Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Few Things That Always Throw Me Off My Game

It's final exam season for us summer students. Thankfully I am a fourth year and will be getting my business degree before the end of the year; however, that doesn't take away the suck of having to actually earn that lauded piece of paper. Also before you criticise me for having a bad attitude consider that I am a mature student with a prior degree and nearly a decade of work experience. Sorry Uni but studying the banking system for smiles and GPA giggle just isn't cutting it anymore. Besides I'd much rather be training which segways nicely to today's topic: why am I not training? There are a few times I can honestly predict my routine will fall to the pitiful wayside and I become preoccupied with nobler (..well let's just say more pressing) pursuits, namely cramming for the two tests I have to take today and tomorrow. I've put a reasonable amount of thought into exactly why this always happens and identified a few other circumstances where I know even the best intentioned schedules will fall to the wayside as broken dreams.

Schedule Sin #1: Staying Up Too Late -

Sadly this is probably the most common way that I break my morning get up and go routine. Staying up an extra hour, especially during a heavy training block where my body needs 8 hours of quality rest, can easily derail my 6am training aspirations. I've found that this area can be a bit of a creeper, my body seems to have a tendency to want to stay up a little later each night, compound that with the additionally sleeping in you are doing to catch up on those all important zzz's and before you know it you are back to the midnight bedtime! Not good people! Firstly my best workouts happen when I wake fully rested early in the morning, fuel appropriately, and get moving without too much thought. Secondly the gym is way less crowded at these early times and usually with other endurance athletes. Boom, right there I am missing out on two key benefits simply by not shutting my eyes soon enough at nights. Of course this is probably the most innocuous form of schedule breaking as I am able to get the workouts in later in the day and normally just have to move everything back a few hours. Getting up early for training isn't for everyone, I've managed to get into it on and off and without a doubt prefer a 4a-9p day. Consider what is best for you and give your body a shake up by attempting a few early morning sessions.

I Am Actually Training, This is An Extended Recovery Phase Known as Sleeping In

Schedule Sin #2: Midterm & Final Exams - 

Firstly I love to learn but for the most part I dislike having to study for exams. I know the material, I even know where to look to reference the information, why are they making me regurgitate this content? Well I guess it shows mastery, in what exactly: economics of banking!? Why did I take this crazy course? Not only that the professor doesn't tell you what to expect so you end up having to review all of the course content leading to the major reason I can't keep a consistent schedule during exam season: I overstudy. That's right I'm just too diligent of a student! If only the professor would simply let me know what he expects I can relax a bit and trust that I have the material down otherwise it's always going to feel like I've underprepared. So instead of just getting the work I need to done, like say in any assignment in the world ever with clear objectives I spend time I should be training rereading obscure textbook paragraphs and solving additional problems. The fact that our North American education system is by and large still a relic from the Industrial age is the topic for another post and probably a different blog! 

I Actually Love Reading Books, But I Get the Point

Schedule Sin #3: Being Depressed by Cold Cloudy Weather

Depending where you live this one may be all too common, or perhaps you've simply learned to get over it. For me I know I always struggle with cold or cloudy and overcast weather. I just don't really like going out into the dull greyness. It is even harder to justify travelling to the gym on these days, at least if I can muster a run I will have a bit of a cooling effect from the typically colder than average temperatures. Needless to say when the weather is poor my chances of calling it a 'recovery' (i.e. quitting day) are much higher than average. Not that I actually get depressed but I definitely am less open to putting extra efforts in. Usually I try to make up for the missed hours later in the week but this is not always possible or a good idea. This is a main part of the reason why I'm moving to warmer climates with better cloud conditions.

This Sky Says One Thing: Blah!

Schedule Sin #4: Overeating Before a Planned Workout, Especially at Night

This one is so obvious I should kick my own butt for still falling into this trap but it still happens and I still will often misplan my nutrition strategy and end up delaying workouts in order to better digest that last meal. Nothing says say inside on the couch better than overeating. This is an area that I know enough about to avoid. Through experimentation I have developed a good awareness of how long I need to digest almost any given food and still being able to exercise. However it never fails that some dinner obligation comes up (lately it has been roommates preparing late dinners) that conflicts with my later day workouts.

