032: The Two Most Common Mistakes Endurance Athletes Make! [Podcast]

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Get the intensity RIGHT to ensure you continue to improve!

Get the intensity RIGHT to ensure you continue to improve!

What’s that old saying about the definition of insanity? To keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? When it comes to THESE two “most common” mistakes, get in line if you’re among the folks who routinely make them, yet also expect to reach your potential or get better results while making them. I’m here to say, it is time to change and break some bad habits! Learn to train smart.

Mistake #1: Beyond the more obvious factors we talk about here at Pursuit Athletic Performance (that are important for any athlete to reach their goals), such as improving movement quality and developing true functional strength, one training element stands out as KEY for your success, more than almost any other. What is it? Differentiating intensity on a daily basis, and even within each and every training session.

What does it really mean?  (When you hear "train smart," from a coach, this is partly what they mean!)

In my years as a coach and in training with other athletes, perhaps the single mistake I’ve seen most athletes make who do NOT progress as they hope to, or who have plateaued in their performances, is that they muddy workout intensity, making the easy stuff too hard, and the hard stuff too easy, and everything in between becomes "sort of" hard.  This basically is the equivalent of talking in a monotone voice. Boring, and not very good for improvement!

In order to IMPROVE and adapt to get better and ultimately be more efficient and faster, stay away from the "in between" intensity standpoint is a poor way to execute smart training. If the easy stuff is too fast or too hard, you won't have the energy to sustain effort on the "quality" segments, and vice versa.

The MORE you can dial in and differentiate your intensity in every workout, the better you will feel, the better you will perform, the faster you will recover, and ultimately, the more you will improve.


Mistake #2: Preparing well, including doing a smart warm up, at the beginning of every training session is critically important to both prepare your body for that session and to minimize risk of injury. When I am observing others, I notice that many tend to blow-off their warm up periods and then end up starting their sessions too hard or fast. If you are rushed for time, that tendency to make this mistake is even greater.

One very common factor that many athletes forget to consider as their fitness improves, is that the more fit and strong you become, the more important a progressive warm up period is. And when it comes to racing, a proper warm up is crucial if you want to have a great race, regardless of the distance.   

Make It More Dynamic, Not Static!  

A high quality structured dynamic warm-up of at least 5 to 15 minutes at the beginning of training sessions and races will accomplish several important things:

It will raise body temperature. When you begin to sweat, it means that your muscles are getting warm, loose, and relaxed. There’s some evidence that higher body temperatures thin bodily fluid, which lessens strain on joints and on the heart.

It reduces initial levels of muscular stress. Anyone who has ever tried to keep up with an “overzealous” training partner who sprints out of the parking lot at the beginning of a ride, knows how your legs burn because you are not warmed up.

It conserves muscle glycogen. “Fast from the gun” workouts and races dip more deeply into your precious supplies of glycogen – the fuel your body needs and prefers to burn for endurance efforts. A slower start with adequate warm up allows you to burn a greater percentage of fat, conserving reserves of glycogen.

It opens capillaries. A warm up dilates the vessels that allow blood to bathe muscle cells with oxygen and nutrients. More blood flow means more fuel and a better performance.

It activates your nervous system. Your nervous system controls your movements and is integral in how efficient that movement is. Warming up effectively improves the activation and efficiency of your muscular contractions, which in turns improves coordination.  Dynamic activities that “wake up” and activate your nervous system make you more efficient and effective in any movement which follows the warm up.

It compensates for aging! Let’s face it, the older you get the more you need a warm up. When I was a kid, I could go full speed right off the couch and into the back yard. Not anymore!


What About Prior to a Race?: An effective warm up prior to a race involves both physical and mental components. The actual structure of your warm up can vary and is highly individual. Shorter is usually better than longer, as long as you accomplish what you need to, to prepare to race well. For a triathlon, I like to reverse the order of my warm up, starting with running, then going to the bike and then the swim.

THE RUN: Begin with some light functional warm up exercises that activate your nervous system, get the blood flowing, and loosen the hips and legs. After 3-5min of very easy running, throw in a few strides to open up a little bit and get the blood flowing, then shut it down and head over to grab your bike.

THE BIKE: Jump on and head out of transition, spinning the legs and confirming everything's working as it should be.  Depending on race distance and intensity, the warm up might be very short and easy, or longer and more progressive. That is, the shorter and more intense the race from the gun, the more you need to warm up prior to it. After a few short JUMPS to get the blood flowing, spin on in and re-rack your rig. Be sure you put everything back where it was originally, and pull your stuff together for the swim.

THE SWIM: Assuming you've left yourself enough time, at this point I like to get into the water and swim for 3-8min, just to get used to the water and the environment and get a sense of visibility and siting. Ideally, you should have enough time to do this short warm up in the water now, and then get out and have a few min to sit down and relax and compose and reaffirm your POSITIVE thoughts about what will be a great day for you!

As a general rule, for all warm ups, the closer you make the warm up to the actual start, the better off you are. Long gaps between warm up and the start of a race make the warm up largely ineffective for what it is primarily intended for, which is to get you warm, activated, and ready to go!

Lastly, as I said earlier, the better and more fit you become, the longer it takes to warm up your body and be ready to go.  When we don’t take the amount of time we need to warm up and prepare our bodies for more intense training, the quality of our workout can be adversely affected, and we also place ourselves at much higher risk of injury. When the gun goes off, pace yourself, stay in the moment, and build in intensity so you can finish strong! Best of luck and have an awesome day!

~Coach Al

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