This is a special blog. It’s a guest blog by my sister Emily. She just got through with her first year of Junior High track and Cross Country. I thought it would be interesting to hear a 7th graders take on some of the things that her coaches have told her throughout the season. It gives me/us an idea on the coaching that goes on at that level and also on some of the myths that are still circulating to the general public. I asked her to write about some things that people had told her throughout the season and this is what she came up with. My comments follow in italics.
Common Coaches myths.
Many coaches have different ways of doing things when and after you run. Some seem like they are reasonable, but others are just strange and don't make any sense. Here are just a few of those myths that coaches sometimes instruct you to do, especially if you are in Elementary, Jr. High, or High school:
Putting your hands over head after you run to control your breathing.
Most coaches love this myth. Some have specifically told us that if you put your hands over your head after you run, you will be able to breathe better. They think that putting your hands up opens up your air ways to your lungs so you can breathe better. They say that bending over on your knees is bad for you. The reason we bend over after we run is to get blood to the other parts of our body, and if we lift our hands up, the blood has a harder time moving upwards.
(Stephen’s comments: This one is a particular pet peeve of mine because it is so widespread in school athletics. My favorite quote I heard someone yell was “Stand up! There’s no oxygen down there,” to some kid bent over. That makes no sense first off. The idea behind putting your hands over your head and standing up straight is that it allows the lungs to function better. The problem with that line of thinking is that it really isn’t getting the oxygen in that is the problem. Heavy breathing during running is more of a function of getting the carbon dioxide out. Secondly, delivery of both Oxygen to the muscles and CO2 and other by products to the lungs is the issue. When you stop running, blood tends to pool in the legs because you no longer have that leg pump to help pump the blood upwards, against gravity, back to the heart. When you stop, the body has the problem of pumping blood against gravity. The reason you bend over or even lie down (or someone feints) after hard exercise is that the body is trying make it where the heart is essentially on the same plane as the rest of the body, so that pumping the blood is easier, and not against gravity. )
Running on your toes when you sprint
Coaches think you will run faster because you are not using the time to put your heels down. If you don't put your heels down, your calves usually hurt.
(Haha, I like the simplicity of the explanation. Your calves will hurt if you aren’t used to it. First off, sprinters don’t run on their toes. At the best, they make contact on their forefront, but in most cases the heel should also touch the ground. Why? Because the heel should come down to allow the foot to load up and react. Essentially, it allows for the foot to work better elastically. )
Breathing in and out through your nose and not through your mouth
PE coaches (usually Elementary) obviously need to run and try this because it is basically impossible. Especially if you have allergies and cannot breath through your nose easily. You end up not getting enough air in.
(Another good one. We want to get in as much oxygen as possible and get rid of as much CO2 as possible. Why would we restrict that to a smaller opening? Yes, the nose warms the air, but we are concerned with performance, not warming air. It’s simple, would you rather breathe through a straw or a hose. )
Holding your hands with the left finger touching the middle finger while running a sprint to relax. (like making an "okay sign" or getting ready flick something)
I don't really get this one, but a coach told us this one time while we were sprinting. It is supposed to help you relax, but it just makes me more stressed.
(I don’t really get this one either. It makes no sense. Especially when I saw my sister demonstrate it how the coach showed it. It literally is like running while doing an “okay” sign. I don’t even know what to say, it’s just ridiculous. You should run with closed, but relaxed hands while running and open/straight but relaxed hands while sprinting. )
Trying to time your breathing. For ex: take in a breath every two steps and let out the breath after two more steps.
It is hard to time your breathing. If I try to time my breathing, then I end up running out of breath really quickly. It also takes a lot of concentration, and not everyone breathes the same way.
(This is an interesting one. I hear it all the time, and our breathing may be synchronized to our stride, but it’s not a conscious thing. Your body figures it out on it’s own with practice. Trying to time your breathing seems useless and way too much work. You are trying to regulate something that is automatically done and regulated. Why? It makes no sense. )
The way you breath causes cramps.
