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By Jeb Stewart MS, PES
In the beginning of the season, much like a new year, many of us start off with high resolve, doing everything right and by the book. We benefit immensely from this, improve our performance drastically as a result, and feel good both inside and out about our efforts. As the season wanes and we reach a higher level of performance, it becomes easy to start to slack off on the little things that helped get us here in the first place. I know how busy life can be. I am living it as we speak. However, if we start to neglect the little things such as stretching, warmups, proper rest, nutrition, hydration, and positive self-talk, all our efforts that lead us to this point can end up being in vain. It would be such a shame to allow this to happen and can easily be avoided by sticking to the plan that got us here to begin with. As the volume of our training lessens to accommodate our racing schedule and the time of year where we are in peak fitness and focusing more on quality rather than quality, there should be enough time to keep these vital components in our program.
As we all know by now, hopefully, putting in time on the bike, run or swim is only part of the equation, without which we are definitely not going to perform at any level of proficiency. However, rest and recovery, both active and passive are probably the most crucial components to improving performance in conjunction with the appropriate training stimuli. Eating & hydrating properly and at the right times before, during and after races and training sessions is also critical to success, recovery as well as our health. Getting enough sleep, keeping up with our flexibility, maintaining the gains we made in the gym and working on our mental game are all critical components without which we will really start to backslide. If we don’t keep up with these little things, it is likely that our bodies, minds and even our spirits will suffer significantly.
Stretching is something that seems to go out the window before anything else, if it was ever in there to begin with, and it is not long before we start to have anatomical issues as a result. Please don’t let this happen to you. Stretching for just 10 minutes several times a week can improve performance, prevent injury, promote recovery and is a key element in any performance program. Simply take 5 minutes to hit your trouble areas when pressed for time. When you have more time, like after weekend workouts, spend more time and do a more comprehensive job to work on the flexibility of your whole body. If you are too busy to take time to stretch, then you may want to evaluate your current schedule to allow yourself the time necessary to keep this key component in your training program.
Warm-ups are so critical to racing and training performance and they get slacked on second only to stretching. If your body is not prepared for the rigors it is about to endure, then it will suffer immensely and under perform. This is why we coaches write very specific warm-ups for the events our athletes participate in. There are different demands in every sport, and every subdiscipline within each sport. The warm-up needs to reflect the demands which will be imposed upon the body during the event. When a race is only 40 minutes long, and it goes out from the gun at 100% and does not let up, only those who are warmed up properly will even survive, never the less excel. Let’s keep those warm-ups in the routine and thorough. You have the fitness now; the warm-up is not going to wear you out and may be the difference between finishing first, getting dropped or not finishing at all.
Like it or not, we are what we eat and if what we are eating is not building the house that we want to live in and a vehicle that can perform the way we want it to, then we are largely to blame for our not getting what we want. Far too often I hear the cry of “I don’t have time to eat” or “I don’t know what the right things are to cook”. We are blessed with far too many resources out there today as a result of the internet, commercial books stores and even our public library for the latter of these two to be a valid excuse. There are plenty of great web sites, books and magazines that have tons of information on what to eat for health and performance so take advantage of them to help you perform at your best, benefit maximally from your training and improve your overall health.
The “I don’t have time” excuse is no more valid either. I would argue that we don’t have time not to eat. Again, if your life is so busy that you don’t have time to prepare healthy food for yourself to eat at work, at home and on the road, then I would offer that your approach to your time management needs to be evaluated. It truly takes less time to make a meal at home then it does to go out and there are plenty of healthy choices to eat when on the road. An easy way to have good food around to eat at meals, snack on and take to work with you is to prepare larger amounts of food several times per week. Simply take the time to cook a bunch of particular carbohydrate and protein choices along with vegetables and put them into Tupperware containers to take with you to work, when you travel or to pull out on the fly when you are in a rush. This is one of the most effective ways to improve your diet.
Simply taking the time to educate yourself on the right things to eat daily and during training and racing and preparing healthy choices to eat at home or to take with you when you leave the house can improve your sport performance, your body composition and over all sense of well being dramatically. It’s an investment well made and you are worth the time it takes to do so.
Last but not least, positive sports and personal psychology is such an in depth topic that I can only touch on it briefly in this article. What we think has an extremely significant impact on how we perform. Our thoughts become our reality and if we tell ourselves that we do not belong, or that we aren’t good enough, then you can bet that you are not going to suddenly end up on the podium. We all have doubts and are all scared to some degree when we get on that starting line. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be human. The difference between the winners and the runners up is that the winners feel the fear and do it anyway. It takes courage and discipline to be positive, especially in a world that promotes just the opposite. Be courageous and believe in yourself, be gentle with your words when talking to yourself and think positively.
Some may say this is a naive approach. To them I say, go peddle that to someone who’s buying it. People who take the risk of being positive take heat sometimes but always end up being people who others want to follow, emulate and be around. It is a small price to pay for the benefit in the end. So be a leader, believe in the possibilities and consciously work on improving your internal dialogue that you carry within yourself. It can be one of the most valuable tools in your performance tool chest for positive change and performance enhancement on so many levels.
Putting it all together
Wow! We have covered a lot in a short time. I do not expect you to remember it all but I do hope that you try to incorporate at least some of it back into your programs one little bit at a time until you are back on track and enjoying your training and racing to the fullest. If you are like the rest of us, you are probably better in one area than another. If this is the case, work on your weak areas first and most often, and if you need help or suggestions with any of this, ask your coach or an informed and experienced friend for help. Secondly, fine tune your strengths by practicing them weekly and integrate it with your mental skills practice, specific to your individual goals to maximize your performance. Here’s to getting back to the next level and beyond. Enjoy the journey!
Jeb Stewart has a Master's degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and is certified by the ACSM, NASM, USAT and USA Cycling as an Elite Level Coach. He is a performance consultant to many professionals, cycling teams, coaches and organizations including the Jittery Joe’s Professional Cycling Team in 2007. He is also a Category 2 cyclist on the road and an Expert Level Mountain Biker, but more importantly, he is a professional coach who provides coaches and athletes with the knowledge, empowerment, tools and the confidence that will equip them in their success journey. He is the co-creator of The Next Level, Strength Training for Endurance Athletes DVD and contributes to Bicycling magazine, Runner's World, Tri-Newbies.com, Iron-man Live and the Daily Peloton. He owns and operates Endurofit, LLC, a coaching and consulting company dedicated to performance enhancement for athletes, coaches, individuals and organizations.
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