The Evolution of the Art of Breath

You may have seen the announcements for our upcoming Art of Breath clinics. As we finalize details for spreading the benefits of breath training worldwide, we’d like to share our journey and what we’ve learned along the way.

We’ve spent the past several years focused on training our muscular and cardiovascular systems, but have paid little to no attention to our pulmonary system. The potential health benefits are numerous, starting with an improvement in overall health simply by breathing in more oxygen and expelling more carbon dioxide.

The Importance of Breathing in Sport and Overall Wellness

Our emphasis on the importance of breathing in sport and for overall wellness has evolved over the past four years. Through our work with Training Mask we gained better motor control and access to the diaphragm. Any resistance breathing device like the Training Mask or Expand-a-Lung can help, especially during warm-ups and when used alone for breathing exercises (full inhales and full exhales for 2–3 minutes). We combined that work with the teachings of Wim Hof and realized that breathing was the missing piece; the link between our body of work and the goals we set for ourselves as athletes and coaches. This led to many other practices, including Yoga (Prana), the Freediving and Big Wave Riding communities, and even Brain Training. From the education and experiences, we developed a trove of breathing techniques specifically for our athletes who are looking for better athletic performance and improved overall health, as there is not one method that fits all.

Most of the athletes with whom we worked, including ourselves, did not know or understand how to take in a full breath of air. We were shallow chest breathers. And the more we worked with it, the more we realized that not taking in enough air comes down to issues with position, which is the foundation of our Shift training philosophy. In a good position you move well. Well guess what – in a good position you also breathe well.

Humans only use 15% of our lung capacity, but 70% of our toxins are removed through respiration, which poses a problem when we aren’t using our pulmonary system to its full capacity. Look at our lives, at our movement. If we aren’t moving well we aren’t breathing well, and if we aren’t breathing well we aren’t reaping the full health benefits.

Start Your Own Breathing Practice

Start your own breath practice by learning how to access your diaphragm. Usually by just using a straw, you can mimic diaphragmatic breathing by fully inhaling and fully exhaling for 5 to 10 minutes a day (this supplies enough resistance to engage the diaphragm and gets us to make positional changes). That’s all it will take to change your physiology. To make you feel better. Don’t hold your breath – just inhale a smooth, long deep breath with a full smooth exhale.

Once you have the mechanics down, use the Breath Test + Calculator to help dial in your own Breathing Protocol to help increase your capacity and practice your consciousness of breath.  Use the Apnea Breathing for down regulation to help you recover and get a good night’s sleep. And use the Cadence Breathing Protocol for up regulation to help warm up your respiratory system for a workout or just to get up and going in the morning.

If you want to further your practice, keep an eye for an Art of Breath Clinic coming your way.  These clinics will offer a much more refined and fundamental approach to breathing methods and how they benefit sport performance and overall wellness. The clinics will be experiential, and will introduce the physiology, anatomy and practical uses of many traditional breathing methods and resistance breathing devices, along with some of the newer hyperventilating techniques.  

Nothing is Too Small for Celebration

What does it take to build a habit?

Short answer: celebrate yourself.

Long answer: in order to build a beneficial sequence of habits, a few things are necessary:

  • find a direction
  • create a plan for travel to the destination
  • celebrate the little victories along the way.

To break things down, think of any plan that you’ve ever executed. It first starts with a vision, execution, and then, often celebrating over pizza and beers. This will be no different (maybe no pizza or beer this time).

To give an example, imagine yourself setting the lifetime goal of running the Boston Marathon. After establishing the goal, what do you do? Your first action should be to find out what it’s going to take to make this goal attainable. How many daily hours are you willing to put in? What sacrifices are you willing to make? The things that become unimportant and unnecessary in your life are quickly flagged in this step of the process.

Now, between starting and completing the roadmap that you have established, there are surely things that you have done both correctly and incorrectly. I want to emphasize on the positive side of things here — if every decision you make from day 1 has been in a direction to help yourself get to Boston, that’s worth celebrating. Whether it’s getting up at the scheduled training time every day, PRing your 5k, or even sticking to a clean meal plan, celebrate it. Nothing is too small for celebration. In my opinion, building the habit of celebration for small victories might be the most important ritual for success.

