As an endurance athlete, you're probably looking for ways to get faster. More specifically, you would prefer to do it sooner rather than later, you would like for it to be as pain free as possible, legal is always a bonus, and free would be nice too. Right? Here are 3 things you can do TODAY that won't hurt, won't send you to prison, and won't cost you any arms or legs.
With that kind of introduction, you're probably expecting the newest, latest, greatest, most radical idea on the planet for three easy installments of $19.95 plus shipping. Unfortunately, this may be a bit of a disappointment in that regard. In fact, you likely already know what will follow on the list. However, these things more-often-than-not get neglected.
When you look at some of the best endurance athletes in the world you will find one common characteristic: they recover well. The single best thing you can do to recover is to get good sleep. For example, Kenyans, known for their running prowess and who's training has been studied extensively, sleep from about 9:30 to 6 am every night (that's nearly 9 hours a night). Many professional runners maintain a schedule of early to bed, early to rise and occasionally a nap during the day.
Why is it so important? During sleep, your body cycles through periods of chemical and hormone release such as growth hormone-- a hormone imperative to physical recovery. Without these nightly cycles, your body simply cannot keep the balance of break-down and build-up. Failure to get adequate sleep two nights in a row results in significant performance declines, according to one study.
When you begin to feel loss of motivation, declined energy levels during your workouts and poor performance results, don't immediately raise the overtraining flag but look at your sleeping habits.
Another area that often gets ignored except for race day is to hydrate. Hydration is a continuous process that must be closely monitored. Cumulative dehydration through sweat loss, urine output, and non-visible methods such as moisture in your breath will take a significant toll on your body if you don't drink plenty of fluids. About 90% of all chemical reactions in your body occur in an aqueous solution composed primarily of H2O. So, naturally, I recommend drinking water for rehydration. The goal is not to drink so much you walk around feeling heavy and bloated. But you need enough water so the chemical reactions in your body (tissue repair, muscle building, blood flow, cellular function, etc.) that lead to adaptation, i.e. performance improvements can occur in an unrestricted envrionment.
Typical symptoms of poor hydration include fatigue, poor sleep, dry skin, and yellow urine. Test your sweat rate by weighing yourself before and after a workout. The difference reflects the amount of weight, mostly water, you lost during your session. Aim to replace the amount of weight you lost in fluids throughout the remainder of the day. You will be surprised to see how much water weight you lose during a training session.
While stretching is more scientifically debatable in its effectiveness, I have found it to be invaluable in my own training. In nearly 10 years of racing, I can count on one hand the number of injuries I've had that have actually required time off (knock on wood). In both cases, there's only been two, they have been related to muscular tension and were mostly resolved with proper stretching. While this is only anecdotal evidence, multiple studies have confirmed that stretching AFTER a workout does provide some protection against injury. However, like not stretching enough, too much flexibility is also associated with increased injury rates so don't overdo it. I recommend you spend about 10 minutes stretching the major muscle groups after each workout. Hold each stretch for 45-60 seconds, for 2 repetitions.
These 3 items are not supposed to be cure-all's. However, when combined with proper training stimulus and good nutrition you will take your results to the next level.
Scott Flynn, owner, coach and triathlete of 10+ years with Threshold Multisport Coaching, holds a MS in Exercise Science and multiple nationally recognized fitness certifications (CES, CSCS). For more about Threshold coaching packages click here.