Saturday, March 30, 2013

a book review :: "The First 20 Minutes" by Gretchen Reynolds

I finally got "The First 20 Minutes" from the library after having it on hold for a couple months, and I sped-read through it all. Gretchen Reynolds, author of the New York Times column "Phys Ed," does a great job of holding your attention and walking you through otherwise lifeless research documentation and outcomes. The book is more scientific, albeit interesting, than I was prepared for. I was fascinated with many of the research outcomes she discusses, such as the studies on speed workouts, hydration, strength-training, and eating before workouts.

Some myths that were "de-bunked" by studies the author included that I am particularly fond of:

1. Studies indicate that stretching before a workout is counter-productive and actually causes more harm than good by decreasing strength in that muscle by as much as 30%. To go along with this, researchers have also found that when comparing runners' 10K race times, those with the tightest, least flexible hamstrings had the fastest times. Best yet, research shows this isn't bad for an individual, and there's not much benefit to being more flexible than you probably already are.

2. Studies indicate that "the most dehydrated runners in any race are the winners." Athletes have it in their heads that we need to drink x amount of glasses of water a day so that we keep our hydration up. This is fine and dandy for those who are actually thirsty and their bodies are craving it, but it's unnecessary when you don't physically feel like you want to drink. As Gretchen states, "the most widely accepted DIY method of deciding if you're drinking properly is to weigh yourself before and after a race." One physician states that hydrating levels are fine if a runner is not losing more than 2 pounds of their body weight in an hour of exercise. This was chocolate to my tongue - I would rather drink fermented pickle juice than water.

3. Speaking of pickle juice (smooth segue, ex-lax), turns out the stuff actually does muscles some good. The author brings up a study done on the juice and it easing muscle cramps within mere seconds. I can dig it, but I might have to invest in a mini-bedside-fridge for those late night charlie horses.

4. Core work isn't as great for athletes and originally thought. (Obviously not so true if you're a professional body building competitor.) The studies indicated in the book had resulted in athletes with stronger cores doing no better at certain exercises (sprints, vertical leaps, shuttle runs, etc.) than those with weaker cores. However, core strength exercises such as the plank, lunges, and push-ups are still very much in the game. Apparently a women in her 20's is supposed to be able to complete 36 push-ups (and I'm not talking "girl push-ups", and that title needs to go), a number that my arms laugh at because I collapse after 16.

I realize those are some hefty words, so I'm really curious to hear what you guys have to say about the above matters. While it is tough for me to swallow the results from those studies after trying all my running years to drink more water! Stretch all the the time! Carbo load! It does soothe my brain to remind me that us humans, our bodies, are adaptable. I really do believe that they're smarter than we give them credit for, and stronger, too.

Exercising probably doesn't require all this extra science and forethought. Just get out, jump rope, lift weights like you mean it. Drink water if you're thirsty. Maybe take a shower. Listen to your body and just be.

Poster source:

Has anyone else read "The First 20 Minutes"?

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