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Sports Physio Ireland Team

How To Take 10 Years Off Your Sprint Speed

Runner's Knee patellofemoral pain sprint speed

What is the key to playing sport in your forties? To me, it’s getting rid of your excuses. Excuses not to train are easy to find in winter, but two fears loom large when you hit your forth decade. First off I’m more likely to get injured and secondly, I’m getting slower and going to find it harder to keep up to speed.

The first fear, of injury, is the reason I went to Joey Boland and the SPI team.  Having put in 3 years of weekly sessions, I’ve not only managed two injury free seasons, but have also ironed out a few long term issues, such as lower back pain and a ten-year-old shoulder strain.  More importantly, i feel like I’m in great shape every time I hit the pitch.

The big one though, is the fear of losing speed.  Cher isn’t the only one that wants to turn back time.

Before we get into how we tackled this, it’s worth looking at how much speed we actually lose with age.  If we look at the world record data for the 100M “Masters”, we can see the clear decline over the years is inevitable, but measurable.



Sprint Speed
Is anyone else disappointed that they could be beaten over 100M by a 75-year-old German?

For those of you not familiar with it, this is the story of how fast you can run.  You start out slow, as a child, then hit close to max around 18, plateau until approx 35, the decline after that is clearly shown in the results above.

If we look at little more closely, we can work out the rate of that decline.

sprint speed


That works out as an average decline of 3.6% every 5 years, or 0.72%/year. The reality we would rather not face in those numbers, is that we lose 7.2% of our sprint speed in 10 years. Yikes.

So how did we front up to father time?

Well, I teamed up with Catherine Simpson of SPI, who believed that the best first step was measuring where we were.  We thought that a 30M sprint test was the best and most useful measure, so she took me out to a local park with measuring tape and stopwatch in hand.  It turned out that my 43 year old, 6’2″, 15 stone frame could move 30M in 5.05 seconds.

While I wasn’t going to be breaking any records, I felt that I had a decent result for someone in reasonable shape.  Catherine had other ideas, so we spent November, December and January working hard to improve things.  Over that period, I doubled up my sessions to twice weekly with Catherine.  We also expanded the scope of my training regimen to include some basics of sprint mechanics.

Hopefully Catherine can follow up this post with a bit more detail on the path she brought me on.  I’m not expert enough to give you the detail, but in rough outline, I can tell you a little about my experience.

Prior to this, I though sprinting was running faster; turns out it’s not.

Sprinting seems closer to skipping than running.  There is requirement that you get “up” on the front of your feet.  There is technique in this, many hours spent marching/skipping to Catherine’s command helped get this part right.

When you get up there, you need to manage the transfer of the energy you create.  That means avoiding any power “leak” by keeping a solid core, hips tucked, ribs pulled down.  If you can manage that, you then have to deal with the power transfer between leg thrusts.  There is a tendency to push your knees forward with your quads, it seems that reaching that knee out will drive you forward.

In reality, it’s more about the large muscles at the back of your legs than the front, making full use of your glutes and hamstrings.

You’ll need a knee lock, which, after a while, you’ll feel transferring the power over towards the opposites leg’s next extension.

Easy, right?  You can imagine these things come with much repetition, many hours.  But when you feel it, you feel it.  I still remember the first time I got “up” and sprinting at training, it felt like I had found a new gear.  This creates a problem, in that it takes new strength as well as concentration to sprint correctly, I can run in that new gear for a few seconds, but I am then exhausted.  So we have a new problem to solve.

You might be wondering how this changed my sprint times?  Well, after three months of work, we went back out to the park and timed my 30M sprint for a second time.  The result? 4.78 seconds.  That’s a 5.6% reduction from the 5.05.  It’s not quite the 7.2% you’ll lose in ten years, but close to it.  It was a great way to spend the cold dark months of winter, a bit of pre-season that has me chomping at the bit for the year ahead.   Knowing Catherine, it won’t be long before she’s given me a bit more power, ironed out a few glitches in my technique and has knocked those last few years off my sprint speed.

This article was written by LB, an SPI Client, not for financial reward, but as a mark of gratitude to Catherine Simpson, Joey Boland and all the team at SPI for all their very expert help, diligence and enthusiasm in keeping me keepin’ on!


Ref: http://speedendurance.com/2010/02/04/masters-age-related-differences-in-100m-sprint-performance/

Achilles Tendon Injury – What Rehab is Forgetting

The Achilles tendon is at risk of injury with high load. Runners have a 15 times greater risk of Achilles rupture and 30 times greater risk of tendinopathy than sedentary individuals.

