Archive for the ‘Rest’ Category

Planning for an off-season: Recharging your system

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

As hard as it can be to take time off from training and racing, the rewards are well worth it.  This rest period is critical for both physical and mental rejuvenation.  It is a time to let your muscles recover from the long and intense months of training and racing. It is time to let your mind enjoy a change of pace that will help restore your enthusiasm for the upcoming season. Typically this recharge period should be at least 4-6 weeks in length. And yes, you will lose fitness, maybe put on a few pounds, but this is absolutely necessary if you want to continue to get stronger and improve moving forward.  

 You cannot expect to maintain your race fitness through the winter months. To quote Joe Friel “Fitness is transient”.  Peak anaerobic endurance and sprint power fitness lasts for only a couple of weeks, whereas as peak endurance fitness will last a little longer, but not into the off season.

 The purpose of the rest period is to allow:

  • Your joints and muscles to heal and repair after many miles of training and racing. Without the period of rest, injuries could result
  • Hormone levels to regain a balanced level
  • Re-stimulate the central nervous system
  • Restoration of the energy-producing enzymes inside muscle fibers that are naturally broken down during training
  • Refueling of glycogen stores within muscle cells
  • Endocrine, nervous, and immune systems upset by training are allowed to return back to normal

What to do with this extra time on your hands:
Don’t hurry your recovery. Enjoy this time. Get re-acquainted with your couch. Go on; put your feet up and catch-up on some movie/TV time. Use this period to catch up with old friends that don’t train or race, schedule some over-due appointments, start a house project, try some new sports (mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, etc.), or find some worthwhile volunteer work. 

Planning for the next season:
1. Reflect and set new goals-
Towards the latter half of the rest period reflect on last season’s results. What lessons did you learn? How will this shape the goals for the upcoming season?

2. Mental preparation-
Get yourself mentally ready to resume a training schedule throughout the winter months. Write a training plan or hire a coach to help together a training schedule that is realistic and appropriate.

3. Equipment-
Make sure your equipment is ready to start back up again. Are your running shoes worn out and need replacing? Is your bike ready to brave the winter weather?

4. Research-
 Read about new training techniques and new equipment.

5. Make commitments-
Commit to any lifestyle changes you want to make (especially any nutritional changes).   

Now go forth and embrace a guilt-free hibernation period!

Planning for a Faster Recovery

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Planning for a Faster Recovery
Training and racing are a stress on the body. It takes time to recover from that stress. The harder the workout gives higher stress and therefore a longer recovery. What you do before, during and right after you complete your workout (or race) greatly affects how you will feel later on and the next day. Adopting a few simple practices can help you recover quicker and feel ready to tackle the next day’s workout with less tired muscles, more energy and motivation.  Here are some guidelines to consider.  

Grazing
Grazing means eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. This usually means a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack.  If your training volume is high, I recommend you don’t go more than four hours without eating. Effective grazing or snacking should consist of nutrient rich foods. Snacks should be  planned and not left to chance.  Snack ideas include: granola with yogurt, bagel, trail mix, nut butter with apple or pear, etc.  If you follow a grazing diet it should mean you have enough fuel to get you through the first part of your workout.

During the workout
Eat and drink responsibly!  Don’t leave it until your fuel stores and fluids reach extreme low levels.  If you do, then you’ll need more recovery time to replenish them.

Hammer Perpetuem

Hammer Perpetuem

 What and how much you eat and drink during a workout depends on several factors:

-Intensity (how hard are you working)
-Volume (how long are you working)
-Temperature (working out in 90 degrees versus 40 degrees have very different fueling requirements)
-Individual differences (every athlete has different requirements)

There are lots of guidelines out there. And that is just what they are: guidelines. Don’t expect to find a fueling plan that is ideal for you. You will need to experiment and see how your body responds to different types and quantities of fuel.  Here are some ideas to start with:

1 hour ride: 1 bottle of water or electrolyte drink (like nuun)
2 hour ride: 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle of energy drink (Hammer Heed)
3 hour ride: 1 bottle of electrolyte drink, 1 bottle of energy drink, plus 1-2 gels and/or half a Hammer bar.
4 hour ride: 3 bottles electrolyte, water and energy drink. 2-3 gels and/or a Hammer Bar.