Before you know it, you’ve reached the destination. Now what? 

It’s important to realize that you are a creature with endless potential. That said, with your most recent goal attained, find a new one. In a very traditional progression, maybe you’re after a longer race? Or maybe you want to go faster or re-qualify? Either way, make sure that your next step is in a positive direction. Get into the habit of continuously establishing and connecting goals for yourself. You are never NOT good enough for something… reach for the lofty goals. Go out and prove everyone who may have ever doubted you or your abilities wrong. Including yourself. 

Habits: The White Belt Mentality

By Brian MacKenzie and Rachael Colacino

It’s holiday time. Responsibilities mount, travel devours free time, good habits slip. With the start of the new year close, it can be tempting to deny good habits and practices until after the holidays. But no matter when you begin or resume beneficial, purposeful habits, keep in mind constant learning and openness, or what we like to call the White Belt Mentality.

Children who practice martial arts early in life learn the beneficial habits of structure. For adults who begin martial arts later in life, the practice of martial arts offers a developed system where the habits of respect and honor are part of a time-honored tradition.

Starting a new sport as an adult means starting at the beginning, as a literal or figurative white belt. This is where the superior mental training inherent in martial arts gets it right by requiring a mentality of openness to learning whether you’re a black belt or not. That’s what’s missing in other sports these days: there’s no humility, we’re not open to newer thinking or other ideas. This can lead to a dangerous place whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior. If we stop learning, if we halt the learning process; we may overlook valuable information, including why we’re broken or injured.

Consider then the habits you establish along the way. Are you training no matter what? Or are you listening to your body? Training is essential; we need to move and that’s why we train. One-thousand years ago, we didn’t need to train because life didn’t provide a level of comfort that muted movement. We moved all the time because we had to; we needed food or shelter, or we needed to hide, or we were at war. It wasn’t an Amazon Prime world, an iPhone world. Now we have conveniences in a world we’ve developed to remove us from what nature absolutely provides.

Which is not to say that you need to shun convenience. But what you do need to do is create habits that allow you to evolve to a more well-rounded, constantly learning human. Whether you’re dealing with movement issues or chronic pain or unhealthy eating habits, it’s no one’s fault or responsibility but your own. That’s what habits are – your pattern for dealing with pain, for understanding your own pain. Pain can force motivation for many of us, but not until it’s unbearable enough to force those changed habits. If the pain isn’t pervasive enough, we don’t make the lifestyle changes because we’re comfortable. Use the White Belt Mentality to learn what you need.

There’s substance in creating consistent habits in a daily movement routine. Are you tumbling, running, jumping? Are you engaging in fundamental human movements? The same ideas apply to food and your habits and relationship to what you eat. If you seek out carby, sugary foods at night, what will it take to create a new habit? And when will you be in enough pain or discomfort to make changes?

From Beginner Triathlete: Mission Critical Strength

By Jeff Ford

Six Steps When Adding Strength for Your Sport

The first time you witness someone put ketchup on their eggs, you might be taken aback. Or maybe it requires observing peanut butter placed on a hamburger to really throw you for a loop. No matter the subject discussed, weird combinations are always slow to acceptance. It takes time for others to dip their feet in the cold water before a number of people dive into the experience.

In the triathlon world, you receive very little exposure to new training methods. It is usually the same four phases of training touted in a season that’s per iodized: preparation, base, build and peak/race. Most of the ingredients are comprised of swim, bike and run with very little strength in the later parts of the year. Now by no means do I believe that strength training will take the place of sport nor should it take over, but I’m asking you to look at strength for your sport in two ways: as a diagnostic tool and an activity to build your ideal positions.

By spending time in the gym, you will have a much better awareness of where your weaknesses lie and the deviations you’re susceptible to make in the water or on the road. It’s not about being the strongest person in the weight room, but more about drilling in foundational posture and mechanics, that of which any human was designed to perform. This includes developing stability in the positions that matter most within your sport at the same time. If your goal is triathlon, you have many shapes to strengthen and acquire for ultimate competence. Here are six steps to slowly adding strength for your sport.

