Minimalist running gear test, part 3: Merrell True Glove on a trail run

Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain. (Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area photo)

The key to any gear test is to eventually put it through the roughest conditions it might face. Taking a pair of running shoes on the pavement or on mild trails is one way to go about it, but the conditions don’t get any rougher for shoes than a place littered with loose stones, slick spots, protruding tree roots and jutting rocks.

Mix that in with a long series of vertical gains and losses, and you get the drift: The runner will be tested, but so will his or her shoes.

That’s what I set out to do when I took a pair of Merrell True Glove minimalist running shoes for a final test – a 4.5-mile trail run at Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness.

Turkey Mountain is a multi-purpose site for hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and trail runners. The city’s park system does a good job maintaining Turkey Mountain’s trails, but they do so while preserving its rugged nature. The trails make for an easygoing hike, but once you add some speed via the run or in the saddle of a bike, then things change dramatically.

In the past, I’d looked at most trail running shoes as unequal to the task of handling Turkey Mountain for long. I’d even tested a pair of lightweight Merrell hikers with the idea of seeing if their more robust construction might make them an appealing alternative to traditional trail runners. (You can read that review here.)

So what in the world was I doing bringing minimalist shoes to a place like this? Isn’t that akin to bringing a knife to a gunfight?

If you look at the shoe, the first-impression answer to that question would be “yes.” But you never know until you try, and taking gear to its limits will give you a good idea of how good it is.

A section of Turkey Mountain’s trails. (Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area photo)

The track

Turkey Mountain is actually a long, wooded ridge on the west bank of the Arkansas River. The hills and ridges around Tulsa are actually the westernmost extension of the bigger, higher mountains of the Ozarks in Arkansas. The city set aside Turkey Mountain as an outdoor recreation site with as few man-made embellishments as possible.

Many trails I’ve run are relatively smooth, gravel paths with gradual inclines. Most have had tripping hazards removed. Not so at Turkey Mountain. Its growing reputation as a rugged single-track biker’s haven is also what makes it such a fun trail run.

You will trip on stuff. You will have to jump over things. You will blow your legs out running to the ridge’s summit, and you will be just slightly out of control going downhill. When it’s over, you will have had a seriously thorough workout. It’s the site of many trail run and bike races, and was last year’s Oklahoma venue for the Warrior Dash.

The ridge has four basic trail systems, plus a more extensive network of side trails that go for miles. I chose to do the Yellow Trail, which goes up to the ridge top, goes north to the ridge’s end, then back south on the ridge’s east side. It’s 4.5 miles with steep inclines to start, a long straight stretch in the middle, and the last half being a series of climbs and drops that will just sap you.

Merrell True Glove minimalist running shoes.

The shoe

As in my first and second tests, the shoe is the Merrell True Glove. It’s a minimalist shoe with spare construction, but it’s been given a Vibram sole. Vibram is famous for its five-finger shoes, but well before that, it’s been known for some killer soles on hiking boots for a variety of manufacturers.

The first test went well, but without socks, blisters were the result. For the second test, I snagged a pair of Adidas Climacool runners’ socks. I went just 2 miles, but got a good workout nonetheless. And no blisters.

Both times, the shoe forced me to conform to the minimalist running style of shorter, quicker footsteps (about 180 steps per minute, less than the 120 per minute for most runners), mid-foot striking and a more upright posture. Both tests were on pavement – the first on a flat track, the second on a hillier, but still manageable route.

The test

This one would feel much different than the previous two tests, and for obvious reasons. Running on pavement, you are allowed to set breathing patterns and rhythms. You can do this in spurts on trail runs, but the nature of this trail didn’t allow it very often.

That also meant the barefoot/minimalist stride would also be more sporadic. When you’re scrambling up a gully filled with jutting rocks and tree roots, everything goes out the window.

On the flatter sections, running form takes over until the next climb or descent. I also found that many times, my strides would be even choppier than the normal minimalist gait, mostly because of obstacles on the path.

