“I competed in university in Canada and continued on after with a club and compete at the Olympic Trials twice. And to some people, that seems like really highest of levels. And I might agree to a certain level. But in Canada versus the United States, for example, the Olympic trials are quite vastly different. If you make the Olympic Trials in the US, arguably you’re sort of a top athlete in track. Whereas in Canada, you can kind of sneak into the Olympic Trials in a way mostly because there’s not as much depth in Canada for Olympic Trials.
You still have to, of course, qualify and compete. But it’s not as hard as it might be in a country like the US where the depth and athletes level and abilities is so so deep. And for example, I would never qualify for that because in the US.”
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JESSE: Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today has his Ph.D. in Biomechanics. He’s an Associate Professor at the University of Memphis doing a lot of interesting research. He’s also a runner. Welcome to the show, Dr. Max Paquette.
MAX: Hi, thanks for having me.
JESSE: Max, before we got going, we were talking about running, we’re talking about your history and running, we’re debating a little bit about what it means to be a pro runner. In your own words, you can kind of go over it again. But as a primer, I would consider where you were, at least at one point probably in that realm, even though there’s no official line of demarcation. I think if you’re getting close to or at Olympic Qualifying, Olympic Trial qualifying time that I think that’s a pretty good line of demarcation.
MAX: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I mean, we’re talking about this a minute ago. I competed in university in Canada and continued on after with a club and compete at the Olympic Trials twice. And to some people, that seems like really highest of levels. And I might agree to a certain level. But in Canada versus the United States, for example, the Olympic trials are quite vastly different. If you make the Olympic Trials in the US, arguably you’re sort of a top athlete in track.
Whereas in Canada, you can kind of sneak into the Olympic Trials in a way mostly because there’s not as much depth in Canada for Olympic Trials. You still have to, of course, qualify and compete. But it’s not as hard as it might be in a country like the US where the depth and athletes level and abilities is so so deep.
And for example, I would never qualify for that because in the US had I attempted that when I was competing, just to kind of show you the difference. Okay. I probably would have been a good 15 seconds off in the steeplechase to qualify. And probably another seven, eight seconds in a 1,500, something like that. So, just to kind of show, you like the difference there.
JESSE: So, if you’re listening, and you’re not familiar with that kind of time, it seems like– So, if you step back from kind of where are you were back to the realm of, say, average age grouper, and they’re like, I’m running a– [04:35] 5K, like seven to eight seconds isn’t a big deal. But at that level, seven to eight seconds is a lot.
MAX: Yes, exactly.
JESSE: There’s a ton of people in that span.
MAX: That’s a fair point to clarify that. I tell people a lot because it’s sometimes as a former athlete, who competed at some level, right, often you’ll say, you’ll go run a local 5K, for example, and run, I don’t know, 16:30 or 17 minutes, and you’re [??? 05:00] oh, that’s amazing. And I’m at a point now in my life where for one I can’t even do 16:30, 17 minutes or something like that right now. But when I was able to do this kind of off the couch, if you will be, [??? 05:14] I’d be like yeah, yeah, it was all right.
And people would almost find that sort of condescending. Or just because they’re trying to break 20 minutes, and you talk as if 16:30 is no big deal. But again, I always try to tell people, if you’re a 20-minute 5K person and you just run 23 minutes, you probably wouldn’t be too happy with it. Right? And they’re like, yeah. So anyway, so that’s just the relativity of time and performance, I suppose.
JESSE: Yeah. I mean, it’s an expectation thing. And as I was saying, before we get going, it’s– And I often mentioned, my kind of friend and former coach, Barb Lindquist, who was at one time ranked number one in the world in triathlon. And I watched her Olympic race. I had never seen it. And then when COVID hit, they were replaying it. And so she competed in the Olympics in 2004. And so I was like texting her while it was going on.
Obviously, this is 15, 16 years ago now that this has happened. And she was like, oh, yeah, the glory days. And she really plays down that whole experience, I think there’s just something that there’s some kind of mental adjustment that happens that I think, if I look at her, and I think about even my own performances, versus like, as you mentioned, that 16:30, 17-minute range, like we run that and like, okay, that was okay, but that’s not my personal best. I think she does it, we do it, where it’s like, I know, I’ve done better. I have higher expectations for myself. So, then it’s not a big deal.
MAX: Yeah. Yeah. And I think you’re right. I think it recalibrates too with age and with– I wouldn’t say what age necessarily because you always think about it. But I would say when you come to terms of their current level of fitness, and you objectively assess where you are, and say you know what, I should be happy with X, right, as opposed to whatever my PB is from 10 years ago, or whatever.
And I think at the elite level, and the elite mindset, that might take a while to kind of come to terms with that and accept that. But you get to a point where it’s like, okay, yeah, that was– that’s normal now, this is fine, this is good, I’m still able, if I’m able to run a even a 17-minute 5K or 18-minute 5K, you’re still performing at a level that it’s probably in the top percentile running the whole world. So, you gotta kind of think of it that way.