Begin with Body Weight

It was absolutely mind-blowing the first time I learned to squat properly. As a young fitness professional, you would think this is the first thing I would have learned? Unfortunately, my knees would dive in almost immediately, and I didn’t have an understanding of a braced neutral spine, which happens to be crucial for long endurance events. By starting with body weight, you’ll be able to refine essential positions and pick up deviations before adding load. Drilling in on what’s called the Bracing Sequence, popularized by Kelly Starrett, a Doctor of Physical Therapy should be applied to each movement. Your ability to squat with your knees out, complete a wormless push-up, and maintain a stable shoulder during a pull-up translates right into the positions of triathlon. Other movements to begin with include the hollow body hold and a Deadlift (light of course) as this will teach proper hinging and use of your glutes and hamstrings.

Master Your Mobility

Before I had an awareness of my mobility, I had no idea what an asymmetry meant. Based off how we’re moving and the lack of strength and/or stability in one side of our bodies, we can overcompensate. This is especially a problem for triathletes — or any endurance athlete for that matter — given the wear and tear of sport. You should master your mobility as you add strength to your sport because it will allow you to get the most out of your new training. If you’re lacking normal range of motion in various areas, there’s no way you’ll be able to get stronger at the positions required. This is why the gym is a diagnostic tool, you will quickly uncover where your mobility is lacking. Functional movement is humbling. It provides answers to problems before they occur. To master your mobility, first get assessed by a professional who is familiar with Functional Movement Systems (1) or a comparable screen. After that, it’s your job to keep up with self maintenance, especially as training volume progresses.

Push it to Priority

Strength training shouldn’t be an afterthought in your weekly programming. I remember week after week throwing one or two workouts in here and there (like most athletes) after a long run or only when it was convenient. My perception was skewed, and unfortunately I wasn’t getting stronger or witnessing the value in my training. Aim to add a strength workout early in your schedule: think Monday or Tuesday. If it’s a double session day, make sure the strength training is the morning session and that your evening sport workout remains anaerobic. This will allow you to not cancel out the benefits by doing too much aerobic conditioning in conjunction with the strength work.

Get Specific

Unfortunately, the biggest failure with fitness or training comes down to never identifying a purpose or being the “I want it all” athlete. Working out to look good or to have more energy are specific reasons. Finishing under eleven hours in an Ironman triathlon or losing twenty pounds are very specific goals. As you add strength training exercises, the key is to identify how these exercises will support your goal. Swim, bike and run can all be harmonized by using specific movements, whether it’s applying an overhead press for the swim to teach midline engagement and shoulder stability, or a conventional deadlift to hone in on proper hip hinging in application to the bike. Being specific leads to an efficient use of your time. It allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of your routine.

Control the Plyometrics

In my first post, Another Way to Train, I disclosed this assumption that instinctively we as humans naturally assume more is the answer. When we’re not achieving our goals, all we have to do is work harder, right? This idea is running rampant in the fitness and training world, yet unfortunately is so far from developing ideal positions in your sport. The best example when it comes to strength training for your sport is the addition of long periods of plyometric training, when in actuality plyometric training has nothing to do with volume. Focus on the stability within your jumps, what part of your foot are you landing on? What’s happening in your ankles? How about your knees from takeoff to finish? Within the Power Speed Endurance method there is quite a bit of plyometric training, especially for runners, since that’s essentially what they’re doing. Never will you see high amounts, but more so a number of variations including single leg, broad jumps and depth jumps. Jump to training makes the unknown in your sport knowable.

Go Heavy

Now I saved this one for the end because it gets the most kickback and was a concept I was fearful of when I first started adding strength training to improve with my endurance work. For too many years, my routine comprised of two to three sets, ten to fifteen repetitions of moderately heavy weights. Sadly, not only did I not see any real impact. For endurance athletes, the need is not merely more muscular endurance training (which is what you get in strength training with lots of repetitions). By focusing on a few main lifts, such as the squat, deadlift and press you’ll build strength faster, improve your body composition, and strengthen connective tissues and bone (2). There’s a relative amount of strength needed for speed and power for all endurance athletes, to what that level exactly might be is unknown, but it exists. Building overall strength optimizes your body’s ability to function better than others in the field. Once form is correct and strength positions are dialed in, going heavy a few times a week becomes a must.

