KT Tape: A follow-up

This is a follow-up discussion of my May 9 post from earlier this year exploring KT Tape and all its wonders. Disclaimer: I am no expert in physical therapy, so take this with a grain of salt. I just run a lot.

Short answer: Don’t bother.

Slightly less short answer: Don’t bother, but it has some merit.

Much longer answer:

Basically, all the rigorous, peer-reviewed research (let me Google Scholar that for you) surrounding KT Tape (Kinesiology Tape Tape? ATM machine? PIN number? PC computer?) is absolutely correct. I wore the stuff over the months I was in Knoxville, and it didn’t really do much to help. I certainly felt more confident with the tape on–the adhesive is seriously crazy strong–but I was also doing a lot of physical therapy exercises: squats, resistance bands, stretching, and abdominals.

In fact, what really cured my IT band problems was this:

It hurts, but it’s the good kind of hurt.

By foam rolling 3x/day–once after my morning workout, once at work (yes, I brought it to work with me), and once before bed (also, each “once” means 2 minutes of rolling per side, and rolling each side 3 times; that’s 12 minutes per “once”)–that cured my IT band problems in about two weeks. All the other PT exercises kept me strong, but foam rolling was truly the miracle cure. It can get pretty painful, but it’s the only way to really get deep where the irritated connective tissue is.

Back to KT (I refuse to indulge a redundant acronym). My entirely unprofessional opinion, as set by my entirely unscientific anecdote, is that it doesn’t work as advertised.

That said, I mentioned before that the adhesive is ridiculously powerful. Seriously, that tape will easily stay on for a week, likely more, and it only comes off with concentrated applications of baby oil. Even then, yanking it off can get a little uncomfortable. As such, it actually does have some utility as a way to stabilize joints and provide compression in the same way other athletic tapes do. The powerful adhesive even gives it an advantage in this regard: you can have a weeklong series of very intense workouts, including swimming, without worrying about the tape loosening or coming off. This stands in stark contrast to my football days, when I had to get my ankles taped up before every single practice. This stuff could’ve been switched out once a week.

It’s not a miracle cure for anything. 95% of what’s mentioned on the website is complete BS. It’s not going to heal shin splints, it doesn’t “distribute load away from inflamed or damaged muscles”, and it certainly doesn’t do much with IT band problems.  But if you’re worried about rolling an ankle or a weak joint buckling, or even if you want to help with recovery by applying long-term compression, this stuff could be useful.

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My ideal running statistics site

When it comes to staying motivated to run (particularly when one is injured), tracking one’s progress–miles run, paces held, monthly mileages, averages, calories burned, elevation, etc–is paramount. At least for me, it gives a big boost to see how far I’ve come and paint a clearer picture of where I’d like to go.

The Lady and I both use Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watches to record our workouts. They’re freaking awesome. The question, however, is this: how do we visualize the data?

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I’ve written a few posts chronicling my own efforts to analyze the trends in my running data. Obviously this is both far more detailed than I necessarily need, and also not very good at giving me a bulleted summary of how things, in general, are going. For these, I rely on a trio of websites. Ideally I’d love for just one service to incorporate everything I want, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. In no particular order, here are the things I’d really like:

  • Lots of flexibility to slice and dice my data: weekly, monthly, yearly summaries; just running, cycling, cross-training, or any combination; view races separately from training.
  • A way of assessing my progress over time. This is somewhat related to the previous point, but involves a little more in the way of behind-the-scenes number-crunching, as opposed to simply summing different combinations of numbers.
  • Social is nice…to an extent. Even though running is a very independent sport, there’s absolutely no substitute for giving and receiving congratulations after solid workouts, encouragement after tough ones, and celebrations after races. But focusing exclusively on the social aspect can be detrimental as well. There’s a balance to be had.

That’s really about it. Granted these are pretty broad, so I’ll narrow them down a bit by introducing the three services I use to track my progress, and where I think each of these is solid and where they fall short. Keep in mind: these are my personal preferences. You may find everything you need at one of these sites.

Garmin Connect

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This is sort of a prerequisite by virtue of my use of a Garmin watch. But its strength is absolutely in number-crunching: I can slice my data almost any way I want. Further, it has an API (admittedly, not well-documented) that I can access for even higher resolution details of my workouts; it’s how I’ve created the various custom analyses. It recently tacked on a social module, but its effect is minimal to the point of almost being entirely invisible. I can’t really give that a positive or a negative; it’s just sort of “there”.

Its weakness is probably the long-term tracking of progress. Sure, you can view summaries collated by year, but that’s such a high-level view that you lose sight of all the details. Some combination of the two would be perfect. Its reporting system isn’t too bad, but I’d love to see some deeper-level analysis, some higher-order statistics than just averages for certain periods of time. I also wouldn’t mind if they beefed the social aspect up juuuuust a tad.

All things considered, my personal opinion is that Garmin Connect comes the closest of the three sites I use to my imaginary “ideal”.

Fitocracy

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Fitocracy has the social aspect nailed. It’s the central theme, but honestly it’s not overbearing either. It knows it’s supposed to be a fitness website, so it doesn’t go overboard beyond basic community, photo, and status support.

