Fitness and Exercise Myths Debunked


Some ideas just won’t die, even if they’ve been invalidated for decades. Here are some of the more common exercise myths that affect the trail-running community, especially those who are just getting started.


Drink a lot of water while running: Far from necessary, this can be downright dangerous. Hyponatremia, caused by drinking too much water, is a condition brought on by the dilution of important minerals and nutrients in the body. Symptoms include confusion, seizures, nausea, muscle cramps, and even death. Call me crazy, but I don’t see any of these things helping you improve your race time. After researching this topic, I can’t find a single instance of a long-distance runner dying of dehydration, but I can find plenty of examples of runners dying from consuming too much water.


Instead of drinking too much, take small sips when you’re thirsty, and train enough that you get to know your body and what it needs.


Stretching reduces injury: Stretching helps your joints move more, but this isn’t good for runners — at least not if you want to stay injury-free. What is needed by runners, especially trail runners, is stability. So ditch the stretching routine. Instead, do joint-strengthening exercises and always start a run with a good warm-up, which will definitely reduce injuries.


Sports drinks are the best way to rehydrate: Not if they’re full of sugar, chemicals, and dyes. Or even if they aren’t. For shorter runs, water is probably your best bet. On longer runs, where it’s important to replenish electrolytes, you can easily and cheaply make your own natural sports drink by squeezing a lemon or lime into your water bottles along with a pinch of salt. Or if you want the ultimate sports drink made by nature, carry coconut water. It contains everything your body needs, without the harmful side effects of artificial sports drinks.


Eat lots of pasta the night before a big run or race: First of all, you need more time to digest all those carbohydrates, so if you’re going to eat a lot of carbs to fuel up for a race, you should do it about 24h ahead of time. Second, a lot of pasta options include more fat than carbs anyway, and not any good sort of fat. Finally, your body can only store so much energy from carbs in the form of glycogen, so if you’re eating a huge meal of pasta you’re probably taking in more than you can use anyway. Inevitably, the excess will be turned into fat. In addition, most pastas are highly processed.


Instead, get most of your carbs from natural sources like wholesome fruits and vegetables, which come with all sorts of other health-inducing benefits. Listen to your body, give it what it needs, when it needs it, and don’t change what works for you on all your other days the night before a race.


To run faster just run more: Actually, the science is increasingly showing that what many runners need is more rest and recovery. If you’re running more than three days per week and can’t seem to improve, try scaling back to three or even just two days of running per week.


In addition, try attempting more exercises targeting your core and arms — the condition of these parts really does influence the performance of your running. Make sure your whole body is in shape, not just your legs. This balanced approach will help you run better, faster, and safer.


You need to eat meat: I recently read these lines in Fitness Magazine: “Vegetarians often try to get their iron fix through lentils, beans, fortified cereals and tofu. However, you’re still missing protein. Make sure to eat eggs, dairy products, or soy at every meal to get your animal-friendly dose.”


False. Think of the largest land animals, like cows, hippos, rhinos, and elephants. What do they have in common? None of them eat meat. Yet they get plenty of protein. Granted, cow stomachs process plant material differently than do human stomachs, but there are plenty of plant-based sources of protein for endurance athletes, like seeds, legumes, nuts, nut butters, tofu, soy milk, sprouts, whole-grain sprouted breads, nutritional yeast, broccoli, spinach … need I go on? For lots of details on this topic visit


By Joshua Steimle

Joshua is the CEO of MWI (, a digital marketing agency, and a writer for various business publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur. He lives and runs in Hong Kong. You can contact him @joshsteimle or



Get Stronger with Periodisation. Plan Now to Run Fast Later

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“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, let it grow, be like water.”

— Bruce Lee

Succeeding as an endurance athlete requires putting into practice Lee’s advice, and adapting. Periodisation is a simple way to adapt and train smart now for a big payoff later. Basically, it means organising your training to peak for a race. It is a way of dividing your athletic season into a series of phases that will help you conquer plateaus, eat up boredom, and avoid overuse-related injuries. Many trail runners incorporate periodisation into their training without even knowing it.


What Is Periodisation?

The late Arthur Lydiard was one of the first to really promote the concept of periodised training and explain it in understandable terms.

In his book “Running to the Top,” Lydiard sums up the purpose of periodised training: “When I settled down to analyse my defeats, I realised I was hitting my peaks of performance at all the wrong times. I had to find a method not only of building stamina to stand a lot of racing but also of timing my preparation so that I could be reasonably certain of being in top form on the day I most wanted to run best.”

Ruth Hunt, who coached Lee Chi Wo to second place at the 2006 Asian Games Triathlon, as well as second at the Olympic Games, and who now coaches a wide age group of runners (including ultra runners such as Olya Korzh) says: “There are many forms of periodisation. Forty years ago when I was training to be a physical education teacher, periodisation practices were based on the work of the Russian Leo Matveyev. He considered periodisation to be a logical method of planning and developing a training program, using cycles and stages specific to the needs of the athlete, in order to reach the best possible performance.”

Etienne Rodriguez, who won The North Face Endurance Challenge 50km in 2014, explains it as separating your training cycle into blocks that are then used to “improve a specific facet of one’s running through stimulating particular adaptations in the body (e.g., speed, endurance, VO2 max etc.).”