Now remember that peanut butter and jelly wasn’t a household combination overnight. As you add strength training to your routine, it will take time to see progress and to become comfortable with the new movements. Think back to your first open water swim with a massive group of triathletes. Was it easy? By implementing these six steps, you’ll begin to see major performance benefits, and furthermore optimize your overall health at the same time.

Creating Resilient and Durable Athletes

By Brian MacKenzie and Rachael Colacino

The call for prioritized strength and conditioning in endurance sports has amplified as more athletes see that uninterrupted training and victorious races require healthy and strong bodies. However, the method behind the strength and conditioning prescription for endurance athletes is not the same for all endurance sports. To create more resilient and durable sport athletes, we follow a methodology at Shift that creates a foundation of stability and professional loading to solidify the fundamental positions of each sport.

Two Distinct Approaches
The largest misconception in endurance sports is that running, swimming, biking and rowing are solely aerobic activities. Aerobic capacity is only part of the training equation. At issue is tissue-related degeneration, a breakdown of the tissues impacted most by repetitive motions in a singular plane. You land around 300 times in 400m. Now multiply that by how much distance you cover in a week. That’s a lot of eccentric loading, which causes the tissue breakdown. There are two ways to rectify that breakdown. One approach requires the higher volume – perform your sport with more volume, or longer time on feet. Tissue damage occurs inevitably; the tissue repairs itself and builds up. The recovery process here, requires a lot of time. The second approach prescribes specific conditioning exercises to mitigate tissue damage, and develop stronger (not to be confused with bigger) tissue so we don’t need to spend as much of our precious energy on volume, but can instead develop better positioning through strength and conditioning for stronger and more resilient tissues. This process does not require as much time to recover once adaptation has occurred. Guess which approach we favor?

Sport-Specific Strength Training
When we have an adaptation that occurs with one specific repeated movement, such as running, we neglect other areas. A conjugate system, however, keeps the body guessing as we tax it in similar, but slightly varied ways. For example, back, front and overhead squats are all squats, but all work to stress the system in different ways. A runner spends much of their sport time anteriorly loaded (knee bent or knee forward). That runner may want to mitigate tissue degradation in that position by focusing on a front squat, which will reinforce a stronger, more upright torso.

Isometric holds are another important member of our strength matrix. Every athlete passes through very specific positions when body weight is connected to a point of support. For runners, that happens when our foot contacts the ground beneath our body weight. For cyclists, when our feet are at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock pedal positions. For a rower it’s at the catch and a swimmer it’s when the hand enters the water, the catch phase as well. Training isometric holds in those static positions ingrains a lot of the proper positioning and stability for movements we expect from our bodies for hours on end as long as fundamentals are applied.

This type of training — complete, conjugate, and sport-specific — allows for greater understanding through body awareness when we start to break down and toe the line on our power, speed or endurance thresholds. Strength training for your sports positions and movements allows for the tissue to hold up in ways it had no way of navigating before.

Iva and Erin: Grace and Grit

By Rachael Colacino

Grace and grit. Yin and yang. Teammates, friends, sisters.

Ten years ago, teammates Erin Cafaro Mackenzie and Iva Obradovic won the NCAA Championship for Cal Berkeley. Both went on to the Olympic stage, and both have continued their journey as rowing and strength and conditioning coaches.  Now they are joining forces under the POWER SPEED ENDURANCE platform to share their knowledge and hard-earned lessons on how to row and train for the 2000m Olympic Race distance in the Shift WINTER ROW 2K SERIES.

Teammates first

Erin remembers the first day she met Iva, back in 2004. It was one of the first days of the Cal Women’s Rowing Team practice, and the team was running the stairs at the football stadium. A long, hot, grinding workout. The Head Coach, Dave O’Neill, told Erin that summer that a couple heavy hitters would be added to the team this year: two standout rowers from Serbia. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was enough for Erin to want to join the team again. When Erin arrived at the football stadium that day, she noticed two tall, beautiful blond Serbian rowers with impossibly long legs that looked to her like badass Barbie dolls. Iva did not disappoint as she pushed to the front, bringing the level of the whole group up a notch. Erin recognized immediately that Iva was indeed badass and had the drive and tenacity she’d been seeking in a teammate.