That didn’t stop me from tripping when I wasn’t paying attention or when I got tired. Hey, it happens. Trail run for any length of time and you’re going to bite it.

But how would the shoe hold up to kicking hard objects? How would my feet feel after 45 minutes of stepping on stones and stumps? Would the spare tread grip the trail on steep downhills, particularly on bare rock?

Lots of questions. The answers are mostly good.

Yes, if you kick something or step on something in minimalist shoes, you will feel it more. But nothing happened that forced me off the trail with pain or an injury, and the shoe held up.

Like road running in minimalists, your legs will work harder. Without the spring of more cushioned soles, your legs absorb more shock while also pushing harder to propel you forward.

As in previous tests, my legs grew more tired, especially my calves. But already, I’m noticing differences in the muscularity in my legs. All that extra work is developing a strong base.

There was also some foot fatigue, but not nearly as much as I would have expected on a minimalist run for 4.5 miles.

I also found that she shoe did well in keeping traction on the trail, even in the more troublesome spots. Its light weight made it easier to be nimble when there was cause for quick footwork. But I also had to be a little more conscious of where I put my feet. What I might crash through in thicker soles would not be a good idea here.

The bottom line: I suffered no ill physical effects (blisters also avoided again!) and the shoe weathered the conditions well.

Conclusions

Minimalist shoes aren’t going to be for everyone. But what I can tell you a few things from the three tests I did.

First, the shoe will change your form, and if you conform, you will save your joints and back a lot of grief. Heel striking will be prohibitively awkward and uncomfortable. So the shorter, quicker steps will feel more natural. The change will mess with your breathing cadence, but chances are you will adjust in time.

Second, you will reap conditioning benefits. The lack of cushion will make your legs and core work harder, and that will make you stronger. What runner or other athlete doesn’t want that? Just be sure to monitor your feet, ease into it and back off if you feel pain in your feet that goes beyond mere soreness.

Third, this particular shoe is good to go on any surface. Outside of bushwhacking off-trail, I pretty much tested them on every running surface available to me. The results were all similar: Because you can feel more of the ground, you will be forced to run lighter on your feet. I felt a lot more on the trail run, but that would be true with any shoe.

One thing I’d like to see: Minimalist shoes are pretty spare when it comes to material and construction, so I’m not sure their price should be as high as traditional running shoes. I bought mine on sale for $80, but I’ve seen some shoes from Merrell and other manufacturers run as high as $130. Given the design of these shoes, I have to think there’s a pretty big mark-up here.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Colorado hiking and climbing: A primer on bagging your first 14er

The seasons are all pointing to summer, which is the highest point of the year for hiking and climbing in the high country. I’ve been pretty busy thinking about what I’d like to accomplish in the Rockies this summer, which also turned my thoughts toward others who will do the same.

This is especially true for those who have looked upon Colorado’s highest peaks – the 14ers – and dreamed about one day standing atop one of their summits.

As we close in on summer, I’m going to post some things about how you can go from being a flatlands denizen to a 14er summiteer.

The first of these posts is this one. I actually wrote this for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City’s daily newspaper. This has been updated, and it’s still filled with relevant information that will help you bag that summit.

***

Standing at the trailhead in the middle of a pine grove, you look at the path in front of you and the summit towering thousands of feet above.

It’s not Mount Everest, Denali or Rainier, but it’s just daunting enough to give you the challenge you’re looking for — bagging one of Colorado’s famed 14ers, those peaks whose summits rise to more than 14,000 feet.

But before you strap on your pack and dream about all those awesome photos you’re going to take from the top, there’s a few things you need to heed.

“What people really need to know is that the ‘be prepared’ mantra cannot be overemphasized,” said Jessica Evett, executive director of the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District who has managed volunteer efforts for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a Colorado-based conservation group.

“Climbing at 14,000 feet, if you’re from sea level, is really going to do a number on you.”

Nevertheless, the popularity of climbing the 14ers has risen dramatically. The numbers of climbers on Colorado’s peaks are rising 10 percent a year. Longs Peak, a popular Front Range destination, gets more than 30,000 climbers a year, Evett said.