Just Guessing That This Probably Isn't Going Very Well

Schedule Sin #5: Travel, Especially With Family

Travel is both the best of times and the worst of times for an athlete. The change in scenery and routine can be motivating but depending on the circumstance may end up throwing you way off of your planned training block. For me this hasn't always been the case but there are definitely situations where putting off the vacation mindset to get you training work in can be more than a little difficult. The worst combinations usually involve extended stays in places with family. Maybe for me this is a question of identity. In the past I have not clearly always been in training mode. In part it may seem a bit weird to be ducking away from visiting to go solo and train, which in part it actually is. For me my regular 14 hour-training week schedule just isn't going to work out as normally planned. In the past I've found that it's best to attempt the earliest morning activities as possible and mix in cross training throughout the day where possible. This can include throwing down a few push ups or other aerobic motions during any alone time.  

How Many of These Equals That Swim I Missed?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Massage Monday

Yesterday was massage monday, as a triathlete I have this tendency to consider every aspect of the week in some way as part of my overall training plan. Often this includes activities normally considered recovery or relaxation by most people. Included in this category of items that normal people include as rest would have been the massage I got yesterday. Mostly because of how much it hurt! Additionally regarding how sore I am today it is pretty clear that your average spa goer is not signing up for the deep tissue treatment. As this was my first go at it I have a few first experience observations.

  1. Therapy can hurt - a lot,
  2. Therapy can require as much or more recovery than regular exercise, 
  3. Therapy is psychologically beneficial, 
  4. If you are an endurance athlete like me maybe you kind of like the pain and recovery,
  5. The benefits of therapy extend far beyond the length of the session, 
  6. Your body is not currently in balance unless you've recently had work to align it, 
  7. If you run or bike your leg muscles are tight, and, 
  8. If you swim your shoulders muscles are tight. 
Ok so part of me already knew that the treatment was going to hurt before I went in. What I don't think I realized was exactly how much and what types of pain I was about to experience. There were rubbing pains, pressure pains, pinching pain, and stretching pain to name a few. There was even a special type of pain that I had to breath in to experience properly. After each movement from the therapist I was experiencing more pain in that location than I ever have during regular exercise.

Once the session was over it wasn't exactly the kind of pain where I was worried about having been massaged into injury, it was the kind of pain you get when your legs are cooked after a long and steady run. Which led to another realization, I was going to need significant recovery. Not only was I given the instruction to drink lots of water, which I both do and did that night, it was also recommended that I take a warm bath. This was very relaxing and helpful. Similar to most other exercises that I complete as soon as I got home I had a really great nap and woke to a very satisfying full body muscle ache. Somehow I knew that I had gotten what I was looking for. However this was slightly different than the regular exercise induced muscle aching that I'm used to. Namely it was more subtle and dull yet also more consistent. My back felt like well kneaded braised steak. 

Throughout the session I was aware of entering a clear state of relaxation, at least during those time that the therapist wasn't leaning on any one of my many active muscles. In between bouts of agony I was actually very calm and peaceful. I think this could have been due to a number of factors including my own prior expectations of being relaxed, the calming effect and scents of the massage oils, relaxing music, and of course the therapeutic touch applied to often neglected parts of my body. Needless to say I had a very calm and peaceful evening, and even as late as today have noticed the continuing effects. Now for some this may seem odd, after all I began this post talking about how much agony I went through during the largely deep tissue work that was done. 

For me, and maybe a large majority of other high-intensity athletes, I sort of enjoyed the pain. Of course this doesn't mean that I like being hurt or injured but I have to say that I did enjoy the pressure applied to all of the right places during this therapy. Only once at the very end when the therapist was working on my right quad (a troubled muscle group for me) did I have to really grit and groan in agony. Apparently that means that the muscles where tight. Seconds after the pressure was removed I obviously began to feel better, and since a sense of calm or more accurately of deep muscle relaxation has developed.