Iva remembers their first meeting similarly. Being new to California and away from home for the first time, she was afraid but determined not to show fear. She gathered her courage and set her face in the bravest way she knew possible. She ran those stadium steps as hard as she could. But then there was a short pesky blonde girl – Erin of course – pushing her own limits, pushing Iva’s limits, going hard, huffing and puffing right behind her.

Their friendship was solidified for Iva on the day of their first 2k row test, when she saw Erin, short for a rower by all stereotypical standards, using that grit for which she’s known to row her heart out and then some. A mutual trust and respect had been established. There was no turning back, Iva and Erin formed a friendship. One so strong that they just tell everyone who asks that they are sisters to make it easier to understand.  

Helping athletes become better rowers

After retirement (Erin in 2012 and Iva just this past summer in 2016) both Erin and Iva wanted to continue their journey as coaches. Iva is now the assistant coach for the UCLA Women’s Rowing Team. Erin continues to travel the world coaching athletes and coaches in rowing and strength and conditioning principles. She’s also quite busy helping build the best damn platform for information on training and coaching for sport.  

Erin and Iva have happily watched the rise of rowing in gyms and clubs worldwide and want to augment the growth by sharing their knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t) to guide athletes on a straighter path to their potential. The training they’ve developed for Shift ROW 2K SERIES is a well-rounded program that combines the lessons from their rowing experience in the past 15 years. The program will help address any individual weaknesses, transfer them into strengths, whether physiological, physical or mental. With the help of individual video assessments, Erin and Iva are also able to help each athlete target the movement pattern that has been holding them back and treat it with individualized coaching cues and drill Rx.

But, as Iva and Erin learned early on through their experiences at Cal, one of the biggest advantages you can have in rowing is having a good team to train with, coaches to help you stay accountable and guide you in the right direction, and most importantly teammates to push you and also share in the pain of the hard days. That’s why Erin and Iva wanted to make sure to create a community for the Shift Row 2k Training Series. It’s all part of the process of evolving and growing as an athlete — that vital combination of truth and encouragement. They want all their athletes to see the good that will come from sport in their lives, to practice skill and finesse and also grit and fortitude when needed.  And most of all find joy throughout the process.

The best motivation is information

Every person is a different athlete with a different body and different mentality. Recognizing that truth brings us one step closer to being the best athlete we can be. Our differences make us individuals and give us our own styles. And as Erin’s Olympic coxswain Mary Whipple so aptly puts it, “the best motivation is information.”

Erin and Iva are grace and grit. As athletes, Iva is one of the best technical and graceful rowers on the water. Erin is a bit more feisty, we could say… would row through a brick wall to get to the line first. Yet, ironically as coaches, Iva is known for being the hard-ass and Erin has focused more on movement efficiency and technique.

“Erin would row through a brick wall to reach her goal,” Iva said. “I would walk around it and look at it, brick by brick.”

And that’s the interesting part about rowing. We can be mired in stereotypes, that rowing is a tall person’s sport. With Erin and Iva’s different styles and approaches to rowing and coaching, they hope to show athletes that there are different ways to reach the same goals, and that stereotypes about what kind of athlete can perform should never hold you back.

“You can be whatever the hell you want to be,” Erin said. “Set your goals and make it work.”

Empty Rooms are Honest Places

By Darrel Wang

Let’s talk about the different types of stress that can (and do) affect us.image1

First, let’s get started with physical stress – exercise-induced stress, to be more specific. We’ve all been through it… 2 minutes into a 1-Mile Time Trial  where we came out too quickly and can’t maintain this bat-out-of-hell pace. Your mind races with negativity and thoughts of throwing in the towel for the workout. What do you do in that situation? Go home, crawl into bed, and start Monday over tomorrow? Surely not.

