructions) for more help than I've given you!

I should mention at this point that my scapula wing. You can't tell just by looking (they're not that bad), but if I do the wall test, you can definitely see my wings ("Every time the dumbbells clank, a bodybuilder gets his wings!"). So these are exercises and stretches that I do on a regular basis. And Downard Facing Dog is very difficult for me in yoga class, because my serratus anterior doesn't much care to hold an eccentric contraction for very long.

I really hope that these exercises provide useful material for your weight training programs, and help prevent injury and enhance performance. If you have particular questions or suggestions for this series, sound off in the comments or send me an e-mail!

Note: Videos for the exercises can be found here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Stop Slouching!": New Series!

Weight training is what I do. I love biomechanics, muscles, tendons, and bones, corrective exercises, contraindications . . . and I love discussing all of it. I can't go to the grocery store without noting one shopper's pronation, another's internally-rotated shoulders, and a few swayed backs.

So when I went to the Lawrence Half Ironman and saw winging scapulae, hunched backs, and forward head posture, I was--to say the least--distressed.

And the things I've mentioned are only the superficial signs of internal weaknesses; just think of all the potential problems--inflexibilities, weaknesses, imbalances--that are invisible to the innocent (and some even to the informed) observer!

C'mon, people! We are the pinnacle of health and fitness! We are gods!

We are crazy.

But craziness aside, I am taking action regarding this problem in our community. I'm beginning a series on some problems (beginning with the ones I have) common to triathletes and endurance athletes. I'll show you a few ways to determine whether or not you might have a problem, then demonstrate exercises that will help to prevent or correct those problems. Not only will improving your biomechanics alter your posture (read: you will look sexier, both on the race course and off), it will also improve your performance (i.e better biomechanics = better form = less fatigue = more speed).

For this series, I need to add this disclaimer, however: I am a personal trainer. I am certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. I am NOT a physical therapist. I am not licensed to provide rehabilitative or corrective exercises. What I can do is help you improve your strength and flexibility, with the intention of bettering your physical appearance and athletic performance.

And I will begin the series next week with the problem that distressed me most at the Lawrence 70.3: the dread winged scapula!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Vitamin B Fact Sheet

This is something new I'm trying: writing and publishing articles through Triond, in addition to this blog. I chose to publish this particular article elsewhere because it's not entirely relevant to
endurance athletes (although it's probably helpful).

I enjoyed learning about the B complex vitamins and what they do. I had no idea that they were so relevant to me personally. I've always been kind of confused about all those various letters and numbers.

A quick disclaimer: I'm not a dietitian. I'm not even a nutritionist. I can't prescribe. I can't even really suggest, other than to say very basic things like fast food is bad for you. I'm professionally obligated (and rightly so) to make you aware of that fact. The stuff I'm writing about Vitamin B is mostly from online sources, which means that you are every bit as capable as I am of coming up with this information.

And now that I've adequately disclaimed, let me say this: B vitamins--particularly B6 and B12--are one of a handful of supplements that I would consider taking (calcium, iron, and protein are the others). This is because it's difficult for me to get B12 and B6, which are found most plentifully in animal protein, in my normal diet, and I don't want to risk a deficiency in these important nutrients. However, for the most part, I strongly dislike the idea of taking pills instead of eating healthy food. I know that for some people it's necessary (or at least habitual). Definitely not judging anyone for taking vitamins. But I prefer to get my nutrients from real food.

Anyway, enough about nutrition (since I'm not even qualified to give advice in this area). Here's the link to the collected facts (as I've interpreted them, anyway).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Race Report: Topeka Tinman

I could have won.

That's what I keep thinking, as I log my race in my workout logs and look again at the results. If I had only pushed harder, I could have won.

I left for the race on Friday evening. I had originally wanted to leave around noon, but the only local bike shop that could even get my bike in and out in a week couldn't have it done until Friday at 5:00. And then I forgot my cooler (with my beer!). So of course I had to go back to get that. I ended up getting out of Wichita at 6:00, which meant that I didn't get to Topeka until 8:00 (when packet pick-up was supposed to close). Fortunately, the packet pick-up stayed open a little late. But needless to stay, it was a stressful time.