The four basic phases, or blocks, are: Transition, Base, Building, and Peak. Your training cycle, whether it is four months or one year, divides this cycle into phases with specific goals, workouts, and performances. This adds variety into your training and helps you reach peak conditioning at just the right time.


Why Use Periodisation?

It can be easy to get into running ruts or routines that feel good, but ones which are not ultimately getting you into the optimal running condition. And depending on only a handful of workouts throughout the whole year is not enough for reaching peak condition.

Rodriguez notes that periodisation “benefits trail/ultra runners through focusing on a specific facet of one’s trail-running game. In most cases, this means that the area trained is enhanced at a faster rate than what it would be without periodisation. Periodisation can be particularly useful if the athlete is strong in one area but slightly weaker in another.”

Likewise, Hunt feels that an ultra runner definitely benefits more from planned sessions, and that dividing the training year into periods, and switching between high- and low-intensity training gives the body a better chance to recover between target races. She does lactate testing to confirm which energy system is being trained.

How to Use Periodisation?

As with every training plan, a periodisation plan should be tweaked and adapted to fit each runner’s needs. This is especially important for ultra runners.

“Ultra runs are so variable in terms of terrain and distance and elevation gain/loss that it’s hard to put into place a blanket prescription on periodisation for it,” says Rodriguez.

Hunt adds, “Periodisation plans should be specifically designed for each ultra runner and should include monitoring by both the athlete and the coach.”


As mentioned, every runner and coach needs to experiment and find what works best. It will hinge on your training experience, injury history, planned races, as well as other goals. Still, it is good to have somewhere to start. Here is an idea of how you could breakdown your season into four phases. This is a rough template and should be adjusted to your individual needs.

Transition Phase (1-8 Weeks)

This is a break after a significant race or the period following your racing season. There would be no serious training during this time. It can be used to rest and recover, concentrate on your running form and technique, as well as to plan out your next race or entire season.

Base Phase (2-3 Months)

During this phase the goal is to build a strong aerobic base, strength, muscle endurance, and technique while keeping the efforts easy and gradually building weekly miles. You should keep your volume moderate and your intensity low. This period should start about 24 weeks before your first significant race. This is a good time to add speed work and strength training to your routine (see sidebar #1).

Rodriguez suggests: “the initial focus is on volume, the goal being to increase endurance and get the muscular-skeletal system ready for higher intensity workouts. The long run is a key workout in increasing volume and promoting adaptions that will enhance endurance.”

Focus Workouts

Long Run: Depending on your abilities, include a weekly long run at a very easy pace.

Speed Work: Incorporate strides at the end of one or two of your runs. Try 10 sets of 20-30s bursts of speed, with 2min easy jogs in-between. The idea is to get your legs accustomed to some speed.

Strength Training: Include 1-3 weight or body-weight strength sessions a week (see sidebar #1).

Building Phase (~ 4-8 Weeks)

Start peppering in hill work, speed work, back-to-back long runs, and slowly keep increasing mileage or hours on the trails. Add in tempo runs to train at race-specific intensity.

Focus Workouts

Long Run: Keep building up your mileage or hours and possibly include back-to-back long runs.

Speed Work: Start with shorter tempo runs and keep building them up to 2h. Tempo runs will train your body to be able to sustain speed over distance.

Strength Training: Hill running is indispensable for strong running. Coach Andy DuBois starts his runners with six 2min repeats, and then builds to five 5min repeats. DuBois states, “Hill reps are race specific, so if it’s something like the UTMB then we’ll do more hiking up, and running fast back down.” He suggests if the race is more runnable to do 60min of running up and down a hill at a hard effort.

Peak Phase (4-6 Weeks)

This is where you start putting it all together with very strong speedy efforts. Your training should be testing you out — finding your limits and noticing possible weaknesses. As always, not getting injured is paramount, and you should be ready to back off at any time that a possible injury begins to creep in.

Rodriguez suggests: “The final phase is the stage to increase fine-tuning for your specific race. You want to be training in such a way that you feel comfortable on race day. If you are planning on running a fast marathon, you’d want to focus on speed and reduce your weekly volume/mileage as you get closer to the race. If you’re running an ultra that has a significant amount of elevation gain or loss, you want to use this phase to ensure that you are comfortable running it.”

Focus Workouts

Long Run: Start picking up the pace on the long runs and decrease the volume to allow for the extra speed. Taper down the long runs as race day nears.

Speed Work: Concentrate on longer tempo runs and long repeats of 1,200s or even 1,600s.

Strength Training: Keep up the weekly hill work to keep your climbing and declining strength. DuBois suggests, “If the race has stairs then they will have to fit into training as well, and may alternate with hill reps.” He suggests to possibly hike the stairs two at a time, do them with a weighted pack, and then, depending on the athlete, run them 1-3 at a time.

Periodisation undulates like the trails we run. It is a useful training tool that we can adapt to our needs and goals to become stronger and faster runners.


Strength Training

“Strength training will strengthen a runner in ways and to a degree that running itself will not,” says Matt Fitzgerald, an endurance sports writer, coach, and nutritionist.

Every trail runner wants to be strong and run their best. Supplementing your trail-running program with strength training can get you on track to achieving running goals and staying injury-free.

Fitzgerald feels that good core strength helps improve running economy. He says that it makes the transfer of forces between upper body and the legs more efficient. He also notes, “there is a good deal of anecdotal evidence that core strengthening reduces the risk of some injuries.”