“They (the 14ers) have a lot of name recognition in the state and out of the state,” she said. “People like the inherent sense of challenge. It’s become the hot thing to do.”

Though these mountains are frequently hiked and climbed, they’re not part of an amusement park. Wild places weren’t designed by lawyers and safety engineers, and nature doesn’t much care about your personal well-being.

Take care of yourself

You need to have enough food and water to last the trip, Evett said. Water is especially important, as the dry, thin air and exertion of even the mildest of 14er trails quickly saps the body of moisture. Dehydration can lead to altitude sickness.

A first-aid kit and proper attire is a must. Moisture-wicking clothes, decent rain gear and solid footwear are advised. Pack the sunscreen and sunglasses and leave cotton clothes at home. (See the hiking/backpacking “10 essentials” here.)

And watch the weather. Summer afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence, and late summer/early fall snows aren’t uncommon. No summit experience is worth being hit by lightning or getting caught in a freak high-altitude snowstorm.

Be sure to let people know where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Even on the “beginner peaks,” bad things can happen, Evett said.

“Stuff happens on the Front Range peaks all the time,” she said. “It could be rolling an ankle at the summit. How are you going to get down?

“Being prepared is about minimizing risk. If you call out on your cell phone, it’s not like someone is going to be right there to pick you up.”

Take care of the peak

The ecosystems of high country are fragile. The higher you go, the more delicate they become, Evett said.

Pack out any trash. If you don’t need a camp fire, don’t make one. Don’t pick flowers, especially in high altitude areas, where any environmental damage can take decades to repair. And stay on the trail.

Evett also advised caution with dogs. If you bring your dog, keep it on a leash. Dogs love to chase wildlife. But animals living in the mountains use the summer to fatten up for the harsh winter months. The energy needed to escape your playful pup could be the difference between life and death for a marmot or mountain goat in the months that follow.

Do your homework

Doing a little research on the mountain you plan to conquer is a smart thing. If you’ve never climbed, look for one of the many “walk-up” peaks that don’t require climbing skills. There are numerous print, online and smart phone app resources that have trail maps, gear lists and safety tips.

One last word, this one coming from veteran mountaineer Bill Middlebrook via his Web site, 14ers.com:

“Mountaineering in Colorado can be very dangerous,” he says. “Many people have died on the 14ers. Weather, terrain and other people can put you in a situation where your knowledge and experience will be vital.

“Just because a crowd of people can march to the summit of Quandary Peak on a summer Saturday, it doesn’t mean that they are all safe. Altitude sickness, dehydration and fast-building storms are the most common problems. Get in shape and start early for each trip. I can’t tell you how many times I have been half way down a 14er and passed hikers that were determined to get to the summit — even with huge thunderclouds brewing above.”

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Merrell True Glove test, Part 2: Minimalist running and a few adjustments

Merrell True Glove minimalist running shoes.

Not too long ago, I tried minimalist running for the first time. This has been a growing trend in the running world, with proponents touting benefits such as improved form, greater strength and conditioning, and injury prevention.

There is also an admonition: Ease into it.

In my experiment, I chose a pair of Merrell True Glove shoes. Minimalist shoes are the closest thing you can get to barefoot, so it makes sense to try minimalist shoes before going all in with barefoot.

(Note: I’m reviewing products here that I bought on my own; manufacturers did not participate in this review)

My first go at it was fruitful: 2.4 miles on a flat, paved track. I went without socks and found that I transitioned pretty well and got in a groove. When I finished, my legs felt like they were worked more than they would be in traditional shoes. I also had some blisters from hot spots the developed. On the bright side, the zero-drop of the sole seems to have solved a nagging issue with me—sore Achilles tendons.

Round two included some adjustments. I was told my stride was off, so I did some research on that. I also opted for some blister prevention – a pair of Climacool fabric socks from Adidas. Lastly, I was told I may have gone a little too far for a first attempt at minimalist running.

