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Where do you spend the winter months training?
Sport Performance Testing at the OTC
Here at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) we collegiate recruits are fortunate to have some extensive medical testing done. We tested for all sorts of blood, hormone, and enzyme levels. We went through full physicals, ECGs, bone scans, body composition, and nutritional analysis as well. Last but definitely not least, we did mobility testing to test for any muscle imbalances, inflexibility, weakness, gait analysis, etc.
I have never had the opportunity to have super extensive testing like this so it was really interesting. Obviously any of the abnormalities that show up in the tests are helpful to know in order to avoid injury or illness if you are proactive. I had plenty of abnormalities, but I'm happy to say that I am working on fixing them!
First I'll start with blood results. One of my lowest levels on my blood work is my iron/ferritin levels. This is pretty typical for an endurance athlete and is more prevalent in women. Low iron levels can become even lower at altitude. I am now a 31 and I am religious about taking my ferritin every night before bed. Unfortunately red meat is an acquired taste that I have not yet acquired, but I do eat a lot of other foods high in iron.
Knowing your ferritin level is vital for an endurance athlete. If your levels get too low, your training and racing will suffer drastically. The same goes for Vitamin D. Low Vitamin D levels can mimic anemia and it is more common to have lower vitamin D after winter time due to low sunlight exposure. Luckily, my vitamin D levels were fine — and they'll only continue to go up in the summer.
Next: DEXA scans! A DEXA scan measures the bone density in your whole body and also the body composition of your fat vs. muscle ratios and which parts of your body are carrying the most fat. The bone scan was actually pretty alarming. I had super low bone density in my spine. This was surprising to me because as a runner, I do a lot of weight bearing exercise. The doctor told me that once you become essentially elite at running you become too efficient for running to provide any bone-building effects. I also do a lot of trail running and tend to avoid concrete at all costs so I would assume that also lessens the bone building.
I have not been taking calcium for some time because I hadn't had any bony injuries in a long time; I figured it was one less vitamin to buy. Needless to say, I need to put it on my grocery list. But, no need to fret! Our bones can still gain density until age 30, so I have hopped on the Calcium again and I am implementing some lifting/jumping/plyometrics into my training to give my spine some weight bearing exercise. The rest of my bones were good, and I won't dwell on the body composition stuff because for most lean-mean-fighting-machine triathletes, it’s not really relevant.
Last but not least: mobility/strength/gait analysis testing. They performed part of this test with a device called the "Octo Jump." Basically you have to jump up and down on one leg and perform other strength/balance-based exercises. I felt very un-athletic during many of these exercises. In my mind my vertical jump was like two feet... In reality it’s like two inches. Luckily they weren't judging us on our chances of getting drafted to the NBA — they were measuring the way our stability muscles react when jumping and applying force/recovering from the impact. Across the board the runner-triathletes were weak in the glutes.
The most important thing to note about these tests is that although there may not be a problem now, a problem could arise in the future due to muscle imbalances, especially in such a huge muscle group such as the glutes. I have been recently adding in some glute-strength exercises to my strength routine. Nothing crazy — just 20x clam shells and similar exercises that pinpoint the weak spots and really burn. It takes about 5-10 minutes and I am definitely willing to sacrifice that time if it means I can avoid injury in the future. I'm happy to say that my gait analysis was great — I am efficient and "even" on both sides. My flight time and strike time are almost perfect, and I am a mid-foot striker.
Needless to say, I learned a lot from this testing. The results that we found will continue to be helpful for the remainder of my career. I encourage everyone who has the resources to learn a little more about their bodies than just their watt/KG, mile PRs, and freestyle catch. What you learn could help be the breakthrough for your 2013 season and beyond.
To follow Kyla’s journey visit her website at www.kylachapman.com