JESSE: Yeah, I think that’s something I looked up before. And I can’t remember exactly where it is. But I think you’re right there. It’s somewhere around that like 18, 17:30-ish mark, where it’s like, that’s the top 1% of times. [??? 07:55] for people that were involved in trying to be a pro or really take it to the next level, that seems incredibly slow just because that curve’s almost exponential towards the performance side, where you start to get Galen Rupp and the other guys going 13 something for their 5K. And you’re like, I couldn’t touch that if I wanted to.
MAX: Or even women now running low 14s and 14:30s and 20s. And like American distance running, for example, on the women’s side now, if you run 15:30, it’s a solid college time for women. Right? And the goal isn’t– Like, now it’s more common to take a crack at 15 minutes. It used to be this like, well, 15-minute mark for the 5,000. Now it’s like all right, let’s do it. Let’s try it. Let’s give it a shot. It just has a more normalized threshold. So, across the board. I think that’s true.
JESSE: So, this is a little diversion off of you kind of but I think you said you’re coaching your wife, right now as well?
MAX: I coach my wife, gosh, my wife from let’s see, 15, 2015 to, maybe before the fall of 2014 until last fall. And then she kind of got to a point where we live in Memphis, Tennessee and great places to run, great city for running. But from a training standpoint, it got difficult for her to, just the day to day, the motivation to be by yourself constantly, and I was running with her most of the time for workouts.
But in January 2019, I tore my right ACL playing basketball and so I wasn’t able to run at all that last year in 2019. So, then I couldn’t run with her at all and so she was completely solo. She did a few altitude training camps that was good because she was able to run with people there in Boulder.
And then last fall she, with her agent and with Ben Rosario, of NAC Elite and Flagstaff, there was some conversations about her potentially joining the group. And then the conversations became a bit more real. And then she signed a contract with NAC and then started on January 1st, and then she’s been there. And it’s been running really great, enjoying the environment, the team atmosphere, the group environment. And so now she’s fully with the group since January one and has been coached by Ben Rosario, who is the head coach there. Yeah.
JESSE: I’m trying to remember where we were a second ago because something led me into thinking about that. Because I think I’d seen on your Instagram that like, speak about her performance running personal bests after like a 10-year span from college to now– [crosstalk]
MAX: Yeah. Yeah, she’s got an outstanding sort of progression. Yeah.
JESSE: Yeah, it seems like obviously, you played a role in her training there for a time. And as we were just talking about the kind of readjusting expectations, I guess, what kind of mental adjustments did she make? Or did you help her stay into continue trying to find a new personal best? Because to be after something for so long, and to take so much time to get there is not an easy feat.
MAX: Yeah, it’s a good question. And it’s a bit, for her, it’s quite fascinating how it all went down. I mean, she just had a really good college career, and then Baylor University, and then turned pro with A6 for a few years, and then had a slew of injuries and join a group that wasn’t a best fit for her. And then that was a few years of sort of, no progression, no improvements, lost her contract, was not sponsored for years, got a couple of switches and coaches.
And then I accepted an offer for my job that I’m currently in at the [??? 12:00] of Memphis in 2012. She was finishing her master’s degree at Tennessee in Knoxville. And so she had a year left and she stayed back and was coached still there, then moved to Memphis and was coached by someone remotely, in 2013 and 14, and did decently well. I think she ran really closer to her [??? 12:22] in 2014.
And then that fall, that coaching relationship kind of stopped, and then she was sort of without a coach in 2014, at the end of the year, and then we sort of decided that I would coach her. To me, it’s not always the best option to coach your spouse, but it definitely was the best option at the time for her. And from my perspective, so my background with running research and biomechanics, it was really a question of trying to get her away from the injury cycle that she’d been in.
So, I had never coached at her level, and not that coaching knowledge doesn’t translate from coaching sub-elite [??? 13:04] the same mindset, it’s just there are other things you have to consider, right. So, it’s a bit more– The outcomes are more important, typically, and so on. But the big thing was just to try to get her out of that injury cycle. And so did a lot of– most of the work around that was to make sure that she was healthy. And we got her healthy.
It took about a year from 2014 to the end of 2015 for her to start some form changes, like some strength that was tossed into that, a lot of work with her physical therapist in town. And then, yeah she had a really good fall in 2015. And 2016, she kind of started out her new career, if you will, as a 5,000-meter runner, because she had been an 800, 1,500 meter runner.
And out of the gate, she was obviously, it was clear that was her [??? 13:56] 15-teens, then in 2016. And then from 2016 to 2019 I mean, she ran 15:14 to 15:19 [??? 14:08] how many times– number of times. And going back to the whole injury cycle aspect of it, for me, it was never about, “Oh, yes, I wanted her to get better.”
And she was better than she was– In 2019, she was better than she was in 2016. But her times didn’t really improve per se. There’s other reasons involved that like racing opportunities and things like that and at the elite level, the race you’re in really matters often for fast times. And so we won’t get into that.
