Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Icing on the Ache!

Icing an injury is one of the oldest and best known injury treatment strategies, yet there is often confusion among athletes and coaches as to what injuries they should ice, how often and for how long.  Based on current research there are no definite answers to these questions however here are some basic guidelines you can follow:

1. Always ice an acute injury involving muscle tears and joint sprains.  Acute injuries are those that occur suddenly, such as an ankle sprain, which usually result in swelling and inflammation.  Although inflammation is a natural response to an injury, excessive inflammation can cause further damage.  Once an injury has happened, the faster you can get ice on it, the better.

2. How long do I ice it for?  That will depend on the whether the injury is superficial or deep.  The important thing to remember is that the tissues of the injured area must reduce in temperature in order for the icing to be effective.  It is recommended that if the injury is deep you may need to ice it for up to 20 minutes.

3. The first 48 hours is when you need to be the most diligent; icing every two hours is ideal.  The cold will help to dampen the pain so icing 15-20 minutes four or five times daily would help immensely.  Once the initial inflammation has gone down, icing is less effective and can be performed less frequently.  Many people switch to heat too quickly so give yourself 3-5 days before applying heat.

4. Chronic and long-term injuries to tendons, joints and bone do not usually involve an inflammatory response and therefore icing these injuries is not very effective.  Instead, those 20 minutes can be better used by performing rehabilitative exercises that try to address the injury.

5. When icing, always make sure that there is a barrier to the skin to avoid frostbite; keeping the ice in a thin towel is generally sufficient.  There are also many other commercially available alternatives such as gel packs, Cryocups or Mojiknees that can also be very handy.

If you get hurt stop playing, since continuing to play could cause more harm.  Keep in mind that limiting your mobility, elevating the affected area and pain relievers all help the healing process, so make sure you treat your body well and let it rest.

References from the SIRC Collection: 

1. Bleakley C, Costello J, Glasgow P. Should Athletes Return to Sport After Applying Ice?. Sports Medicine. January 2012;42(1):69-87.
2. Clover J. I.C.E. Can't Do It Alone. Coach & Athletic Director. September 2001;71(2):58.
3. How to return FROM INJURY. Athletics Weekly (Descartes Publishing Ltd.). January 15, 2009;:30.
4. Johar P, Grover V, Topp R, Behm D. A COMPARISON OF TOPICAL MENTHOL TO ICE ON PAIN, EVOKED TETANIC AND VOLUNTARY FORCE DURING DELAYED ONSET MUSCLE SORENESS. International Journal Of Sports Physical Therapy. June 2012;7(3):314-322.
5. Plaster L. A BETTER WAY TO ICE AN INJURY. Runner's World. August 2004;39(8):44.
6. Speed up recovery from injury. Athletics Weekly (Descartes Publishing Ltd.). May 22, 2008;:31.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Take a deep breath

Breathing is intuitive so most people probably feel it doesn't require special training to get it right.  However, it's easy to form bad habits as a result of poor posture, movement patterns and even stress.  For athletes, these bad habits can affect the nervous system, contribute to muscle fatigue, and decrease performance, so it's worth taking the time to learn some breathing techniques.

There are two main ways to breath:

Belly breathing - is one dimensional, with your belly expanding outward as you inhale.  This type of breathing often feels more natural, is easy to learn and is recommended for stress and anxiety relief.

Diaphragmatic breathing - relies on the large muscle just below the lungs.  If engaged properly, you should notice your ribcage expanding to the front as well as the back and sides of your torso.  This creates a stronger vacuum which allows you to suck more air into your lungs. 

Most people fall into a pattern of breathing where you overuse the muscles in the neck and upper body (known as the accessory muscles of inspiration) and under use the diaphragm.  During heavy exercise or training, the body needs these accessory muscles to kick in and supplement the diaphragm's action by moving the rib cage up and down quickly.  This action brings more air into the lungs, but the accessory muscles tire easily and if they are overused it can leave you feeling fatigued and anxious.