As we get older strength becomes more important. Fitzgerald points out: “the big difference I’ve seen is in runners over 40. Those who maintain a commitment to strength training are able to extend their peak performance years, much longer than those who do not.”

A trail runner can start seeing strength gains with as little as 2-3 sessions of 20min a week. Like trail running, start with shorter easy sessions and gradually increase.

With little time investment, strength training will make you a stronger trail runner.

By Clint Cherepa

Clint is currently in Nicaragua engaged in volunteer work, writing, and ultra training. He plans on returning to the USA this summer to crew and pace his little sister in her first 50mi trail ultra.


How to Successfully Finish an Ultra with 10h Training a Week


To be an ultra runner you have to run 160km a week, minimum. You need to run for at least 20h in those seven days, and sleep is for the weak. What a load of rubbish.

If you look at Strava, Instagram, or Facebook it seems everyone is out for 7-8h every day, in the mountains or on the track, doing 500 sprints. This may work for some, but they do seem to post more pictures and race less when they have stress fractures or overtraining syndrome…

Having recently trained for a pretty successful IAU 24 Hour World and European Championships, on an average weekly training time of 8-12h, I know you don’t need to run so much that you lose all your friends to get yourself to that finish line. Maybe just find some running buddies so that you can socialise and train at the same time to avoid that too.

There is no set amount of mileage you need to have done before you get to that start line — you just need to be fit and healthy. Maybe a little bit strange too.

Remember, this is supposed to be fun as well, if you stop enjoying it because you’re always tired, then something is wrong.


Quality not Quantity

Focus on the quality, not quantity, of your training. Each session should have a purpose, be it a tempo session trying to raise lactate threshold, a hill session aimed at building strength, or a recovery session to get the blood flowing through those muscles and help them repair themselves.

If you are just going out, day in, day out, plodding round at one speed, then you are not making the most of your time. Instead, running at different speeds will keep the body adapting and growing stronger, even if it is just adding a fartlek session in each week.

As little as 10h of properly structured training, with quality sessions, is worth much more than 20h of plodding around — so instantly we have a way of becoming ultra runners in less time.


Concentrate on Recovery

You don’t overtrain, you under recover. How much work your body can take is very dependent on how well you recover, which boils down to a few factors.

How hard you work, what sessions you do, how often you run, how well you manage your nutrition, and how often you really think about recovery. A great book worth reading is “Training Food,” by Renee McGregor, which looks at what you should eat, when, and how much in order to make sure that you optimise your food to get the most out of your body.

Avoiding back-to-back hard sessions, such as hills or tempo sessions, allows your body to recuperate and grow after you have put it to work. If you feel like you can do a hill session two days in a row then I’d suggest maybe you didn’t work hard enough during the first one!



Make sure that you are doing sessions that are relevant to your race ahead and you will get twice the benefit (and thus only need to do half as much work). If your race has lots of hills, then add hills to your long run, if it has a fast flat finish, then add that in too. If you’re going to be hiking up and down stairs, then do your hill work on those. Any way of adding value to your run will make race day easier.


Run Long — But Only Once a Week

In an average week, I will rarely go over 3h of training on my long run, which is once a week, usually on a weekend. Long runs are tiring and will knacker out your muscles if you do them too often.

Doing 90min to 3h means you can get all the benefits of the longer efforts without tiring your muscles so much that you can’t hit your midweek sessions like a rocket.

If you want to feel what it is like “to run on tired legs,” like many admit they do when asked why they do huge back-to-back weekends, then add a marathon pace effort in the last 30min of your long run. That’s how it feels at the end of a race.

Try practicing your hydration and nutrition, as well as get to know your new shoes, before race day, as these are ways to make sure you are getting the most out of the time on your feet. Then get your legs up afterwards and make rest an art form, with some good books or a walk with the kids.


Organisation Makes Time

Time is a valuable commodity, so use it wisely. If you struggle to fit your running or recovery in then look to tweaking a few things in order to keep your other half happy. A healthy life outside of running means a healthy runner too!

Have recovery food ready for when you are back home, and you will recover quicker. Adding three 30min runs to your week, on an empty stomach in the morning, adds as much as 90min of a fasted run at the weekend without the big block of time and much less potential tiredness.

Many run to commute to work, and you may be a bit sweatier when you get there, but it is scientifically proven to increase productivity in the workplace. I often used to cycle or run to work in London, had a quick wash and changed my clothes and smelled better than most of the people who took the Tube to work!


Run Less, Grow Stronger

It’s when you rest that you grow stronger — training stresses the body to produce growth but is itself nothing without rest.

Add strength work into your week, either with professional advice or a wee circuit once or twice a week, as something is better than nothing and having a strong core will keep you be efficient in the second half of your ultra.

Ultimately, though one 300km week may seem like a good idea, if as a result you have to take five weeks to recover, then six 60km weeks are already a better idea. Consistency is key.

Just concentrate on how fit you can make yourself — not on how others are doing on social media — and get yourself as fit as possible on race day. Fitness is only one aspect of running ultra marathons, with pacing, nutrition, kit, strategy, and mental toughness all mattering more and more as the race gets longer!

Train smart, rest hard, race easy.