But she ended up just staying there at that 15:14 to 15:19 range consistently, but her placing at the US champs kept getting better, her racing was better, and so on and so forth. And then her training load, if you will, wasn’t crazy high compared to other athletes that are 5,000 meters specialists.
And that transition with NAC Elite was really that big part as one as the great environment and Flagstaff, great teammates, great coaching, great resources, and then just the training, it’s just more than she was doing. And she responded really well to it. And so it was a really nice progression that way. It was a good solid, like three and a half, four years of making sure she was away from the major injury cycle, like bone stress injuries and things like that.
She had a couple of Achilles flare-ups, but aside from that, it was trying to basically minimize the risks of major injuries. Like to me, a stress fracture would be obviously a major injury that takes you away for enough time that it affects your performance, long term.
And so then yeah, the progression to NAC was really seamless and she’s really been enjoying it. And it was yeah, overall, sort of adding on to her bank of training, if you will, made a lot of sense.
JESSE: It seems like you’re talking about you being the right option at that time, especially regarding injuries, it seems like that probably played a role in making you the right person to help coach her since that’s kind of what you specialize in research-wise.
MAX: Well, I was the only option at the time. And, I mean, they’re probably with a bit sort of– It would have been possible for him to be coached by somebody else, no doubt. But from a logistical standpoint, and everything else, it made a lot more sense to do it that way. And it did end up working out really well.
And it wasn’t just me, it was also I mean– It was also the resources that we had in Memphis with our physio in town, [??? 16:48] and other people involved at the time, and still now. But yeah, it worked out as it often does that way. So, yeah.
JESSE: Well, I think, and maybe this is the paper you mentioned you getting a lot of press, talking about mileage not being the best indicator of like stress load on people. That ideology, is that kind of the underlying idea of helping get her out of that cycle?
MAX: Yeah. It’s a nice transition, by the way, on that. And I think, just to go back to [??? 17:32], and what you just asked. For her, it wasn’t so much like volume, that was the issue. At the time of the recurring injuries, it was mostly Achilles injuries and calf injuries and things like that and a couple of foot injuries.
It was a lot of the intensity, like spending a lot of time on the track, really hammering out track sessions and short sprinting stuff. Not that there’s anything wrong with those types of sessions, obviously. It’s just the context of not being ready for that. And some people just are, unfortunately, not sort of put together in a way that they can handle a lot of that. And so anyway, so it was sort of for her, to answer your question, it wasn’t really about mileage, per se.
So, the paper you’re mentioning now is a clinical commentary that myself and Chris Napier, who’s a physio up in Canada, UBC. And it was also a really good runner himself. He was like a [??? 18:32] marathoner. Rich Willie, who’s arguably one of the most… I mean, from my perspective, and I know from your perspective one of the best sort of running specific PTs in the world, I would argue.
He’s based in Montana, and he also has a Ph.D. in biomechanics. And so is Chris, by the way, Chris Napier. And then [??? 18:55] long friend of mine sort of served as a mentor as well, when I was starting out in science and Trent’s the Director of Research and Innovation, I believe, is his title up in Victoria [??? 19:09] Sport Institute.
And Trent’s a sports physiologist, but also sports nutrition realm. And so, anyway, the four of us had been talking about this idea of, sort of– It seems obvious to most but just kind of bringing up some ideas and concepts around why solely relying on mileage or distance to quantify training in runners might not be best. And again, it’s funny, I’ve spoken to many, a few Canadians about this, like many Europeans, Australians, and everybody is sort of confused like yeah, it’s really obvious right?
And I agree it’s fairly obvious but I am absolutely baffled by the amount of people in the US, specifically, high school coaches, mostly who are not offended by the concept of saying that mileage is not the best way to quantify training. But just– Again, offended might be the best word in the end. But they’re just so confused as to how else you would do it. Right? Which is I always tell my colleagues in Europe or Australia or wherever, that yeah, you think it’s obvious, but it’s not.
And so in this paper, we basically give some examples and present some reasons as to why using mileage to quantify training is not the best. And so I can kind of talk about that a bit more if you’d like. But there’s a lot to talk about in this realm. So, it’s just kind of up to what you’d like to talk about I suppose.
JESSE: Yeah, no. So, I talk about this kind of idea, not always in the context of somebody who’s done research, but just in the context of how do we figure that because I talk to coaches, I talked to athletes. I think about and this really crosses boundaries. In this context, we’re talking mileage. But a few weeks ago, when I spoke to competitive powerlifter, Claire Zai, she also coaches her own kind of group of women. And she’s trying to work on like an actual number metric, partially based on RPE, rate of perceived exertion for anybody who’s not familiar with that.
And so she’s trying to figure out how to quantify the stress load outside of okay, you did this many reps at max and you did this many sub-max reps, which is like their lifting equivalent of mileage, right? Like [??? 21:52] this many reps at this much weight. So, you need this much recovery. And it isolates and almost alienates the person from the rest of their life. Any of the other stressors, life stressors, training stressors, food, sleep, any of that. Which is one of the large issues with mileage being the only thing to go by.