If you aren't timing your breathing or breathing through your nose, you supposedly will get side cramps. But that also has a lot to do with you being out of shape or you just ate too much.
(Another interesting one. Does the way you breathe cause cramps? No idea. Why? We don’t know what cause side stitches. There’s a theory that it is diaphragm fatigue/spasm. But does breathing cause it and why are some people more susceptible? No idea. I’ll have to look into it. But you are right, other things certainly cause it and singling it out to just breathing is a vast oversimplification. )
Moving your arms from "cheek to cheek" while you sprint.
They tell you to move your arms from your cheek on your face to the cheek on your bottom. That just seems awkward to me and I don't think it will help your speed.
(Excellent! I love this one. You are exactly right on this being a useless myth. First off, it doesn’t happen. Sprinters don’t bring there arm all the way up to each cheek. Secondly, it emphasizes the forward movement of the arms to the detriment of the backwards movement. In kids taught this, you’ll see that they don’t have time to have full backwards movement of the arms and they cut it off. I have no idea where coaches got this one, but you see/hear it a lot…and it’s not right. )
Protein makes it easier to run daily.
After our coach told us this, everyone started bringing protein bars to cross country practice. A lot of protein snacks don't have as much protein as regular food does. We realized that potatoe chips had more protein than my friend's special protein bar. We are probably getting enough protein anyway. So the myth may be true, but eating too much of anything is bad for you.
(haha, nice reasoning. I love the reasoning, everything in moderation. But will protein make it easier to run daily? Technically yes, but there’s some problems with this simplicity. Protein serves to build/repair stuff we break down while running. In addition, after workouts it helps to switch the runner from basically a catabolic to anabolic state. So, yes it will help with repair and recovery, but is it something to be emphasized? If you look at the typical American diet, we get tons of protein. The general recommendation for protein for endurance athletes is 1.0-1.6g/kg. Most people get at least this much. So, I’d say emphasizing protein isn’t a big deal, except for maybe after workouts. Post workout protein (plus carb) intake is great for recovery. )
Some coaches have told kids that if you can't run the entire time in a mile, then try to alternate between running fast and slow during the race.
I think that it takes up a lot of energy. Most kids walk the curves and run the straights anyways if they aren't runners.
(If you are racing a mile, run the whole thing. I’m sorry but if you are in a race, you shouldn’t walk… Now for general fitness, alternating running/walking is a good way to get in progressively better shape if you can’t run that long due to your fitness. )
Sitting down after you run will hurt your legs.
Yes, if you just sit down and don't get up after you run, most likely your legs will tighten up. But if you just ran a hard race and feel like you are going to throw up, you want just lay down. People just rush to you and make you walk around, but it only makes you feel worse. So please just let us sit for a minute to catch our breath. Then we will get up and cool down. Besides, the last thing on your mind when you finish a race is the thought of your legs tightening up. You are just happy you’re finished.
(Another myth I LOVE. Let the kid/athlete lay down. It’s not going to hurt his legs. Lying down for a couple minutes will do nothing negative. I never got why people try and get you up and make you walk around after a race. The body is telling you to recover and lie there. So do it. What you do for a few minutes after a race is not going negatively effect your legs for long. )
This last myth doesn't apply to running but it is sports related:
In tennis, learning and using a one-handed backhand is better than using two hands.
It is better to use two hands because you are stronger with two hands. Switch to a one-handed backhand when you are strong enough. Just because it is easier to learn using a one-handed backhand then to switch it later, it doesn't make your stroke any better.
(I didn’t know that. Makes perfect sense biomechanically though! Great post. )
There are some strange tactics that PE coaches have learned and used. And I'm sure there are many many more.
I’d like to thank my sister for doing this guest blog. It’s very interesting to get a different perspective on some of the things coaches do, especially at the Junior High level. I remember some weird things we did back in the day, but not many, and at the time they all seemed perfectly logical to a 13yr old kid. It’s kind of sad that some of these same myths are still around. I heard/went through many of them 11 years ago when I was first doing track and I’m sure they have been around for many year before that. Hopefully we can make a dent in that and start changing things.