To learn optimal breathing techniques, getting the position of your ribcage right is key.  A neutral posture, the happy middle between slouching and having your chest pushed forward, gives your diaphragm the most room to contract.  Good breathing posture develops pressure from the within the abdomen that stabilizes your core, and transfers power between your upper and lower body giving you the ability to move more efficiently.

Proper breathing enables the body to get the needed oxygen to the brain and muscles, regulates your heart rate and helps athletes maintain their focus under the pressure of competition  Overall, adopting an effective breathing technique can have a dramatic effect on an athlete's physiology, their ability to relax, and ultimately on performance.

References from the SIRC Collection: 

1. Bacchus H. BREATHWORK AND SPORTS PERFORMANCE. Sportex Dynamics. January 2010;(23):21-26.
2. Blecher M. Play hard, breathe deeply. Women's Sports & Fitness. March 1997;19(2):52.
3. Guenette J, Sheel A. Physiological consequences of a high work of breathing during heavy exercise in humans. Journal Of Science & Medicine In Sport. December 2007;10(6):341-350.
4. Hall G, Baker O. A BETTER WAY TO BREATHE. Triathlete. June 2012;(339):54.
5. Nelson N. Diaphragmatic Breathing's Influence on Core Stability and Neck Pain. IDEA Fitness Journal. March 2012;9(3):28-30.
6. Whipp B, Ward S. Determinants and control of breathing during muscular exercise. / Le controle de la respiration au cours de l ' exercice musculaire et ses determinants. British Journal Of Sports Medicine. September 1998;32(3):199-211.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Avoiding painful side stitches

Side stitches or exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP) is  not well studied, but it is thought to be caused by a lack of blood flow to the diaphragm which causes pain in the side or shoulder area.  While side stitches occur more frequently in people who are out of shape, most of us have experienced pain in our sides at one point or another.

One study found that although many people believed that age and fitness level to be the cause, neither seemed to be the case.  Instead, it was found that eating and/or drinking before exercise was a factor in getting a side stitch; food and drinks that were high in sugar or salt were more likely to cause problems.

So if a side stitch can happen to anyone, what do you do if it occurs during training or competition?
  1. Start by breathing deeply into your abdomen (belly breathing).
  2. Try pursing your lips when you breathe out to synchronize your breathing.
  3. If you are on the move (e.g. running, or roller blading) you can try to get your breathing to fall in line with your foot movement.
  4. Stretching may help to diminish the pain of a side stitch, raise one arm up in the air and lean to the opposite side of where your pain is.
  5. If the pain really won't go away, slow down for a bit (five minutes) and continue when you feel well enough to start again.
The best thing you can do to avoid side stitches is to watch what you eat or drink before you exercise.  It is recommended that you avoid high fat or heavy foods and to try having smaller amounts more frequently if you know you are going to be exercising heavily. 

References from the SIRC Collection: 

1. Clark N. Undesired Sideliners: Side Stitches and Runner's Trots. Running & Fitnews. July 2010;28(4):21-23.
2. Erith M. Stitch - exercise related transient abdominal pain. Coach. November 2003;(19):42-45.
3. Morton D, Aragón-Vargas L, Callister R. Effect of Ingested Fluid Composition on Exercise-related Transient Abdominal Pain. International Journal Of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism. April 2004;14(2):197-208.
4. Morton D, Callister R. Influence of posture and body type on the experience of exercise-related transient abdominal pain. Journal Of Science & Medicine In Sport. September 2010;13(5):485-488.
5. Muir B. Exercise related transient abdominal pain: a case report and review of the literature. Journal Of The Canadian Chiropractic Association. December 2009;53(4):251-260.
6. Welch D. `Oh, the pain!'. Shape. October 1995;15(2):23.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Talent Identification

SIRC Newsletter now available online: Talent Identification

The process of detecting, identifying, and selecting talent is an enormous and difficult challenge that has long been discussed by National Sport Organizations, coaches and sport science experts, among others. Currently, the majority of organizations have talent identification or talent emergence programs in place, with all of them having similar fundamental characteristics varying by sport. The challenges are that skills and aptitudes shown at a young age do not automatically translate into performance, talent is not always apparent by observation alone and that 'chance' can be a big factor in identifying athletes with the best potential for success.