MAX: Yeah. And that’s kind of what we’re discussing. I mean, this paper is about running specifically, but it applies to all sports really, right. So, in swimming, you might say hours of training, in cycling, same thing. I guess in cycling, some people talk about mileage, but it’s more about power and wattage, and so on. But also the duration of it typically. In cross country skiing, I’m not too familiar with how it’s quantified. I suppose it’s because it’s more European-base, it’s probably more time-based. And then rowing is typically time to quantify the amount of training or volume of training.
So, what you mentioned, though, is exactly that we’re trying to get at is that the amount of distance that you cover, per a given time period. Now, we can talk about that, as well as the concept of like, why are we so obsessed with weeks, like seven-day blocks, like it doesn’t make much sense, physiologically, or otherwise, right? It’s just the idea that like, it’s convenient; Monday through Sunday, or Sunday through Saturday or whatever, but we can talk about that later.
But we tend to think, okay, if you run X amount of miles, or let me step back. And often, I’ve always heard people that well, first, we define this as the obsession for mileage, people are just obsessed. Like Strava doesn’t help, my GPS watches don’t help and all these things.
But the idea is that all of this started for me is when– I’m around parents and high school coaches and other coaches, and I hear these things like, well, if you’re in grade 10, or whatever, you need to run 40 miles a week, or if you’re in… Or if you’re… And I don’t mean that in a condescending way, I just– the tone that I just took. But I mean that in that I think most people don’t quite understand.
They’ve just been told this all the time. And it might have worked for them in the past if a coach was an athlete, or if a parent was an athlete, and they just hear this. Or if a kid heard their parent or their coach say that, right, they just kind of regurgitate because they don’t really know why. And I think it’s important to educate everyone about what mileage is.
But the idea that a certain amount of miles is supposed to be run, if you’re 16 years old, or if you’re a girl or a boy, or if you want to run 15 minutes in the 5K as a high school cross country runner, you need to run at some threshold of mileage, to me, it is absolutely absurd. I don’t know what other words to describe that.
And then it also translates to injury and research on injury where people say, the findings in the literature on training-related risk factors for injuries are all over the place. It’s so inconsistent. Like you look at systematic reviews and meta-analyses and what they– the findings are typically, well if you’re under less than 50 miles a week, you’re at risk for injury.
If you run more than 45 miles a week, your at risk of injury. If you run between 20 and 40 miles your at risk of injury. It’s like, so basically don’t run, right, is kind of what they’re saying. And ultimately, the idea is that yes, running, if you’re going to run you might get running injuries. It’s like if you play tennis, you get a tennis injury, if you play golf you might get…you know, or whatever. And I think part of the reason why this research is so inconsistent is because a lot of this research designs focus on distance as the marker of training.
And as you described earlier, there’s so much more that’s going on in athletes’ lives that are affecting how they, more importantly, respond to training, and as a result, how they recover or not from training. And so that distance doesn’t help you with that, right? I guarantee you, I could take 10 runners and have them run 20 miles a week, every week for a year and still get many of them injured.
If that was my challenge, for some reason, okay, here’s 10 runners, Max. They can’t run more than three miles a week, and the goal is to get them injured. Easy. That would be very easy to do. You know what I mean? Like, you don’t need 100 miles. You have 20 miles a week, and I’d have them do hill sprints every day– [crosstalk]
JESSE: We can do it with like, five miles a week, we don’t even need 20.
MAX: Yeah, yeah. Right, right. Well cover the Achilles and crank some tracks stuff in spikes and hills every day for the first two weeks. Right? That’d probably take care of it. Or [??? 26:44] do 20 miles, and every day they do two to four mile time trials on the road in flats will probably take care of some stress fractures there. So, again, when you start thinking about it, you start realizing like, okay, mileage threshold, obviously, it seems a bit absurd or simplistic. So, there’s so many different ways, different things to do, to do that.
And again, I’ve had people say things like, well sometimes it’s easier to just say go run X amount of miles or like, well, yeah, you can do that. Or you could also just say go run for X amount of minutes either way. And I’m not too picky with that. Like, I don’t think prescription of mileage is a problem. I think what we’re discussing in this paper is monitoring the response to training, not the prescription, right.
Prescription and monitoring are completely different concepts. So, I can prescribe some mileage but then I might consider monitoring the response to that mileage differently than just mileage, you know. And so we can talk about training load and other measurements that include RPE, as you mentioned, rate of perceived exertion, or effort. And now that comes in to quantify these responses a bit better.
JESSE: Well, it seems like even if we take, say that group of 10 individuals, and we’re going to do 20 miles a week, and we can control for food, everybody gets the same amount of sleep, everyone has the same family [crosstalk] somehow, we control for all these things, then you’re still not controlling for genetic potential, right?
