A 3-step formula for improved performance.
by Dr. Phil Maffetone
A top swimmer gliding through smooth open water, a world champion cyclist passing through Kona’s lava fields and a lead runner in a 70.3 all have a common feature. They each create the image of a body in harmony and rhythm. Many feel it during training and racing. From muscles and gait, to the heart and lungs, to hormones and the firing of neurons, the brain orchestrates a complex, synchronized process.
The best athletes naturally synchronize heartbeats, breath and muscles.”Entrainment” refers to this process, whereby two or more bodily systems work in physiological harmony. It is an evolutionary innovation that improves the body’s economy. In short, it makes us faster. My first experience with athletic entrainment was working with dancers in the late 1970s. This prepared me to observe runners on the track—the best ones seemingly waltzed along effortlessly, while slower athletes appeared to struggle to coordinate their body parts. Evaluating heart, breath and stride rates as they related to gait became a powerful training tool.
Unfortunately, too many athletes are out of sync. This can occur for many reasons such as mental stress, pain, physical illness and muscle imbalance. Poor foot function (such as wearing the wrong shoes), a bad bike set up (it doesn’t take much), or a short pool (unable to get into a good rhythm) are other factors that can create disharmony. Too much talking to a training partner or listening to music not in sync with your body can also interfere.
Think beyond music
In a recent study headed by Peter Terry (University of Southern Queensland, Australia), researchers measured the effects of music on triathlete training. The results demonstrated that though many athletes turn to music for motivation, it’s actually the beat itself that influences performance the most.
So while many train with music, if you want to improve your brain-body rhythm, I don’t recommend it. Instead, listen to your body during workouts and use music at other times for enjoyment. The beat of a song cannot be regulated—you’re “stuck” at one tempo. A beat-only sound is best delivered with a metronome, adjusted to an individual’s changing pace.
Here are three steps to improve brain-body synchronization:
Step one: Feel the beat
Some athletes can’t even tap their toes to music in time. To help the brain’s rhythm center, the cerebellum, there are many types of sports metronomes available. This simple biofeedback provides an adjustable audible beat to match your pace. In a recent study, Robert Bood and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam demonstrated that a beat can help an athlete achieve consistent and correct cadence, which can in turn help “optimize running economy.”
Employing a metronome helps coordinate gait by synchronizing one beat for each foot strike. Try it: Use a slower tempo during warm up, and increase the rate by adjusting the tempo to match your natural stride. Make sure you hit the ground precisely with each beat. Better rhythm may take a few weeks.
Step two: Do the two-step
Next, we put the metronome aside. Coordinating breathing and foot strike when running is also an effective form of entrainment. For example, take three strides during one inhalation, then three during one exhalation. This 3:1 relationship would change throughout a workout or race. A 5:1 pattern might work when warming up, 4:1 during a long run, and 2:1 in a race’s final “kick.”
This step may come natural, while others may struggle. If you don’t get in synch quickly, you may need more of the basic biofeedback from Step One.
Step three: Shifting gears
A variety of factors influence run pace, gait and effort. Your rates of breathing and movements often change—you should be capable of making appropriate adjustments. It’s like shifting bike gears, when properly done, economy improves and speed increases.
During a given run, you should be able to shift from a stride-to-breath pattern of 4:1, to 2:1, then 3:1 and back to 4:1. Practicing will make it easy and almost subconscious, like shifting gears.
Here’s an advanced option. Whether a 4:1, 2:1 or other running pattern, one always lands on the same foot at the onset of inhalation. To create a more balanced gait, exhale one more step than inhalation. (For example, three steps during inhalation, four per exhalation.) This 3:1/4:1 or similar pattern can be very effective.
Once your harmony improves during a run, try employing the same methods for swimming and cycling. The benefits of entrainment include going faster at the same heart rate due to lower oxygen needs and a more efficient gait. In addition to better performance, getting in sync can reduce heart and lung stress, speed recovery and improve health.
Phil Maffetone is a best-selling author and has advised many of triathlon’s greats, including Mark Allen. he Big Book of Endurance Training and Racinghilmaffetone.com.
Originally from: http://www.ironman.com/triathlon