The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in the body. The three calf muscle attach to the heal via the Achilles tendon.

“Overcoming what was deemed impossible is what I will take with me and cherish the most…That (coming back from injury) will be the number-one thing that stands out because I wasn’t even able to walk.”

– Donovan Bailey (Olympic 100 m sprinter talking about his rehab for his Achilles tendon rupture). After rehab he ran sub-10 seconds for the 100 metres.

Out of the 5 clinicians in Sports Physio Ireland, two of us were unfortunate to have suffered Achilles injuries. Myself a partial tear and Joey Boland a tendinopathy.  Depending on the severity of the injury the road to recovery is slightly different. The outcome of rehabilitation is positive, however, with us both returning to our representative sports. The partial tear taking slightly longer to adapt to return to play.

Recognising and Correcting Running Form Mistakes

Overuse Achilles tendon injuries (tendonopathies) can arise with increased training volume or intensity. This happens because the load is too much for the tendon to withstand. Decreased recovery time between training sessions may also be a factor. The combination of stiffness (especially in the morning) and pain at the back of the heal is a key sign of Achilles tendinopathy. Pain often reduces during activity and may be pain-free during training only to come back with a vengeance a few hours later. Continuing to train through this causes the structure of the tendon to weaken and puts you at an increased risk of rupture.

As well as looking at injury to the Achilles itself, it is important to determine the causes of the injury in the first place. Injury is often linked to calf tightness or weakness and ankle joint stiffness. Abnormal lower limb biomechanics has been shown to cause torsional stress through the tendon. Weakness around the ankles can cause a whipping like action on the Achilles. A change in playing surface or footwear or poor footwear should also be considered.

Tendons take longer to adapt to training due to their poor blood supply. Rehabilitation takes longer than muscular injuries and is generally in excess of 3 months. Rehabilitation should include loading the tendon appropriately and correcting of predisposing factors that were linked to the injury. Progressing to plyometric and sports-specific activities when the ability to withstand load increases. `

When running approximately 5 times your body weight goes through your foot as you land. The Achilles needs to be strong enough to withstand this force before you go back to running, jumping and landing. Rehabilitation often does not put enough weight through the structure during closed change activities before progressing to running. Heal raises with 15-20 kg, Reverse lunges with greater than 20kg, Squats of greater than 20kg and SLDL of 20 kg should be a realistic expectation for everyone before returning to play or their chosen activity. Distributing the weight through two separate dumbbells makes this achievable for those who struggle with upper body strength. When thinking about the high level of repetitive load that goes through the body when running these weights are not that heavy and are what the body needs to adapt.

Soft tissue therapy including mobilisation and  fractioning across the tendon are useful in improving the glide of the tendon in it’s sheath. As stickiness around the tendon is often associated with injury to the tendon.

Return to activity should be gradual.

Activity should be resumed only when local tenderness has settled and weights during rehab exercises achieved.

If long distance running is not the main aim then I would argue that the repetitive loading of that nature should be avoided. If sports are the main aim then interval running should be the focus. This is the nature of the activity they are trying to return to and also allows the tendon brief recovery periods.

Catherine Simpson

MISCP, MSc Sports Medicine


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Shoulder Stabilisation


Shoulder stabilisation exercises make up a large part of our preventative programmes at Sport Physio Ireland. But what exactly is shoulder blade stabilisation and why is it important?


Essentially what we are talking about is the development of good posture during exercise and activity through ‘switching on’ or ‘activating’ muscles around our shoulder blades and mid-upper back. This is essential for the maintenance of shoulder health and for the prevention of injury.


The way in which our society has developed means that most of us spend large parts of the day in seated positions working at desks and slouching over computer screens. This can lead to individuals developing what is known as a ‘forward shoulder posture’ as a result of structures around the front of the shoulder becoming stiff and tight. This in turn can cause muscles of our posterior shoulder to become lengthened and become under active.


This phenomenon is not limited to those working in offices. Many individuals who spend large amounts of time training in the gym tend to overtrain these muscles at the front of the shoulder such as biceps and pecs and fail to realise the importance of complimenting this training with some stabilisation work. This is often referred to as ‘all show and no go’.


Over extended periods of time, in either one of the scenarios mentioned above, means an individual can lose the ability to recognise how to actually utilise these important structures around our posterior shoulder. They then will often begin to compensate by using other muscle groups to carry out everyday tasks that can place unwanted tension/stress on other areas such as the low back, neck, and elbow.


This is where we come in.