MAX: Yeah. Yeah. And on that topic, I mean, there’s other factors, like if you do it for a year there’s been times a year where it’s warm, or humid, or cold or dry, or whatever. And depending on who you are, you’re going to respond differently to that training exposure in those environments. And as a result, your the recovery time or your response from the training will be different.
So, it’s all that and I see it, I get it in high school, like if you’re a high school coach and you have 40 kids that you train, I get that just prescribing mileage is just convenient. It just is. And I think and again, I don’t mean to be like pointing fingers at college or high school cross country coaches.
But there’s a reason why the barrier to entry in coaching cross country is so low. Anyone can coach cross country, which is a great thing and a bad thing. If that makes sense, right? Because if you don’t know anything about running, you’ll go online and say, how do I coach online or cross country runners? And then you’ll say, well, you’ll read some blog from somewhere that will say, well, if they’re in grade nine, have them run 20 to 30 miles a week.
And if you’re– They’re not bad estimations of the anatomical development of a kid at that age, but it’s just siloing everybody into the same spot and saying, okay, well you run this amount, grade 10 runs this amount, and so anybody can kind of do it.
The results can be good, probably not ideal, obviously not optimal. But they might still work because you might get a kid who’s just extra talented and do really well with whatever it is that you’re giving them. Right? And you could give them more or less, but they would still respond the same way. Because that’s the other thing that we tend not to talk about much in high school sports is that a lot of high school coaches really take pride in performance and how many trophies and state championships and…
But in reality these kids, they’re adapting and developing so quickly, that you could argue that the same kid with half the amount of training could do the same thing. It’s tough. And of course, there’s no way to test this hypothesis, right? No way to take a kid and be like, well, let’s go through four years of high school and then come back and then do it again, right? Because now you’re a completely different athlete. Unless you had twins, right? You have… Or triplets ideally. So, you can have like different right control group– [crosstalk]
JESSE: Right, you go to this school, you go to that school.
MAX: Yeah, exactly. And even then, even though with twins, there’s still variation. Anyway, so that’s kind of the– at least some of the reasons for why we decided to kind of write this commentary in the [??? 31:18] and so far it’s been received very well, and we’re getting a lot of emails and messages, and podcast episodes on this, and popular media, of course, picks it up and all that. So, it’s good to try to get it out.
And I’m not again, this is not new, this is nothing new. It’s just kind of new to running in the United States. You look at team sports all over the world. I mean, they’ve been monitoring training in different ways for 50 years plus. It’s just like cross country running and running, in general, is a bit behind on those things.
JESSE: Yeah. Do you have, I’ll say in an ideal world because there’s all these different kinds of like, training devices now. They’re trying to figure out how to measure the stress load. Like I watch MLS, so the guys have the trackers on them, so they know [GPS] how far they went. Yeah.
And then there’s companies like, and I’m not affiliated with them, but I see these commercials and other podcasts I watched [??? 32:20], that tries to do like reduce the stress. Is there currently, not as an endorsement, obviously, but is there currently a technology, you would say this does a very good job? Or is there something else that needs to be made in an ideal world for you to capture that stress metric?
MAX: Yeah, that’s a super question. I think– So, it’s a tough question. But it’s a good one in that there’s, the answer is yes. But at the moment, there isn’t one company or one tool, or one metric, that I would say has made the monitoring process so simplistic that is relevant to runners.
So, for me, as a scientist with a lot of resources, at my disposal, from the lab, and so on, and so forth, and computational abilities and whatnot. There are things that are really good. But for the average consumer, at the moment, most things are a little too, they require a little too much, if that makes sense. So, it’s just not to the point where anybody can know what this means or what this metric means or what this color on a graph means or what the graph means period or whatnot. So, that’s one problem.
The other problem is that I don’t, the industry, the wearable monitoring industry, has jumped the gun by probably a solid 30 years. And a colleague of mine, Ross Miller, yesterday, we were texting and he said, we won’t be able to predict injuries in 100 years. And so you could say they’ve jumped the gun a 100 years. But I say that because we still don’t quite know exactly. Like, let me put it this way. If scientists can’t predict an injury with all the fancy equipment available to them, how can a wearable company that measures things from a watch or a sensor on your shoe do it, right?
MAX: And so if you look at it this way, if the best possible resources, equipment, instruments can’t do it, yet, how can a wearable company technology, whatever do it? But the fact is that the marketing statements are basically saying run injury-free and prevent injuries and all this stuff. And it’s insane.
And you’re sitting here as a scientist like, look, we’re testing these things, and we can’t even figure this out. How the heck are these people figuring it out? And where’s the data? The answer is, it’s not there. But the marketing industry is always about moving forward very quickly because everybody else is doing it.
So, if a company X does it, and makes the claims company Y can’t just sit back and wait till the data comes up in 100 years, right? I mean, of course, that’s not how you succeed, I guess, in business. But there’s too many limitations at the moment, like you can get, like we said, you can get hurt doing nothing.