For my next route, I chose a shorter run – 2 miles – in a somewhat hillier, paved area.

A side-by-side comparison of my traditional Asics Gel running shoes with the Merrell True Glove minimalist shoe. The Asics are light, but the size difference is noticeable.

The test

Immediately, I noticed that the shoes forced me to adjust my stride. I usually lope a little bit, which means wasted energy bobbing up and down. Springy, cushioned shoes enable this bad habit. The utter lack of cushion on the Merrells stripped that away. I found myself conforming to the mid-foot strike, level, 180-steps-per-minute stride that is recommended for minimalist and barefoot running. (By comparison, most people heel-strike, running with longer strides, more bounce and at a pace of 120 steps per minute.)

Again, I felt the extra work my legs had to do. And the faster cadence meant my breathing had to be adjusted. The bad news is this means I’m working harder, thus affecting how far and how long I can go.

Hill climbing is also harder, as I wasn’t aided by the spring of my old shoes. My legs and feet were forced to do all the work.

The good news is that the amount of work I’m doing per minute means I’m getting more bang for my buck in the workout. In the short term, my “stats” will suffer, as in, fewer miles per run and slower times. But in the long run, I’ll be much stronger and ultimately, more fit.

I like that long-term prognosis.

Another thing to note: Even though I was wearing shoes, this particular model let me feel the contours of the ground. Every pebble, crack and any other anomaly on the ground I stepped on was felt by my feet. In normal running shoes, this might not be the case, or at least minimized greatly.

Another view. Here you can clearly see how the zero-drop of the Merrells make a significant difference not only in the shoes' profiles, but also in foot position for the runner.

After-effects

Once the run was over, I experienced the same leg sensations as I did the first time – greater leg soreness (particularly in my calves) and fatigue in my feet. Two miles in minimalist shoes at a moderate pace felt like a 5K.

But the sock strategy worked – no blisters. And the socks might also prevent the inevitable downside of minimalist running without socks – shoe odor. Even with special fabrics designed to combat odor, over time it will build up. No thanks to that. Purists in the barefoot/minimalist world might blanche at this, but my thinking is you should go with what works for you.

Lastly, back to the Achilles heel issues. This is what is stopping me from adding miles, and it’s a problem in my other shoes. Like my first minimalist run, I was pleased to have no Achilles soreness despite the extra work my calves were recruited to do.

My first minimalist run was a success with setbacks. My second – which included conforming to the barefoot/minimalist form – was also a success, but without the setbacks.

So far, so good. I’m starting to believe. But the test isn’t over.

Next time, I’ll take the uber-light Merrells out for a trail run on one of the more rugged tracks around: Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness.

Stay tuned.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Fallen London Marathon runner Claire Squires was raising money for charity

An update from my last post on the London Marathon runner who died during the race…

Her name was Claire Squires, a 30-year-old UK citizen who died within a mile of the finish line this weekend.

Although it’s not known specifically what caused her death, some interesting details about her have emerged. Squires was running the marathon to raise money for a charity called Samaritans, which focuses on suicide prevention. After her death — and as news of the cause she was supporting spread — donations flooded into the charity to the tune of more than a million dollars.

By all appearances, she was fit. In 2010, she raised money for another charity by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.

Squires is the 11th person to die in the London Marathon since its 1981 inception.

To read a full report on this story, go to this link.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Running and exploring the streets of Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Capitol. It's a stately place, even when the things going on inside frustrate us so much.

If you’ve read this blog much, you know that I’m a big proponent of exploring communities on foot. And if you can do it while getting some exercise, so much the better.

I like running in parks and on trails, but most of my runs take place on city streets. This is how I’ve gotten to know my neighborhood, a place where I’ve lived for less than a year but know pretty well by now.

Recently, I was in Washington, D.C., on business. I’d lived there over one summer back in college – a pretty long time ago. Being there for four days gave me a chance to get reacquainted with the nation’s capital.