Its point system is also a fantastic reward mechanism. Over time, you realize that distance running is pretty much the core ingredient in whatever algorithm it uses to calculate points, and it’s fun to view weekly/monthly/yearly points for you compared to all your followers. It fosters a healthy sense of competition, motivating you to get out of bed when you reaaaaallly want to stay under the covers.

Where it falls flat is any kind of long-term performance assessment and number crunching. There is absolutely no way to slice up your workouts; viewing your accumulated points over various periods of time is the only indicator you have, and you can’t even see the points you received from running vs cross-training, etc. For a guy who loves viewing data from as many angles as possible, this is a definite weakness. But the social competitive aspect is solid enough to keep me interested.

DailyMile

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Of the three, DailyMile has hands-down the slickest UI. Curved edges, smooth gradients and bevels, simple but informative layouts; it’s visually enticing.

The social aspect is also a perfect blend: not too much, not too little. There’s less in terms of social features than Fitocracy, but it’s still a healthy level of interaction that doesn’t approach overwhelming. It also provides arguably some of the best (and best-looking) weekly, monthly, and yearly summaries of your workouts. Seriously: how cool is it to be told how many donuts’ worth of calories you’ve burned?

You can also break things down by activity type, and see how your workouts compare to those of your friends. It even supports plotting out running routes (though I don’t think it can take elevation into account). Thus far, a pretty solid combination of the strengths of Garmin Connect and Fitocracy.

Unfortunately, where I have problems is that it doesn’t support nearly the level of detail in terms of workout types as the other two. I love that Garmin Connect lets me specify a training run VS a race VS a recreational run. To DailyMile and Fitocracy, all three would be the same. Furthermore, Fitocracy has a boatload of cross-training activities; for someone who loves cross-training as much as I do, this is a big plus. DailyMile doesn’t have much beyond running, swimming, cycling, and a few basic cross-training activities. Good luck finding a category for racquetball, or recording exactly how much weight you lifted on bench press.

Conclusion

As of this writing, I haven’t found a service that’s perfect. These three seem to collectively cover the spectrum; cutting any one out leaves something to be desired. But it is a bit tedious to keep all three updated, and I do end up repeating myself quite a bit when recording the workouts. DailyMile does provide a handy plugin to Garmin Connect, but that still means a minimum of two distinct data inputs (plus I keep track of how many miles I have on each set of shoes using Garmin Connect, so I’d need to access that data anyway).

Maybe I should create a new one? 😛

What is KT tape?

I know it was a big fad for the 2012 summer Olympics, but I’m still unclear as to exactly what it does.

From its website:

KT Tape provides stability and support for joints by providing an external layer of support around the joint.

So, it’s a brace?

KT Tape is applied along muscles, ligaments, and tendons (soft tissue) to provide a lightweight, strong, external support that helps to prevent injury and speed recovery. KT Tape works differently for different injuries. KT Tape can lift and support the knee cap, holding it in place for Runner’s Knee.

So, it’s a brace?

KT Tape can support sagging muscles along the arch of the foot, relieving the connective tissues for Plantar’s Fasciitis.

So, it’s compression?

And KT Tape can lift the stress off of shin splints to allow pain release and give the body a better opportunity to recover.

So, it’s a suspension bridge?

Depending on how it is applied, KT Tape supports, enables, or restricts soft tissue and its movement. By stretching and recoiling like a rubber band, KT Tape augments tissue function and distributes loads away from inflamed or damaged muscles and tendons, thereby protecting tissues from further injury.

really don’t understand this part. How does moving/distributing/synergizing load away from damaged muscles protect them from further injury? How does it actually move “things” away?

I know this sounds pedantic, but these are honest questions; I’d like to have a teensy amount of intuition of what my equipment is actually doing before I use it. There are enough veritable snake oil remedies for athletes out there that if I’m going to spend what little disposable income from my graduate stipend that I have, it damn well better work!

Like most of the habits I have and the equipment I use, I’ve looked to organizations like Runner’s World and studies in literature to validate the rhetoric that companies push for their “10000000x speed improvement!!1” products. From what I’ve found, while KT Tape has certainly made the rounds with Olympic sponsorships and advertisements, the scientific community has been less than impressed.

From one study:

In conclusion, there was little quality evidence to support the use of KT over other types of elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries. KT may have a small beneficial role in improving strength, range of motion in certain injured cohorts and force sense error compared with other tapes, but further studies are needed to confirm these findings.

From another study:

Application of KT to RF, VL and VM muscles did not significantly change lower limb function, postural balance, knee extensor peak torque or electromyographic activity of VL muscle in healthy women.

Again, I’m really not trying to split hairs or convey some deep-seated hatred for all things KT. I’m simply putting forth the question of if it’s worth blowing $20 on this when equipment that’s already in your standard Rx shop wouldn’t suffice for a quarter of the price. It certainly sounds great, and as a runner who is not at all built to post the mileages that I do on a regular basis, equipment to ward off injury and allow me to keep running when not 100% sounds f#@$ing awesome.