When you are doing LSD (Long Steady Distance) workouts,  make sure you use the food/drink you would during your long races. Not only are you working on improving your endurance, but also training the body to utilize fuel.  For these workouts aim to ingest 200-350 calories per hour. This can amount to a lot of gel packets; gel packets that can be easily fumbled. I recommend buying the gel in bulk (saves money) and putting it in a flask that contain 5-6 servings. Figure out how many gulps of gel from the flask equal one serving (one serving typically equals 100 calories).  Rather than rely totally on gel, consider using drink that contains more fat and protein (such as Hammer Perpetuem or Accelerade).

nuun's Electrolyte Drink

nuun's Electrolyte Drink

I think one of the biggest errors for many athletes is to wait too long into a workout before starting to eat and drink. 15 minutes into a LSD workout you should start to drink.  If you wait until you’re thirsty/hungry; it’s too late. To get on a fueling schedule, set the timer on your watch to beep every 15-20 minutes. This serves as a reminder to eat a gel and to drink a couple of gulps of drink. It is amazing how fast 20 minutes can go by and you may not feel ready to eat and drink again, but you need to in order to stay strong to the end of the workout.

Read the labels: There are so many gels, bars and sports drinks on the market. Make sure you read the labels. Stay away from electrolyte drinks that contain too much simple sugar. This will give you a quick burst of energy, and not a sustained energy. You want a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates.  Some gels contain electrolytes and some caffeine too. Experiment in training to see what your stomach can handle. Don’t leave it to race day to try something new. With the added stress of racing; adrenaline, nerves, and the intensity can wreak havoc on your digestive system, so don’t give it anything new to contend with. 

Note: Anaerobic efforts cause the digestive system to slow down because blood is being drawn away from the stomach to the working muscles. If you have been fueling then this can give you an upset stomach, make you feel bloated, nauseous, or cause diarrhea.  Anaerobic workouts tend to be short in duration (2 hours and this includes the warm up and cool down).  You really don’t need to eat anything during the workout; just afterwards. 

After the workout: Re-hydrate and Re-fuel
Typically fluid/nutrition intake during the workout won’t fully replace what was lost during the workout. Most athletes will find themselves in a bit of a deficit. Consuming the right nutrients shortly after exercise will help repair tissue damage and re-fuel muscles.   There are many post-exercise recovery drinks on the market that claim to have the correct ratios of electrolytes, carbs and protein to aid in recovery, such as: Hammer Recoverite, Endurox R4, Gu Brew Recovery. Their goal is to:

  1. Hydrate
  2. Replenish muscle glycogen stores
  3. Repair muscle and tissue damage

    Hammer Recoverite

    Hammer Recoverite

Timing is critical: After intense or long workouts, the body is very receptive to absorbing nutrients to replace those used, and to help repair any muscle damage.  This is referred to as the Glycogen Window. Typically it is thought that this window of opportunity is within the first 30 minutes post-exercise.  It is during this time that the body readily absorbs nutrients at a quicker rate. It is reported that carbohydrates eaten will be converted into muscle glycogen at 3 times the normal rate. This rate drops off dramatically after 30 minutes. So make sure you make the most of this glycogen window by drinking/eating 20-30 minutes post exercise.

Compression Garments
Research has shown that the use of compression recovery socks and tights help reduce leg fatigue and muscle soreness, thereby also reducing recovery time. This helps your legs feel fresh for the next time you exercise. How does it work? Graduated or progressive compression increases blood circulation back to the heart. Research has shown that this can be up a 138% increase with the correct compression (18mmHg at the ankles working up the leg to 8mmHg according to Sigel et al (1975)). This helps remove exercise induced by products (such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide) from the muscle tissue. This aids recovery.

