Exercising While You Learn?

As an aspiring PE teacher, I continue to be inspired and moved by each piece of research that comes out touting the mental and learning benefits of exercise. A lot of people choose to be frustrated — and rightfully so — by the repeated slashing of PE programs in public schools across the country, despite empirical evidence that daily recess and PE help improve test scores, the ability to focus, and emotional/psychological health of students. I’ve gone through the frustration phase and it got me nowhere, so I’m now choosing to stay positive and optimistic that eventually this mountain of evidence will grow large enough that policy makers will have no choice but to take serious action.

pile of papers

So, climbing down from my soapbox…the title of this post is referring to a recent article in the Well section of the NYT entitled, “How Exercise Can Help Us Learn.” The latest conclusions from the studies cited in the article show that (a) when you choose to study (in relation to when, say, a test of knowledge might be), and (b) the intensity of the workout can absolutely impact one’s ability to retain information for use on an assessment.

Please do go ahead and read the article but I’ll try to sum up the findings CliffNotes style:

— Women were given a chapter in a textbook to read. Some of the women sat and read quietly, and some read while performing 30 minutes of vigorous cardio on an elliptical.

— Both groups were tested immediately after they read and also a day later. Given what I’m assuming was a standard recall of information type test, the women that were on the elliptical actually scored worse than the control group on the immediate testing, but the scores were a dead-heat when tested a day later.

Conclusion: If you have a test or a presentation in a few hours, trying to workout and cram at the same time might actually be harmful.


— In another study involving low-intensity biking, results showed that working out while listening to an educational audio tape actually yielded better memory retention than exercising beforehand or not exercising at all.


Conclusion: The low intensity of the exercise is not too much to overwork the brain, whereas high intensity exercise can caused neurological signals to get crossed. The low level physiological stimulation actually primes the brain for learning.


All of this has yet to be proven 100% truth, but for me it’s fascinating. Given that a lot of a typical PE class is done with what I’d classify as “low intensity” exercise, I think this only further validates PE as way to prime the brain for learning in other classes.


What do y’all think? Find any flaws in the study? Is this something you think you’ll pull from when you’re coordinating your week’s workouts?


Just Hit Play

A weekly series where you’ll find a handful of songs to add to your workout playlist. 

Let’s do a theme for this week’s JHP. Themes are fun, right? This week’s songs will all make you say, “hey this sounds like it’s by (insert well-known band name here)”.

Clarias — The Size of Bullets

If you turned on the radio and caught the chorus, you might think that Bon Jovi is putting out a new record. Nope, that would be the relatively unknown band named Clarias out of Boston. It’s a catchy song that I could run to.


Sunday’s Best — Saccharine

I was never huge into punk so I won’t embarrass myself by trying to take a stab at making a comparison here, but after seeing how short their wikipedia page is, I figured it was a safe bet that both the song and the band have flown under your radar.


Fun. — Some Nights

Ok, so this song is getting a ton of air play as a follow up to the We Are Young single. I’m adding it anyways because (a) it’s my favorite song to run to lately and (b) it has the unmistakable sound of a modern Queen song.


The Weeks — Altar Girl

If you like the southern rock of Kings of Leon, check out this group. If you like Altar Girl then check out their other stuff  — both the Rumspringa and Comeback Cadillac albums are worth your time. The Weeks have a grittier, less-polish-and-more-punch sound to them than Kings of Leon, which I dig for my workouts.

Note: Sorry, I couldn’t find a full length version or youtube video. Check this out or go to Itunes: http://www.last.fm/music/The+Weeks/_/Altar+Girl
Patrick Sweany — Them Shoes
Another dead-on soundalike, Them Shoes could easily be mistaken as a Black Keys song. It might be too slow of a tempo for you to workout or run to but it’s a cool song so I threw it in.
Alright that’s it for this week. Be well…

IT Band Syndrome

About a month ago I self-diagnosed myself with a mild to moderate case of IT band syndrome, and since then I’ve been reading up on it and trying out some treatment methods. Here’s how it started and what I’ve done to treat it.

I’ve never been much of a runner. My Dad is a runner. My best friend is a runner. My wife is a runner. But with an 11 mile Tough Mudder course on the horizon and a, to put it kindly, less than stellar cardio option with P90X (seriously, Tony? some weak ass kickboxing? You’re better than that), I decided to pick up running.

Only a couple runs in, I noticed a really painful trend. Right around the three to four mile mark of every run, almost like clock work, I would start to feel this sharp, stabbing, raw grinding type pain on the outside part of my knee. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I’ve seen those Saw movies and I think I can now relate to what they were going through.