I was there for work, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have time to go on foot and do a little exploring. Some thoughts…

Washington, especially downtown, is a very pedestrian-friendly city. Crosswalks are wide, and the traffic lights give you time to cross. I walked more in that city than I have since my last hiking trip. Plenty of people who work and live there also take off on foot rather than fight the traffic.

People in D.C. run a lot. And at all times of the day. Early in the morning, mid-day, even late at night – I saw people outside running the streets. Washington is hillier than you might guess, meaning that you can create some challenging routes. It was encouraging to me, as every time I passed by someone out on a run I wanted to get back to the hotel, change, and then go out and join them.

The city has changed a lot since I was last there. 9/11 changed D.C. significantly. Streets that once carried car traffic near the White House are closed. Traffic police around the Capitol carry assault rifles. And there are TONS of cops. The city has always had a significant police presence, but it’s grown much heavier over the last 11 years.

The Lincoln Memorial. America's shrine to one of its greatest leaders.

And the growth of government following 9/11 – yes, the acceleration of government growth can be pegged on that event – has meant that the city and its surrounding communities have grown along with it. Dozens of tower cranes rise into the sky downtown and all the way out to the suburbs. Old buildings dating back to the city’s early days are far outnumbered by new construction that has occurred over the past decade.

I only got to run once while I was there. Too busy to get out much. But I saw a lot.

On a cool, overcast morning, I took off, leaving behind the shining offices of the K Street lobbying firms to the White House. Tourists, office workers, lawyers and protesters shared space around the presidential mansion. And yes, the Occupy protesters are still here, planting stakes in a small green space just a couple of blocks away from the White House. One anti-nuke protester has his tent and signs across the street from it.

From there, I turned toward D.C.’s tallest structure – the Washington Monument. I couldn’t see evidence of damage from last year’s earthquake there, but I was amazed at the inspectors who rappelled from its crown to examine it.

Back in the day, the lawn around the monument would often be occupied by people playing softball in the summer. I wonder, if in this post-9/11 environment, if that still happens.

The Mall itself is changing, as the reflecting pool has been emptied for reconstruction. So it’s not as scenic as it used to be. I’m sure when it’s done it will be scenic once again.

I then turned and set my sights on the Lincoln Memorial. The building and its statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln has to be the stateliest thing I’ve ever seen, fitting for the man who many see as the country’s greatest leader. But before getting there, I was able to run past and around the World War II Memorial. It’s an awesome, dignified and fitting tribute for what was arguably our nation’s biggest struggle. If you haven’t seen it, put it on your list.

Sometimes this is what the First Amendment looks like in Washington.

My trip back included passing the moving starkness of the Vietnam Memorial (you can’t help trying to be reverent when you’re in its presence), back up Constitution Avenue and eventually to the hotel.

Given more time, I’d like to run much more of this city. There are some amazing sections that house embassies and cool neighborhoods, none of which I got to see for very long.

More than anything, though, this reaffirmed my belief that running is an excellent way to explore a community. I first discovered this in tiny Tecumseh, Okla., and I still find that the thrill of seeing a town or city on foot never gets old.

Do you have a city where you like to run? Tell me about it and what it is about that city that makes it such a great place to run and explore.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

People are awesome video: Folks doing amazing things

For your weekend viewing pleasure, I give you this video. Slacklining, BASE jumping, freestyle skiing, and just about anything else you can imagine, done at the edge of human performance. Enjoy.

Bear Grylls’ ‘Masters of Movement’ video draws ire of climbers

Sometimes a guy can’t catch a break.

Bear Grylls recently was the subject of a video sponsored by Degree antiperspirant and plugged by Outside magazine titled “Masters of Movement.”

You can see the video here:

As you can see, the video shows Grylls, star of Discovery’s “Man vs Wild” (now cancelled), dressed for the part with a climbing pack, some chalk, a rather short rope and a minimal trad rack. He runs and jumps athletically through the Utah desert before scaling a sheer stone tower in what looks to be a pretty challenging crack climb (and WAY above my pay grade).

It’s compelling filmmaking, but he’s getting ripped by an already skepitcal climbing community.

