Sunday, June 25, 2017

Perspective of a Former Five-Time Champion

Four-Time World Champion Martha Ellis
As a woman entering the fire service in the early 1990’s I felt it was critical to establish myself as a physically capable employee early in my career. Granted, everyone was expected to pass a physical ability test, but I was looking for something more definitive and irrefutable. Opportunities to “prove” one’s self on the actual fire ground are usually few and far between. The subjectivity of field evaluation by my peers also left me feeling vulnerable to misrepresentation and distortion of the facts.

Finding the Firefighter Combat Challenge (Challenge) was heaven sent because it was controlled, measurable and an undeniable representation of both the mental and physical rigors of the fire ground. Participating in the Challenge truly set the tone for my entire career.

First and foremost, it redefined what teamwork in physical and mental preparedness meant to me. I’d been an athlete all my life, including collegiate sports, and I can honestly say I’d never trained as hard for anything prior. Our team pushed each other every day to become stronger, faster and more consistent. Although each of us stepped onto that course alone, the sense of team and commitment to greater representation was embedded in every effort. Our team grew from commitment and sacrifice to each other’s success, values learned only from a strong sense of common purpose. That’s what the Challenge gave us as a team.

As an individual, I gained a deep sense great satisfaction from my involvement in the Challenge. I left no doubt with my peers that I could “carry my weight.” I could walk into the firehouse confident that I was an accepted and integral part of that combat team.

The collateral benefits have continued to pay dividends to this day, 16 years after my last effort on the course. Embracing the importance of physical preparedness in the fire service I became a champion for the cause. I began speaking at fire conferences on the subject of fitness, nutrition and the politics of establishing fitness standards for incumbent personnel. I was also invited to speak to women firefighting groups specifically about the challenges we face and how we can better prepare ourselves to not just survive a career in the fire service, but thrive.

In looking for opportunities to reach a larger audience I began submitting articles to various trade magazines. I developed a fantastic working relationship with Fire Rescue Magazine, becoming their fitness editor and monthly columnist for five years. I also served on their editorial board for several years following, continuing to spread the word on the value of fitness in the fire service.

The Challenge and what followed helped me develop in too many ways to even mention. Suffice it to say I’m a stronger, more engaged, politically savvy member of the fire service largely because I made the choice to step out on the course and compete. Personally speaking, the singularly greatest collateral benefit of my involvement in the Challenge has been my marriage of 20 years to my teammate, best friend, mentor, unwavering supporter and life love, Jeff Ellis. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t dared to participate in the Firefighter Combat Challenge.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why Humans Should Warm Up Before Exercise

From Today I Found Out by Davin Hiskey

There isn’t a respectable personal trainer in any sport that doesn't stress the importance of warming up before you begin a workout or athletic endeavor. Most people seem to know you can prevent injuries and allow for better performance should you follow their advice. So, what about warming up allows for these benefits? What exactly is going on in the body when you more slowly prepare it for strenuous activity, rather than just jumping right into it?

The simple answer is that warming up increases blood flow to muscles, allowing for an elevated amount of oxygen and nutrients to be delivered. This prepares the muscles for a rise in workload. Warming up will also begin raising body temperature, which helps you utilize oxygen better. That boost in blood flow also serves to prime the nerves supplying your muscles with impulses, increasing the quality of performance.

Along with the blood flow and temperature benefits, an appropriate warm up also prevents injuries by providing a greater range of motion, while simultaneously improving the lubrication of joints, allowing for better movement. Lastly, many trainers posit that a good warm-up before any event where performance is valued can help mentally prepare you for the task to come.

So that's the high-level view of it all. But what actually is going on internally here?

First, let’s look at what gives your body the ability to deliver more oxygen. It seems common sense that if the average heart rate is around 70 beats per minute, and each beat ejects approximately 70 ml of blood, then your heart will circulate about 4.9 liters every minute. The higher the heart rate, the more blood will be pumped. During extreme exercise, studies have shown your heart can pump up to 30 liters per minute! The question then becomes- why does slowly increasing heart rate, and by extension blood flow, vs. suddenly leaping into action and rapidly increasing blood flow allow for better performance, while reducing injury?

When your muscles are working harder than normal, they require more oxygen and nutrients. This provides all the electrolytes responsible for the electrical impulses providing for muscle contraction and glucose to start a cascade of chemical events leading to the production of a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is responsible for moving those electrolytes (and other molecules) into, out of, and around your cells. Oxygen is also essential in creating ATP.

When oxygen is used to create ATP, it’s called aerobic metabolism. When you increase the work of your muscles past the point oxygen can make the appropriate amount of ATP, your cells begin to use glucose and acids to make more, also known as anaerobic metabolism.

The byproduct of anaerobic metabolism is the increased production of an acid called pyruvate, which also creates lactic acid. Those acids will cause all kinds of damage to your cells. The resulting pain that follows leaves every marathon runner in agony the next day. The maximum heart rate at which your cells can use oxygen to make ATP is known as your Vo2max.

What does all this chemistry have to do with warming up?