In short I can't remember the last time my body felt this primed. I have gone through a number of recovery cycles and have to say that despite my best efforts I have never been able to feel both so physically prepared and aroused at the same time. Typically after two or three days of serious recovery I can become a bit lethargic, this time it is the day after my one recovery day plus massage and I am now both physically relaxed and primed to crush some distance intervals. Could this have something to do with the all of those strange popping sounds I heard?

So it turns out that I was not in too bad of shape regarding stiffness and muscle tightness (aside from my shoulders and lat muscles that is). What is did notice was that the therapist was constantly having to straighten me out on the table. It turns out that when I think that I am laying straight I am in fact not! Apparently much of the work being done would help straighten my body, particularly where there were clear imbalances between the muscles on each side of my body. 

Basically it comes down to a simple fact that if you swim, bike, or run intensively your muscles will stiffen over time. As I've wrote about before, simple recovery (i.e. days off) alone is clearly not sufficient to release the built up tension. Yesterday was my first authentic deep tissue massage experience and I have already noted the numerous and significant benefits. If you haven't visited a sports therapist yet I can't imagine why you wouldn't. I know going forward these treatments will become an important part of my ongoing routine. Particularly around race events and other performance targets.       

Sunday, August 17, 2014

More Pain for Your Money

I hear a lot about athletes (particularly from the age grouper crowd) who are proponents of short training weeks. For me this would be in the neighbourhood of 8 hours per week in preparation for bigger events like an Ironman. What the idea is for all of these people and something I have heard repeatedly is that they don't have time for 'junk miles' which I interpret immediately as being either those Zone 1 and 2 workouts where you are basically walking. In this sense I suppose that I would have to agree, lower intensity workouts are fundamentally designed to protect the body once it has already been placed under stress. For example you would do an easy spin the day following your hill repeat session designed to be where you collapse at the end and/or feel extremely sore afterwards. Essentially what the 10 hour per week Ironmen are arguing for is that this followup low-intensity session is not necessary and can actually be considered 'junk miles'. Another way of putting it is that in any given week you may be better off with additional recovery as opposed to more exercises. Both are valid arguments in my unscientific, unprofessional opinion. As a side note a 10 hour training week at high intensity is not exactly slacking, that is two hard hours per day five days a week. If I took an average of all of my training weeks including rest weeks I would probably not come that much above that 10-hour mark.  

And It Takes a Lot of 'Junk Miles' to Get There 
In an article by Competitor Magazine the author 'junk miles' are simply running at a moderate-pace. Typically these are added to help an athlete reach their distance targets for the week. So if you killed your run yesterday and are now pretty beat up but still want to hit that weekly goal you will have to include some form of 'junk miles' into your routine. The quality over quantity group would disagree saying that there was a point of diminishing return sometime after the pace dropped over a significant distance. Apparently the science is still out on who is correct, and obviously the answer has a very lot to do with body-type and personal fitness goals.

I Think About This All The Time When Running!

In my own experience it has typically been the case where I am just as exhausted if not more so after running high speed intervals than having completed a distance run, usually in a shorter period of time. Those eight half miles at 5km pace smack my body harder than those twelve miles on marathon pace. But can I also have the experience from the long distance workouts doing only short course work? Probably not but in a way too pain is just pain. If you are putting off pain in the longer runs by lowering the pace you may not have the muscle memory needed from faster runs to really up the tempo when you need it. On the other hand a longer run on sore legs can add a psychological challenge and is often just as physically demanding as speed work. If I had to come to my own definition of 'junk miles' it would be any workout completed at a lower intensity than the body is capable of producing for that given workout. Does this mean that you should only be completing a minimum amount of training per week? Well in a way yes but that really depends on how hard and far you can push your body at its current level of conditioning. Starting the week with 5 hours of zone 2 exercises when you could have been in zone 4 seems like a waste of time (not regarding injury offsetting or prevention work), if you can start the week with five hours of zone 4 then continue for another 10 of zone 2 being all your body has to offer I feel that you would actually be getting more benefit from that than the other way around. Do your most challenging workouts when you are rested and consider them the highest priority for your week. Because milage is important to be sure that you are running as much as you can on the other days as well without negatively effecting your high intensity workouts. The amounts of mileage you can complete will vary depending on your conditioning and time availability. Personal experience will be the best guide to how this balance works best for you but there almost certainly should be some kind of balance.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Swim Transformation