Things did not go smoothly, as far as the trip went--or perhaps it would be better to say that they didn't go as planned, since it all turned out alright without being particularly stressful. I wanted to get to Shawnee Lake and set up my tent and take a look at the course before dinner (that is, while it was still light). But because of the way things worked out, it was 10:00 before I even got to the lake (fortunately the registration office was open until 11:00). So I set up my tent by the glow of my headlights, organized what I could with only a flashlight to guide me, and climbed into my sleeping bag at about 11:00.

The campsite was noisy, and I kept having strange dreams (which almost always happens the night before) about the next day's race. In one, I did the swim and bike, then woke up ready to run. I kept waking suddenly, sitting straight up with a gasp, thinking, "Oh no! I'm late!"

But of course I never was. And even with the minor stresses of travel, packet pick-up, setting the tent up in the frickin' dark, and restless sleep, I woke fresh and excited on Saturday morning at 5:00, ready to take on the world.

I collected myself as the sun was rising, and rode my bike to the staging area (a very short distance further around the lake from my campsite). I was one of the first 20 or so in transition, so I had my pick of spots. Got body marked, collected my timing chip, listened to my pre-game playlist, and generally enjoyed the fact that I was fortunate enough to have done this a dozen times before and so didn't have to run around like a chicken with its head cut off or posture insecurely about my (two races' worth of) previous triathlon experience. The music helps; it allows me to cut myself off from all that and get ready to run my own race. I took my time with a 20 minute bike warm up, 10 minute run warm up, and 20 minute wait for port-a-potties (which I unfortunately had to trade for a swim warm up).

The Swim: 1100 m, 18:08
I was in the third wave, the women's wave, which was fortunate, because I was still zipping into my wetsuit as the first wave departed. For the swim, I seeded myself toward the front, sort of in the second row. When the race director counted us a down, I dove hands first forward and attempted to sprint my way into the front pack. No dice. The swim wasn't crowded, by any means (probably less than 40 people), but for some reason I was getting dropped by everyone. I was completely confused. I normally do not get dropped in Kansas; I am a solid middle-of-the-pack swimmer. In California, I would understand it if I got dropped by everyone and their wetsuited granny. But . . . it's Kansas, you know? Land of adult swimmers!

So I was not mentally in shape to do well. I was discouraged by the fact that I was getting passed, and I didn't want to look behind me to see if there were any other yellow caps left back there. Besides which, I couldn't seem to find a good rhythm; I felt all discombobulated. Befuddled. Frickin' slow.

I think it was all simply because I didn't get a swim warm up, because between 5 and 10 minutes into the swim, I managed to find my groove. I drafted off of a few feet and started catching up to a few lady swimmers (or I think they were ladies, anyway; I honestly didn't bother to look). I recited to myself, "Slow is smooth. Smooth is good. Good is fast. Fast is slow."

And I ended up doing really well. I'm very happy with my swim time. So happy, in fact, that I half suspect that the swim course was measured a little bit short.

T1: 1:06
Yeah, you know I rocked this. It would have been under a minute, too, except I had to put stupid socks on.

The Bike: 19.76 mi, 1:04:29
I think I'm going to have to rethink my strengths in triathlon. Clearly, my transitions are still fairly strong, but my bike leg is starting to catch it up.

I am delighted with this bike split. 19 MPH. 19 MPH! That's pretty darn close to my goal of 20 MPH in a race. I passed several people (including some douche who tried to outsprint me and totally lost), and got into a little game of leap frog with another woman in my age group, whom I ended up finally passing about 3-4 miles from the end.

I felt so, so strong coming off the bike; I knew that I had done well, although I didn't know how well, and I unstrapped my shoes and dismounted my bike like a pro.

T2: 1:00
I could have done this much faster, but I didn't. I simply wasn't in a rush to get to the run.

The Run: 7.2 mi, 1:20:17
I am so embarassed about this time that I don't even want to talk about it. I can't believe I've actually gotten slower, even with a run this long. This is a 11:00 + minute mile, you realize that?

Anyway, I got out onto the run course and had my legs under me by the first half mile. My legs didn't feel good, by any means, but they were doing what they were supposed to do. I had a good, quick turnover and was feeling strong, if not exactly good.