There’s a lesson to be learned in every mistake that is made. With the above example, you now know that the pace or effort put forth was not sustainable – lesson learned. Next time, we’ll be a better judge of our own capabilities. This holds even truer when your training partner calls in sick and you’re in the gym all by yourself. In the words of my favorite singing duo, Penny & Sparrow, “Empty rooms are honest places.”

Next, let’s talk about mental stressors: work projects, family issues, or financial burdens. All of these cases are surely to arise at some point or another. If you go into the real world thinking that mother earth and her occupants owe you something, you’re in for a terribly rude awakening.  

“Darrel, if I know stress is going to come knocking on my door, how can I prepare for it?”

To be prepared to face stress, we need to understand that just because circumstances are bad now doesn’t mean that they’ll last forever. But, in all reality, the daunting face of stress will rear its ugly head and hang around for a little bit. This is relatable to sitting in a dark room – don’t worry, your eyes, at some point, will adapt to the darkness. Sometimes it’s acceptable to not go seeking for the pinprick of light in a dark room. Sometimes it’s healthy and character-developing to accept discomfort.

To be clear, none of us are saying that you should let yourself be upset for an extended period of time – enough is enough and you know yourself better than anybody else. Know when to turn the page.

So, to answer your question, the response back to stress knocking at your door would be, “Hey old friend, I wasn’t expecting you today, but come on in.”

Here are some things we can do to manage stress:

1 – Breathe. Deeply and often. 10 breaths can change your whole state of mind.

2 – Expect adversity and expect to overcome it.

3 – Fail. Take notes, create a game plan, and fail better next time.

4 – Meditate. ‘nuff said.

5 – Phone a friend. Cliché, but expressing your feelings with somebody who is close to you may help you unwind and break down the frustrating situation.

6 – Change. If you can’t change the stressor, change the way you feel about it.

We here at Shift care for each and every single one of you. Speaking as somebody who has lost dear friends to depression, reach out. No matter what time, no matter what form of contact, find one of us. Don’t let physical or mental stress get the best of you. Instead, use that stress to help you be the best you.

Run Better, Run Faster, Run longer: 5 Ways to Improve Your Running Technique

By Rachael Colacino

As humans, we are always looking for improvement. And runners in particular — well, we are a stubborn bunch. We want to improve in every way. We want to run faster, run farther, and all without pesky injuries that will sideline us and keep us from meeting our goals. But through all these chased goals, race finishing times, complicated training plans, and quests to find the perfect running shoe, rarely do we discuss the actual technique of running. How to run. How to run better so you can run faster and longer. And of course how to run without injury.

And that’s a pretty important place to start.

You’ve heard this cry before, a call to return to a more natural state for athletes and movement, and not just in the running world. But that idea of natural running does not mean running without instruction — it means best utilizing the laws of nature. Here’s how to do just that.

Step 1: Run Tall

Just like with all movement, running starts with good posture, and good posture starts with a solid and organized core. Squeeze your glutes to set your pelvis in a neutral position, and then pull your bellybutton toward your spine to stabilize your center. While running, maintain enough tension to keep your core organized, somewhere around 40 or 50% pressure.

Eyes should be forward, chin parallel to the ground, head neutral. This will not only keep your body in alignment, it will also ensure that you’re not blocking off airflow by tucking your chin as you look down. Pull your shoulder blades down toward your back pockets, spin your hands out, shoulders externally rotated. Again, this will not only keep you aligned but maximize oxygen to your lungs, a process that will be less effective if your shoulders are hunched forward.

Now pick up two dumbbells and run a mile. Just kidding. But still, consider how you’d carry those dumbbells. Did you swing your arms wildly? Or did you hold them close to your body? Consider that when you’re running… your arms do indeed have weight, just like dumbbells. Keep them close to your body, use them for balance. Think of your arms as a counterbalance to your legs, helping you to unload the weight of your body with every step. They mimic what your legs are doing and must work together with that movement, not against it.

Step 2: May the Force be With You

Let’s go back for a moment to the concept of running with the laws of nature for maximum efficiency. Movement comes from the destruction of balance. What causes that movement is one of the strongest forces in the universe: gravity.