A little over a year ago I effectively didn't know how to swim! I had very poor technique and low stamina. This was about the same time that I started training for triathlon and so eventually I identified the need for a coach and some technique training (after about two months). All I can say is that the results have been extraordinary! Today I am swimming just behind the more experienced members of my Masters and Triathlon clubs. Obviously I am still not the best or most experience, especially when it comes to open water events or lake swims but I am definitely improving much faster than I ever thought possible. I've had the good fortune of being connected with a swim coach who is an experienced and highly accomplished swimmer. To me this is important and I do feel that it shows through in her lessons and instructions.

What Am I Doing In This Strange Underwater Place?

Not being able to swim was actually a hindrance to my overall fitness progress. Now that I have been engaged in the practice over the last year I have definitely noticed gains and improvements in other areas of my health and fitness lifestyle. Namely this has been a result of the anaerobic nature of the training. I feel that my lung capacity is no longer the limiter it once seemed to be on the bike and run. This was a gain that came almost immediately but also one that I am continuing to improve on. It is only now that I am comfortable maintaining steady underwater breath patterns, and just recently that I have progressed to a true bilateral stroke (without too much dizziness!).

Alright Newbies, Pay Attention!
Going forward I know (like almost every area of my lifestyle) that there is room for much needed improvement. Specifically I have been working on my overall upper body endurance. Also although my technique is passable I know that the longer I swim the quicker that degrades, so again the focus is: endurance. I really love the coach that I have currently, but seeing as I will be moving in the next four months my next steps will include seeking out and finding a compatible swim club and instructor. In this regard it may be interesting to find someone who swims with the group as well as provides instruction but I will have to look into that a bit further before committing. The best part about this whole journey is the element of exploration, as the time progresses towards my larger swim goals I hope to have experienced as much as possible and taken away what works best for me. Is there any other workable definition of improvement out there?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Moving On... (Hopefully Up)

With the closing of the summer term I recently completed the last session with my swim team. After about 27 pool sessions in total of the last four months these biweekly coached sessions had become a mainstay of my routine. As an endurance athlete I typically style myself as a rugged soloist and rarely workout for the social aspects, except when it came to the swim team. Not only were the sessions themselves somewhat relaxing, they also afforded me the time to socialize. With the pool I feel that there may be less incentive to go like hell which is typical for the bike and run workouts. Afterall when you are in the zone on a tempo run are you really that sociable? For me typically not. This is where the swim has traditionally been different. When you take breaks you are typically at one end of the pool or the other along with everyone else. So regardless my classes are over for now and as with any social aspect I am experiencing 'growing pains' or more specifically I miss having my regular group to visit during the week. I guess in a way this is predictable, on the other hand the entire reason I joined the club was for my own personal goals which are way outside of the scope of the teams mission. In short I am finishing with the classes at about exactly the same time as I am leaving for an event that places me well above the accomplishments of the majority of my team members. In a short time I will be competing and making friends with people much more aligned to my long-term fitness goals. So why is it that I have this regret and even sadness that the classes are over? Firstly I really liked being coached and even have developed a sort of bond with my instructor. Secondly I could be seeking positive reinforcement. And finally I probably have become a creature of the wheel, meaning that I have an affinity for the set routine because it is a set routine I am used to.  