By Robbie Britton


Robbie is a British ultra runner who believes you don’t have to train long to run long. He has run 261km in 24h to prove this, but dreams of being an 800m runner. He is sponsored by Profeet.

The Skinny on Speed

AsianTrail illo-Speed (1)As trail runners, we are always trying to get our edge and stay ahead of the pack. How do I shave 10min off of my North Face 100km personal best? What do I have to do to beat Stone Tsang or John Ellis in just one 50km race? Have you ever wondered what physiological traits are the reason for which the top runners are so fast? The world’s really fast distance runners tend to look so small and weedy, as if the weakest typhoon could effortlessly blow them away, yet they seem to run at a pace rivalling that of a leopard. You’re a runner. You have put in similar training hours leading up to a big event, yet despite your tough and gruelling training schedule, you do not even match their pace on a bad day. What factors are to blame for shaming us mere mortals?

Let’s take a look at the Kenyans. When it comes to running, they are hands-down the best. This nation has produced the highest quantity of world-class runners. Two tribes are specifically notable for their exceptional runners — the Kisii and the Kalenjin. I am almost certain that you have heard of the Kalenjins. If not, you’ve probably been living underneath a boulder. The Kalenjins have won more than 50% of all Kenyan Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals. The new world record marathon holder Dennis Kimetto, from the Kalenjin tribe, set the record at 2h 2min 57s on Sept. 29, 2014. The three placing after him in that same race were also Kenyan.

David Epstein, senior editor at Sports Illustrated and the author of “The Sports Gene,” states that, “There are 17 American men in history who have ran under 2h 10min in the Chicago Marathon. There were 32 Kalenjins who did it in October 2011.”

Vincent Sarich, who was an anthropology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, calculated that Kenyans outperform the rest of the world in cross-country running by a factor of about 1700. This means that while the rest of the world has one elite athlete per 20 million males, Kenya has 80 elite athletes per every one million males. There are about 3 million Kalenjins, therefore Kenya will have about 240 elite male athletes at any one time.

So what are the biological factors that make these runners so fast? Scientists and sports gurus have researched all sorts of explanations over the years but have not come to a single conclusion. Is it diet? Altitude? Genetics? Training schedule?

Diet: This is not a big factor. The Kenyans eat lots of ugali, which is maize flower mixed with water and salt. It is a good source of carbohydrates. But we also eat our fair share of carbohydrates, so this is not a significant finding.

Altitude: This can also be ruled out as a factor. Kenya is based at a moderate altitude of 2300m. This altitude has moderate year-round temperatures, favouring year-round training and red blood cell production. In saying this, countries with a similar altitude, such as Peru, Nepal, and Lesotho, have not produced a rival number of outstanding runners — even other Kenyan tribes have not managed to bring forth as many great runners as the Kalenjins.

Talent: Perhaps a possible explanation. These tribes used to partake in cattle raiding. This practice would ensure that the best runners would obtain the most cattle and they would survive the longest by escaping the spears of the recently dispossessed cattle owners. This resulted in the best runners securing the most wives as they could provide them with the most cattle. Therefore, any genes determining running ability would be passed down through the generations as this cattle raiding practice killed off the slower runners while the faster runners procreated. Their talent was distilled. Researchers John Bale and Joe Sang state that because of this, “the Kalenjin men became not explosively muscular, but lean and tireless.”

Some scientists have also concluded that it is the shape of the Kalenjin tribe’s bodies. The Kalenjin tribe has predominantly thin ankles and calves.

There were interesting findings from a study that looked at the anthropometric, gait, and strength characteristics of Kenyan distance runners. These runners all had a low body mass index (20.1 kg.m² ± 1.8 kg.m²), a low body fat percentage (5.1% ± 1.6%) and a small calf circumference (34.5cm ± 2.3cm). This study concluded that the slim limbs of Kenyan distance runners may positively contribute to performance as there is a low moment of inertia, therefore requiring less muscular effort in leg swing. The study also found that the Kenyans had a short ground contact time. This may be related to an efficient gait and running economy as there is less time for the braking force (i.e. contact time) to decelerate the body’s forward motion.

Epstein backs this up in his book, stating that “thin ankles and calves are particularly important in running because your leg is like a pendulum. The more weight you have farther away from your centre of gravity, the more difficult it is to swing.”

Superior fatigue resistance: A study was conducted comparing a group of black runners consisting of Kenyans, Ethiopians, South Africans, and Moroccans to South African white runners. The participants had similar marathon times and similar VO2 max scores and were set to run a marathon on a treadmill. The study found that the black runners completed the marathon at a higher VO2 max (89%) than the white runners (81%). This showed that the black runners have a much greater resistance to fatigue. Meaning that if the very best black and white runners have the same VO2 max values, the black runners would still outperform the white runners in endurance events because of their greater capacity to run for longer at a higher percentage of the same VO2 max. This hypothesis has, unfortunately, not been evaluated as there are not enough elite white runners in the world to match the performances of the best Kenyans, Ethiopians, Moroccans, and South Africans. What we can take away from this is that, if we know our own VO2 max score, we can train smarter to slowly increase our VO2 max percentage when racing, and therefore increase our performance.

