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Sports psychologist Dr. Keith Kaufman explains the tricky difference between ritual and routine and which one actually aids in performance. By Melissa Romero
Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross, who won a gold medal in the 400-meter race this year, always wears a bullet necklace her mother gave her while competing. But do superstitions really help athletic performance? Photographs courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Before a race, local marathon runner Dorothy Beal absolutely needs her race hair.

No, “race hair” does not involve Beal donning a wig or hair extensions during competition. Rather, the night before every event she washes, blow-dries, and straightens her hair. “All of my [personal records] have happened when I had race hair,” she explains. “I don’t know why, but it feels faster to me than messy, wavy hair.”

On the Olympic level, 400-meter gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross wears a necklace her mom gave her during every race. Michael Phelps swings his arms and slaps his back three times before every swim, and heptathlon winner Jessica Ennis uses her lucky measuring tape during competition.

What all these athletes have in common is their reliance on what they believe are superstitions, says local sports psychologist Dr. Keith Kaufman. The thing is, some of those habits aren’t actually superstitions—and many of them don’t actually help athletes win. “In sports psychology, we think of rituals and superstitions in similar terms, but we differentiate them from routines.”

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Posted at 12:40 PM/ET, 08/09/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
The National Park Service denied the required permit for the third annual race. By Melissa Romero

The third annual Washington DC Triathlon, scheduled to take place on June 17, has been canceled.

DC Tri made the announcement on its website this afternoon, saying the event was denied the required Park Service permit. The triathlon takes place on National Park Service property and in the Potomac River, and ends on Pennsylvania Avenue near the US Capitol Building.

While in past years the triathlon was held in June, this year the National Park Service wasn’t able to accommodate the event, says National Park Service public information officer Carol Johnson. “There’s a period between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July where we don’t issue permits for runs, simply because we have all kinds of other things going on,” she explains. “In the past we’ve had some exemptions for the event, but this year we just couldn’t permit it.”

Those who registered for the sold-out race have until March 28 to get a refund or transfer the fee to a new event. Click here for more information.

The Nation’s Triathlon is still scheduled to take place on September 9.

Posted at 01:48 PM/ET, 03/14/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
An organization that will host a national competition this March hopes yoga will be recognized as an Olympic sport. By Melissa Romero

Who does it better? USA Yoga will host the 2012 National Championships for yoga in March. The organization hopes yoga will become an Olympic sport. Photographs courtesy of Flickr user Ron Sombilon Gallery.

Yoga, the back-bending, leg-twisting ancient practice that prides itself on being a personal, spiritual discipline, is putting on its game face.

Some of the best yogis out there are heading to New York City in a few days to compete in the 2012 National Yoga Championship for youths and adults, an event hosted by the United States Yoga Federation. Each participant is required to perform seven yoga postures in three minutes. The judges will rate each pose based on strength, flexibility, timing, and appropriate breathing in postures.

According to its website, USA Yoga’s mission is to join other countries to form an international yoga federation and to qualify yoga as an Olympic sport. It has already applied to the United States Olympic Committee.

But does adding a competitive edge take away the introspective, know-your-own-body aspects of yoga? Mary Catherine Starr, a local yoga instructor, says yes.

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Posted at 12:08 PM/ET, 02/29/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
These ladies log miles upon miles by foot and bike and in the water every week to train for grueling triathlons each year. By Melissa Romero

DC has one of the highest concentrations of triathletes in the country. And every year, thousands of athletes from all over the world descend upon the District for two popular triathlons: The DC Tri and the Nation’s Tri. These five female local women live and breathe the Washington triathlete culture, and you can read all about their training, competitions, successes, and failures on their personal blogs.

• • •

Katie Ingram
Run This Amazing Day

Why you should read her blog: This triathlon newbie is a firecracker. You’d never guess from her hilarious posts and tweets that during her 9-to-5 she’s the director of information of technology for a law firm. Warning: You’re likely to stifle a snort at your desk while reading her updates on everything from training and races to her adorable pups, Graham and Molly.

Where she trains: “I love cycling at Hains Point for short workouts, but for longer workouts I’ll head out to Reston, Virginia, or Potomac, Maryland, or even Skyline Drive for some gorgeous and hilly rides. I mostly run on the Mount Vernon trail, the Four-Mile Run trail, the Capital Crescent trail, or in the city itself. I swim at my local gym pool.”

Favorite post-workout food: “I’m usually not very hungry immediately after a triathlon, but I love a burrito after a good, hard workout!”

How many hours a day she trains: “Two to three hours a day, but weekend workouts can last up to seven or eight hours.”