You can get hurt running a little bit, and you can get hurt running a lot or not. So, it’s just, we’re not quite there. And so always beware of claims like that. I will say that we’ve just finished a couple of studies that are under review right now almost through the review process, and one of them was with high school runners. And we addressed that question.
And we weren’t actually looking at injury risks, per se. But we were comparing, we had a high school team that did two weeks, we monitored them for a whole two weeks. We had I think, 10 or 12 runners on the same team. So, it’s not a big sample, but it’s in the same team, same coach, same schedule, same racing, same academics, all that. And so week one was the coaches prescribed a low training week, or a light training week, if you will. And then week two was a heavy training week. So, we knew that the intention at least was from low to high.
So, then we expect that everything would go up from week one to week two. But our question was how much would it go up when we used different ways to quantify this change from week one to week two? Right. So, we tracked mileage, we tracked minutes, we tracked RPE every day, right, session, or rate of perceived exertion for the whole session every day, we did that.
And then we threw in some, to answer your question, some more complicated metrics. So, we had one where we use inertial measurement units or basically the sensors that go around the ankles. We used insoles that measure forces. And then we use, of course, stuff from watches like cadence and step down and things like that, okay.
So, we had minutes, mileage, and then we compared, we calculated different metrics of training load. And just quickly, training load is typically like the combination of some measure of external load or like forces acting on the body, and some measure of internal load, physiological load, or how the athlete is responding to those forces basically, or that training. So, our internal load measurement was RPE, that’s all we used. Okay. Our external load measurements were minutes, step counts per run, how many steps you took per run, sort of a proprietary bone load type of measurement from [??? 37:58], and then an estimated cumulative vertical force per run.
So, what we did is, every step, there’s a vertical force that you can measure and we took the peak value of that force, and we just summed with every step. So, we got the average force. And then we multiplied that by the number of steps per run, and that gives us the cumulative force per run. Okay. So, the reasoning here was that if we use minutes, or miles, it’s pretty simplistic sort of general over– I should say over-simplistic sort of generalization of what the load is on the person.
When you look at force and acceleration or shocked with the bone estimation, and then steps per run, that becomes a bit more specific to the runner. Right? So, if everybody runs 30 minutes, the number of steps will not be the same at all, because of the different cadences and step lengths and things like that, and the overall force won’t be the same.
So, basically, we compared very simplistic measurements, like minutes, and then more complicated measurements all the way down to estimated force times RPE. And what we found was that anytime we combine RPE and some other measurement of load, we got a different response than if we just looked at minutes, okay.
Which is expected because everybody’s going to respond differently, their RPE will be different. But the really cool finding was that it didn’t matter if you used a really complicated measurement, like force or bone load or steps. When you combine with RPE, using minutes was fine. So, minutes times RPE, per day, throughout the whole week, gave us the same week to week change as force times RPE or bone load times RPE.
So, the main conclusion was that we probably should measure training load, you know, some measure of load times RPE to quantify a week to week changes, but we don’t need to make it complex. So, long answer to say that there are companies but given what we know, from a quantifying training– to quantify training stress in runners, we probably just need minutes and RPE and we’d get the same week to week change values than if we used really complicated measurements.
Now that’s a different question than if you ask me, what about injury risks? And I don’t know the answer to that question, right? Or what if you said, what about to quantify training in a person who’s coming back from injury? In which case it would depend on the injury, right?
So, if it’s a bone stress injury, you might want to measure things that are more related to bone injuries, which we kind of have an idea of what is [??? 40:36] to bone injuries but no one’s– Well, no one in their right mind is fully convinced that there are specific things that are related to bone injuries, for example, or something.
So, it depends really on the application of how you’re quantifying training, and why. So, if it’s just to understand the training response, then yeah, I think we have a good concept of that. In terms of predicting injury, not at all. In terms of return to running a bit better.
JESSE: Yeah, yeah. So, all this that you’re saying reminds me of, a couple weeks ago, I spoke with Matt Jordan, who [??? 41:12] Calgary. And he’s doing I’ll say similar kind of stuff, not the same athletes, but the similar kind of like ideas as what you’re talking about trying to measure these variables. And I spoke with him more about the kind of return after injury, and I hope I’m not misquoting him, this is just off of the top of my head.
I think he had mentioned sometimes an athlete will get the go ahead to return to injury– or after injury. And then they stopped being monitored and then basically, their recurrence of injury is typically, and I think it was in Alpine athletes like 12 to 18 months after return. And so it’s way after return, but we’re not paying attention to it. But with throughout all of it that like RPE becomes such a relatively reliable metric.
MAX: Right. And people complain, sometimes RPE is subjective, 100% RPE is subjective. But if whoever’s rating effort or exertion, knows what the purpose of the, or knows why it’s being used, and understand– and has the proper instructions on how to use it, people can be very… They can report RPE reliably and consistently.