Studies have consistently shown that your Vo2 max is increased when you warm up slowly. This is because the many small capillaries that supply your cells are closed when resting. Should you open them up, they’ll be more able to provide the extra oxygen and nutrients to the working cells. So, warming up will cause those resting capillaries to open up. Thus, when the event starts, and you really need them, they’ll already be able to handle a higher Vo2max, and you get a better performance.

For example, in one study, people were subjected to sprinting at maximum effort for 10-15 seconds without warming up. 70% of them had abnormal ECG findings (the electrical impulses providing your heart with its needed contraction). Those abnormalities were attributed to inadequate blood supply to the heart (anaerobic metabolism). Those affected 70% of participants were then allowed to warm up for just 2 minutes prior to sprinting, again for 10-15 seconds. That little of a warm up was enough to reduce the ECG abnormalities by 90%!

Another way your body gets the benefit of more oxygen is by raising its temperature and making your cells more acidic. An increase in your body's temperature will support faster muscle contraction and relaxation, as well as a boost to nerve impulses and raise the metabolism of cells. One of the mechanisms for these results revolves around how your body carries that oxygen.

The molecule within your blood responsible for circulating oxygen is called hemoglobin, which attaches and subsequently releases oxygen thanks to the affinity hemoglobin has for oxygen. (That affinity is measured by what is known as the oxygen-hemoglobin dissociation curve.)

To spare you a lengthy technical discussion of how that all works, I'll just say that, in a nutshell, each hemoglobin molecule can carry four oxygen molecules. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will carry four, but it can. The amount of oxygen it does carry is called oxygen saturation. The more oxygen around the hemoglobin, like in the case of hemoglobin exposed to the air in your lungs, the more saturated it will become. In environments where there is less oxygen present, like in the case of cells that are experiencing anaerobic metabolism, hemoglobin will release the oxygen. That free oxygen is then readily available for your cells to use to create ATP.

At higher body temperatures and more acidic environments, hemoglobin will release more oxygen compared to lower temperatures, and less acidic environments. Should you warm up, your increased body temperature and the slightly higher acidic environment inside your cells will cause your hemoglobin to release more oxygen. The result increases your cells' ability to make more ATP using oxygen and giving you the competitive advantage of an increased Vo2max. These results are known as The Bohr effect.

Thus, increased blood flow, combined with the greater oxygen metabolism, accounts for several of the known benefits to warming up- namely, the performance enhancement provided by the increased Vo2max, and the priming of the nerves supplying your muscles with their necessary impulses.

Now on to injury prevention.

It's widely known that warming up will prevent muscle injury, specifically, preventing painful tears and strains. No study to date has definitively shown the exact mechanisms causing the damage. Get a group of people to subject themselves to a study administering muscle stress so great it will tear them while a team of researchers monitors everything going on internally and you might be able provide some detailed insight...

Until then, the leading theory is that "cold" muscles are less elastic and shorter than those that aren’t. Along with the muscles, your ligaments and tendons also shorten up when not particularly used. Should you subject your shortened and stiff muscles, tendons, and ligaments to the force required for strenuous activity, they may snap or tear, somewhat analogous to how a cold rubber band will snap quicker than a warm one when stretched. So, warm up, then stretch appropriately, and your rubber-band-muscles will be able to better elongate like Gumby in a yoga class, thus helping to prevent injury.

As the theory on injury prevention goes, your joints will also begin to become more lubricated during warm up, allowing for greater range of motion (ROM). This is because the production of fluid that brings oxygen and nutrients into the joints, while also providing lubrication (synovial fluid), is increased during exercise. So, warm up, and your joints will also be better able to handle the stress and the increased ROM needed for athletic performance.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Branson Discovered

The crowd on the Blue side of the course at Branson on the Bass Pro lot
I don’t know what you’ve heard about Branson, Missouri, but if you’re like me, probably not much.

Last year was our first appearance there and regrettably, I had a schedule conflict, as I originally did in May of this year. But the flooding of the Lake and subsequently our parking lot venue in Spring postponed the event, so last weekend we headed back.

A sinkhole at Top of the Rock in Branson
First, there’s a good reason why 10M people visit Branson every year. The sheer number of attractions and amenities are too numerous to cover in this BlogSpot. For starters, did you know that in many states where there is a Bass Pro store, it’s the number one attraction in that state? Bass Pro got started in Springfield, just 50 miles up the Interstate. Bass Pro graciously provided their parking lot for our event.

I was afforded a two-hour tour by Terra Alphonso of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. We must have driven 30 miles and sill did not see everything. There are amusement parks, water parks, ballparks, miniature and professional golf courses galore. Roller coasters, Ferris wheels, hotels, motels, lodges, gated resorts, go-cart courses, concert halls and every imaginable restaurant. If you go bored in Branson, it’d be because you never left your room.

The driving range at Top of the Rock
What’s likely in our future is a World Challenge event in the out years. Normally, we say very little until we have a signed contract. But in this case, I’d like to get out in front of the schedule. I can’t say when, but I’m pretty sure yes is the answer that it’s going to happen. And my job is to raise the awareness of the attractions, features, and benefits for any of the venues where the Challenge will be.

This is the first of several overviews of Branson that will appear in my BlogSpot. I can guarantee that whether you wait for the Challenge to happen there, or you just decide to check it out for a family destination, you won’t be disappointed with any time spent in Branson.