So True!
Overall being coached has been a real experience with positive reinforcement. Although I've heard alot about the fact that the best coaches are apparently the hard nosed and extremely ambitious ones, my own coaching experiences related to swimming have been entirely positive and encouraging. This is no real surprise, given the generally positive nature of the clubs and the role of the coach as facilitator. If I had any doubts leading into the sessions or during I could be fairly certain that I was going to receive some convincing positive reinforcement. I can remember at least ten sessions where I showed up for attendance not because I was ready to swim or due to my own mental preparation and ended up having fantastic workouts due to motivation from my swim coach! This is work that I normally have to resolve for my self during any given session.

Getting frequent positive reinforcement from a situation is an obvious way to have resulted in tendency bias. That is to say that I was essentially getting my motivation fix by doing frequent group swims. The more frequently this occured the more it became part of my weekly routine. Obviously as time went on the deeper ingrained this reinforcement became. One of the basic modes of behavior shaping for people is positive reinforcement. Now that I have lost my weekly reinforcement 'fix' I am obviously upset in that absence. Normally I think of my fitness routine as the day-to-day activities that I do to achieve my goals when in fact it can obviously also include a routine of receiving positive reinforcement and encouragement.  

Routine is an important component of a well balanced program. The better I can trust the routines that I have established and practiced the less I have to rely on motivation. Motivation is a tricky matter. Having a set swim session set out which also include elements of positive reinforcement, socialization, and coaching the less and less I have had to rely on self-established motivation or routines to get the pool work I needed to complete. I loved the fact that I was going to the pool even on 50% of those days when I didn't really even want to be there. Had I set my own routine, had I developed my own motivation would I still be feeling sentimentality about leaving? Probably not, which is an interesting observation.   

Ultimately there is no reason not to join a local swim club, in fact it is highly recommended; however, when the time comes to split with a group you have become comfortable with it will be natural to feel separation pains. These pains are an indication of a number of factors including: positive reinforcement, routine, socialization, progress gains, and identification. Depending on your circumstances there may also be a clear element of fear or uncertainty related to whatever move you are making. Hopefully you are moving up and onwards to bigger or better things which can help you stay positive, but even if you are moving up don't be surprised if you still experience separation pains. Use this to your advantage, come to some understanding of why you are upset about leaving and use this personal lesson as a way of better understanding yourself, your motivations, and your own patterns of behavior over longer periods of time and related to set routines.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Exercising With and Without Technology

This just happened to me earlier this week where my Garmin Forerunner 220, normally a reliable companion on any run excursion suddenly and without reason stopped logging my movements properly. I have since gotten around to resolving the problem after about a week of wondering whether the poor satellite tracking was due to an intense freak thundershower I had inadvertently ran through on the first day the watch had stopped functioning. The actual fix simply involved a master reset of the devices firm and software. No big deal right? Well not so much at the time. Initially I was strangely 'lost' without my GPS navigator. Up until now I had been using either my iPhone and the applications MapMyRun or Strava to create GPS logs and over the past three months had finally upgraded to a Forerunner watch in order to leave my iPhone at home entirely. I enjoy being disconnected from that particular communication device and to a degree have actually become a more disciplined and focused runner as a result. Albeit a slightly less upbeat one owing to the fact that I still haven't gotten around to picking up a Apple Shuffle (maybe today is that day), but I digress. So I'm out supposed to be doing repeats and my watch has apparently blown up. Firstly I'm not very happy, in fact I'm pretty angry. What a piece of junk? I'm immediately thinking, frustration being the natural go to response.

