Steve Magness – The Science of Running #2

October 31, 2012 1

© Copyright – 2012 – Athletics Illustrated

Steve Magness writes science-based running and training articles primarily for the website The Science of Running.

Magness recently accepted a coaching position with the University of Houston, his alma mater. Previously he was an assistant coach at Nike Oregon Project, leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Magness ran in the NCAA for Rice University and the University of Houston. Currently he coaches professional runners Jackie Areson, who has run as fast as 4:12 in the 1500m and owns a 5k personal best time of 15:14. He also coaches Sara Hall and Tommy Schmitz. Schmitz owns an 800m personal best time of 1:49 and a 1500m best of 3:39.

Magness’s Personal bests:

800m – 1:52.12
1500m – 3:43.87
1 mile – 4:01.02
10k CC – 29:50
10mi – 50:15

Christopher Kelsall: What will you be writing about coming up at The Science of Running?

Steve Magness: I’m currently finishing up a few posts on an intriguing subject to me, what impacts the training stimulus and subsequent adaptation. As coaches we’re generally concerned with the numbers, the stuff we can control. So the reps, recovery, etc. But what I want to touch on is the external factors that influence that. So, if you look at how “stressed” you are going into a workout, it can completely change the adaptations you get. We tend to compartmentalize our workouts and think of them in isolation. What I want to get people to realize is that they’re an extension of your every day and are impacted by what goes on around them.

CK: Your latest post talks about recovery. The more I read into the article, the more I realized how little discussion there is about the purpose of a post-race or post-workout cool-down run. One common belief that you touched on is faster muscular recovery. Are the masses going about it the wrong way?

SM: I don’t just think it’s the masses, I think everyone just goes through the motions on recovery. The problem is we really don’t know what we are trying to accomplish with a cool down or with post workout recovery. The general answer is, to feel better before the next run. But no one steps back and asks the question if that’s a good thing or not? As a whole, we’re probably a nation of over recoverers, if that’s even a word. For instance, do we really need to cram the message that we need carbs post run after every run? Because that’s what it seems to have come to.

CK: Ever notice how slow the very top (and mature) runners cool down?

SM: Yes. So once again, we have to ask the question of what are we trying to accomplish? I don’t have the answer, but I think there’s got to be a better way than just telling people to go run right after and that be the end of it.

CK: What sort of cool down have you done over the years? Have your post-race cool downs changed?

SM: I’ve experimented a lot with cool downs and I think it depends on what the goal is. Back in the day, I’d do a lot of longer cool downs. Then post-college with Scott Razcko, I did a lot of cool downs that involved general strength. I’ve experimented with really slow cool downs or cooling down at a pretty quick pace. What works best I think depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Most of the time, the cool-downs I assign are pretty generic, but I think what has changed is I’m more aware of why I’m assigning it. For the most part, if I included a wrinkle to the traditional cool-down, it’s extending the duration, adding some strides to it, or perhaps incorporating strength into it.

CK: You have an article where you demonstrate and talk about how you seem to have no flexibility when pulling on your ankle to stretch the quads – your foot doesn’t come up high at all however, when you run, your foot grazes your shorts. In a nutshell, what is happening?

SM: It’s static versus dynamic flexibility. Everyone looks at flexibility statically. So how tight is a muscle if I try and stretch it to its limit. But that’s not what happens when you are in motion. Do static flexibility tests have a place? For sure. But if we went by the guidelines of most “fitness experts” then almost every single distance runner in the country would have inadequate hamstring flexibility, statically. What is most important is the range of motion that occurs dynamically. So what I was demonstrating is that my static flexibility of my leg sucks. But when I run, it can go through the full range of motion without a problem. My ability to bring my heel to my butt is not limited when I’m running. It’s only limited when standing. So, for my runnings sake, I’m not too worried. I go into this more in depth on my site.

CK: There seems to be a growing volume of information suggesting that being tighter as a runner, has its advantages.

SM: Sure is. And that’s about the most difficult thing to get across because the world has been inundated with stretching as a cure all. It doesn’t mean stretching or flexibility is bad, it just means it has to have its place. The reason is simple. If you think of your muscles and tendons as springs, would you rather have a tight spring or a very loose spring? The answer of course is a tight spring. If you have a tight spring, more energy is stored when you impact the group and then more energy is released to help propel you when you come off the ground. It’s a simplification, but it makes sense. If you look at the research there are a lot of studies that show that there is a relationship between being too flexible and being less efficient.

CK: Getting back to the first question about what is coming up on the website the Science of Running. When you are referring to what goes on around people in their everyday lives, you are talking about work, school and relationships, yes?

SM: Yes. Everything. It all impacts us. People tend to isolate and focus on the running part of things, but the reality is that the whole body matters. So what I’m going to do and dig into on my site is how that extra stuff impacts training and how we adapt to it. So if you’re super-stressed out, it might alter what you get out of a workout. In a way, I think it explains why you see big jumps for athletes once they become less stressed from school, or for Pro’s, once they stop having to worry about making it and get themselves into a more stable situation. They simply have more room to adapt.

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