The run was nothing short of pleasant, to be honest. I had fueled very well on the bike (a sip of water and a sip of Accelerade every 2 miles), so no bonking this time! My turnover was good, and I had my heart rate under control (kept it between 165-170 for the first 5 miles). I kept focusing on keeping a decent pace for the first 5 miles, then turning it way up for the last 2.2.

The whole time, I couldn't get over how pleasant the whole experience was. I've had runs that have gone well (and plenty that have gone terribly), but this one was actually pleasant. Like fun. It was a beautiful day, I was at a comfortable pace . . . this is by far one of the best runs I've ever had in a race.

But I cannot seem to get past the disappointment I feel in my performance. My first 2 miles were completed in 18:30. So I was actually setting a decent pace. How, then, did I manage to average 11-minute miles? I just don't understand it.

Final: 2:45:11
I met all my goals for this race. I rocked my nutrition. I rocked my bike. I rocked my swim. I rocked my transitions. I did what I wanted to do on the run, which was to keep my heart rate and pace under control and not bonk (i.e. not repeat Wildflower and Cal Poly). And I did all that.

But I came so close to victory! If I had only known enough to take myself into the red on the run, I could have won it. And I'm having trouble seeing past the run to all the stuff that I did right.

As I think about it now, I realize that a victory at Tinman wasn't really worth it for me, though. The run is disproportionately long. I know I'm not a strong runner, particularly at long distances (anything over a mile! no, just kidding). For me to have laid it all on the line for this race when I have Shawnee Mission coming up in a month . . .

Well, I would much rather do well at Shawnee Mission than at Topeka Tinman. That's my big goal for this year.

More on that later this week (assuming I ever get a long enough break from work that I'm able to post again)!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

T Minus 2

Okay, now I am excited about Tinman.

I am going to kick some tail at that race, even with my 10-minute miles!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

T minus 3

I race Topeka Tinman on Saturday.

And right now, I just don't care.

EDIT:: How 'bout that. Turns out all I needed was a little run!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Not Dead!

No, I'm not dead.

But I have been working some 16 hour days, which seriously impedes my ability to write and publish blog posts.

I have a few in the works, too: A playlist of pre-race music; a review of a research journal article about overtraining; and a financial post on exactly how much money it takes to begin triathlon.

However, I don't know when I'll finally have the time to refine these posts enough to publish them.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with these (previously written and published) love poems I wrote to (and about) triathlon.


You see us in the mornings,

Lycra-clad and faces tight-clenched,
A brightly-feathered fleet of gazelles
Chasing down metallic bears
On the PCH.

You see our toned legs
Glowing with the hues
Of Santa Monica sunrises,
Strained in the pursuit
Of Mulholland Highway heights,
Legs thrusting in hypnotic circles
Like the movements of
A strange and sacred Hopi dance.

You see our honed bodies, our honed
Equipment, our honed technique;
You see our helmeted heads
And suppose that we are
Very experienced.

We see your rear fender
As you drift too close
And we eat tar
Like bulldozers
Scraping their buckets
Along a demolished road.



I feel calm as adrenaline swamps
my veins like its preparing them for
the coming onslaught of lactic acid.

shaking out just-warmed arms
and legs, preparing themselves for
another chaotic mass swim start.

prepared for entry, a dive into
this lake. Fucking cold
lake. No wetsuits--not that cold.
Holy shit. Look at those deltoids, toned
to pro levels. What am I
doing here?

5-second warning. Together
our whole bodies
tense--one monstrously muscular
athletic being.
At the buzzer we all

our limbs, hone our
extremities like water knives,
and leap. I fly
like a Power Bar-sponsored swan
and suspend myself
forever in the lens of some
sports photographer. And in
the last moments

I hit the water and
enter a painfully hazing world
of feet and elbows,

I float totally

A Jog

Sun-crisped words fall

To the rhythm of shoe-thumped pavement
Calloused hands that soften
Like the shining hairs that graze my arms and neck
Clench and tense, relax self-consciously
Percussive jolt of knees
Chased by laughing shivers
And the rushing pulse of deep-drawn breaths
The well-known beat of our bodies.