And so that’s the most important thing. I don’t care that it’s subjective, that’s irrelevant. Because when you’re asking someone about their effort, you don’t care how their effort compares to somebody else, you care about how their actual effort. So, they have to be able to answer that for themselves reliably, every day. Right. And that’s all that matters.
And that’s where science and practice sometimes clashes, because a lot of times, [??? 43:00] you have a small sample size, and you only have X amount of athletes. And then coaches are talking about science like, well, you’re only looking at college students, you’re not looking at my elite athletes that are very specific attributes, and they’re both right.
If I’m a coach, I only care about my athletes, how they respond to my training, right? And then what I can do to adjust their training to make them better. And so, yeah, that’s– Obviously Matt has done some great work in that role. I don’t know Matt, personally, but I know of him because one, he works in Canada. And two, he’s done a lot of work in that realm; in ACL, rehab and so on and so forth.
But that’s true to all injuries and rehab, and return to play program is just to understand whether or not your measurements are reliable, whether your measurements are valid, and what changes in those values mean, and that’s often why we struggle. Like if there’s a change in the value of a metric by two or three points, is that meaningful or not?
And it might not be for athlete X, but it might be for athlete Y, which Y becomes complicated, and that’s why it convolutes the findings in the literature. But that’s the nature of it. Right? Which is why I like doing what I do, which is, yes, I’m a lab scientist, but I also have a big foot or I have a foot in the applied performance world where I talk to coaches and athletes, and I understand. And there’s a lot of scientists like that. But there’s also a lot of scientists who are just in the lab.
JESSE: Right, right.
MAX: And that gets lost in translation, literally.
JESSE: Yeah. So, it makes you wonder if all of that comes back to you, I think I saw a post from you, I think it was on your Instagram, showing your watch and how you went back to not using the more complicated watch.
MAX: Yeah, so I have this fancy watch right here, shout out to Steph Bruce, who gave me this watch. It’s a polar watch and it’s fancy. It’s great. Looks great actually. I like how it looks. I like how it feels when I wear it. I like to track my sleep with it. Not that I’m not sure how well it tracks my sleep.
But at least I get a feel for it every day. And it can give me my heart rate here and there if I want to. Again, I’m not sure how valid it is, but for running, and I understand that I can turn all the notifications and things off. But for running to me, I don’t use like, I’m not a marathoner, nor will I ever be.
If I’m a marathoner, and I need to run 26.2 miles, well, I know I have to run, you know, I know I have to put my body through that distance, right, at some point at the pace that I want to run. In which case, a GPS watch makes sense, unless you haven’t mapped out a course. But for me, running is more about yeah, there’s specific workouts that might be interval based, but most of it is just spending time out there.
One of my good friends used to say it’s all about spending time on the dance floor. And it’s true, you’re spending time, you’re putting your time in, you’re doing– We don’t measure age in distance, you measure age in years so why do we measure training in distance?
Anyway, I can go all day about the distance versus time thing. But ultimately, for me, it’s about, at this point in my life, it’s more about when I want to go run, I have a set period of time to go run. And if I feel crappy, and I’m running slower, and I run longer than I have time for, I don’t want to be rushed or stressed to get back kind of thing. So, I got 30 minutes, I’m gonna run 30 minutes, I don’t care how far I go, how slow I go, how fast I go because I’m not training for anything really. I just like to go and enjoy my time out there.
And I think a lot of people would have some– There’d be value for a lot of people in using that approach, where you’re not so concerned with pace. When you start being concerned with pace on your easy runs, or your recovery runs, you might want to consider changing how you approach running. And just because, yes, again, there’s value in running certain paces during specific sessions with specific intentions.
But when you’re just trying to get some– you’re just trying to get out there and put in the time and the training, it doesn’t always matter how fast you go. And that’s a really hard concept to tell kids, young runners who see pro runners who post their Strava, I did an easy run in 6:30 pace, and so on and so forth.
Which if you spent time looking at Strava accounts of pro runners, even the best, like you’ll see their easy runs sometimes are 7:30, 7:40 pace, 7:10. Again, that sounds fast for many but compared to what they run some five-minute pace, for example, 4:30 pace, it’s sometimes three minutes off.
Whereas a lot of high school kids will be racing at six-minute pace and they’re running, they’re easier on the 6:45 pace. But yet they think they have to run fast. They think it’s an absolute number. It’s not. It’s all relative to what they can do, how they respond to that, how they feel, so on so forth. So, anyway, long story to tell you that’s why I don’t use this watch to run and I use my old Timex, my old faithful, loyal $30 Target Timex watch.
JESSE: Yeah, that’s something I’ve definitely spent a lot of time trying to stress with people in general, but I also do a show just about running. And I don’t know, I’ve had people comment like recently, I had a gentleman coming back from being bedridden of all things from in the hospital, trying to get back to running.
And he’s like, I’m running six-minute pace. And I can only run for 90 seconds. And I’m like, look, I have a friend who runs low 30s for his 10K, and he runs seven to eight-minute pace. Like there’s zero reason to be running at six-minute pace, you were just bedridden. Like, just slow down, slow down. It is so hard to get into people’s head that they don’t have to go fast to get more fit.