On the other hand, $20 isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, so it’s certainly worth trying out if you’re curious. However, in the game of running that is highly mental, anecdotes and placebo effect can play a very influential role in the formation of habits and treatments of injuries. I’ve seen lots of people on the internet who swear by KT Tape. I’m not suggesting their experiences are invalid, only that they aren’t indicative of whether or not KT Tape actually does what it says it does on a large scale.

So I’m doing the most reasonably unscientific thing I can think of: I’m going to try it out for myself. Since I definitely have an injury that is supposedly a KT Tape dream, I’m going to give it a shot at helping fix me. Not that the result I get, either way, will be indicative of anything. But it certainly can’t hurt, and I’m positively chomping to get back into the game. I will report back and let everyone know what I think!

In search of the perfect shoe

If my experience is any indication of the general population (it isn’t, but we’ll roll with it), finding the perfect shoe is akin to finding the lost city of Atlantis.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk!

Nyuk nyuk nyuk!

At least in my case, I’ve never been able to find the perfect shoe, but I’ve found a lot that seem almost perfect. And whenever someone asks for general running advice–folks who want to get into running–the first thing is always to find a good running shoe. You can’t really get off the launch pad without a really solid running shoe under your feet.

As a bit of background: I played football in high school. Whether directly from playing the sport or indirectly because of my frame, I developed some knee problems shortly after my senior year. Shoes, I noticed, had a big impact on how good (or bad) my knees would feel.

Fast forward to 2010, when The Lady and I started training for our first-ever half-marathon. Since moving to Pittsburgh and slowly falling into the city’s awesome running culture, I quickly found my cheap-o shoes were not going to cut it. My previous strategy for shoes was to simply find something that was size 15 and buy them. With regular running, I found, they fell apart faster and hurt my knees a lot more. I needed something better.

I started with The Lady’s subscription to Runner’s World. They have some awesome online shoe suggestions, and the first shoe I tried was the Asics Evolution 5.

Hello gorgeous.

Hello gorgeous.

Maybe it’s because they were my first “real” pair of running shoes and I had nothing else to compare them to, or because they really were all that amazing, but wearing these truly felt like walking on air. They were incredible. For the first couple of weeks my knees quite literally felt like they had instantly healed. Each step was like compressing a coiled spring that blasted me upwards.

Unfortunately, I entered the foray of running shoes late, and the Evolution 5 was already in the process of being supplanted by its successor, the Evolution 6. Consequently, once my 5’s bit the dust, I made the change to the 6.

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Like their predecessors, the 6s were heavy and possessed all the support my frame required. However, they seemed to wear out a lot faster: the first 100 miles was great, the second 100 was ok, but after crossing the 200 threshold they would start breaking down. Occasionally I could stretch them out to 300, but that was their upper limit. And with each pair carrying a price tag just over $100, it was difficult to justify a cost of $0.50 per mile and a replacement pair every 2-4 months.

I branched out a bit. In Asics’ “Motion Control” category, there resided a second shoe in addition to the Evolution: the Foundation 10.

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If I had to choose, I’d probably say these are my favorite shoes. They’re a tiny bit lighter than the Evolutions, but have about 3x the range. I’ve only owned two pairs of them over two years; they last forever. The sensation of running in these is so smooth I barely notice they’re on my feet. They’re excellent for racing and for tempo or speed work, but they are just as effective at long runs as well.

The only downside is that, once again, Asics has moved on from this shoe, and it has now morphed into the Oracle. And, once again, I’m disappointed with the new incarnation. The Oracles make their presences very known, as they feel as though they’re flopping into the ground every time my foot lands. They’re clunkier and not nearly as streamlined as the Foundations. It makes tempo runs and speed work less enjoyable. On longer runs my feet rub uncomfortably inside; the padding is so smooth my feet start shifting. I really don’t have a good use case for the Oracles, other than short and easy runs.

I did journey outside the Asics brand once, to try Brooks’ motion control flagshoe, the Beast.

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These seemed to work reasonably well (the inside felt a little like the Oracle, however), at least until I began developing shin splints. I tried the 2011 model in February of that year, and developed shin splints so severe that I had to drop running for several months. I switched shoes and began running again, and the problems never returned. This past year, I tried the new 2012 Beast model, and within a month I felt shin splints returning after a full year of being healthy. I dropped them immediately, switched back to Asics, and haven’t had any problems since.

I can’t really explain it, but the padding feels different to me. It must be transferring the force of each impact differently than the Asics padding does, because for whatever reason these shoes splint my shins, as it were.

In my quest to find reliable running shoes, I’ll probably journey outside the Asics bubble again. New Balance appears to have excellent motion control shoes, as does Mizuno and other manufacturers. It helps to be surrounded by an active running culture, and to have a fiance who encourages my behavior 🙂

Speaking of behavior and running culture: Elite Runners and Walkers is hosting their flagship winter race, Just a Short Run, the weekend after this one! If you’re in the area, head down to Alison Park to watch The Lady and lots of friends of ours race their hearts out!