Thinking very rational thoughts at the time — “my Grandma can run 3 miles, suck it up!” — I would do a very sad, sad looking gallop-type run until I reached a respectable 5 mile distance. And then I’d collapse in pain.

Using my strong powers of deduction, I came to the scientific conclusion that something just ain’t right with my knee area.

Googling my symptoms, I realized I was suffering from IT band syndrome. Then I had a conversation with myself that went something like this:

“An IT whatsit?”

“Oh, that’s right, I got a “D” in college anatomy”

“I’ll just Google some more…”

For all you visual learners, this is your IT band:

IT band

And here is your IT band while running:



It’s a long band of inelastic tissue that starts up in the hip, attaches in your glute, and inserts into your patella (knee).

Since I thought tightness was the issue, I focused mainly on stretching and foam rolling (I’ll have links for these at the bottom). I also heard good things about kinesthetic tape and IT band straps, so I bought one of each. Listen, both of these products are great. After feeling searing pain at 3 miles, I put both the tape and the strap on and I immediately went out and ran my first 10k with no pain at all. I thought I had it all figured out.

The next few runs with my tape/strap technique didn’t go so well. The pain wasn’t anywhere near as intense as before, but it was still there — mostly at 5+ miles or with any uphill running.

What I found through the readings was that the tightness and the raw rubbing against the knee isn’t the CAUSE, but rather the result. The actual cause lies in weak glutes, weak hip muscles, or overtraining, or some combination of those. What I needed to do was treat the actual underlying cause — by doing strengthening exercises.

The bulk of the evidence comes from a study back in July of 2000 by Dr. Michael Fredericson. He found statistically significant weakness in the hip abductors of those suffering from IT band syndrome when compared to healthy runners. His 6 week rehab focusing on strengthening the glutes specifically resulted in this finding:

After six weeks of rehabilitation, 22 of 24 athletes were pain free with all exercises and able to return to running, and at a six-month follow-up there were no reports of recurrence.

What did they do, and what can you do to recover?

— It’s not a bad idea to have a formal diagnosis from a physical therapist, but after that I wouldn’t pay the money to keep seeing him or her for treatment.

— Strengthening exercises like these and these. All you need is a thera-band (maybe $5-$10). As always, pay close attention to proper form, the number of reps you should be doing, and how many times a week you can do these exercises.

— Foam rolling. Invest in a $20 foam roller! Seriously, do it. It’s like giving yourself a massage.

— IT band stretches like this:

— Glute stretches like the bridge and the seated glute stretch:

glute-bridge glute1

— Strengthen your core, as well.

— Cross train with biking or swimming…or just rest!

Looking back at the anatomy image and the point of insertion, it really makes sense that stronger hips and glutes is the remedy. If you really have to run, I’d say buy some of the kinesthetic tape or an IT band strap. At the first opportunity, though, start treating the underlying cause. I’m starting my rehab and I’ll give y’all an update on how it goes.

Just Hit Play

A weekly series where you’ll find a handful of songs to add to your workout playlist.

Ghostland Observatory — No Place For Me

Shoutout to the boys from Austin, TX here. Ok so they might seem a little crazy…

A) They’re based out of Austin


B) They like laser lights a lot


C) Their drummer looks like this


I have absolutely no idea what the lyrics to this song mean, but I just try to think about a dark time or place in my life and how I want to get as far away from that as possible, and that gets me going. Crank this one up loud.


Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — Wings

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at Sasquatch 2011

Making his second appearance on JHP, this one goes back before he was all over the radio. The cool thing about Macklemore is he’s good for a fun, jump up and down anthem type song, and he’s also good to give you a social commentary song.

Wings is about the addictive nature of collecting shoes and the pressure kids feel to have the best kicks in school. The song has rises and falls with slower, dramatic phrases followed by Macklemore getting angry a la Eminem or Lil Wayne (his idol, I think). The video is really well done, and of course shows off his town of Seattle. I dig the Spike Lee Nike references, too.


I’ve got to cut it short this week, but I’ll be back next Monday with more songs for your workout playlist. Until then, be well.


Melting running shoes, over 8,000 feet elevation gain, eating NASA food, and training on a treadmill inside a treehouse filled with space heaters? That folks, is the Badwater Ultramarathon — one of, if not THE most challenging endurance events in the World.

The training that goes into it, and the pain you’ll endure during, only appeals to probably 0.0001% of the human population, but it’s still inspiring and interesting to read about. Check out this good article and interview with first-time Badwater runner Meredith Dolhare.