Muscle function and recruitment capacity: The study mentioned above also looked at muscle function and found that black distance runners could complete more contraction/relaxation cycles before they developed fatigue. This makes sense as they would be able to resist fatigue by utilising a higher level of skeletal muscle recruitment, prolonging the onset of ‘hitting a wall.’ Another study found that black African distance runners have more Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers, and their Type II fibers are more similar to their Type I (slow twitch), particularly regarding their high capillary density and high mitochondrial enzyme content. This high capillary density would ensure that oxygen delivery to, and metabolite clearance from, the muscles is more efficient. Having a high mitochondrial enzyme content would also make the muscles more efficient as they are able to utilise more oxygen as energy.

Slow rate of heat accumulation: All of us have ran a trail race during which our head felt like it is on fire, and there is nothing you can do to overcome this heat accumulation except slow down, thus limiting your performance. This is not a great racing scenario. The ability to slow the rate of heat accumulation when running fast would be highly advantageous. Factors that slow the rate of heat accumulation when running fast are: small size and high running efficiency. These are both characteristics describing Kenyan distance runners. Size can be worked on as you can always become smaller to improve your running performance. Ask most top runners what their ‘fighting weight’ or best running performance weight is and it will always be on the lower end of their scale. Running efficiency can also be worked on by improving the elastic energy return systems of the muscles. The more that the muscle acts as a spring, the less energy it will consume and the more efficient it will be. This more elastic, efficient muscle will enhance performance by slowing down the rate of metabolite accumulation causing fatigue, and prolonging the rate of a rising body temperature. Foam rolling and dynamic stretching can help to improve muscle elasticity.

In conclusion, we can improve what VO2 max percentage we perform at, our overall body weight, therefore size, and our muscle elasticity. So, despite the fact that we will never be as fast as the Kenyans, we can tweak a few factors to make us skinnier, more efficient, and quicker, and hopefully catch Stone Tsang and John Ellis on the trails soon. That is the skinny on speed.


Jessica Phillips is an exercise physiologist and running consultant at Joint Dynamics. She loves trail running and escaping manic city life to explore the many mountains and single tracks that Hong Kong has to offer.



  1. Noakes, T.D., (2001). Lore of Running; Fourth Edition; pg.s 406-408; 433-437., Oxford University Press, South Africa.
  2. Christensen, D.L., van Hall, G., Hambraeus, L. (1998). Food intake of Kalenjin runners in Kenya: A field study. Journal of Sports Sciences 16, 500.
  3. Bale, J., Sang, J. (1996). Kenyan Running: Movement Culture, Geography and Global Change. Frank Cass, London.
  4. Kong, P.W., de Heer, H. (2008).Anthropometric, gait and strength characteristics of Kenyan distance runners. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 7, 499-504.
  5. Bosch, A.N., Goslin, B.R., Noakes, T.D. (1990). Physiological changes during a simulated marathon in black and white athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology 61, 68-72.
  6. Weston, A.R., Karamizrak, O., Smith, A., Noakes, T.D., Myburgh, K.H. (1999). African runners exhibit greater fatigue resistance, lower lactate accumulation, and higher oxidative enzyme activity. Journal of Applied Physiology 86, 915–23.

By Jessica Phillips

To Pole or Not to Pole

Claus Rolff_TransLantau

Perceived Advantages:

  1. Reduce impact forces on joints and muscles.
  2. Improve posture and increase propulsion.
  3. Increase balance and stability on technical trails and water crossings.
  4. Improve running rhythm and cadence.
  5. Reduce/eliminate hand swelling.
  6. Scratch legs without bending.
  7. Defensive weapon.
  8. Psychological aid in training after lower limb injury.

Perceived Disadvantages:

  1. Increased energy expenditure, both physical and mental.
  2. Gripping causes increased tension in arms, shoulders, and face.
  3. Safety risk when falling — fractures and new piercings!
  4. Loss of use of hands.
  5. Necessity of gloves due to abrasions.
  6. Weight and ease of storage on pack.
  7. Snag on things with very sudden results.
  8. More gear = more problems.
  9. Potential damage to trail areas.
  10. Becoming dependent on them.


Looking back at videos from the last few years of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, it’s hard not to notice the forest of poles. Still, despite their prevalence the use of poles in races is not universally accepted. Ultimately though, the decision should be personal and involve a lot of testing — and thankfully, there is enough research on the subject to help us make a more informed decision.

Based on the various studies performed, it seems that running with poles does increase energy expenditure but it can help in stability, rhythm, propulsion, and impact reduction. Some research argues that poles work best uphill, others say the same for downhill, and much of the studies were done on a treadmill. Some say shorten the poles on uphill and lengthen when going downhill. I say: If it appeals to you give it a try! Work on the rhythm and cadence and build up the involved musculature. To pole or not to pole? Up to you whether those advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but have fun finding out!

If you are interested in the various researches, please refer to the following for more information.

To begin with, in 1981 Dr. G. Neureuther1 published a study that found that running with poles (RWP) decreased leg strain by 5kg per step — that means tons on a long run!

Researcher Lori Bolt et al. (2000)2 found that poles reduced the knee flexion during the swing phase and significantly increased maximum hyperextension of the hip at toe-off. They believed some of this was due to a counterbalancing force to the added arm movement and weight. They also found that most impact forces were decreased and peak propulsive force supplied by the body was also reduced when RWP.

