Updated: Apr 14
We all dream of being tough as nails. Marathon runners want to smash out huge mileage, cyclists want to log long hours in the saddle, and that's often what's needed to excel in those sports. However, we can't forget about our permanent partner and most valuable asset - our body. At the end of the day, all those miles and hours come at a price and it's our body that will be footing the bill. But there are ways to lessen the load and make sure your body remains your trusty ally. This is our ode to 'the small things'.
To be honest, that's a bit of a misnomer. In isolation, they are small things, sure. But when you put them all together they become an indispensable part of any training regime. It all adds up. Here are a few of the most important things to consider:
Strength and conditioning
Running is an impact sport (yes, it is). That means tendons, muscles, bones and ligaments need to be strong enough to handle the pounding of the strides. Every time your foot his the ground, you send several times your bodyweight in shock through your body - from the ball of your foot to the tip of your head. Now imagine that over the course of a 10km run. Now imagine that several times every week. Now imagine a marathon. You can see my point.
While cycling doesn't include any impact (barring accidents), it can also put a huge amount of pressure on your muscles. If any of the muscles in your power transfer chain are a bit weaker than they should be, you're likely headed for some form of injury in the long run.
Things like tendonitis, pulled muscles, strains and even stress reactions are part of any sport. But seeking the advice of a strength and conditioning expert who can guide you through some exercises can save you years of injury woes. It doesn't have to be a pain - a few minutes two or three times per week can make a huge difference over time.
This goes hand-in-hand with strength. Restriction on your range of motion can have just as much negative impact on your running or riding form as weak muscles. Ankles, hips and lower back can lock up and stiffen after months and years of pavement pounding. As a result, gait isn't what it should be and all that shock that's going through your body is going to all the wrong places. Becky Lynne of GRACE-full Running would be able to tell you a whole lot about this!
Same with riding - let's say you can't raise your knee high enough because your hip flexors are too stiff. Guess where the pressure of your pedal stroke is going to go? Your knee cap, your lower back, your hamstring. Anywhere but where it should be going, basically.
Stretching, drills and pre-training activation are no miracle workers, but they can significantly increase the chances that you're recruiting the muscles you should be using and that your soft tissue isn't bearing the brunt of the hits.
You are what you eat. If you eat healthy, powerful food you're giving yourself a great start at being healthy and powerful yourself. If you eat mostly rubbish, then... It's important your body gets all the nutrients it needs when it needs them. Exactly what and how much it needs can be pinpointed by a physiologist or some other such professional, but there are a few easy tips you can follow regardless. Right after a workout, get some carbs and protein in to make sure your muscles have the materials to rebuild stronger. During the day, it's important to build up enough energy so that you can actually knock out the training day-in, day-out. Try and eat a healthy amount of fat and salt to make sure you're absorbing micronutrients properly and that you've got the electrolytes needed to stay hydrated. But we'll let a qualified professional dive deeper into the details of this in a future blog...
It's also important to bear in mind that your nutrition shouldn't become a fixation to the point where you pigeonhole yourself into a whacky diet. Food is important but it's also fun. Next time you're out for a ride, stop for a pastry en route. Why not stop your next group long run at a local restaurant and grab a big pile of pasta with your mates? And if you're not where to go, we can only recommend SUMMAT in Bakewell. What? Nobody ever said we were subtle!
We've spoken about this in some detail in a previous blog, but it almost cannot be stressed enough. All the hard training is pointless if you don't recover from it properly. Take the rest day when it's due, ease down the intensity if your body is asking you to, and put your feet up when you can.
But this goes a bit further than that. Sleep is an absolutely crucial part of the athlete's life. After all, that's when most of the actual adaptations and changes happen in the body. That's when your body makes the physical tweaks to your rig, if you will. Consistent, reliable and healthy sleep are basically going to be a massive asset to your training. It's no coincidence that professional athletes are such great nappers!
Put the phone away a few hours before bed, have a sleepy tea or do whatever works for you. There are even sleep-tracking apps and devices out there, if you were so inclined. You don't have to go that far, all we're saying is that sometimes having a lie-in or heading to bed an hour earlier is the single best thing you can do for your fitness.