Demonstration of shoulder protraction (left) and shoulder retraction (right)

Demonstration of shoulder protraction (left) and shoulder retraction (right)


In order to combat this issue, you must start with the basics first. Learning to engage or activate these muscles in a non-weight bearing situation is the first step. Once this has been mastered you can then begin to introduce exercises such as shoulder blade push ups (as seen in pic above), or lat pull downs in order to strengthen and stabilise further. This will ensure that when you return to your normal everyday lives, you are at a much lower risk of injury recurrence.

Riain Casey

The Hip Flexor Stretch

The Hip Flexor stretch is a common exercise used in both gym and rehab settings. Personally I use it a lot in conjunction with many other movements, in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and sports-related injuries.

While it can be an excellent prescription for many individuals, it is very often performed wrong. Some simple queues to help make sure your technique is spot on are:

– Tighten your tummy
– Squeeze your bum (glutes) on the side being stretched
– Try not to arch through your lower back
– ‘Spread the ground’ with your feet

Once your form is correct you can play around with the angle of the stretch for even greater results. Because of the oblique orientation of the iliopsoas muscle (hip flexor) I find that adding a slight degree of rotation towards the opposite knee can allow for further lengthening of the muscle and a better all around stretch.

This stretch, when prescribed in conjunction with good strength-based rehab exercises, can help to improve reduced hip mobility. And improved hip mobility has strong links to decreasing low back and knee pain.

Give it a try and let us know how you get on.

Riain Casey, M.I.S.C.P.

Five Tips So You Can Avoid Injury

Sports Physio Ireland’s physiotherapist Riain Casey talks us through five tips so you can avoid injury.

Many injuries can be easily prevented. Some times small adjustments to our everyday lifestyle can have a big impact in injury prevention.

Simple things like correctly fuelling the body and a good healthy sleeping pattern are key to aiding the body recover from on-field activity. Coupled with a specific warm up to prep the body for the demands on field, good proper movement based training and maintaining fitness levels to meet the demands of the activity can greatly help reduce the risk of injury or re-injury.

Try out the tips and let us know how you get on.


Peter Mathews Pre Run Warm Up

With the Dublin marathon approaching it’s important that you implement a decent warm up before you run..

Our running expert and massage therapist Peter Mathews demonstrates a pre run Warm Up. Peter runs everyday and remains injury free because he is dedicated to his strength training, which compliments his running. Have a look at what Peter does during his warm up prior to his run.

Keep an eye out for part two. 

MCL Injuries

We recently seen Karl Lacy tog out and play against Mayo with heavy taping on his leg to protect a recent Medial Collateral ligament (MCL) injury.

The medial collateral ligament is a band of tissue that connects the thighbone to the lower leg and helps prevent the knee from buckiling inwards. It can be injured when twisting or landing or when a standing leg is tackled from the outside forcing it to buckle inwards.

Initial management should be

  • Compress with a bandage
  • Use crutches to take the weight off
  • Apply ice pack

What are the symptoms?

  • Swelling.
  • Pain.
  • Local tenderness on the inside of the joint.
  • Bruising.

Specific tests and scans can diagnose the extent of the damage and the length of time the player will be out of action for. In Karl’s case, he obviously needed more time to regain 100% confidence in his ability the twist and turn to make those turn overs he has been famous for over the past few seasons.

Mild or Grade 1 injuries usually get better in 1 to 3 weeks and may only needhome treatment along with using crutches for a short time.

Moderate or Grade 2 injuries usually get better in about a month. You may need to wear a hinged knee brace and limit how much weight you put on your leg.

Severe or grade 3 injuries may require wearing a hinged brace for a few months, and limiting weight on the leg for 4 to 6 weeks.


Fat Loss Conditioning

Conditioning exercises for the injured person

Keeping on top of your fitness while you are out with an injury can be a difficult task. Because, as a result of your low back, hip, or knee issue, you are now limited in what you can do on the pitch, on the track, or just in everyday life. Therefore, you will need to choose your exercises carefully so as not to aggravate this existing injury.

As we have discussed in previous posts, altering your nutrition is also extremely important during this time to avoid putting on excess body fat.

Here in SPI, we can advise you on what exercises are SAFE for you to perform at home or in the gym in order to maintain that good level of fitness, and will also give you some pointers to help you to adjust your nutritional intake appropriately.

While being injured can be frustrating, it doesn’t have to mean you stop training! There are always ways to work around any injury, without causing further damage. Check out some of the exercises I like to use with some of my injured clients here and give them a go. 

Riain Casey – Trainer and Chartered Physiotherapist

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