Also in 2000, Christopher Knight and Graham Caldwell3 did an uphill treadmill study that showed RWP caused a small increase in heart rate and decreased lower leg exertion. This lead to lower stride lengths and a decreased rating of perceived exertion — suggesting that the increased energy output was balanced by the decrease in impact forces.

At a similar time Erich Müller along with Hermann Schwameder (2003)4 found a decrease in joint forces during downhill runs. Michael Bohne and Julianne Abendroth-Smith (2007)5 studied 15 experienced hikers carrying varying loads downhill and found a reduction in some of the forces at the hip, knee, and ankle when using poles.

John Willson et al. (2001)6 concluded that poles allowed people to walk faster with less impact forces. Glyn Howatson et al. (2011)7 took 37 volunteers up and down Mount Snowdon in the USA, some with poles, some without. The group with poles reported a lower subjective exertion rating and their muscles bounced back quicker the next day by both subjective and objective measures.

As usual we see conflict in results from medical science. On a hilly course, Michael Saunders et al. (2008)8 found an increase in VO2 max and heart rate with no perceived subjective exertion. Yet the same year Matthieu Foissac et al.9 found no significant increase in VO2 max and heart rate at a 20 degree incline on a treadmill when poles were used! Foissac’s group also found RWP reduced lower limb muscle activity. However, musculature activity in the upper limbs was up 95%. This tension also led to the tightening up of the face. 2008 was busy as Stephane Perrey and Nicolas Fabre10 compared energy expenditure in 12 volunteers on a treadmill and found that poles did indeed increase energy outlay but only in downhill situations.

Visibly, studies regarding poles are mixed. One would think the added movement involving poles would cost more energy! In fact 2011 Nordic walking studies by Vaida Sokelienë and Vida Cesnaitienè (2011)11 found the added load increased heart rate by 15% in comparison to comparable walking without poles. Milan Kůtek12 found in 2012 that poles increased heart rate by 15-20%. Petr Bahenský13 did similar tests and found the heart rate to be up only 4.5%. Many studies were on treadmills, which, particularly for trail running, are very different from outdoor conditions.

Yannick Daviaux et al. (2013)14 found running with poles increases stability and reduces load on the body: “these results support a facilitating effect of pole use for propulsion during level running and for the absorption phase during downhill running.”

The 2012 European Athletics Innovation Award15 went to a paper considering the advantages of running with poles. Its hypothesis was that pole use, by decreasing impact and injury and increasing safety and training effect, would increase the benefits of running while decreasing foot load. The authors found more intensive breathing, more recruitment of chest, arm and shoulder muscles, and therefore more energy used. Depending on speed, the foot can take a load many times that of the bodyweight on each foot strike. They found running with poles showed less impact force, more forward/forefoot strike, and a subjective perception of stability. This paper concluded running with poles “is highly efficient in increasing the physical impact of running but decreasing the leg joint overstraining.”

Doug has been a physiotherapist for 26 years and currently practices at Jardine House Sports and Spinal Clinic (www. This column aims to explain how body parts work and how you can care for and fix them.



  1. Neureuther, G. “The Ski Pole in Summer.” MMW Munch Med Wochenschr13 (1981): 513-4.
  2. Bolt, Lori. “The Effect of Running Poles on the Kinetics and Kinematics of Jogging.” Ball State University (2000).
  3. Knight, Christopher, and Graham Caldwell. “Muscular and Metabolic Costs of Uphill Backpacking: Are Hiking Poles Beneficial?” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 12 (2000): 2093-101.
  4. Müller, Erich, and Hermann Schwameder. “Biomechanical Aspects of New Techniques in Alpine Skiing and Ski-Jumping.” Journal of Sports Sciences9 (2003): 679-92.
  5. Abendroth-Smith, Julianne, and Michael Bohne. “Effects of Hiking Downhill Using Trekking Poles While Carrying External Loads.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1 (2007): 177-83.
  6. Willson, John, M. Torry, et al. “Effects of Walking Poles on Lower Extremity Gait Mechanics.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1 (2001): 142–7.
  7. Howatson, Glyn, P. Hough, et al. “Trekking Poles Reduce Exercise-Induced Muscle Injury during Mountain Walking.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise1 (2011):140-5.
  8. Saunders,Michael,  Hipp, et al. “Trekking Poles Increase Physiological Responses to Hiking without Increased Perceived Exertion.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22.5 (2008): 1468-74.
  9. Foissac, Matthieu, R. Berthollet, et al. “Effects of Hiking Pole Inertia on Energy and Muscular Costs during Uphill Walking.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 6 (2008): 1117-25.
  10. Perrey, Stephane, and Nicolas Fabre. “Exertion during Uphill, Level and Downhill Walking with and without Hiking Poles.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 7 (2008): 32-8.
  11. Sokelienë, Vaida, and Vida Cesnaitienè. “The Influence of Nordic Walking on Physical Fitness of Elderly People.” Ugdymas, Kúno Kultura, Sportas 82 (2011): 45-51.
  12. Kůtek, Milan. “Běhat Sholemi? Rozhodně Ano!” Run6 (2012): 54-7.
  13. Bahenský, Petr. “Comparison of Responses of the Organism to Load Exerted by Running with Poles and Without Poles.” Indian Journal of Research3 (2014):140-1.
  14. Daviaux, Yannick, F. Hintzy, et al. “Effect of Using Poles on Foot-Ground Kinetics during Stance Phase in Trail Running.” European Journal of Sport Science 5 (2013): 468-74.
  15. Tvrzník, Aleš, and Milan Kůtek. “Running with Poles as an Efficient Training Method Eliminating Overstraining of Athlete’s Feet.” Winning paper of the 2012 European Athletics Innovation Awards.