Read More: http://www.sirc.ca/newsletters/mid-oct12/index.html

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Do I really need a personal coach?

  For experienced athletes who wish to reach higher levels of competition,  hiring a personal coach may be necessary for continued success.  Most people assume that since they've done it on their own so far, they can continue do so, but good coaches do more than just hold a stopwatch.

How do I find a coach?

Keep in mind that you're probably not going to find the perfect coach in your first Google search.  It can take weeks or months to find someone who compliments your training style.  Start by contacting your local clubs, many have individual or group training sessions that you can get for a reasonable price.  Ideally you should choose someone who has a few years of experience, a good knowledge of your sport, and is someone with whom you feel you can have a good coach-athlete relationship.

What are the benefits?

With the right coach, an athlete can get objective, honest feedback from someone who has a greater breadth of knowledge than they've got.  Coaches can help you improve form, construct an individualized training program, recommend cross-training activities, and advise you on nutrition and hydration during training or competitions. For most athletes who wish to compete at higher levels, coaches can also be the person to teach the athlete to listen to their bodies in determining when to ignore the pain and when it's essential for your body to rest. 

How much will it cost?

Many coaches will charge based on their experience or reputation, while other coaches will accommodate athletes on a budget.  Expect to spend between $100-150 a month for a coach although prices vary depending on the level of coaching you require.  Even for beginners, sometimes spending money on professional instruction is an added motivation to stick to their new training routines.  Online coaches come at a lower cost and may not be as effective as having someone in-person giving you feedback, but videotaping your training and posting it online can help the process as well.

With a little patience, determination and a variety of options in clubs, gyms and online, it shouldn't be hard to find the right coach to suit your needs.

References from the SIRC Collection: 

1. Cross K. Carving Out Your Coaching Niche. IDEA Trainer Success. June 2007;4(3):1.
2. Lena F. Characteristics of Self-focused, Task-focused, and Athlete-focused Coaches. ICHPER -- SD Journal. Fall2004 2004;40(4):11-15.
3. Mageau G, Vallerand R. The coach-athlete relationship: a motivational model. / La relation entraineur / athlete: un modele de motivation. Journal Of Sports Sciences. November 2003;21(11):883-904.
4. Manfre P, Titlebaum P. Performance Enhancement for Athletes: Hiring a Strength Coach Outside Of the College or Professional Setting. Applied Research In Coaching & Athletics Annual. 2005;20:181-189.
5. Wertheim L. What a racket: are personal coaches really necessary on tour? And if they are, why can't they coach when players need them most?. Sports Illustrated. January 31, 2005;102(4):78.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reflecting on Night Safety

The days are getting shorter, which means that any outdoor workouts done before or after work will probably be done in the dark.  For the next few months it's important to take some time to make sure you are prepped to ensure your safety when training at night.

Remember to:

Dress to be seen - The biggest difference between exercising at night versus during the day is visibility.  This is an excellent occasion to go a little overboard; wear tons of reflective gear and blinking lights.  Reflective strips on your arms and legs are more effective because drivers are more likely to see the light in motion.

Light up your path - Invest in a head lamp and/or flashlight in order to see the ground in front of you.  Depending on your path, you may need to avoid, litter, potholes, branches and fences.

Recruit a friend - There is safety in numbers, it not only increases your visibility, it may deter potential attackers. If you are out alone, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.

Bring a small safety kit - Bring a cell phone, your ID, some money and a credit card.  Waist packs can be good for this since they are designed to stay in place without bouncing.

Dress for the weather - Layering and hydration are very important when the cold weather hits.  Try to avoid cotton since it will just absorb your sweat and make you damp and cold, instead, stay dry with technical wicking fabrics.

Bring your sense of adventure - If you're feeling bored with your regular training routine, exercising at night can add some fun.

