ST: Music to the ears!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 15 July 2018.

#AskMok

  1. I am used to jogging while listening to music. Is this advisable? – Eunice Lai
  2. Is it safe to listen to music while running? – Ernest 
  3. What’s your favorite playlist when you’re running? – Sheryl

Hi Eunice, Ernest and Sheryl, thank you for your question. The short answer to Eunice’s question is: yes, music has a profound effect on many aspects of our lives – including running!

But, of course, your selection of the type of music matters, depending on what you wish to achieve for your workout.

Technique Correction

Music can be used to correct your running technique – when listening to music during activity, our bodies naturally undergo an “auditory-motor synchronization”. This means that the tempo of our movements (in running terms, our cadence) is adjusted to match the tempo of the music.

Cadence is a key technical component in running and refers to the number of steps one takes per minute. Runners who run with an extremely low cadence may be over-striding (taking too large steps), which puts them at an increased risk of injury. Most coaches recommend a running cadence of 170 – 180 steps per minute.

Without audio cues, it may be challenging to increase one’s cadence and maintain such a high step rate, especially if one is running alone. The acoustic stimuli act as an audio cue for our bodies to synchronize our movements with the music tempo. This enables one to consistently correct one’s running cadence in an almost natural manner. Try running off beat and see how frustrated you will get!

Once you have corrected your running cadence, you can then move on to using the music of different tempi to achieve low-, medium-, and high-intensity training.

Performance Enhancement

Music is often said to be a performance enhancer in endurance sports. It improves physical performance by either delaying fatigue or increasing work capacity.  

Numerous research has been done to study the effect of music on runners’ and triathletes’ performances. The result? Listening to motivational music during activity can delay the onset of exhaustion by almost 20%! The positive effect of music on running had already been recognized in the 1990s by the great Haile Gebreselassie. He credited the “Scatman” song for his world records in the 10,000m (track), and even revealed in an interview with The Guardian, “If you watch back some of my world records you can hear Scatman in the background. The rhythm was perfect for running.”

To enhance your physical performance, listen to music with strong, energizing rhythms and uplifting melodies and harmonies. Of course, the rhythm of the music should match your movement patterns, depending on the intensity of your desired activity.

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For Mok Ying Ren who run-commutes along noisy high-traffic routes, listening to music and audiobooks on his noise-canceling headphones helps him to focus and enjoy the run. (Image by ONEATHLETE)

Racing

For safety reasons, race organizers generally discourage participants from listening to music during a race. There is great concern that participants who are listening to music may not be able to hear instructions from the race officials and other runners on the race course.

The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) considers the use of audio devices as external assistance. Elite runners who are competing for top prizes are therefore prohibited from using any form of the audio device during their race. However, it is common for race organizers to exercise their discretion to exempt non-elite runners from this rule.

Relaxation

If you are looking to relax during your run after a long day at work, listening to your favorite tunes while running will help you to achieve that.

Personally, in addition to my favorite songs playlist, I also listen to audiobooks of different genres while running. I was inspired to do this by my gastroenterologist colleague from the National University Hospital, Dr. Low How Cheng, who listens to book after book on his regular runs. After all, what better way than to kill two birds with one stone?

Moreover, my current wireless earbuds, (runONE editor’s note: the SONY WF-SP700N), carry secure fit and noise-canceling capabilities which I have found to enhance my listening experience while I listen to audiobooks during my commute (running along roads with heavy traffic) en route home. It can also boost ambient noise, helping with situational awareness when required, such as when crossing roads and manoeuvering through areas of high human traffic. In that sense, you can utilize the latest audio technologies, to focus, to relax and enhance your running experience.  

All in all, music is a great tool for training. Select your music (and your earpieces) wisely and it can help you to achieve your running objectives. Being on the right ‘track’ has a different meaning now!


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ST: How to maximise your recovery period?

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 1 July 2018.

#AskMok

  1. Your fav recovery regime? One that you would do if you have time to spare and one when the time is not on your side. – Kendrick
  2. How do I find out what nutrition/food & meals I need for training and rest day? –  Chad Lim
  3. Where can I get the roller which you used to roll/massage your leg? How much is it? – Terence 

Hi Kendrick, Terence and Chad, thank you for your questions.

The topic of routines for optimized recovery is a popular one among runners. The purpose of a recovery period is to allow the body some time to repair and strengthen itself after a training session. Contrary to popular belief, your body gets stronger duringthe recovery period, rather than during the training session. The recovery period gives your body an opportunity to replenish energy stores lost during exercise, and to build and repair muscles. If you deny your body sufficient time to recover, you will only become increasingly fatigued!

Get a good sleep

The best recovery tool, but also the least talked about, is sleep. Sleep plays a key role in the regulation of many types of hormones in our bodies, such as cortisol, growth hormones and thyroid hormones. These hormones are crucial in the recovery process post- workout.

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation results in an increased insulin resistance and decreased glucose tolerance. This then translates to low energy levels and a decrease in the time to exhaustion (i.e. you experience exhaustion during exercise much quicker).

During sleep, our bodies release growth hormones to repair and strengthen our muscles and bones. Without sufficient sleep, you may be limiting your body’s ability to recover from an intense workout or make your muscles and bones stronger. Getting regular, sufficient sleep is therefore paramount to achieving an optimal recovery.

Go for a massage

Sports massages theoretically increase local blood circulation and reduce muscle tightness. The increased circulation to muscles also aids to eliminate waste products such as lactic acid build up in muscles after exercise. Despite little scientific evidence in the literature of sports medicine to conclusively determine the efficacy of sports massage in enhancing recovery, there are individuals who feel that they reap tremendous benefits from sports massages and many elite runners go for regular sports massages to enhance their recovery following intense workouts.

