Recovery. everyone needs it to be able to get the most out of his or her training program. To be able to consistently perform at their best, today’s athlete must learn how to recover from hard training and racing without compromising their current level of fitness. The problem is it’s not exactly easy. One needs to balance the right amounts of knowledge, experience, common sense and sometimes luck in order to find what works best for their body.
For years, many athletes were chronically overtrained trying to “Keep up with the Jones’s”. People would look at a successful person’s training schedule and try and copy it. They would also incorporate the “more is better” motto to try and give them any kind of edge. The old joke was you could look at anyone’s training schedule and probably knock off about 25 percent of it to get the “real” amount of training they did.
The problem with adopting these attitudes is that they are usually not the best ways to improve performance. I take myself as example number one. I was always training, and often out on the road my buddies and I would frequently get into big ego sessions. Yeah, it felt great to waste one another in training, but once race time came around the results were less than expected. The primary problem was we left our best times in training! We didn’t know the meaning of the words “recovery” or “easy day” and it affected our race results.
With the above in mind, I have a list of the top 10 best ways to avoid over-training.
1. Don’t Push It Too Hard
As I explained above, don’t try and copy anyone else’s training schedule. Their specific needs may be different than yours.
You may be a strong cyclist but a weak swimmer; it wouldn’t make sense to copy Joe triathlete’s schedule that is a strong swimmer but weak cyclist. Additionally, your body may require more or less rest before your next hard session than your training buddy. So, don’t try and fit in a hard workout with him or her if your body is not recovered. One of the best ways to monitor this is with the use of a top heart rate monitor.
If your heart rate is significantly above your normal range than schedule an easy or off day and tackle that workout another time. Also, if you have an easy workout scheduled then set your upper limit to beep at a lower heart rate. Then you can tell your buddies, “Sorry, but I have an easy day planned.”
2. Eat a Healthy Diet
While it may be true that each person requires a certain number of carbohydrates, protein and fat in their diet; what you may require may be different than someone else. While a 50% carb, 30% protein, 20% fat diet may work for Jane; you may require a 60/30/10 or 40/30/30 combination.
Also, don’t expect to be in peak condition if most of your carbos are from piazza and beer or processed foods. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean beef and chicken, and whole grains will, in most cases, yield the best results.
3. Get More Sleep
Earlier this year I was dealing with some difficulties in my personal life and developed a case of insomnia. Every time I went to attempt a difficult workout my body just didn’t respond. I think in this day of hustle and bustle, many people forget how important sleep is to the recovery process. Each night the body goes through numerous phases of sleep called a “sleep cycle”. These cycles are repeated many times during the night to give us a restful sleep experience.
So, even if you are able to get to sleep, if your body is restless and doesn’t go through the normal cycles it is used to you won’t get quality sleep. Medications are often of some help, but the most important things you can do to improve your sleep are: decreasing or eliminating caffeine from your diet, learning how to relax, and developing proper “sleep habits”.
4. Reduce Your Stress
Everyone has a certain amount of stress in his or her lives and the body usually has enough coping strategies to deal with everyday life. Occasionally, we are all overcome by extra stresses in our lives. This can dramatically affect your attitude, training schedule and sleep cycle. It’s a fact of life; some people deal with stress better than others do. What might severely affect your friend or spouse might just roll off you.
Now, I am not trying to give psychological advice here, but I am suggesting that many of us need help during distressing times in our lives. There are many ways of coping with stress including, but not limited too: psychological counseling, spiritual counseling, merely confiding in another human being, meditation, yoga, seclusion to a favorite private spot, etc…
Many of these suggestions can help us manage stress in our lives. But, if your stress causes you an extraordinary amount of pain and anxiety professional medical assistance can often help.
OK, OK…I know every one knows that your supposed to drink 8 eight-ounce glasses of water a day. But did you know that this is in addition to the water you consume before and after workouts? That in hot or humid conditions your water needs may more than double?
