Training, tech keep athletes on top

After a grueling day of training, triathlete Terri Bower returns to the comfort of her home and trades her athletic shoes for a pair of boots.

Only these boots aren’t any ordinary boots — they’re not even made for walking.

They make up the NormaTec Pulse Recovery System, an inflated device that covers the feet and legs and utilizes compressed air to massage one’s limbs and promote blood flow.

“It really kind of expedites recovery so that we can get back at it,” said Bower, of the Village of Fernandina. “And for us, as we get older, we need to recover quicker.”

This is especially the case for so many senior athletes in The Villages, where a love for competition and the desire to test one’s limits are still very much alive. To stay competitive — and, for that matter, active — these athletes know they need to take care of their bodies today, tomorrow and well into the future.

 The NormaTec is just one example of the extreme lengths senior athletes in The Villages are going to go through to keep their bodies in competitive and solid shape.

They’re also placing more emphasis on preventing injuries altogether by strengthening their core muscles with the help of specialized training sessions — such as Bootcamp-Yoga for runners, swimmers, cyclists and triathletes. They’re using technological advancements, such as smartwatches, to monitor their activity and medical statistics in the pool, on the bike and during a run, as well as electronic shifting and a cycling power meter — a device that is fitted to a bicycle and measures a rider’s power output.

They’re even taking advantage of newer forms of treatment — including hyaluronic acid — helping them to avoid major surgeries and allowing them to enjoy life in the water, on the bike or wherever they train.

“That’s one cool thing because going from different populations of patients, it’s cool here to see that even though the patients are kind of on the older end, that they’re still being so active and doing all these sports and different activities,” said Brian Wisowaty, an orthopaedic physician assistant with The Villages Health. “Our goal is to maximize the quality of life for them, so whether that be if they want to play Division 1 softball or if it’s just getting around the house, our goal is to make them the best that they can be.”

Senior athletes in The Villages share that very mindset, as evidenced by their use of advanced treatments, technology and training.

Treatments

In an effort to stay active in their respective sports, athletes are trying a variety of treatments designed to help them recover faster.

For example, Bower also makes use of cupping therapy and a Hypervolt percussive massage device.

Cupping therapy — brought into the mainstream by Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps during the 2016 Summer Games — involves placing special cups on the skin to create suction and hopefully ease pain or inflammation and support blood flow.

“What it does is it pulls your skin away from your muscle, so it allows the fascia in there to get some more blood flow and relief. It’s remarkable how well that works,” said Bower, who often uses the cups on her back. “You’ll get these big marks — it’s not like a hickey, but it’s like this big, red mark — but it goes away eventually.”

Bower described the Hypervolt device as a “muscle-pounding” contraption, one that delivers rapid pulses deep into soft tissue. Bower said she often uses the device on her calves and back.

“It stimulates blood flow, and it’s like if you get a massage and you get a deep, deep, deep tissue massage — it’s kind of like that,” said Bower, who bought the Hypervolt over the summer. “It doesn’t tickle. It can be intense, but it’s how intense you want to make it.”

Meanwhile, patients of The Villages Health are utilizing hyaluronic acid — gel injections produced from the comb of chickens — to mimic articular cartilage in the knees, Wisowaty said. People can receive the hyaluronic acid injections, which can be used to treat joint disorders such as osteoarthritis, once every six months.

“Their aim is to last six months or more in kind of creating that cushion between the knees once that regular, normal cartilage has been worn down from the arthritis,” Wisowaty said. “And we’ve actually seen a lot of people get some good relief after that.”

Athletes can also undergo arthroscopic surgeries — minimally invasive procedures performed on joints via small incisions in the body — through The Villages Health. Wisowaty said the surgery can be performed on knees, shoulders and more, but that it is not meant for full joint replacements.

“Healing time is faster, less need for formal physical therapy,” Wisowaty said. “We can kind of do some things at home now.”

Like The Villages Health, Lake Centre for Rehab is focused on helping people — including athletes — with their recovery process. In fact, Lake Centre for Rehab plans to start having patients use virtual reality glasses to deal with pain before the end of this year, said Brett Peters, doctor of physical therapy at Lake Centre for Rehab — Lake Sumter Landing. Multiple locations of Lake Centre for Rehab will have the glasses, Peters said.

“You’re retraining the whole response to pain,” Peters said. “If you read the studies on pain, you can influence pain a lot by retraining the brain’s response to that pain.”

Technology

As the evolution of wearable fitness technology continues, senior athletes are taking advantage of new and improved athletic developments to help them compete smarter, better and longer.

That includes Donna Maguire and other members of The Villages Triathlon Club, who utilize devices designed for bicycles as a way to monitor individual progress and make training a little less strenuous. Among those devices used are electronic shifting and a cycling power meter, a device that is fitted to a bicycle and measures a rider’s power output.

“Electronic shifting allows us to shift by pushing a button, and the chain moves across the derailleur to change gears rather than using the index shifters on the handlebar stem,” said Maguire, Triathlon Club president. “Power (meter) is a system that allows you to train more efficiently by letting you know how efficient your riding is. It’s complicated, but once you know what your numbers are, it can really help with improving bike skills.”

But that’s not all these athletes are using to track their improvements and devise training plans.