To access gravity, you must maintain your good posture from Step 1, and fall forward from your hips. That’s it. However, it is extremely important though that your body stays in alignment. Hips must be below your shoulders and above your ankles. If any link in that chain is out of alignment, you won’t be able to use gravity effectively. That fall forward is your gas pedal. The further forward you fall while maintaining good posture, the faster you’ll run.

Step 3: Avoid Falling on Your Face AND Landing on Your Heels

Let’s talk now about the most active part of running. Up until now, you’ve been holding your body in a static position while gravity does its work. Remember this is a controlled fall, and to avoid falling flat on your face, you’re going to pull your foot off the ground as soon as it lands.

Think of your movement like a wheel in reference to contact points on the ground. What happens at that contact point determines how fast and how efficiently you’re moving. A wheel that’s fully inflated and therefore moving quickly has a single contact point with the ground. A wheel that’s deflated and moving less efficiently has a larger footprint on the ground. If you’re falling, moving fast, and landing underneath your body, you’ll keep moving quickly. On the other hand, if you land in front of a forward-moving body, you’ll slow it down or stop movement completely. That’s what happens when you heel strike. Focus instead on landing on the ball of your foot, underneath your hips.

With all this talk of landing, it’s tempting to focus on your feet while you’re running. Don’t. Instead, shift your focus to your hamstrings, one of the largest and most powerful muscle groups in your body. Focus on pulling your foot off the ground quickly every time you feel it touch the ground. The goal is to create less contact time, so pull your foot off the ground as quickly as possible.

Wearing shoes with padding and thick heels? Remember that cushioning is interfering with your body’s proprioception. By the time your brain registers that you’ve landed, it’s already too late. Try running in socks indoors or outside on a grassy or protected surface. Start out with 5 sets of 50m at a time, not for speed but for technique. Notice how your feet land, how mobile and supple (or not) your feet feel. You’ll always run faster in shoes because of the protection they provide from dangerous objects, but in addition to improving your mechanics, the best way to become a better runner is to strengthen your feet.

Step 4: Change How You Think About Cadence

Most of the time when runners discuss cadence, we’re talking stride rate or steps per minute. But with all our focus on pulling our feet off the ground, avoid thinking about strides or steps. Focus instead of the singular action of pulling your feet off the ground.

So how then does cadence come into play? The shorter the distance between where your feet land and the quicker your cadence, the faster and more efficiently you run. If your cadence is low, you have a long stride and are therefore more likely to be landing in front of your body. In the worst case, this means landing on a locked-out knee which not only slows you down, but will cause injuries over time as the impact of up to three times your body weight puts extra pressure on your muscles, bones and joints.

To practice running with a fast cadence, purchase a metronome or download a metronome app on your phone — there are many. Minimum recommended cadence is 180 pulls per minute. Start there, pulling each foot UP off the ground with your hamstrings every time you hear a beep. If the beeping is too distracting, set your metronome to half (in this case 90 beats per minute) and focus on one foot at a time so it’s easier to find the rhythm, switching every so often. Pull in place, then maintain good posture, break balance at your hips and fall forward to start your motion. Pull only as high as you need to stay on cadence.

Step 5: Bring Yourself Back

Meditation is the practice of bringing your mind back to focus when it starts to wander. What meditation isn’t is controlling your mind all day long, every day. The same thing applies here with running technique. Your attention will wander, but it’s all about bringing it back to the fundamentals.

As you run, remember that pain is our greatest teacher. Listen to the feedback from your body. Sharp acute pain is not normal under any circumstances, whether it happens during your run or after you are finished and your adrenaline has quieted. Listen to those pain signals and become curious about how to solve the pain pattern with changing your form rather than depending on pain meds or the latest icy hot concoction or even your physical therapist. You hold the ability to fix and heal your pain by simply listening to your body and making conscious changes to your form.  

If this is your first exposure, start with the basics as we’ve outlined here. The difficulty is typically in maintaining posture and fast cadence as you start to fatigue. When you do start to feel tired, reset and bring yourself back to your good body position. Focus on using gravity by falling forward in an aligned position. And pull your feet off the ground as soon as they land. Repeat, over and over, until it becomes your natural way of running.

The Effect of Stress on Your Training

By Brian MacKenzie

Stress affects everything.

