Getting older isn’t my favorite thing. I don’t notice it when I am in the moment, but when I sit back and think about it, the body seems to respond a little bit slower each year. Personally, just getting up after sitting for too long hurts sometimes. Yes, I grunt openly when I stand up in the office. Although my recovery time is still pretty good, the bounce back from injury is growing a bit more each time.
Things like this are to be expected, but we can slow the effects of some of these impairments, limit the occurrence, AND improve our performance with a few simple steps. These really do go hand in hand because unless we are doing the work in all areas training will suffer, and then too will fitness.
The areas I typically focus on are very basic. Warmup. Cooldown. Stretch. Strength. Rest.
Sounds simple, but I am guilty as the next person of neglecting the maintenance portions of my fitness routine. I rarely warmup outside of races, and cool downs, if they are not baked into the workout don’t happen much either. I stretch when need be, which doesn’t seem to be very often. Now, in my defense strength is covered, so maybe that is what saves me from serious injury. I also take care to stretch for really big efforts like a race or track workout. The point is I need to do better, especially as I age and continue to ask much from my body. If we neglect to care for something eventually it fails to work. Our bodies are no exception.
What does a warm up look like for me? During a recent track session, I did a VERY easy 10-12 minute mile. Just enough to move the legs and not much more. After that I hit the big muscles that tighten up on me during a hard effort: calves, quads, hamstrings. A few easy stretches to improve the muscle mobility. After that I move into the dynamic stretches. Primarily leg swings and lunges. It has always surprised me the difference between static and dynamic flexibility. Having done martial arts in the past, flicking a kick over my head is still possible, but touching my toes and holding it is very difficult. Another interesting detail of dynamic stretches is that from start to finish, it is very apparent that a wider range of motion is being gained. The difference between the first and 10th leg swing is dramatic, and one reason I stress people do even a few before the try to run fast. If there is a single thing to do before a race, this is it.
Cooldowns are equally as important. You want your body to slowly relax and not lock up muscles that were heavily taxed. Have you heard the phrase ‘rode hard and put away wet’? Yeah, if I don’t spend 5-10 minutes winding it down, the next day is one of those grunters in the office days. I typically do another 5-10 super easy minutes of jogging or spinning, and sometimes walking before I fully shut it down. Get the heart rate to a place where it actually belongs, and slowly ease back the throttle until you feel at rest.
Ah stretching. Let’s be honest, nobody like to stretch and most people don’t do it. Stretching is like flossing. Now, I have never been asked to join Cirque du Soleil, and for good reasons. In fact, I feel like most runners are notoriously tight. Seeing that I started down this path decades ago as a runner, it really isn’t any surprise that today I am not very flexible. I credit 10 years of martial arts in the gains I have made, but even that isn’t spectacular. The fact that most of us are so rigid means stretching is something we should all focus on. Full body static and dynamic work best for me, but some of my friends are firm believers in Yoga. Either way, whatever your choice, be sure to work in areas and movements that are lateral as well as linear. Forward and sideways legs swings, bringing the knee up and out, pulling the toes to the butt, angling the toes against a wall, these are the starting point you should do before each effort. Working in the back, shoulders, neck are also important when you are in the TT position or going to be swimming. Side lunges and some quick fiber movements like bounding or skipping also limber me up and help when there are big efforts coming. And yes, even for a marathon or slow effort you should stretch.
Strength is a funny topic among triathletes and most endurance sports in general. I often see the argument made that if you have an hour to strength train, you could better use that hour running, swimming, or biking. It is hard to argue that the more you perform a discipline the better the results will be. But as the title of this post says, you have to do the maintenance. If you don’t take care of yourself now, you will eventually no longer be able to do the things you can now. Strength training is very unique in this regard in that it not only prevents future injury and will keep you healthy longer, but it also has direct performance benefits. This isn’t to say that we need to go out and focus on bodybuilding expecting that other things won’t suffer. There has to be a balance. We need to focus on the core and the muscle groups that are prone to overuse and injury. Lot’s of body weight exercises. Pull ups, push ups, planks, walking lunges, side lunges. Use Bosu balls to enhance the stabilizer muscles. Ask yourselves this, what am I weak at? Pushups? Do those. Pull ups? You got it. After you build those up to a good level, move to the next weakness and keep growing.
Last up but maybe the most important is rest. Without rest we fall apart. Sometimes quickly, sometimes over a longer period, but it always comes. The more the training ramps up, the harder we push the more important the rest is. I try to sleep 6-7 hours a night. For me, the closer to 6 I get the worse off my training is. At 7 hours I am normally fully recharged and ready to hit the day hard. But even at 7 hours, when other factors such as stress being to kick in, maybe from kids or work, I may need to go longer and shoot for 8 hours. The key here is to listen to your body, and not be too specific with a number. Even if you feel good with one amount of sleep, don’t expect that won’t ever change. Adaptability will go a long way here. Rest DAYS are also key. You can’t push too hard every day. You can only go to the well so many times before it runs dry. Most weeks I do workout 6-7 days, but the workouts vary, and some are really just active recovery. An easy hour jog doesn’t always have to be a taxing workout. Just enjoy the time away, the reflection opportunity, and the fact that you can run an hour for fun. Keeping it easy on the easy days is very important. It is good to know you can go harder, but enjoy feeling lazy every now and then too.