Although there is no guarantee when it comes to safety (sometimes drivers just don't see you) if you dress appropriately and pay attention to your surroundings you can minimize the risk when exercising in the dark.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Battling the elements: dark. Cycling Weekly. October 28, 2010;:54-55.
2. Be smart: a guide to running safely. Running Times. October 2003;(310):28-30.
3. CHASE A. TRAIL RUNNING AT NIGHT: BASIC TIPS. Running Times. October 2010;(380):38.
4. Dudney G. BEGINNER'S CORNER. Ultrarunning. May 2010;30(1):24.
5. MIONSKE B. BRIGHTEN UP. Bicycling. December 2010;51(11):34.
6. Welch D. Street smarts after dark. Shape. November 1993;13(3):30.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Can Omega-3 fats aid performance?

Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat found naturally in fish oils, which have long been thought to be good for general health.  There are claims that it improves everything from brain function, to cardiovascular health, but does it give athletes an edge?

A recent study found that Omega-3 fatty acids may increase physical conditioning by improving the efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system.  Basically, if you supplement your diet with fish oils it can help your heart, lungs and arteries to function better, which means that athletic performance can be improved.

Omega-3 fatty acids:
  • may help to reduce inflammation
  • lower heart rates while performing at high levels
  • decrease blood pressure
  • increase blood flow
Participants in the study had significantly reduced heart rates as well as a lowered steady-state submaximal heart rate and oxygen consumption; this means that the athletes taking fish oils had a lower heart rate during exercise.  Experts believe that this is because the fish oils enable the cardiorespiratory system to work more efficiently and deliver oxygen around the body better.

Supplementing your diet with fish oils may help performance but it is generally a good idea to get your nutrients from food.  Mackerel, salmon, trout, herring, sardines and pilchards are particularly good sources. Although these studies seem promising, more is not necessarily better so make sure to do your research and talk to your doctor before supplementing your diet with fish oils.

References from the SIRC Collection: 

1.Brown K. The Manipulated Food Chain: You Are What You Eat, Eats. NSCA's Performance Training Journal. November 2010;9(6):6-7.
2. Cox G. Omega-3 fatty acids : are they important in your diet?. Run For Your Life: R4YL. April 2008;(17):28-30.
3. Omega-3s might enhance the effects of strength training. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. April 2012;30(2):5.
4. Pase M. Fats are your friends: learning the value of omega-3 fats. Running Times. April 2002;(295):12.
5. Seebohar B. PERFORMANCE BENEFITS OF OMEGA-3 FATS. Triathlon Life. Spring2009 2009;12(2):44.
6. Wein D, Riley C. Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Inflammation, and Recovery in Athletes. NSCA's Performance Training Journal. April 2012;11(2):8-9.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Exercise is a brain booster!

One of the most interesting findings in the last few decades is that the increased oxygen that the brain gets while exercising is almost always accompanied by an upswing in mental sharpness. While this has often been associated with older exercisers, don't dismiss this for all exercisers in general.  Recent studies have shown that students who exercise regularly show increased levels of concentration, quicker reflexes and an improved ability to multi-task.

The brain is an amazing organ that consists of over 100 billion nerve cells that communicate with the assistance of hundreds of different chemicals that work together to create that "feel good" feeling after exercise.

Positive effects of exercise include:
  • mood boosting
  • natural antidepressant
  • augments memory and learning
  • increases brain density
  • stimulates growth of cerebral blood vessels
  • enhances communication between synopses
It is interesting to note that these studies determined that the intensity of the exercise mattered less than the frequency.  It was found that you don't even have to go for long periods of time, any amount of movement creates a positive response within the brain.  Basically, you can break up the time you spend exercising as long as you get out and move your body.

There’s plenty of evidence that suggest that regular aerobic exercise also helps the brain by reducing stress and anxiety and decreases the chance of  diabetes and cognitive decline.

The positive effects of regular exercise with young adults and brain function is just beginning to be understood; however, there is evidence suggesting a significant relationship between physical activity and increased cognitive function through to adulthood.  This means that no matter how smart you are, your brain gets better with physical activity. 