By Doug Tahirali

Recovery Between Races

Asia Trail Recovery Between Races

With the number of great races available on the racing calendar today, a question I am often asked is “I have two big races six weeks apart, how can I speed up my recovery from the first race so I can run well at the second one?”

With six weeks between races there is indeed enough time to recover, train, and taper again. With only four weeks, it’s more about recovery and keeping the legs ticking over before the next race.

Preparation for the second race starts the second you cross the finish line of the first event. At this point, your first priority is nutrition. Consuming a drink with both carbohydrates and protein in approximately a 3- or 4-1 ratio, within the first hour, will start the recovery process.

Next, put on some compression tights as there is plenty of research showing that they may have a positive effect on recovery, and none demonstrating that they have a negative impact.

In the first hour or so after finishing, try and keep moving around rather than collapsing on the bed. This will keep your blood flowing to the muscles to help remove waste products from the race you just finished. I wouldn’t recommend ice baths, or anything similar, as there’s research suggesting these practices block training gains. If your race was taking place the very next day, ice baths may help, but if you have 4-6 weeks, then you want to maximise the training benefit of the first race so you go into the second event even stronger and fitter.

Sleep is when all recovery happens. It’s when the body repairs all the damaged cells, so getting as much sleep as you possibly can in the week after the first race is extremely important. Sleeping the night after a tough race can be fitful as your legs keep twitching and your are buzzing with post-race adrenaline, so grabbing naps in the first two days to optimise sleep can help. Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep in recovery — it’s likely to have more of an effect than any of the other recovery modalities I discuss below.

During the first two days after the race, go for several walks, 15-20min is plenty, and you are better off doing 3-4 of 15-20min walks rather than one longer one or a short run.

In the initial days, light massages, helping to stimulate blood flow to the legs, will improve recovery. Alternating heat and ice on sore muscles will have a similar effect. Also, try a few minutes of heat followed by a few minutes of applying ice, repeating this 2-3 times once or twice a day.

I would avoid the foam roller until some of the soreness has resided. After a week the foam roller may help work out the last layers of soreness. Whilst the research on foam rollers isn’t conclusive, there is enough support to make their use worthwhile in the recovery process.

Good nutrition throughout the first week will ensure your body can create the right building blocks to repair your muscles. Though I don’t believe any particular foods have any special benefits, I do think making sure you consume a wide variety of vegetables and good sources of fat and protein with every meal is important.

Continue walking regularly each day until the legs have recovered enough to go for a short 20-30min run. This may take 1-3 days depending on the event and how well you trained for it. If you are very sore, don’t worry about forcing yourself to run. Brisk walks several times a day will give you a much better recovery effect than an easy run, and you aren’t going to gain any fitness benefits from a very short, slow recovery run.

Once you are up to running again, build slowly. Fatigue occurs on many levels and even though a 60min run feels great, you may find weariness setting in as soon as you go longer or push harder. In the first seven days, I would stick to 60min runs, or less. In the second week, begin to increase distance but without much intensity at all. By week three, you should be able to resume more normal training, although I would avoid running hard downhills, and stay away from any long and hard tempo runs, as the load on the legs is much higher in these kinds of runs.

By week four, you should be able to do a normal hard week of training before you start tapering off during the two weeks prior to the next race. Even though the legs might be feeling good at this stage, and you may think a two week taper is too long, keep in mind that there will still be some fatigue at a deep level even after four weeks, one which you’ll probably only start feeling late into the next race — so it’s better to have a good taper to give yourself the best chance of racing well.


By Andy DuBois

Andy is an award-winning personal trainer and elite endurance athlete specializing in ultra running. You can find more useful info on his ultra running coach website (


Photo credit: Assaf de Courcy Arbiser

Step Your Game Up During Winter Months


With the weather finally cooling down in Hong Kong, many of you are hitting the great outdoors for a 10K or fun run. However it involves more than just lacing up your runners and programming the perfect playlist. After long summer months of water sports coupled with your favorite summer BBQ and beer, these simple steps will get you on your feet again — the safe and healthy way.


Fuel Up

Skipping meals should never be part of an exercise regimen, but eating right should. Fuel up with whole-grains like whole wheat breads, pastas and rice two hours before your workout to give you longer lasting energy to get through your runs. Foods to avoid include anything high in added sugars such as jams and jellies, cookies, cakes, pies and doughnuts as they tend to give you a quick burst of energy, and lead to a drastic drop in your blood sugar subsequently.

Drink Up

Always go into a workout hydrated. Not only does it help to prevent muscle tears, it might also help you perform better during the workout, especially in the heat. Water is good enough if the run is under 60 minutes, but sports drink might be beneficial for runs more than an hour as it helps to replenish electrolytes and carbohydrate utilized during the prolonged workout.

Warm Up

Warm up and cool down are often overlooked but they are in fact important components of the workout. Creating a smooth transition from the warm-up to the high intensity workout is a great way to prevent injuries. Try squats, forward lunges, or the soldier walk, before your workout next time.