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Posted at 09:25 AM/ET, 01/30/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
Seven-year-old Timmy Tyrrell of Manassas is racing around the track to raise money for children suffering from cancer. By Laura Wainman

Mini poses with his friend Ella Day, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010. Photographs courtesy of Tina Tyrrell.

At first glance, Timmy “Mini” Tyrrell of Manassas is no different from your average seven-year-old. His parents are his heroes, and the family dog is like a brother to him. He loves running around outside, and anything with wheels that lets him go fast; he dreams of one day becoming a doctor. But spend just a few minutes with Mini, a nickname derived from the fact that he is his father’s “mini me,” and he will tell you all about his greatest passion: raising money for children with cancer through go-kart racing.

Mini—who, upon meeting me shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and welcomed me by name to his home—has raised more than $28,000 to date for the Jeffrey Virostek Fund, and has no plans of stopping there. The pint-size driver is racing toward his goal of raising $50,000 for pediatric cancer patients and their families before May 13, 2012.

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Posted at 01:30 PM/ET, 01/18/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
US Soccer Foundation and DC United Women team up at event to help end child obesity in urban areas. By Mary Yarrison

The US Soccer Foundation's Soccer for Success program aims to combat childhood obesity in urban areas. DC has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the nation. Photograph courtesy of the US Soccer Foundation's Facebook page.

NBC4 held its annual Health and Fitness Expo this past weekend at the Washington Convention Center, bringing in more than 3,500 health-care providers, nonprofits, and other businesses to answer Washingtonians’ health-related questions for free. For many, particularly the uninsured, the expo provided a valuable opportunity for free health screenings: Vendors offered everything from blood-pressure checks to HIV screenings and memory assessments. Locals and their kids joined in by the trainload—more than 85,000 attended, according to NBC4—for these screenings, and for updates on current health-care issues like autism treatment and childhood obesity prevention, which was of particular interest.

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Posted at 02:28 PM/ET, 01/17/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
A local physical therapist explains what causes these common injuries and how to avoid them. By Melissa Romero

Got shin splints? You may need to switch up your running route. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Roby Ferrari.

If you’re anything like me, the sound of people pounding on the treadmill is almost as painful to my ears as nails on a chalkboard. But while you’re wincing now, the pain they’ll soon feel in their legs from shin splints may be enough of a scolding.

Shin splints are one of the most common injuries that occur among athletes, especially among runners. They cause a dull, nagging ache along your shins, which become painful to the touch. If not treated properly—and often they are not—they can lead to even more serious injuries like stress fractures.

We asked Maryland-based physical therapist Dr. Jamey Schrier of Schrier Physical Therapy for his expert advice on preventing and treating every runner’s nemesis.

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Posted at 02:49 PM/ET, 01/12/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
These 11 exercises will help you build explosive power and speed By Melissa Romero

If you caught the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest last week, you probably saw Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin jump over a car. Chalk it up to pure talent if you want, but chances are he has spent some serious time at the gym improving his hops.

Athletes like Griffin who want to improve their explosiveness usually turn to plyometrics, a training regimen that combines strength and speed for maximum power. It’s not for the faint of heart: The National Strength and Conditioning Association says you should be able to squat more than 1½ times your body weight before incorporating plyometric exercises into your workout. And high-school athletes should avoid plyometrics altogether; it can damage growth plates in their bones.

Whitney Maymon, a trainer at Evolution, a personal-training studio near Thomas Circle, says it’s safe to incorporate one to two plyometric exercises into your routine once a week, but only after you’ve started a strength-training program. Here are 11 exercises to try if you want to be the next Blake Griffin.

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Posted at 04:14 PM/ET, 12/02/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
Running hills on the treadmill keeps your body guessing. Here’s a 40-minute interval workout to get you started. By Melissa Romero

Treadmills get a bad rap. The list of complaints is endless: They’re boring, they’re monotonous, they’re too easy, they’re unrealistic.

Margie Shapiro, a triathlete and a coach for Potomac River Running, says the treadmill is a great tool for both novice and advanced runners. “Some people enjoy the softer surfaces a treadmill provides, while others enjoy the ability to set a pace of incline, tune out distractions, and run rhythmically,” she says.

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Posted at 03:32 PM/ET, 12/02/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
Taking time to strengthen the muscles around the knee could save you from injury later. Here are five stretches and exercises designed to do just that. By Melissa Romero

Knees are one of the most injury-prone joints in the body, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. In 2003, approximately 19.4 million people saw an orthopedic surgeon for a knee-related injury. The incredibly complex joint is the largest in the body, and it takes a lot of abuse throughout the day.

Personal trainer and instructor Elie Cossa of City Fitness in DC’s Cleveland Park offers some simple stretches and exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee and help with balance and stability.

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Posted at 03:32 PM/ET, 12/02/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()