More is not Always Better
I am often reminded of a poster that was on the wall of my grade school classroom. It was an illustration of two hippopotamuses sitting in a small boat with a third hippo falling out of the sky about to land in the boat. The caption below was “More is not always better.”
A young, female, long distance runner came in to see me because she was complaining about lower leg and lower back pain. The pain had progressed over the course of her competitive season. She was receiving a mixed bag of advice. Her coach was strongly encouraging her to run through the pain in the hopes of it working itself out. Her parents were encouraging her to go easy or take a break from running in the hopes of alleviating the pain. She was feeling pressure from her teammates and coach to keep her weekly mileage up as if pain was just part of the process of being a high level runner.
Although I have received my certification as a USA Track & Field Coach, it has been many years since I coached at the track. These days I mostly attempt to be a pattern disrupter. We all have patterns in our life. The way we walk or talk or go about our normal day all have patterns. These patterns can be quite positive but what if they are not? What if you are a long distance runner and the way you run is causing areas of the body to overwork to compensate other areas not working hard enough? What if that compensatory motion is performed for thousands of repetitions every time you practice? Will running more take care of the problem? Will it help create a positive outcome of pain-free competition?
In this situation disrupting her pattern was something to explore. She had already tried to run through the pain and that did not work. What she was doing and the amount she was running needed to be disrupted. We discovered some areas that were not participating, areas of restriction. We gave them an experience or opportunity to join the party, and things instantly felt better. These movements became her homework. I also asked her to go play for a week and a half. Go do anything she wanted to do except run. Go for a bike ride, surf, swim, anything but run.
This athlete was at the end of her season and she had a big track meet coming up in a few weeks. The coach had her running the same volume as any other time during the season; but this was the post-season. This is the time when all of your hard work through the season gets you to the championships (regional, state, national, etc.). Having her maintain a high volume of running this close to the post-season is like having NFL players, about to play in the Super Bowl, practice like they were in the first week of summer camp. It is not a wise thing to do. Ask any NFL strength coach and they will tell you they back off of intensity when they hit the playoffs.
Unfortunately the running coach holds on to an archaic thought process. It was probably what he was taught and he has carried the torch on to today. Most coaches only know what they know and when it comes to strength & conditioning they default to how they were coached. The real good coaches are those who break away from how they were coached and become inquisitive. They go outside of their experience to learn more. Just food for thought.