The key is to have the right amount of compression for these garments to be effective. Too little compression, and circulation is not increased, and too much will actually inhibit circulation. It is key is to have graduated compression.

Compression Recovery Socks

Compression Recovery Socks

 

Ice bath
To help heal the muscles from the stresses of intense workouts (especially running) and reduce post-exercise muscle soreness consider taking an ice bath.  The stresses of exercise cause small tears in the actual muscle fibers. An ice bath prevents further break down of the muscles, constricts blood vessels that help flush out waster products, reduces swelling and stimulates the muscles cells to repair the muscles tears. 

Fill the tub with cold water and add a few cups of ice or ice packs. The goal temperature is 53-59 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill the tub enough to cover up to your waist. Don’t stay in the tub too long; 5 to 10 minutes is adequate. This is not a case where more is better. Too much can cause cold induced muscle damage. If you are like me and an ice bath makes you shiver just thinking about it you can sip a hot drink, wear a warm layer on your upper body, and try to distract yourself by reading or listening to music.  Take a warm shower/bath about 30-60 minutes later.

Stretching

Stretching

Stretching


Stretching is the most overlooked component of most endurance athlete’s regimens.  It has big returns for a small time investment. I find that you really need to commit to a stretching routine to make it happen. Build it into your workout time. If you have 3 hours to workout, then ride for 2:40 hrs and spend 20 minutes on recovery practices including the stretching. I know that my best years of racing are the years I’ve committed to a stretching program.

During a workout your muscles contract and relax many times, especially performing a repetitive motion like cycling or running. Stretching has numerous benefits: reduces muscle soreness by improving circulation, reduces muscular imbalances, increases range of motion (and thereby decreasing injury potential).

There are a few different stretching techniques out there. I’ll save that for a future blog posting.  Static stretching is appropriate to do post-exercise. Hold the stretches for 30 seconds to 60 seconds. Don’t go too deep too soon; make sure you ease into the stretch.

Re-fuel
Eat a healthy meal 2 hours after exercise.

Massage
Restricted blood flow to the muscles following exercise hinders muscle growth, muscle repair and glycogen replention. Massage increases blood and lymph circulation. The movement of blood and lymph may help clear the body and the tissues of metabolic waste products thereby increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. Massage helps relieve muscle spasms and cramps, and also decreases the recovery time by helping to flush the lactic acid produced while training/racing at high intensities.

Not everyone can afford the time and expense for a professional massage.  However, for a small investment you can be set up at home to do your own massage work.  I like the massage stick and the  foam roller

Foam Rollers

Foam Rollers

Put your feet up
Elevating the legs above the heart helps eliminate byproducts from the legs, which is one of the primary causes of swelling and extended fatigue. Elevate your legs so they are higher than your heart. Lie with you feet up the wall to have gravity assist with recovery by lengthening the muscles (hamstrings) that have been contracting for a long time, dilating blood vessels and speeding the removal of lactic acid and other waste-product buildup that can leave you stiff and sore the next day.

Sleep
8 or more quality hours of deep sleep aids muscle repair and recovery. It’s a hormonal thing. The deeper and longer the sleep (REM sleep) the more testosterone you produce that aids in muscle repair.  Get as much sleep as you can.  Without adequate sleep, fitness can be lost. Throughout the year it is common for athletes to have trouble with sleep. Here are some guidelines to help promote a good night’s sleep:

-Reduce caffeine intake
-Exercise in the early morning rather than later in the evening.
-Take a hot shower/bath just before going to bed
-Take a short slow evening walk followed by some gentle stretching
-Go to bed the same time each night and get up the same time every morning.
-Try some calming, sleep promoting yoga poses.
-Breathing exercises
-Quieten the mind. If you have a lot on your mind write it down. Think of this exercise as purging it from your mind.
-If you are napping during the day, eliminate the naps.