Grylls has long been criticized for  overdramatizing his outdoor exploits, even staging some scenes in what many viewers once assumed was real-life action, out in the wilderness. (After it was revealed that many scenes were staged and that Grylls and crew sometimes stayed in hotels during filming, disclaimers were shown before subsequent episodes.)

Now he’s getting ripped for his participation in this video.

You can see some of that in this thread from 14ers.com.

It seems to me that Grylls has enough of an outdoor resume as a mountaineer and skydiver that he could easily film something real and dramatic that is also within his skill set. So it’s easy to be puzzled at the concept of this video, which was obviously a work of cinema and not a filmed depiction of an actual climb.

They could have shown him doing a normal approach hike.

They could have shown him climbing in actual climbing shoes, with a trad rack and ropes that are up to the task, and doing so on a rock formation where he could actually solo the thing, set his own pro and not have the obvious top rope going on.

I’m not going to bust on Grylls for the same transgressions everyone else is harping on. I’ll leave that to the people whose climbing credentials exceed mine. I think the primary fault is with the filmmakers for the entire idea, a botched attempt to make an exciting outdoorsy video. As for Grylls, he probably should have seen through it and suggested some serious changes. The fact that he went along with it might be viewed as a case of bad judgment, something we’ve seen before on the program that gave him his fame.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Hiking and fitness, Part 3: Training to go big with yoga

I am all too willing to share this space by people who know what they are talking about, and that is what we have here. The following is a guest post by Dave Creech, a successful business owner and entrepreneur based in Phoenix, Ariz. David shares his personal story and lifelong passion for travel and rugged outdoor adventure through his blog at WildernessDave.com. David’s continued focus on his own health and fitness has led him to develop a series of articles aimed at introducing Yoga to hikers and backpackers as a path to staying fit, healthy and injury free.

Follow David on Twitter @DavidCreech or Like Wilderness Dave on Facebook.

Any of us who have been out on the trail for more than a few days understand that backpacking is an endurance sport.  Whatever your reasons for being out there, whatever your mindset or perspective regarding the activity, your body understands backpacking as an endurance activity.  Most backpackers, and trainers who work with backpackers, focus on 5 primary fitness aspects: aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, upper body strength, lower body strength and flexibility.  In his previous posts, “Going Big Part 1 and Part 2,” Bob has focused on cardio training and weight training as it relates to hiking and backpacking…but I want to talk about the benefits of Yoga.

Yoga Breathing and Aerobic/Anaerobic Endurance

Aerobic exercise is typically lower intensity, higher endurance type work and uses available oxygen in the bloodstream as fuel.  Anaerobic exercise is higher-intensity, but significantly shorter bursts of activity usually recruiting much more overall muscle fiber and feeds primarily on glucose (and glycogen reserves).  Both aerobic and anaerobic endurance rely on the body’s ability to access fuel (oxygen and glycogen) more effectively and to use the fuel more efficiently.

Controlled, focused, mindful breathing is an integral part of any Yoga practice.  Yogic breathing teaches us to control our breathing throughout the physical exertion of holding and transitioning between postures.  With regular practice it opens the lungs, chest and diaphragm and deepens our breathing capacity.  In a study of the cardiopulmonary effects of Yoga published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2002, it was reported that,

“The intense stretching and muscle conditioning associated with attaining and holding yoga postures increases skeletal muscle oxidative capacity and decreases glycogen utilization.”

The reason behind this increased efficiency was described here, “The slow breathing rates associated with yoga breathing have been shown to substantially reduce chemoreflex response to hypoxia, probably through the improved oxygen delivery to tissues…” and “The slow increase in lung capacity associated with well-practiced yoga breathing recruits normally unventilated lung and helps to match ventilation to perfusion better, thereby increasing oxygen delivery to highly metabolic tissues (e.g., muscle).”