Triathlon Club members also use smartwatches to monitor their activity and medical statistics in the pool, on the bike and during a run. Maguire said workouts are automatically loaded to a smartphone application, where individuals can view stats such as pace and heart rate to determine their next workout plan.

Frank Micciche, who runs with The Villages Running Club, can attest to the benefits of using a smartwatch.

“Usually, I just try to listen to my body. But I’ll look at the watch and I’ll go, ‘Wait a minute, if you’re doing 15 miles today, you can’t be running this because you’re going to run out at the end.’ So, you try to slow it down,” said Micciche, of the Village of Pine Hills. “It gives me feedback to tell me, ‘Hey, you better move a little faster or slow down a little bit.’”

Swimmer Bill Vayens, a member of the Villages Aquatic Swim Team (VAST), even uses an Apple Watch — in addition to swimming apps — to assist him in the pool.

“What’s really nice is to be able to go back, go home, get on my computer and look at what I did,” said Vayens, of the Village of Pennecamp. “They really do a nice job of recording what it is I’m doing out here. As probably one of the newer swimmers on the team, it really helps me look at, ‘Am I making progress? Is it time to quit?’”

Triathlete Nate Leech determines daily whether he should ease up on his own training by measuring heart rate variability (HRV) — a measure of the variation between heartbeats — with a heart rate monitor. The Village of Winifred resident said he uses a heart rate monitor every morning, prior to any workouts or activities, to learn his HRV.

“I use HRV specifically to monitor how well I have recovered from the previous day(s’) workout(s),” Leech said. “It is important because the worst thing you can do to yourself is to continue training if you are over-trained. Over-training leads to injuries. If I get a red indicator, then I take the day off.  If I get a yellow, then I may cut back if I was going to do a hard workout that day.”

Training

As preparation for competitions — and hopefully victory — Villages athletes are participating in a myriad of training regimens to bolster and maintain their strength.

One such training avenue is Karen Lambert Hughes’ Bootcamp-Yoga for runners, swimmers, cyclists, triathletes, which has participants do multiple exercises — planks, sit-ups, jumping jacks, mountain climbers and more — at each exercise station, prior to doing different yoga poses. The sessions take place at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square.

Lambert Hughes, who has been personal training and teaching fitness for 40 years, said the purpose of Bootcamp-Yoga is to have people do more functional exercises as a way of strengthening their core — and, in turn, trying to prevent injuries.

“If you strengthen your core, you’re less likely to get a knee injury or a hip injury or an ankle injury or anything like that,” said Hughes, of the Village of Lake Deaton. “And then, of course, everyone that runs or bikes or swims or does triathlons needs stretching and yoga. It’s a nice little combination.”

Runner Alice Kelly, of the Village of Chatham, frequently attends Bootcamp-Yoga.

“It makes your core stronger and your legs, which help you from not getting injuries — especially when you do distance,” Kelly said. “Just to keep the injuries down, and a lot of the physical therapy I’ve had to do for the injuries, we do some of the same things here. That’s another good reason. And to do it with other people is a lot more fun than doing it by yourself at home.”

Some athletes make the trip to MVP Athletic Club, located in both Spanish Springs and Brownwood, to get their exercise fix — including core strengthening.

Sue Wager, fitness manager at MVP Athletic Club-Spanish Springs, helps athletes in small group training work on their respective cores via rotational and anti-rotational exercises. While rotational exercises — such as the medicine ball chop and the power pull on a TRX Suspension Trainer — involve rotating the core muscles, anti-rotational exercises like the single-arm chest press and plank require athletes to keep the core stable as a way of strengthening it.

“For many athletes, and just in general, due to people having back pain and generally weak backs, the core training has become one of the forefronts. What we try to do now is integrate (core training) into all types of training,” Wager said. “If you’re an athlete and you’re having trouble, you’re feeling it more in your shoulders, your arms are getting really sore, things like that — maybe low back pain. As trainers, we would look more to strengthen the core through the various methods.”

Trudy Lampela, of the Village of Springdale, said Wager gives her a solid workout during small group training.

“I’ve had some back issues and problems — I was a nurse for almost 50 years — and nurses are notorious for having low back problems,” said Lampela, who plays golf, among other activities. “I’ve never worked out on my core like I do now, so it’s definitely helping. Plus, I’m losing a little weight and a few inches.”

Hemant Hariprashad, an exercise physiologist at Lake Centre for Rehab, interacts with athletes, often while leading injury-prevention programs in the community, in addition to bootcamp sessions that include running and static stretching.

“So, they know what to do before and after playing their games and stuff like that,” Hariprashad said.

Exercise is just part of the training equation, though.

Maguire knows the importance of getting proper nutrition, too.

“I’m working with a sports nutritionist who is helping me identify what, when and how much to eat pre-workouts, during workouts and after workouts — as well as recovery days,” Maguire said. “It’s a balance of carbs, fat and protein, as well as hydration. I tried high fat/low carb, but it didn’t work for me. So far so good, but it’s a learning process.”

From working on nutrition to building a better core, senior athletes in The Villages are taking advantage of the many training options available to them today — in addition to the newer treatments and technologies at their disposal.

“Whatever we can do to help keep ourselves going and doing what we love to do,”  Bower said.

Senior Writer Tyler Breaman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5226, or tyler.breaman@thevillagesmedia.com.