Get into a nightly routine so your body and mind knows what to expect and falls into a pattern that prepares it for sleep.

Lots of ideas. Try implementing one or two to see if it makes a difference. Happy recovering!

 

Fall is in the air…it must be the Off-Season

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Well, the off-season for the non-cross racers among us that is.  When I was road racing quite a bit I use to look forward to October to take some well deserved and needed time off from structured training. And October was a perfect time of year for that: with the change of seasons comes a change of routine for me.   As hard as it can be to take time off, the rewards are well worth it.  This rest period is critical to help you rejuvenate both physically and mentally. Typically this recovery period should be at least 3-4 weeks in length. And yes; you will lose fitness, but this is absolutely necessary if you want to continue to get stronger and improve the following season. 

You cannot expect to maintain your fitness from this season through the winter months. I like Joe Friel’s quote that  “Fitness is transient”.  A rider’s peak anaerobic endurance and sprint power fitness lasts for only a couple of weeks, whereas as peak endurance fitness will last a little longer, but not into the off-season. And an off-season isn’t just for the elite racers. I have many friends who ride recreationally and they put in just as much, if not more, time pedaling a bike. They too, need to have an off-season.

 The purpose of the prolonged rest period is to allow several things:

  • Mental regeneration
  • Physical regeneration
    • Your joints and muscles to heal and repair after many miles of training throughout the previous season.
    • Endocrine, nervous, and immune systems are upset by training are allowed to return back to normal.
    • Hormone levels to regain a balanced level.
    • Re-stimulate the central nervous system
    • Restoration of the energy-producing enzymes inside muscle fibers that are naturally broken down during training;
    • Refueling of glycogen stores within muscle cells.

 What to do with this extra time on your hands:
I use to use this period to catch up with (non-racing) friends, schedule all those appointments you have been putting off (like going to the dentist), start a house project, try a new sport (mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, etc.).  Basically tackle all those things that have been put on hold due to a busy training and racing schedule. You should still workout. Just don’t do it in such a structured manor. Don’t worry about how many miles, or how fast. Just ride for the pure joy of riding, swim for the pure joy of swimming and run for the pure joy of running.

Ride for the love of riding

Ride for the love of riding

Trying a new sport not only has psychological advantages, but can also help to compensate for muscular imbalances that can occur in athletes who practice cycling exclusively. Think about taking a yoga class and / or a crossfit class or something simmilar that integrates both core, strength, conditioning and movement.

Towards the latter half of the rest period reflect on last season’s results, start to think about goals/objectives for the upcoming season, get yourself mentally ready and your equipment ready to train throughout the winter months, and commit to any lifestyle changes you want to make (especially any nutritional changes).   
 
Preparing the following season:

  • Map out your race/event schedule. Prioritize the races “A”, “B”, and “C” races or events.
  • Set realistic race goals for each race/event. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned pro or a novice; the fear of failure is common to all. When goals are not reached there usually follows a lack of inspiration. Make sure you set realistic race goals/expectations that are in balance with other life goals and commitments so you are not setting yourself up for possible failure.
  • Write a list of reasons for doing your “A” priority races/events.
  • Write a list of your life priorities for the following year. These should include things like: work, family, friends, house projects, etc.
  • Are your race/event goals and life goals in balance with each other?
  • Share your goals with your support network. Are your friends, family, partner in support of your goals?
  • Identify any issues that you perceive are between you and your athletic goals. Focus on issues that are under your control such as desire, money, education, time, opportunity, self-doubt, etc.  Some obstacles are beyond your control. Acknowledge these.
  • Identify solutions for the above issues.  There may not be solutions for all the issues you identified. Just as in other aspects of your life you may just have to take a risk by facing and accepting certain issues.

Now that I race cyclo-cross my off-season is pushed back to mid-Dec. This has been hard to adjust to. My body and mind have been so use to October as a down month for so many years. So for those of you taking some time off right now: enjoy. And for those racing cross: hang in there for a few more months.