A downside of sports massages is that they are often quite pricey. An alternative would be to self-massage by employing various tools which may be easily procured. Such tools include foam rollers, massage sticks and trigger balls (which you can easily purchase from any sports retailer or online stores). In order to utilize these tools effectively, it is best to learn the techniques for using such tools from a trained physiotherapist or trainer.

Eat a nutritious diet

It is a no-brainer that you will need to complement your workouts with adequate nutrition. One aspect of nutrition is nutrition timing – the time window in which you consume your nutrition. Most sports scientists recommend that the “window of opportunity” is 30 minutes after your workout, meaning that you should consume your recovery food within 30 minutes post-workout.

Another aspect of nutrition is the content of the nutrition. Generally, you should choose foods which contain protein, carbohydrates, and (good) fat. Choosing easily-digestible foods will also promote faster nutrient absorption. In a recent meta-analysis of 12 studies in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that the consumption of chocolate milk post-workout lowered blood lactate and offered an improved time to exhaustion (i.e. lasts longer) at the next training session.

Thus, an easy way to improve your nutrition is to bring along a packet of chocolate milk to your workouts and to consume it immediately after the session. This replenishes the electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during your workout and provides a dose of protein to kick-start your recovery process.

Spend quality time on work and family

Your mental and emotional well-being are also an important aspect of recovery. Personally, I used to find that many of my other personal commitments, such as study, work, and family, were a hindrance to my recovery – perhaps that time could have been better used for precious sleep. However, I have come to realize that even work and studying could be a form of recovery.

To me, spending time with my loved ones (especially my wife), seeing patients and operating in the surgical theatre gives me a break from running. These activities pose a different challenge to the mind and heart, which I absolutely relish. Investing your time and effort in other aspects of life (other than running) can be a great form of “recovery”, in the physical, mental and emotional sense. After all, we all need some balance in life.

Now, as you #RunWithMok, do remember to prioritize your recovery days to maximize your training!

ST: How do i manage my training sessions?

First published on The Sunday Times on 17 June 2018

 

#AskMok

  1. What is/are examples of a bad training plan? How do you / should we space out “hard” workouts in a week? – Andy Kek
  2. How can I integrate double training sessions into my training program (i.e. running twice a day)? Do you have any recommendations for double sessions? – Leow Wen Jun

 

Hi Andy and Wenjun, thank you for your questions (see top).

Last week, we learnt from Dr Ivan Low that the key components of a good training plan are; (1) individuality (customised to one’s self), (2) specificity (specific to the race one is preparing for), (3) progressive overload (graduated increase in intensity and volume), (4) variation (not monotonous), and lastly, (5) recovery (allowing the body to regenerate and restore). However, it would be over-simplistic to deem every training plan which lacks any of the above components as “bad”.

Adopt a suitable plan


The definition of “bad”, in this context, is subjective. Whether a training plan is considered “bad” is highly dependent on the individual – there is no “one size fits all”.

For example, there are some people who are able to load their bodies with high-intensity and high-volume workouts within a short span of time, and yet manage to avoid injuries. There are also some who repeat the exact same workout every day for a whole year, and yet manage to improve their physical performance.

A “bad” training plan is simply a training plan that just does not work for you. Give yourself some flexibility to adjust your training plans as and when required to suit your body’s needs, and pay attention to how your body responds.

Allow Supercompensation


To address the question on spacing out hard workouts, let me first explain the principle of supercompensation.

When training, your fitness levels can be broken down into 4 phases in the following order:
1. The baseline level of fitness – where you start off;
2. Fatigue – you get tired;
3. Recovery – your body regenerates and repairs damaged tissues; and
4. Supercompensation – brings your fitness to a higher level than before.

Supercompensation occurs when the human body automatically adjusts itself to a higher level of fitness in anticipation of the next training session. It is why after a couple of consistent runs, you no longer experience the same body soreness which came with your first run. However, if you do not capitalize on your newfound fitness due to supercompensation, you will return to a baseline level of fitness (phase 1). So, if you only run once a month, you should expect to feel sore every time you run!


The graph above illustrates how your fitness level changes when training. Note that there are 2 variables which affect the optimal amount of supercompensation – time and training load.

The first variable is time – “X”. The time between each hard session is crucial. Ideally, the next hard session should take place at the end of time “X”. “X” is highly variable, depending on each individual. You will need to experiment to find your “X”, but when you do find it, keep to this sweet spot. For me, “X” is equivalent to 3 days. Therefore, I run my hard sessions on Mondays and Thursdays!

The next variable is the training load. The larger the training load, the larger the drop in fitness level (“Y”) after the training session. Think about how fatigued you are after a hard workout! The larger “Y” is, the more fatigued you will be, but also the higher the potential amount of supercompensation.

Training load is in turn affected by two factors: volume and intensity. A load of an easy 2-hour long run may even be equivalent to the load of eight 1-min high-intensity interval runs.

Prioritize active recovery

Clocking double training sessions a day increases the training load for the day in a cumulative manner. Personally, if and when I incorporate double sessions into my training schedule, it is solely for active recovery. My main session for that day would be a 70-min easy long run or workout, and the second session would be a 30-min jog. Most runners do well without having to do double sessions a day, so avoid this unless you really need to.

To add to the complexity, “X” and “Y” are largely co-dependent – a change in “Y” is likely to affect “X” (The more fatigued you are, the more time you need to recover and compensate!).

Mok Ying Ren squeezing out an easy run amidst an overseas trip, to retain the fitness baseline. (Image by: ONEATHLETE)

As complex as this scientific approach seems, this is really foundational to a good run! Running is simple but can be as difficult as it is made to be. But you will do fine if you follow RunONE on the #runwithmok programme!