My peak performance package at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, began almost immediately after arrival with a trip to the nurse to check my blood pressure (116/64) and resting pulse rate (64). Then a program specialist went through my action-packed schedule with me.
My first stop was a small room where exercise physiologist Mike Siemens greeted me. After providing him with my vital statistics, I boarded a leg press machine that was hooked up to a computer and monitor.
Normally you wouldn’t need a computer to see how well you can lift, but it would be difficult if your physiologist were directing you to lift 63 percent of the way, then down to 30 percent, then back up to 85 percent, and so on. So the computer converts the exercise into a series of video games for your legs.
For someone like me who never lifts weights, this was good news. The games kept me entertained so I didn’t notice that I was absolutely torturing my quads, glutes and other muscles I didn’t know I had.
One of the first games resembled Breakout!, a Pong-like game that involves keeping three balls in play by moving a paddle back and forth across the bottom of the screen. The twist is that you don’t move the paddle by turning a knob with your wrists, but by pushing the weight up and down with one leg.
I was pretty good at this but Mike wouldn’t let me go for the high score.
The next one was like Frogger, requiring sharp movements to keep from smashing into the obstacles. I was mostly roadkill.
After about 30 minutes, I was ready to try Asteroids or Super Mario, but Mike decided to show me what it all meant instead.
Using a series of color-coded printouts, Mike first explained that my left leg was 11 percent stronger than my right leg. They should be within 3 to 10 percent of each other, so it confirmed my theory that I’m slightly unbalanced.
The coordination, endurance capacity and proprioceptive results all indicated that my eccentric contractions were much more efficient than my concentric contractions. OK, so I’m unbalanced and extra eccentric. Tell me something I don’t know.
Mike patiently explained that pushing the weight up was concentric and letting it down was eccentric. Translating this to running, it meant that my transition from footfall to push-off was not as efficient as it could be. In short, I’m not getting the maximum propulsion from each stride.
This information enabled Mike to develop a plan for our upcoming running session. I was pretty jazzed to begin, but I needed to rest my eccentric legs because the next day promised to be extremely taxing.
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