Paced or Not You're Still Better Off Just Running

Funny enough was that obviously I wasn't going to just completely quit the run because my watch was broken. That night I was running intervals: 8 x 880 yards to be precise. Unfortunately I was running in a new part of town and hadn't bothered to map out a circuit, thinking that I could simply rely on the GPS watch to do that for me. Instead after gathering my thoughts I decided to use the stopwatch feature which was still functioning and just run the intervals on feel. After all I have been running 880's for a while now, shouldn't be that hard right? Looking back a few days later it turns out that I was not running 880's but more like 650's. Uhoh right!? Well yes and no, on the one hand I was obviously far less precise given that I had only my intuition as a frame of reference, on the other I had an absolutely fantastic run set. I couldn't tell you how far I went, how fast, or where exactly, but I can say that I felt absolutely fantastic finishing that night. Not only had I resolve to finish the workout a second time, first when leaving the house, and again once my watch broke, additionally for this run I was clearly doing it entirely by feel. I literally could not accurately pace myself having relied so long on the technology. It took a couple of days for me to get around to hard resetting the watch which is what it needed to clear whatever was jamming the GPS signal. By this time I was pretty happy running without the constant feedback from the pace and distance buzzers. Also I had come a long way in regards to mapping out looped runs before hand and focusing on overall time to complete rather than running pace at any one point during my exercise. Now that my watch is fixed I have gone back to using it primarily. I enjoy the freedom of being able to run in non-looped routes, not having to map my distances, and being able to log heartrate when needed. That being said I have definitely turned off a lot of the notifications and now generally run using the time of day display only. Let me know when I've hit my distance target and I'll take care of the rest thank you very much.          

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Stunningly Simple Chickpea and Quinoa Salad

Whipped together a very simple and delicious salad for dinner last night with my roomies that contained a healthy balance of protein and carbs. There are a ton of chickpea and quinoa recipes on the net however most of them include at least one or more relatively complicated ingredients. Here is my super-simple "no frills" version of the recipe that was very well reviewed.

1 cup Boiled and Rinsed Quinoa
2 tbsp Lemon Juice
2 tbsp Olive Oil
Kernel Corn
Whole Chickpeas
Diced Tomato
Diced Cucumber
Diced Red Bell Pepper
Sprinkling of Basil
Feta Cheese Topping on the Side

Everyone was very impressed with the results, I think maybe because of the light lemon juice topping which wasn't overdone. I've always realized the benefits of moderation with flavorful elements in cooking and this was no exception. This recipe makes easily 8 - 10 servings of the salad and may be enjoyed heated but I have not had a chance to try it warmed.

Get In My Belly!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Keep Up Don't Catch-Up

Having a long-term training schedule for discipline specific events is a great benefit when trying to meet your objectives. However; as was the case with me yesterday the training demands I was placing on myself stemmed from missing an important speed workout session the day before because I could not find the time to go running. Specifically the set that I missed was 8 x 880 yards at my 5k pace which should be around 4min/km on fresh legs. Unfortunately as a result of needing to keep moving forward I had also logged 8 miles earlier that morning and my legs were far from feeling fresh. Needless to say I was extremely guilty about missing the sprints and decided to go out anyways! Afterall I thought: better the catch-up than miss out, plus the only way to get fast is to do fast paced workouts. Now I often manage multiple workouts and extended hours per day but with regards to running I rarely if ever complete a workout only to return later that same day and try to perform the same or similar again. In fact this carries over into nearly every other form of exercise, the reason being simple, when you are finished a workout even if you haven't performed for the duration that you possibly could you body is still going to need time to repair itself. This is the same reason you generally would not run late at night and then again first thing in the morning.

And Why Am I Crying?
Regardless based on my experiences last night I cannot recommend doing a distance run in the morning and attempting needed speed work in the evening. Basically I had sabotaged the needed work I hadn't done yesterday by trying to pack it into the following day on a body that wasn't going to give away anything for free. I could not maintain my needed pace and left feeling like I had just logged a bunch of junk miles. Additionally I had the precursors for tendonitis in my right hip flexor! In this sense it seemed that it would have been better to have found the time (and honestly who doesn't have 30-45 minutes free a day) and completed the scheduled workout even if I may have been distracted with other objectives. It seems that I could likely have jogged off my distraction, whereas the next day when I was playing catchup there is no way that I can jog off fatigue without risking injury. In any case my experience is another argument in favor of deliberation and consistency with a good reminder of the need for self-restraint in an overachieving endurance athlete.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Keep It Simple!

So I was reading a recent article published by the Canadian NRC Press which shows that doing any form of resistance exercise is less important than the variety you add to your routine. Combine this with another recent TIME Magazine article discussing the way that American's are becoming addicted to extreme versions of sports like CrossFit and looking for instant or near term gains at the expense of their wellbeing and safety. Now for me I have to agree in both cases.