MAX: Yeah, no, I agree. And if you look about performance predictors, it’s not how many specific workouts you do. It’s typically just how much volume have you done? How much training have you done over the years? You look at the Engebretson brothers, the Norwegian brothers, there was a really cool study published about the three brothers a few, maybe two years ago. And it was about, it basically just summarized their lives as athletes and what they had done as kids.
And if you look at it, 90% of their training [??? 49:43] probably is just basic aerobic work; cross country skiing, like running easy. I mean, all these things that are just purely just running. Not fast, just running 100% aerobic type work. And I think people get too caught up with like specific workouts often.
Like at the high school level, if you’re running consistently, and you’re doing a little more here and there, and once in a while you run hard, and you don’t race every single weekend. Just some basic consistent exposure with little interruptions like injuries, right, your long term success is going to be much better if you just have– You’re not trying to be the high school kid who runs 80 to 100 miles a week. And yes, there are kids that do that and they’re successful. And that’s part of the problem because and I don’t mean that like, that kid shouldn’t do that, or whatever. I’m just saying, most kids can’t do that. But yet, a kid like that will be idolized and put on a pedestal.
And flow track picks it up, and this picks it up. And then all the high school kids are like, oh, this kid’s a god, and I need to do that. And then they don’t understand that, yeah, this kid’s a god in your eyes, but also, from a physiological standpoint is a bit of a freak, and not in a bad way, just in a freak of nature. [crosstalk] Yeah, he’s an outlier. Like we have a kid here in Tennessee who runs like a 9:40 some two mile, like a 16:30 5K, a girl, grade 10 or 11 girl.
And it would be very easy for a kid or a parent or a coach who doesn’t know much about running or even if they know a lot about running, it just depends on how you process information. But they might say, well, to be that good, you need to do this, whatever she’s doing, you need to do it. You know? And that’s where the education comes in handy.
JESSE: Yeah, yeah. Max, as we’re starting to run out of time there’s a question I ask everybody this season I’m gonna ask you too. Because it kind of hits the high point for everybody, it doesn’t matter what the sport or discipline is. So, I’m curious on your opinion of what you think the purpose of sport is.
MAX: The purpose of sport? Wow, what a question. That’s very philosophical. Ah, wow. Well, I think, I’m not really– I would say, I’m not really a sports fan. What I mean by that is, I don’t really have a team or I don’t really follow– Like I’m not the kind of person who’d be like you see the game last night, you see how many points this guy [??? 15:16]
I know I’m an outlier in that sense as a 35-year-old man in America. But to me, sport was always about doing something where you’re always trying to improve upon whatever it is that you’re doing, whatever sport it is. And it’s kind of a vicious cycle in a way because you set these goals for yourself in a sport, and then you get to it, you’re like, meh, okay, what’s next, and it just kind of keeps getting harder and harder. And the higher you get, the harder it gets, right?
So, to me, sport is almost like, not from the sports fan but from an athlete’s perspective, to me, it’s always about, it’s really like, it’s an education process. Whatever you do, as an athlete, whatever you do in sport, it becomes a learning process that you will apply to everything else.
And I’ve done that in my career where I’m like, okay, I want to get to this level. Okay, now, I got it faster than I thought, perhaps or later than I thought. Okay, what’s next? And you go to something else. And it’s always about, it teaches ultimately to challenge yourself, right? So, philosophically, it’s more of a challenge than anything else, individually or personally.
So, that’s kind of how I see sport. And I don’t think sport itself is better than art, for example, or literature or any other concepts. In the sense that you’re trying to achieve the highest of levels of whatever it is you’re doing, and sport is just a vehicle for that. If you like sports, you want to get better at it. If you’re a musician, you want to master this aspect of guitar. It’s the same stuff. Right? So, yeah, education, I guess challenging yourself. That kind of stuff. Yeah.
JESSE: Solid answer.
JESSE: Max, if people want to keep up with your research, see what you’re doing, any of that kind of stuff; where can they find you?
MAX: Yeah, I use Twitter a fair amount. So, I’m on Twitter. The tag is or the handle is BiomechMax. So, very original [??? 54:30]. But yeah, just BiomechMax. And I don’t really use Instagram professionally as much as I do Twitter. So, I think there’s a lot of good discussions that happen on Twitter and yeah, that’ll be it. And then, of course, we have a College of Health Sciences website with our faculty profiles and research pages and things like that.
JESSE: Yeah. For anybody listening who has any interest, do check out Max’s Twitter, because there was– As I prepared for speaking with you, there’s way more there than I could digest in the time I had a lotted. So, there’s definitely a lot of like good stuff if you’re interested in running and research and biomechanics, all that kind of stuff that Max posts about, there’s a lot of good information there. So, thanks for hanging out with me today, Max.
MAX: I enjoyed it. Let’s do it again some time.