The findings in these studies (referenced below) show that regular Yoga practice, when combined with proper Yogic breathing techniques, increases lung capacity and muscle efficiency.  Allowing your body to not only store and deliver greater amounts of oxygen to the blood stream through more controlled and deliberate breathing, but also reduce the amount of glycogen your body needs in anaerobic metabolism.  In short, Yoga breathing adds fuel to the fire and your fire burns less fuel.

From her article, “Going the Distance,” published at YogaJournal.com: Nancy Coulter-Parker says,

“The greater your aerobic and anaerobic endurance, the better able you are to sustain exercise for a prolonged period of time. Improving your endurance can make your cardiovascular and respiratory systems more efficient and decrease both your resting heart rate and stress levels… one of the keys to endurance is to better utilize your oxygen intake.”

Clayton Horton, director of Greenpath Yoga Studio in San Francisco and a former triathlete and competitive swimmer suggests,

“Being conscious of the breath allows our body to breathe better.  Conscious breath teaches you to pay attention to the quality of your breath, and you learn to observe and perhaps even manipulate your breathing during physical activities.”

For improving endurance through better breathing, Horton suggests asanas that enhance both range of motion and lung capacity by opening the chest and rib cage. These include Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow Pose), Ustrasana (Camel Pose), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), as well as Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged Pigeon Pose).

Yoga and Strength Training

Upper and lower body strength is also highly important in endurance training.  Not mentioned, but implied, is the development of a solid core.  We are not talking about muscle development and growth necessarily – too much muscle can be a liability in endurance sports.  Large amounts of muscle mass require large amounts of fuel and are, typically, less efficient.  What we want to develop is the ability to recruit more muscle tissue in each movement.  This delivers more power, with less muscle mass, using less fuel.

Body weight exercises are especially good when it comes to engaging more overall muscle during your workout.  A simple push-up, as most of us know, not only works the chest and triceps but also works the legs, abs, back and shoulders.  Further, performing asymmetrical push-ups throw your balance off and engage even more of your core muscles.  Many Yoga postures are designed specifically to engage multiple muscle groups and fire your stabilizing muscles at the same time.  Holding a typical standing pose, like Warrior I or II, will engage almost every muscle in your body and holding the posture challenges the smaller core stabilizing muscles used to maintain your balance.  This whole-body muscle recruitment, combined with the deep breathing, builds stronger, more efficient muscle tissue.

“Challenging arm balances and inversion poses are very effective for building muscle strength,” says Yoga Expert Rodney Yee, “because they flex groups of smaller muscles — not just the major muscles you work with a weight machine — to support the body’s weight during the pose.”

“Holding standing poses such as the warrior poses and triangle pose,” he adds, “is great for strengthening the leg muscles. And in balance poses such as tree pose, one leg has to hold up your entire body. So you’re increasing your strength just by putting your weight on that leg.”

When it comes to using yoga to improve muscle strength and endurance, Horton (mentioned above) recommends focusing on any asanas that promote a lengthening of muscles in the body, such as Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), as well as stabilizing and strengthening poses that develop core strength, such as Navasana (Boat Pose).

Yoga and Flexibility and Balance

The idea that Yoga can improve our flexibility is pretty common knowledge.  Even those with no Yoga experience at all would tell you that Yoga can improve flexibility.  Yoga asanas work by safely stretching your muscles, releasing the lactic acid that builds up during intense (anaerobic) exercise causing stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. In addition, yoga increases the range of motion in joints reducing the risk of injury. Yoga stretches not only stretch your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body including ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles. According to a WebMD article on the Health benefits of Yoga, “…you most likely will see benefits in a very short period of time. In one study, participants had up to 35% improvement in flexibility after only eight weeks of yoga.” (Personally, I have seen improvements in my flexibility after only a few sessions)

This from an article on Flexibility Training at RunnersWorld.com,

Yoga involves static-active stretching, making it a hybrid of the other forms of stretching. As in static stretching (whose proper technical name is static-passive stretching), you assume and hold positions in which certain muscles are lengthened. Like CR (contract-relax), yoga also involves isometric contractions, but with a crucial difference: In CR, you contract and relax the same muscle in a coordinated sequence; in yoga, you hold one set of muscles in isometric contractions while relaxing and stretching the muscles opposite them.