When we train for endurance events, we tax our systems, causing muscle damage and physiological changes. While your brain knows the difference between 400 meter repeats and that overdue project you need to finish at work, your body doesn’t. Work stress, relationship stress, stress about the unending tragedies in this world all contribute to keeping you in a heightened sympathetic state – the anxious mindset of fight or flight.

The problem is that most of us, myself included, live constant sympathetic lives. We’re stressed all day long and then we train with intensity to buffer off the stress. This is problematic. Not immediately so, but over time as the chemical reactions from training and the stress in our lives compile, we may not be aware of the damage we’re inflicting until our bodies completely lose the ability to recover.

Lucky for us, nature provides inherent balance. Let’s take a lion and gazelle for example. For the lion hunting the gazelle, both animals are in a sympathetic state. The difference is that the lion wants to be in that stressful situation. The gazelle does not.

And once that race is over, nature restores balance as both the lion and gazelle (assuming she escaped) down-regulate and become parasympathetic almost immediately. We see the same abilities in the animals in our lives. Dogs bark at the sight of a possible intruder and then relax. A dog that barks all day will have behavioral problems, largely due to existing in a constant heightened state.

We human animals are no different. If we’re paying attention, nature in her infinite wisdom tells us when to downshift to parasympathetic responses. The question is whether we can hear her call. My guess is that boredom and swapping technology for experiences our environment are severely limiting our ability to remove ourselves from stressful situations. In fact, there’s a small but growing movement that believes avoidance with the surface of the Earth may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and chronic stress. One study, for example, found that contact with the Earth’s surface electrons may be an untapped health resource, one that can be accessed simply by being outside and barefoot.

As author of Sapiens Yuval Harari so finely put it, there is nothing “more dangerous than an intelligent, bored animal.” When we’re bored, when we have to live vicariously through celebrity culture or what the media has dredged up about presidential candidates, we become emotionally involved in events for which we have no attachment. We have no daily interaction with natural sympathetic and parasympathetic shifts, so we manifest tragedy and refuse to release ourselves.

Children, though, are almost never bored. As a child, if I was bored I went outside and explored. The rule in my house was I had to be home when the streetlights first shone. I was fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood with a forest, with friends I could explore with and skateboard with. When I wasn’t outside in nature – when I was confined indoors and bored – I become very destructive.

If we are in nature and more in tune with our environment, we can find balance. After vacation, everyone returns revived and refreshed – the parasympathetic state. When I arrive in Hawaii, for example, it takes me three days to down regulate from what can feel like my standard 800 miles per hour, when I’m trying to solve all my issues at once and commit to more than I can manage. Hawaii gives me a reality check every time; a reminder to spend time on myself, to explore, to sleep. It’s natural law that we return to those patterns.

And speaking of busy, reframe your thoughts. Busy is unorganized. You have to enjoy your life, what you’re doing. Living is not plowing unheeded through life’s list of unpleasant tasks. Look at the process and understand. Being busy just to be busy, working at a job you don’t like to buy things you don’t need to live a life you’re not living – what’s the point? Find your balance.

Live #unscared

For years, Unscared has been a word we use to describe our athletes. Our coaching style. Our philosophy. How we approach training. How we approach thinking. How we approach life.

Unscared is the art of dealing with fear. We all have fears in our lives and in training. It’s fear of injury. Fear of heavy weights. Fear of gaining weight or not gaining weight. Fear of eating carbs, the fear of not eating carbs. Fear of short intervals. Fear of distance events. Fear of high intensity.  Fear of not meeting our own expectations. The fear of our own limits as humans, and the fear of not testing those limits.

Unscared is not about being unafraid. There is no such thing, we would literally die crossing the street without fear present. It’s how we manage fear. It’s a mindset of being open and prepared to deal with fear as it comes. It’s a conscious choice to act in spite of the pressures of self-preservation.

At Shift, our goal is to provide you with a practical guide on how to acknowledge those fears, and then how to deal with them. We’ll provide our perspectives and listen to yours. Because in the end you don’t have to suffer to find what you are searching for.

Are you ready to acknowledge your fears and be #UnScared?