Rules of Thumb and Some General Musings

Rules of Thumb and Some General Musings

Over the years there have been a few things that I have come to learn as fact through either meticulous research or personal experience (then backed up by checking the research and studies to make sure I’m not talking nonsense). I felt like writing them down as these are points that are usually dished out as ‘common knowledge’ and ‘general advice’ incorrectly.
In no particular order, enjoy.

  • Mobility (aka dynamic stretching) should ideally be performed before any workout and is the top method of warm up (along with a low-level version of the main session).
  • Mobility work in general should be priority for anybody, whether interested in athletic performance or maintaining general health.
  • Static stretching is pretty much unimportant unless you take part in a sport that specifically requires extreme flexibility eg.ballet or some gymnastics.
  • Don’t rest an injury/injured area – think ‘appropriate load’ instead. However small the movement or the load, keep it up and over time build it up (eg. don’t run on a sprained ankle but move it yourself with your hands, then by itself, then with resistance bands, then walking etc).
  • Ice baths and hot baths have very very little difference in terms of benefit for recovery after a workout. Take your pick.
  • High quality Omega-3 supplements should be taken regularly by just about everybody. Usually in higher doses than recommended as well.
  • Heel strike and forefoot strike are individual to a person. There’s no real need for a person to change from one to the other, instead working on tidying up running form or stride will likely benefit.
Foot strike
As a reference point: foot strikes of all 10k runners at the 2012  Olympic trials, all of whom recorded times between 31-34min 
  • The same goes for pronation. While excessive pronation may cause problems for some, pronation is a natural shock absorber for the feet and shouldn’t be stressed about. If pronation is causing major concern for a person then insoles won’t be the answer as the foot will still try to pronate but instead will just be hitting an awkward block, instead a focus on glute, quad, and hamstring strengthening along with ankle mobility will likely result in benefit.
  • Most leg, ankle, shoulder, lower back problems originate at the hips. Most, not all. Hip mobility is greatly underrated.
  • Walking, however, is the most underrated exercise there is, many people on a quest for health or weight loss want to literally run before they can walk and the benefits of recovery that come from walking for athletes and the general public alike can’t be shouted about enough. Personally I would go so far to say that you can walk off just about any health issue, physical or mental.
  • It turns out that there’s no extra stress placed through your back when lifting whether you keep it straight or you let it round, and there’s no extra risk of injury from a rounded back. As an extreme visual example think recommended manual handling guidelines, then watch a top powerlifter pick up an atlas stone – that would be a big health and safety no-no! While obviously that person is strong & trained etc, studies show that as long as you keep the weight close to your body/centre of gravity and don’t be silly when it comes to the weight and your limits – don’t worry too much about the technique!
  • In fact as a little addition to the above point, weight lifting belts are apparently a leading cause of injury when it comes to powerlifting due to the false belief that they help the person lift more. If that person left the belt aside and lifted within their rep and weight range, they would be at a surprisingly low risk level. Oops!
  • Multivitamin tablets don’t have to go through any sort of regulation to prove the amount of vitamin they actually hold and are about as effective as sugar pills. You can pretty much assume that multivitamin tablets across the board are a waste of your money with very few exceptions.
  • Same goes for glucosamine, echinacea, or most supplements that grace the shelves of supermarkets and health food shops. There are no solid studies that back up the use of these – yet funnily enough you’ll find no shortage of people swearing these sorts of things cured all sorts of ailments.
  • It should come as no surprise that the placebo effect gives some of the most powerful responses when it comes to what people take. The same can also be said for how people feel about certain running shoes compared to others, clothing brands, compression gear, to name a few examples. 
Proves it 
  • Most running shoes and trainers are built to be very much the same. When it comes to choosing what suits you then look for a neutral shoe with a relatively low heel-to-toe drop. Besides that, comfort and fit should be all that matters. Spend less than £50, ideally less than £40 (last year’s £120 shoes are this year’s £40. The difference is near impossible to notice in the upgraded models).
  • 0 Drop shoes sound all well and good, however for the majority of runners who heel strike, as well as everybody who ever stands still for a moment or two – you’re putting a lot of weight and pressure through your heel for it to not have an extra little bit of protection. Consider this – if your weight is through your heel in a 0 drop shoe, then it will naturally sink into your cushioning a little bit – does this then make the shoe -2mm drop? 3-5mm should realistically be the ideal heel-to-toe drop in running shoes.
  • Running is incredibly natural and should be as simple as getting outside and going for a run, no hassle, no stress, just natural movement.
  • Also though running is a skill and should be treated as such. Planned and specific conditioning in the gym or through resistance work aids running form and efficiency while helping undo unnatural stiffness and tightness through sitting in cars, behind desks etc.
  • INTERESTING POINT: When it comes to barefoot running, research shows that barefoot runners do show less signs of injury than those who wear cushioned shoes. However due to the nature of barefoot running, research also shows that barefoot runners do a much lower average mileage, with runners who wear cushioned shows running a lot more often for a lot further. When looked at equally from this there essentially shows little-to-no difference. Moral: Do what you want.
  • If you’re going to a gym where no-one will teach you how to squat or deadlift, or at least watch you perform some exercises to ensure you’re safe without charging extra then change your gym. However, do yourself a favour and book at least one PT session to get you on the right track and build a friendly relationship with professionals who can only help you towards your goals.
  • Protein timing is unimportant. As long as you are consuming adequate protein amounts through the course of a day then you’re going to be ok and you will be aiding muscle growth and repair. The ’30 minute window’ is a myth, with it being glycogen replacement for depleted muscles which really see the benefit from immediate post-exercise nutrition. This is of course aided by your protein shakes which I’m sorry to tell you are much more sugar-filled than you wish to believe. Don’t worry too much about that though! Also you’re not doing harm by having protein right after a workout so go for it, just don’t worry that you’re going to shrink if you don’t.
So I’m sure this is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to common practices and knowledge of health and fitness. Research is forever changing and new findings are always being presented, but some things should just be known as they’ve been studied enough yet still get lost in outdated ways of thinking (or succumb to marketing tactics). As always give me a shout if you want to discuss.

Written by me: Keith Fairburn

Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.

Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.

If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.

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