You're Doing It Wrong
I see this nearly everyday at the gym, if not in regards to the intensity at which people are working out then often in regards to the types of exercises being performed. A quick youtube search of 'CrossFit Fail' will give a bit of an indication of some of the habits that are being generally adopted. Is the fitness media industry to blame? In my opinion partially! Another huge factor that I have noticed, especially among male gym goers is a clear peer pressure to lift heavier and push their bodies to the extreme of what is being presented in so-called 'Fitness Magazines', or as I like to call them 'Roid-azines'. Apparently leafing through a typical issuance of a publication like Muscle & Fitness is like window shopping for GHG. How do these magazines sell: they offer alternatives to workouts sets that promise to increase your fitness gains (often to the extreme being shown by the models). However what the recent research pointed to above shows from clinical research contradicts this. It turns out that you probably don't need to be copying the latest exercise fads related to varying exercises and creative sets to look like a fitness model. Exercise research has shown that you just need to deliberately practice some of the most basic movements in resistance training. So relax on the data collection before you even arrive at the gym, enjoy the process, and maybe do yourself a favor by pushing those lofty long-term goals back another year or two.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Adding Precision

For a lot of people what separates their training programs as more advanced athletes from the programs that they used as beginners involves differences in the amount of specifics as well as the degree to which the athlete is tracking their day-to-day performance and results. For myself added precisions has largely been successful in tying down my daily diet, tracking time and intensity of exercises throughout the week in order to find a better balance between exertion and recovery, and finally in tracking my specific progression at certain training distances and activities. Adding precision in these areas and others will help to reduce risk of injury, increase workout satisfaction, and improve the efficiency at which you are working towards attaining your goals.

Even If You Don't Exercise You Should Be Tracking Your Diet
The easiest and most all encompassing area to being adding precision to your routine involves tracking your diet, or as sometimes referred to as 'counting calories'. Counting calories is perfect for a number of reasons related to everything from balancing macronutrients to being able to achieve weight goals in a healthy manner. Tracking my nutrition was one of the first ways that I began adding my fitness lifestyle and now looking back I can't imagine not doing this whether I were to be involved in fitness or not. There are simply too many benefit to ignore. Benefits from better nutrition carry over into nearly all aspects of your life and is a fundamental piece of the energy input-output continuum. There is nothing sadder than seeing an otherwise healthy athlete struggle with poor nutrition planning.

How Far, How Fast, How Long?
The next area an athlete should probably be looking to add some measure of precision is related to controlling and tracking their workouts in regards to time spent exercising and exertion levels. This isn't necessary time tracking in the sense of running a set-length time trial; however, it is the actions required to determine an approximate level of general fatigue throughout the week and over month of training. What often happens when an individual is training intensively is a tendency for the breakdown effects of the training combined with prior fitness is to convince the body and mind that the athlete is 'fresh' when in fact they are not. This is how tracking your exertion levels combined with exercise duration can help to prevent overtraining. With experience knowing what you have just completed can be an excellent predictor of what you are capable of continuing with. Separating these facts from what your body is telling you that you think you should be doing will prevent wasted time in the gym and enhance your mid-block recovery.

Know Your Splits!
Finally another relatively basic and useful way to add precision related to completing timed distance trials. This is similar to racing in an event the only other difference being that this timed 'race' is completed as a scheduled part of your training program. Time trials can be as short or as long as you like and when completed regularly give important feedback regarding true fitness improvements. Some considerations when running time trials has to do with tapering and weather conditions. Working with a coach and doing strict time trials will often necessitate the person reaching an improved state of recovery leading up to the trial. Additionally other conditions such as weather or traffic may influence a persons results. One of the best ways to complete a regular timed trial is to complete a yearly distanced event. Not only are you better able to predict the weather conditions (depending on your location), typically traffic will be controlled, and the sense of competition can improve your results. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Getting Back Into a Routine After a Long(ish) Break

