Engage Oscillatory Systems For Optimal Ironman Training As You Age, With Thoughts On Water Running And Plantar Fasciitis

Liver and Fourier Transform

This was the opening slide of one of my lectures, that I presented many years ago with the goal of demonstrating the critical role of oscillatory systems in Biology, including the liver. Left: section of liver, by light microscopy, Right: derivation of Fourier Transform.

Water running touching the bottom.

Water running with your feet touching the bottom encourages a pushing motion, with minimal engagement of the spinal oscillator – essentially, this is the force approach to running. From video, below, by Rick and FitOldDog.

Whilst water running, and testing the ASTRO (see below) later that day, I was reminded of the comments of a friend of mine, Rory, on his approach to water-running. I also reflected on my bygone interest in the mathematics of oscillatory systems in Biology, and how I like to use my body’s oscillators to reduce the effort of swimming, biking and running. I suspect that the power of oscillators is one reason why high cadence helps all three sports; the faster you move, the smoother the circle.

Remember, a 140.6 mile race is a long way for an old body, so we need all the help we can get. Rory insists that the best way to water run is with water upto your chest, to reduce the weight on your legs (Archimedes at work), whilst touching the bottom with your feet. Touching the bottom results in a pushing motion with the legs and hips, as you work against the floor of the pool. This assumes one pushes oneself along the ground as you run.

Water running free of the bottom of the pool

Water running, free of the bottom of the pool, is designed to engage the spinal oscillator, shifting load from the legs to the core for greater efficiency and much less strain on FitOldDog’s old body.

A better way to go, for endurance races or on tired legs (and after 112 miles on the bike your legs are tired, I promise you), is to fall forward, rather than push yourself forward. Running becomes a controlled fall, and the real work comprises weight bearing and the return or recovery component of your stride.

My approach is to run free of the bottom of the pool, using the water to train my core to oscillate, carrying my legs along for the ride, very much as Jack Heggie recommends for efficient running. Instead of applying force to run, I work to engage my spinal spring or torque, rotating my spine from the shoulders, to pull my recovering leg forward.

If you want to strengthen your legs, and especially where your legs join your hips, Rory’s approach is fine. For keeping going into old age, whilst avoiding knee and hip problems, use your oscillators as much as you can. Our water running video is shown at the bottom of the page for your interest, but first consider walking, for which the spinal oscillator is also a critical tool (as it is in swimming, but that’s another story), and then think about the potential for pain to interfer with your use of this powerful system of springy bone, ligaments, tendons, muscle and fascia. This brings me to the ASTRO and plantar fasciitis.

FitOldDog in ASTRO and Hoka One Ones

A somewhat chubby (we’ll fix that, don’t worry) FitOldDog wearing the ASTRO with his Hoka One Ones. Left image, weighted leg. Right image, unweighted leg. Photo by Stacey.

My morning foot pain is finally dissolving into the past, with the help of the FitOldDog Method, comprising stretching, rolling, and exercise, combined with the ASTRO.

During yesterday’s water run, I was thinking about how my legs move when I walk, and how pain in my heel, and elsewhere in my left foot, throws off my rhythm. I started to wonder if disturbance of my body’s coupled oscillators might just be a key contributor to the development or progression of plantar fasciitis.

This needs further study. but I bet that both proprioception and oscillatory signals are playing a role in the development of this painful disease – just a hunch, the stuff of science.

As I studied the ASTRO, wondering how it works, I realized it appears to be correcting a conditioned motor reflex. This clever device apparently reprograms proprioceptive mobility pathways, to eliminate whatever was causing the imbalance that resulted in my foot pain in the first place. My issue was already resolving using our approach, though only slowly, but the ASTRO has speeded up my recovery a lot. Interestingly, there is a parallel between self-massage with a roller (see video demo at this link) and the ASTRO. At first you have to roll your muscles for 10 to 15 minutes before you appreciate any benefit. After a while you can reduce this to less than a minute for the same effect. The ASTRO seems to work in the similar way – the body is a learning machine, and it learns fast if you let it.

Observation: Following some grueling workouts yesterday, I followed up with a 10-minute ASTRO walk, focusing on a regular swing of my legs, letting the ASTRO do it’s work, whilst engaging my spinal oscillator. This morning? ZERO foot pain, first time in ages, which would not have been the case without the ‘ASTRO-WALK.’ Anecdotal data? Surely! Promising? Definitely!

OK! You can watch our relaxing water running movie, considering oscillatory systems as you go, or you could read the related FitOldDog publication, which will surely put you to sleep – here’s the reference, just in case you need a nap: Complementary Roles for Toxicologic Pathology and Mathematics in Toxicogenomics, With Special Reference to Data Interpretation and Oscillatory Dynamics, Toxicologic Pathology, 32(Suppl. 1):13–25, 2004. KT Morgan et al., 2004.


A final note to Rory (who taught me how to ride a bike): It is a matter of deciding what it is exactly that you want to train. Touching the bottom has value for strength training, but I would like to suggest that it is contraindicated if you want to keep running into old age; that’s my goal, anyway.

I would appreciate all comments and corrections on these thoughts – OK, Rory, over to you!


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.