I remember reading an article by Scott Tinley a few years back that said “you need to drink water till you pee clear at least once a day”. I tend to agree with this because it is an easy way to monitor your hydration level.
What is of equal importance is that our body’s ability to perceive thirst is not a good indicator when one needs more water. Usually by that time one is already on the way to dehydration. Another important note, for every ounce of caffeinated beverage you drink during the day you need to balance it with an equal amount of water.
6. Get a Physical
Here comes the health care professional in me rushing out. Everyone hates them but a yearly physical is a must, especially for athletes. We tend to think that we are above serious illness because we are in great shape. DEAD WRONG-I know many instances of athletes who were in great shape and an ordinary physical detected an abnormality.
Many times an ordinary physical has saved a life!!! Additionally, a routine physical may detect a need in your body for more iron, calcium, electrolytes, etc…With the proper supplements your energy levels may soar leading to an improvement in training and racing.
7. Get A Massage
If you have never experienced a full body massage you are really missing out.
Massage is great for decreasing tissue tightness in problem areas, improving circulation, flushing out muscle waste products, and general relaxation. Be careful when choosing a therapist. Make sure they are licensed by the state they practice in, certified in sports massage, and it doesn’t hurt to find their reputation among the local athletes.
Choosing the right massage therapist can make all the difference in the world in your recovery times, especially for those of you training for IM races. Granted, not all of us can afford a $60-75 massage every week, but if you can get on the table every other week, or at least once a month, you will notice an improvement in the way your body feels and functions.
8. Have A Plan
I am sure most people reading this have set goals in their lives that they would like to achieve.
In triathlon training and racing the same must be true. Developing a plan of attack in your training will keep you from logging junk mileage or doing things in training that are not required of your current goal.
If my goal was to do a sprint triathlon in 3 months than I would include some race pace intervals in my training and would probably not need any endurance training. But, if my goal was to do an Ironman race in 9 months than my training would have very little faster paced training but plenty of longer aerobic training.
Setting goals also requires you to be realistic. If you’re new to triathlon don’t let your goal be to win half of the races you enter. Set your goals conservatively at first and you will be pleased with your results. Setting goals too high at first might leave one disappointed and frustrated, after all aren’t we supposed to be doing this for fun? Believe me I am not against anyone reaching for the stars but one must have wings before they can fly.
I recommend setting short term (achievable within 3 months) and long term (achievable within the next year) goals for your triathlon endeavors. Plot your progress in your training journal and then you can beam with joy when you achieve those goals!
9. Rest is Important
Rest, that used to be an unspoken word in triathlon circles. No one wanted their training buddies or competitors to be tougher than he and the tougher one’s training schedule was the better. Well, as I mentioned earlier the “more is better” theory doesn’t always apply for athletes.
A day off, this means no physical training, is a must for all triathletes. In fact, some athletes schedule their training into blocks.
A training block may consist of 10 training days and then 3 off days or 7 days of training followed by 2 days off. A block, in turn, could be turned into a cycle. Using the 7 days on/ 2 days off block, a cycle would be 27 days, 3 blocks, which is roughly 4 weeks and this would be followed by 3 to 4 days off. If one used the 10 on/3 off block, then a cycle would be 39 days with a week worth of rest at the end.
Each person needs to develop a schedule that works for them, but my point is you need rest days, and occasionally a week, to avoid burnout, over-training, and to see improvement in your race times.
10. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
If you know what song this comes from your really showing your age. I suggest you go do at least a sit-up and then hit the hay ;). Seriously, though, triathlons are meant to be fun! This requires you too get a little zany at times and cut loose. If you are too worried about how you placed in such and such a race or that you missed a day of training then you definitely need to chill out.
Be satisfied with the best race that YOU could muster and not what your competitors did. Trust me, you will experience more joy and meet more special people if you keep your heart light.
Well, that’s it! I hope these insights help you in your triathlon achievements. See you at the races.