There is nothing better for the triathletes body that periodic extended breaks from training, on the other hand depending on the duration there may be other consequences related to getting back into an intense routine. For most of the more experienced and dedicated athletes that I train with breaks in training end with a strong feeling of desire to return to those grueling multiple hour sessions and double digit training weeks. Who this post is for is the beginner or intermediate triathlete. That individual who has recently taken some time off and is thoroughly enjoying it. You've now come to remember distinctly how much energy you are putting out in training and have probably started to work through your non-triathlon related to-do list successfully. You definitely are surprised to relearn that it is possible to go through life without some forms of muscle aches and pains. All of this adds up to the simple fact that you are having trouble motivating yourself to hop back onto the saddle. Unfortunately there is no easy fix for this any more than there is an easy fix for grabbing someone off the street and tossing them into an Ironman training plan, other than that even after an extended break your body is still conditioned to perform in ways that you have practiced. The greatest opportunity you have in coming back fresh from a break means that you will probably have the best and easiest training block since you last took some time out. Take advantage of that, take advantage of the fact that you probably won't have to be limping in from a run this time. Because in reality at this point the only thing that is going to get it done is getting it done.

Now If Only I Didn't Have to Take Breaks....

Friday, August 1, 2014

Managing Illness and Training

Most people I train with, including myself, do very well with a fixed and demanding weekly routine. We love the workouts, tracking progress, and preparing our bodies to endure the demands we intend to impose on it come race day. Sickness, even minor, can throw a huge curveball into what was going to be the perfect training block. Whatever the case you probably will come to the point can't deny that you've caught something. Now you have a choice: do I abandon the routine that was going to carry me to victory, or do I take an unplanned break sacrificing improvement and allow my body additional rest. This is like getting sick at Disneyworld. What you are really asking yourself is can I do my normal routine and still allow my body to recover? Or am I putting too much demand on my immune system and risking further complications?  The answer depends a lot on the nature of the illness, in the past I have personally had very poor luck mixing any kind of noticeable respiratory infection with my workout routine. In fact I'm writing this entry today at a time when I would normally be exercising as a result of such an infection.

Exercise When Ill and You Will Pay For It

Being a sick athlete is good in at least a few regards including that you are giving the rest of your body additional recovery time (not much comfort if this is your last training block before an 'A' race), and in addition you are getting to see how involved your immune system is in the bodies normal recovery cycles. What will normally happen in this circumstance is your body will not be able to fight the inflammation from your workout in addition to whatever virus/bacteria has invaded your body and the disease will spread. Normally you are healthy and resilient, by combining illness and exercise you are now much weaker and fighting a much greater more complex opponent. Minor infection have the chance of becoming complicated, and what would have been a week long recovery is now multiples of that. You may even require medication when otherwise you wouldn't have.

Maybe you are like me, you wake up suffering from all of the heightened symptoms of whatever disease you have contracted but in a few hours feel much better. Your body has woken up and your circulation system is delivering needed T-cells. Resist optimism at this point! If you had just done a hard brick training session the day before and woke up to a tired body, would you really trust the fact that after moving around for a bit that you were ready to lace up or jump onto the saddle for another zone 4 day? Of course not. You know from experience that your body is simply not ready and that your lack of feelings of pain are merely conditioning to the stress. This understanding has evolved from daily experiences and self knowledge. However, when it comes to sickness and disease I personally find that I am much less self aware and any fitness conditioning that carries my aching feverish joints to the gym is not the same conditioning that helps prevent pneumonia. Face it you are an athlete, your musculature and immune system are functioning at above average levels. The fact that you are even sick in the first place is probably a rare occurrence as studies show frequent exercise reduces the likelihood of contracting disease. Sure no one knows your body as well as you do, but how well does your body know being sick? How well do you know about breaking planned routine to be flexible to the changing condition of your body? Maybe not as well as you think. I know I have consistently overestimated my bodies ability to handle the combination of disease and training and am paying for it today in additional recovery and rest that I may not have needed otherwise.