Yoga is seen by many as a complete form of exercise. It increases passive and dynamic flexibility as well as balance and coordination…

Balance is a particularly important asset in backpacking and is often overlooked in training.  Good balance out on the trail can be the difference between an innocent stumble and a serious injury.  I’ve seen many hikers/runners take a spill simply due to poor balance.  Many of the standing postures in Yoga are performed on one leg (or some other isometric position) for the purpose of practicing balance.  Yoga also teaches the mental side to maintaining good balance, achieving some standing postures takes great focus and control (Mindfulness).  If you haven’t worked on your balance in a while, try a posture as basic as Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and see how long you can hold the pose.  For most it’s a matter of seconds.  When you feel comfortable balancing in Vrksasana, try to transition directly into one of the more challenging standing poses like Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose) or Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose) without letting your raised foot touch the ground.

The amazing thing about Yoga is, for all its fitness benefits, it’s also restorative.  Many elite athletes and trainers have incorporated regular Yoga into their fitness training because it helps restore flexibility, speeds muscle recovery, reduces stress and helps prevent injury.  If you haven’t incorporated Yoga into your training, you are missing out on an amazingly fruitful fitness resource.

Sources

Article written by JAMES A. RAUB, M.S. for the THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE

CARDIOPULMONARY STATUS: EFFECTS OF HATHA YOGA ON LUNG FUNCTION AND OVERALL CARDIOVASCULAR ENDURANCE IN HEALTHY ADULTS

1) “For example, Joshi et al. (1992) followed lung function in 75 males and females with an average age of 18.5 years during yoga breath-control exercises. After 6 weeks of practice, they reported significant increases in forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), maximum voluntary ventilation (MVV), as well as a significant decrease in breathing frequency (fB), and prolongation of breath-holding time.”

2) “Rai and Ram (1993) compared an active Hatha Yoga posture (Virasana or Warrior pose) to chair-sitting and to a resting, supine posture (Savasana) in 10 healthy men, 25 to 37 years of age. The active posture induced a hypermetabolic state, as indicated by increased minute ventilation, heart rate (HR), and oxygen consumption (V.O2), compared to either the chair-sitting or resting posture. In a similar study, the same authors (Rai et al., 1994) compared an active sitting posture (Siddhasana) to chair-sitting and supine relaxation and found the same results, indicating that the yoga “activity” and not the body “posture” was important for cardiovascular “conditioning.””

3) “Telles et al. (2000) reported that a combination of yoga postures interspersed with relaxation improved measures of cardiopulmonary status in 40 male volunteers to a greater degree than relaxation alone. Cyclic meditation (stimulation plus calming), consisting of yoga postures and periods of supine relaxation, was better at decreasing V.O2 and fB, and increasing tidal volume than sessions of Savasana (calming) alone. Konar et al. (2000) reported that the practice of Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) twice daily for 2 weeks significantly reduced resting HR and left ventricular end-diastolic volume in 8 healthy male subjects. Birkel and Edgren (2000) reported that yoga postures, breath control, and relaxation techniques taught to 287 college students (89 men and 198 women) in two 50-minute class meetings for 15 weeks significantly improved FVC of the lungs measured by spirometry. In a similar study, 1 hour of yoga practice each day for 12 weeks significantly improved FVC, FEV1, and PEFR in 60 healthy young women, 17 to 28 years of age (Yadav and Das, 2001).”

4) “Finally, a number of published studies have reported significant improvement in overall cardiovascular endurance of young subjects who were given varying periods of yoga training (months to years) and compared to a similar group who performed other types of exercise.”

Going the Distance By Nancy Coulter-Parker

Using Yoga To Prevent Injuries And Accelerate Recovery By Sabrina Grotewold Published Feb. 28, 2012

Dave Creech

http://www.WildernessDave.com

…Life, Love and Adventure from an Arizona Hiker…