Upping your Game: Increasing Endurance in Preparation for an Event

Bumping up our fitness level is probably something that most of us have a go at at various points in our lives, often with variable results. It’s easy to get parts of the process wrong but with a little information and consideration success can be made a whole lot more likely. If you’re a volunteer for ‘Homestart’ – who I was asked to write this article for – then this article applies to you with your upcoming fundraising sprint triathlon. And for everyone else the information here makes a great guide on how to get better, fitter and faster without putting your health at risk.

Outlined below are 9 steps to help you achieve training success!

1. Prepare

When you’re not running, cycling, swimming or hitting the gym make sure that you lay the foundations in daily life to get maximum benefit from your training:

  • eatwell2Diet – I could write a book on this and there are many out there, click here for the NHS ‘Eatwell’ page and there’s a wealth of links to other and further information the healthy eating pages. Make sure that you eat to be fuelled pre-training and eat to re-fuel and for recovery post-training. Avoid sugary snacks which cause blood sugar spikes; go for complex carbs (wholewheat bread and pasta, potatoes, wholegrain rice) and protein instead.
  • Sleep – adults need 7-9hrs/night. Most of us don’t get this but it’s especially important when you’re physically stressing your body more than usual to aim for a good nights sleep. Try leaving that email/chore until the morning, ditch the screen an hour before bed and do something to wind down instead e.g. bath, read a book
  • Mental health – stress, anxiety, depression and a myriad other mental health issues have a definite effect on your physical health and your ability to perform well and recover effectively. If you know that your mental health is affecting you negatively then try doing something about it – talk to a friend, discuss with your GP, speak to your boss and see if there are small steps you can take to take care of yourself.

2. Warm Up and Cool Down Effectively

Warming up should be just that, getting your body warm to help reduce your chance of injury. Try out the following moves, doing a few reps of each:

  • Neck – side movements and head circles
  • Shoulders – big arm circles forwards and backwards
  • Trunk – keeping feet still do leans from side to side and reach n’ twists (stretching your left arm across your body and out to your right and vice versa)
  • Hips & knees – raise your knee and draw big circles with it, whole leg swings from side to side and forwards and backwards
  • Whole body – standing on tiptoes reach up to the ceiling and then crouch down to the floor
  • Ankles – draw circles

Your warm up should ideally last around 10 minutes and should include some time in your chosen activity so if you’re about to jump in the pool do a few easy lengths first, on the bike start with some light spinning and out for a run begin at a slower pace than you’re eventually going to run at.

Cool-down: a few suggestions as follows:

  • Light jog/bike for 5 minutes
  • Stretches (see pics below) and gentle movements, much like the warm-up but perform the moves slower and hold a few in a light stretch position for a half-minute – don’t push stretches to their limit.
  • Ice bath(!)
  • Massage – helps loosen tight, sore muscles, aids toxin relief and relaxationimg_2754uppingyourgamearticle2

3. Technique & Equipment

There’s often an assumption that good technique is a given and a minority of runners, cyclists and others will get by just fine without giving a thought to exactly HOW they cover the miles. But in the interest of using your energy efficiently and avoiding injury it’s worth considering getting your technique and your equipment set-up verified. this is particularly relevant if you’re starting to pick up aches and niggles.

  • Running style – HOW you move over the ground and place one foot in front of the other. Get in touch with/join a running group for advice
  • Bike fit e.g. saddle height & angle, reach and bar height – ask at your local bike shop
  • 20161016_144646Running shoes – get advice and get fitted at a knowledgeable, dedicated running shop
  • Swimming lessons – to turn drowners into otters and available for adults at most pools
  • Gym equipment – correct technique and weight, check with the gym instructor

And what can’t you find these days on the world wide web?! Check out YouTube for technique videos – just make sure that you’re using a reliable, evidence-based source.

4. Progression

Hopefully you’ve started off your training at a very manageable level but how and when should you increase your mileage, time spent and speed?

  • Increase your mileage at a rate of 5-8%/week maximum. This gives your body a chance to adapt without risking injury and as a rule of thumb don’t keep bumping it up by this much week after week; factor in some static and downtime weeks too
  • Sport-specific limitations: done loads of one sport but none of another? e.g. are you a fit and regular cyclist but have never run a mile? In which case you are a beginner runner so treat yourself as such. You’re NOT a seasoned runner by virtue of being a seasoned cyclist – unfortunately it doesn’t work like that !
  • Try interval training to improve your speed endurance: do short bursts of your training at faster speeds e.g. during a 4k run do a few 100m sections at a faster pace. This s a good way to build up your ability to move faster and applies to most disciplines – try it on the bike and in the pool as well. Take care to introduce interval training gradually as it stresses your body in a very different way to steady mileage.

swimmingpool5. Cross-Training

Varying the type of activity can help reduce your chance of picking up an injury as it permits your body to build up a more ’rounded’ fitness. If you’re training for a sprint triathlon then it’s a given that you will be running, cycling and swimming and hopefully doing a little gym work too as per ‘strength training’ below. Make sure that you pay good attention to your weaker sports as well as the ones that you’re good at. This will help improve your overall fitness, reduce your likelihood of picking up an injury and will ultimately help improve your performance.

6. Specific Strength Training

All of your running, cycling and swimming muscles will benefit from some specific strength work. This is easy to complete in the gym or at home. The muscles that you’ll get most benefit from are:

  • Glutes (buttock) e.g. squats, side-lying leg raises, lunges
  • Quads (front of thigh) e.g. squats, leg extension gym machine
  • Core (stomach) e.g. plank, leg extensions in lying, Pilates
  • Upper body (shoulders & back) e.g. pull-ups, press-ups, rowing machineuppingyourgamearticle1

7. Injuries

uppingyourgamearticle3If you find that you’re starting to pick up niggles and aches then consider what might be the cause. Have you upped your mileage/pace too quickly? If you have then back off for a week or so to see if things settle before increasing again at a slower rate. Still getting problems and injuries? What else has changed? Beware the gradual onset of overuse injuries – be vigilant for persistent problems. If dealing with these changes still doesn’t help then get checked out by a physiotherapist; it could be the difference between not making the progress you need to and constantly bailing out injured, to being informed about what’s going wrong, how you can put it right and ultimately reach your goal.

8. Recover and be Body-Aware

restYour recovery time is as important as your training time:

  • give yourself ample time between exercise bouts to allow your body to stop feeling tired and for any muscle soreness/aches to subside – in the long run you’ll get greater benefit from training on a well-rested and recovered body than you will from pushing through with energy levels at half-mast whilst risking fatigue and injury
  • try to space your sessions out evenly throughout the week
  • pay attention to how you feel before, during and after training. Are you about to head out for a run on heavy legs? Is that knee twinge a one-off or is it getting creepingly worse

‘Body listening’ comes with practice. It can be helpful to keep a diary of your training and include diet information, energy levels, sleep etc to see if you notice any patterns or trends.

9. Enjoy Yourself


Life is short – enjoy the journey!

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