Rest Up

After a long run, muscle fibers are torn microscopically. As such, it is important that you allow your muscles enough time to recover and heal.  Either a day of rest or get on a bicycle, get in a pool, do some strength training or core work such as yoga, so you can give those muscles a chance to heal and rebuild.

By: Michelle Lau of Nutrilicious

Michelle is certified nutritionist (MSc.) and nutrition expert who specializes in sports nutrition, weight management, pre-post natal nutrition. For more health and nutrition tips, follow her blog: instagram/facebook @nutriliciousss.

Photo credit: Sunny Lee

How to Pace an Ultra


This has to be the most common question I am ever asked as a coach. Bottom line, getting the pace right, particularly in the first few hours of a race, will have a massive impact on the outcome of your race. Start by going too fast and any time you made up in the first half of a race, and not to mention potentially a lot more, will be lost in the second half. In fact, very few races are lost due to going too slow at the start.


Photo: Claus Rolff

The effect of running too fast in the beginning

Running too fast has a number of major negative effects on the body. Not only does it burn more calories but burns more calories from carbohydrates instead of fats, and as such does more damage to your leg muscles. Burning more calories from carbohydrates means you have to replace more calories, which will inevitably increase your chances of suffering gastric problems, a major reason for DNFs in ultras. Doing more damage to your leg muscles in the early stages is not something you can recover from during a race; once the damage is done it’s done, and you’ll have to deal with the consequences later on.


How slow should you go at the start?

In a race where the terrain varies so much, how can you set a target for your running pace? In a marathon the goal is to try to run the second half as close to the speed of the first half as possible. In most hilly ultras 100% of the field will run the second half of the race slower than the first, and usually by a significant amount. But those who can slow down the least will usually be at the front of the field.


The danger of having fresh, tapered legs is that your long run training pace now feels very easy and the temptation to run faster is extremely high. However, in shorter races your race pace is faster than your training pace, but during ultras the race pace is often slower than your training pace. So if you start the race at your training pace, it is often not sustainable and will usually result in quads that have had enough well before the end of the race.


My advice is to ignore your watch completely and not worry about measures of speed or heart rate. Make sure the first hour feels more manageable than your normal easy run. The longer the race the slower the race pace will be relative to your training pace. Focus on your breathing and perceived effort, making sure that the undertaking feels easier than your long training runs. Don’t worry about losing time in the first few hours, your patience will reward you with legs that can still run in later stages of the race.


Taking it easy at the start of the race requires discipline, patience, and the ability to put aside your ego. The start of an ultra is not the time to let your competitive nature show itself.


In some races there is a mad sprint to get to a climb or single track before the masses to avoid getting stuck in a big line. You need to ask yourself how much time you will actually lose getting stuck in a queue of people versus losing time later in the race due to your legs being exhausted and preventing you from finishing. For most people the damage done running too hard at the start will far exceed any time lost waiting in a queue.


Running versus walking uphill

When to walk and when to run is another difficult decision. Running up hills early in the race can burn up a lot of calories that you may struggle to replace later on. Once again the key is to focus on intensity. As soon as you feel the intensity rise, slow down the pace, and if that means that for some time you have to walk, then so be it.


How fast should I run down hill?

Whilst running down hill requires less aerobic energy, it places much more pressure on your quads. Run down hill too fast and you’ll overload your quads, making running later in the race far more difficult. For this reason, when running down hill you can’t ultimately rely on intensity to be the measure determining your pace. You will need to think about the load on your quads, making sure it doesn’t significantly surpass what you’d experience running on flat terrain. Focusing on minimising the load by running with smaller, faster strides and light landings to reduce the strain on your leg muscles will help you avoid incurring any undesirable damage.


The one golden rule to remember when working out the pace at which to run an ultra is: if you think you are going too fast, you are, and if you think you are going too slow, you aren’t.


Article by Andy DuBois published in Asia Trail in November 2014.


Andy is an award-winning personal trainer and elite endurance athlete specializing in ultra running. You can find more useful info on his ultra running coach website (www.

Supergreen Smoothie: A Boost after your Run

supergreen-smoothieBy increasing your daily consumption of leafy greens, you will provide your body with lots of micronutrients that will help with your exercise and training, and provide great health benefits. A quick and easy way to include supergreens within your diet is to simply add some greens into a smoothie — doing this actually doesn’t change the flavour, only adds lots of nutrients. A smoothie combined with nut butter for protein, fruits, coconut water or almond milk, flax seeds or avocados, will give you a healthy boost and replenish your energy stores after a long run.



  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup kale
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1/2 cup spinach
  • 1 apple, cored and sliced
  • 1/2 cup mango
  • 1 banana
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp spirulina
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 tbsp flaxseeds


Combine all the ingredients in a blender, mix, and enjoy!


Katia Kucher is the owner of d.BeFit (, is a NASM certified personal trainer, a NASM Sports Nutrition Specialist, as well as is TRX certified.


No-Bake Energy Bites

no bake energy bites

1 cup dry oatmeal

1/2 cup raw cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup peanut or almond butter

1/2 cup ground flaxseed

1/3 cup honey

1 tsp vanilla



Mix all ingredients, roll into a ball using a piece of parchment paper.

Place into an airtight container. Refrigerate or freeze. Enjoy!

By Katia Kucher (, a NASM Sports Nutrition Specialist.