Fitness Challenges and Events

Now the Olympics are over and we are basking in the wonderful legacy it has left, a great many people I know in St. Albans and around the UK are now geared up and focused on fitness challenges of their own.  Listening to all the wonderful challenges that people are doing has inspired me to write this blog.

Some of you may be ‘seasoned challengers’ as I call you but some of you may be new to all this and have thrown yourself into your challenge without thinking about the how’s,
whys, where’s or the when’s.  There may also be a few of you who have said yes to a challenge while Olympic fever was on but are now starting to think it’s just too much of a daunting prospect and are wavering about doing it, signing up and committing.  As a Personal Trainer in St. Albans I get asked my opinion on training for challenges and if I think people can do it, but as I tell them only you can do the training but to help get yourself mentally and physically prepare to achieve your final goal I have put together five helpful tips for big events and challenges.

1. Dedication of Time

Pick a specific event at a time in the year when you seriously know you can dedicate yourself to the training.

Let family and friends know you will need to set aside certain times during the week to train.  Get your family and friends on board and prepare them with the knowledge that family/social time may suffer a little.  If family and friends know this from the start and support you they can be the encouragement you need to get you through the tough training days.  Be prepared to put your training sometimes first before some social events.

2. Use a Training Plan

If you are entering an organised event like a marathon or a triathlon the event organisers should send you on-line links or post you typical training plans for the event when you first enter.  Be sensible and know your limits, it is better to start off slowly rather than pushing yourself to the limit four weeks before the end date and injuring yourself (I know this from my own experience).

Give yourself an extra few weeks on top of the training plan so if you do get injured, you are sick or you have family/work emergencies then you do have a few extra weeks to play with.   You will be surprised something always pop’s up and you can get behind, plan for this.

3.  Strength, Endurance and Flexibility

As well as training in the event discipline, also train for strength, endurance (if it’s an endurance event) and flexibility.  For example if training to do a London to Paris
bike ride don’t just do all your training on the bike get in the gym and/or use a Personal Trainer who can specialise.  Look at the key muscles involved in your event and the distance you are covering.  Find a personal trainer who can look at your posture and your muscle imbalances (everybody has them).  Train functionally to be strong and flexible for your event.

Another example is running; it is physically tough on the body and many people get injured and have back issues from it because their muscles are not strong enough to run in the beginning.  You should ideally have all your lower body muscles working in synergy and strong for function.  I see many people running on the the streets just using their legs and taking short little steps, come out of your comfort zone and use your full range of motion, even if it just in intervals to start with.  The glute muscles are the largest group of muscles in the body (see previous blog about bottoms).  Train your glutes with specific exercises to fire correctly and then use them in your running.  To make sure you are using your glute muscles use functional resistance exercises and then while you are running take longer strides and push out at the back of each stride, short hoppy steps although easier do not fire up your glute muscles.  Once your glutes are activating properly you will actually find your running it is much smoother, you will be faster and you can last longer because you are using all your muscles and not just your leg ones!   Running can be extremely tough on your back especially if the core muscles are not strong, it is very important to do exercises that strengthen the INTERNAL core muscles that help support your back.  Having a weak core and pelvic floor especially after having children can cause a lot of back and leakage issues and can put Mums off running ever again!  All the muscles can gain the strength and suppleness back with the correct exercises but think of these things before throwing yourself into the event training.

4. Warm-up, Cool down, Stretching and Recovery

Always warm-up and stretch at each training session to help prevent injury and increase your performance.

Warm-up –

For the warm up always use what we call in the fitness industry ‘dynamic stretches’ do not use static stretches.  Dynamic stretches should mimic the movements you will be using.  You should be looking to get the muscles warm and the synovial fluid in the joints runny and lubricated.  If the muscles are cold static stretches can cause injury especially if you ‘bounce’ the stretch.  Use small movements around the joints to
start with and slowly increase the movement to your full range of motion.  Warm-up depending on your fitness levels should take between five and ten minutes, you are then ready to start training.

Cool down –

For the cool down always try to slow down gradually for three to five minutes after exerting yourself so your blood does not ‘pool’; build the cool down into your training session.  When you stop abruptly your blood can pool into one area (usually your lower extremities) and can cause dizziness and fainting.  After the cool down do your static stretches.  Stretching the muscles makes them more pliable and stronger for next time and the future.  If you do not stretch the muscles after working them, they will get shorter and weaker and will cause an injury.  Hold your stretches for at least twenty to thirty seconds for each muscle.  If you are trying to lengthen certain muscles because they are tight and short (e.g. your hamstrings) hold each stretch for one minute and do that five times.

Recovery –

For a big endurance event it is always good to get at least two sports massages within your training plan.  An experienced sports massage person can help prevent injuries, help stretch out weak and short muscles and ease those areas that are tight and sore
from training.

Also while you are training concentrate on getting good nutritious food into your body for fuel and recovery.  Eating take-aways, microwave meals and hardly any vegetables or fruit will NOT be enough fuel for your body to mend and recover.  Eat quality protein and a complex carbohydrate within twenty minutess of training to assist with recovery.  Lots of fruit and vegetables will give you the essentials nutrients to fuel your body.

Make sure you are getting enough sleep and time between training sessions to recover.  Training the same muscles every day will make the muscles weak and will cause injury, but if you follow a training plan your recovery periods should be worked out for you.

5. Clothes and Equipment

Do not use anything new on event day.  Always make sure you have trained with what ever you may be using for one of your long training sessions so you know you have no issues, this includes underwear and water bottles!  Do not use new trainers/shoes for an event, always break them in fully but on the flip side make sure they are not too old to support you.

Always dress for the temperature and not the weather.  If it’s raining but it’s not too cold do not be tempted to over dress to keep dry you will end up having too may layers on and over heat.  If it is raining you will get wet, except that.  Having too many layers on that soak up the water will weigh you down and you will feel the weight towards the last part of the race.

Finally –

Enjoy the event and the experience and it’s OK to cry happy tears when you finish at the end, it will all be worth it!


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