Step 1: Tune Up

Before you build your base, make sure all your parts are working

Feb 18, 2009
Outside Magazine
Field Test: Lactate Threshold

Program a heart-rate monitor to log one-minute intervals, then warm up and push yourself at your fastest sustainable pace for a 30-minute run or bike ride. (For the latter, it's best to find a route without any downhill sections.) You want even power output: If you're surging and backing off, scrap the test and try again another day. When you're done, average the results from the last 20 minutes of the test. That heart rate is a rough measure of your lactate threshold–the upper limit of sustained aerobic performance. With smart, structured workouts that target= that number, you'll eventually be able to go faster and longer before hitting your LT heart rate.

Everything is connected. As you sit, your hip flexors try to pull your knees to your chest, causing your back to curve forward. When your calves are stiff, the stress shifts to your foot or your knee. If the quads can't move fluidly, they lock up the pelvis, which in turn yanks on the IT band—the tendon running down the side of your thigh—and eventually you feel the pain in the knee. To compensate, your other leg works harder and the twists and knots and shock waves propagate, sending stress to the lower back, neck, pinkie toe …

"It's called tensegrity," says Cramblett. "Think of the body as an interconnected chain. Every link transfers stress up the chain. When your foot hits the ground while you're running, the ankle takes an impact equivalent to at least three times your body weight. If you couldn't absorb and transfer that energy, your ankle would shatter. The average American sits way too much, weakening the chain."

Before you resume your base training, you need to get in sync. But you may want help. "If you're very recreational, then you're probably OK without a visit to a physical therapist, as long as you don't have any pain," says Cramblett. "But if you're pushing into max and even sub-max levels chasing a goal, then a PT check might help you avoid an injury that could cost you a lot of money and time."

This article isn't a substitute for such a personalized once-over, but since it's March and most of us work at desks and watch too much TV, we have commonalities. Here, Cramblett offers some tips for eliminating weak links from your chain. Do these at least three times per week.

THE GLITCH: Your desk job has gummed up your glutes and locked your hips like John McCain at a rave.

THE FIX: Dynamic stretching and soft-tissue mobilization. "If you can see a massage therapist or PT for an initial pass, do it," says Cramblett. Then buy one of those $20 foam rollers and use your body weight to loosen your hip, IT band, quads, and glutes. You can do this cold.

THE GLITCH: Tight calves cause foot numbness and tingling in ski boots and bike cleats and Achilles tendinitis for runners. "If the calf is tight, the ankle can't flex enough, and the foot takes more force," says Cramblett.

THE FIX: Invest in a simple marvel known as the Stick. It's a glorified rolling pin with plastic rollers instead of wood, but as a calf massager it's unmatched. $30;

THE GLITCH: Desks, chairlifts, and bikes force our spines out of their natural arch. "You lose your lumbar extension," says Cramblett. "You end up holding up your head with your neck instead of your core."

THE FIX: Roll your spine back and forth over an exercise ball. Use your legs to drive the motion.

THE GLITCH: Desks, cars, and couches have bunched up your hamstrings.

THE FIX: Those squishy balls office workers squeeze to pump their forearms work wonders on your hamstrings. While seated, place a ball under your hamstrings and self-massage with your body weight.

Filed To: Flexibility