References from the SIRC Collection: 

1. Carpentier J. Keys to Enhance Brainpower. American Fitness. May 2010;28(3):62-63.
2. Fernández Á. Healthy brain aging: why we need to retool 'Use it or lose it'. Journal On Active Aging. July 2009;8(4):40-43.
3. Kleim J. Exercise and the Brain: Exciting discoveries underscore how exercise benefits brain health and boosts lifelong learning. IDEA Fitness Journal.March 2011;8(3):74-76. 
4. Kravitz L. Exercise and the Brain: It Will Make You Want to Work Out. IDEA Fitness Journal. February 2010;7(2):18-19.
5. Lifelong Aerobic Training Preserves Brain Health. IDEA Fitness Journal. October 2011;8(9):74.
6. Study Finds Exercise Improves Thinking. Parks & Recreation. December 2007;42(12):18.
7. Roy B. Exercise and the Brain: More Reasons to Keep Moving. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. September 2012;16(5):3.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


SIRC Newsletter now available online: Volunteerism

Volunteerism is considered the backbone of Canada's sport and recreation system. Currently, Canada has over 6.5 million volunteers with 35% of those being involved in sport. Sport volunteers encompass people from all walks of life, from active and retired athletes, coaches and officials to professionals, parents and youth (and more) who want to help out in their community. Volunteers are the key to making sport possible for the physical, social and emotional development of children and adults, so it's important that we recognize and value their contributions to the sport community.

Read more: http://www.sirc.ca/newsletters/october12/index.html

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Food for the traveling athlete

As an athlete, there is a good chance that you will be traveling to competitions at some point in your career.  Wherever you are, a change in your schedule, environment or even time zone can significantly disrupt an athlete's routine, especially diet.  Sometimes when you're tired and hungry it can feel easier to just grab-and-go but it's important to remember that making good food choices on the road can have a profound affect on your performance on and off the field.

While some athletes may not be sensitive to changes in their schedule, others can be exceptionally sensitive and a change in their usual food habits can result in sudden weight gains or losses, constipation, fatigue/energy and dehydration.

What can you do?
  1. Research food availablity - Will there be supermarkets nearby? Is there cooking equipment available?  Once you have an idea of what's in the neighbourhood you'll be able to decide on what to stock up on when you arrive.
  2. Stay hydrated - This is especially important if you are traveling by plane.  Take a water bottle everywhere you go so it's easily accessible; the body needs 2-3 litres of water a day, more if you are training heavily. Also be aware of any water safety issues, and bring bottled water as necessary.
  3. Take food with you - Keep some protein bars, breakfast cereal, and various snacks in your pack so that no matter where you are, you will always have something nutritious to eat.  
  4. Take a multivitamin - These can be used when your nutritional intake may not be adequate and will ensure you get the minimum level of vitamins and minerals.
  5. Know what to do if you get an upset stomach - This is always a risk when traveling internationally, especially when our bodies get introduced to new food, water and time zones.  If you do feel ill, it's important to keep eating simple carbohydrates, like toast, bread, rice or crackers.  Avoid dairy and alcohol as these can make an  upset stomach worse.  Once again, stay hydrated.
Ensuring that you eat right on the road may require some planning but with some forethought and the ready availability of family style restaurants and supermarkets, an athlete should be able to stick to their training diet without too much hassle.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Burrell S. Eating right on the road. Australian Tennis Magazine: Asia & The Pacific. September 2012;37(9):49.
2. Cort M. Travel Nutrition Strategies. Modern Athlete & Coach. April 2007;45(2):15-16.  
3. Korzun A. Travel nutrition…more than just a "Plan B". Olympic Coach. Summer2008 2008;20(3):19.
4. Reilly T, Waterhouse J, Burke L, Alonso J. Nutrition for travel. Journal Of Sports Sciences. December 2, 2007;25:125-134.
5. Skolnik H. Sport nutrition in a fast-food society: eating on the road. Athletic Therapy Today. November 1999;4(6):22-26.
6. Yrjovuori M. Taking It on the Road. Volleyball. October 2009;20(10):21-22.