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Three Ways to Revolutionize Your Athletic Performance in 2013

January 1st, 2013

2013-Wallpaper-HD-10As you can imagine, I often get asked by athletes what are the best ways to improve performance. In fact, no question gets asked more, especially this time of year as the new year brings an opportunity for athletes to assess what they’ve done in the past and where they should be going in the future, all with the hopes of improving performance. It’s a very complex question to answer and obviously depends upon the athlete, but I thought I’d share some thoughts that any athlete can take and apply immediately to not only improve, but revolutionize their performance:

  1. Include power-based principles in your training. High intensity training makes a lot of sense for any athlete, including endurance athletes, and will help boost performance more than logging additional miles at a slower pace will. In a previous post entitled Four Power-Based Principles for Endurance Training, I outlined how endurance athletes can incorporate high intensity, constantly varied, functional movement along with interval training, technique drills and mobility to improve performance. Incorporate these ideas into your training in 2013 and watch your performance not just improve, but improve dramatically.
  2. Eat a Paleo diet. Nutrition is the foundation for any athlete. You can have the best training program in the world, but if you eat like crap, you’ll perform like crap. Starting a diet is a common New Year’s resolution, so make eating lots of lean meats, lots of vegetables, some fruit, little starch and no refined sugars not just your resolution, but your lifestyle. Perhaps nothing will revolutionize your performance as much in 2013.
  3. Train your mind. Training your mind should be taken as seriously as training your body. Sharpen your mental skills on a daily basis, practicing relaxation, visualization and positive thinking. Familiarize yourself with mental exercises you can do or work with a coach that can help you. A big part of mental training is goal setting, so make sure you set achievable goals not just an annual basis, but monthly, weekly and even daily. This will let you celebrate your progress and correct areas where you can improve.

As you sit down to map out your goals (and hopes) for 2013, incorporate these principles into the foundation of your approach. 2013 should and can be the year that you revolutionize your athletic performance.

Four Power-Based Principles for Endurance Training

November 11th, 2012

The idea of high intensity training in endurance sports is not a new one. Over this past weekend, I had the opportunity to explore it in greater depth by completing the CrossFit Endurance Trainer Seminar, and in the process becoming a CrossFit Endurance Trainer (this is in addition to my CrossFit Level 1 certificate, which I completed back in June). The new view that CrossFit Endurance provides is that high intensity should be the mainstay of any endurance athlete’s training. While the debate rages on among the CrossFit Endurance community and the traditional endurance community (who CFE refers to as “LSD”– “long, slow distance”), the seminar reinforced my belief in the importance of strength, flexibility, power, speed coordination, agility, balance and accuracy for endurance athletes.

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Too many triathletes, runners, cyclists and other endurance athletes overlook the importance of high-intensity workouts as part of their training, often seeing it as not necessary or a detriment even to their longer distance training. This couldn’t be more mistaken. This type of training is not just reserved for traditional “power athletes”, such as weightlifters, wrestlers or football players. Instead, it should be a core, foundational element of every athletes’ training, including endurance athletes.

Every triathlete, runner, cyclist, swimmer or other endurance athlete should apply four fundamental, “power-based” concepts to their traditional endurance-based training to maximize performance results:

  1. High-intensity, constantly-varied functional movement. Include 4-5 high intensity workouts (the exact number will depend upon the athlete) focused on weightlifting, gymnastics and/or monostructural movements. CrossFit provides a great structure for these type of workouts, but is not the only way to complete these type of workouts. That stated, athletes should place some sort of structure, either with proper research and understanding on their own or with the expertise of a coach, to ensure these workouts are organized safely and effectively for their goals.
  2. Long and short interval training. There is a tendency for many endurance athletes to just want to log miles and not worry about interval-based training. This is not only detrimental to performance, but also an easy way to burn out. For example, triathletes should undertake two workouts per sport (about 6 workouts), with about 4 of them being interval-focused and the other two being a longer distance tempo or time trial-paced workout.
  3. Sport-specific technique. Practice proper technique each and every time you undertake any sport. This seems obvious, but is often overlooked, with sloppy technique leading to inefficiencies, injury and burnout. Each of your workouts should include a technique drill as part of the warm-up or at the onset of the workout. For instance, before heading out for a run, include one or more Pose method running drills to remind and reinforce proper running technique.
  4. Mobility, mobility, mobility. A great limiter for many endurance athletes is lack of mobility. Include one or more mobility drills into your workout, ideally as part of your warm-down. Mobility drills do not need to take a lot of time, but they do need to consciously viewed as part of the workout or they could get overlooked. Which mobility drills you select will be a function of your greatest limiters or weaknesses.

These principles of course, should be applied in addition to other core aspects of a well-balanced program, including nutrition, mental skills training, race strategy, etc.. If you’re wondering how to do this or would like more info, feel free to reach out.

6 Essential Pieces of Winter Gear for Endurance Athletes

December 7th, 2009

running in winterIf you’re like me, one of the biggest challenges this time of year as an endurance athlete is figuring out how you can continue to do your workouts outside while the days get shorter and colder. I’m a big proponent of cross-training in the winter and taking advantage of what winter has to offer (see my previous post, The Case for Winter: Multisport at Its Best). Whatever outdoor activity you pursue in the winter, you’re going to want to think about the gear that you will need. Being prepared for the cold temperatures, wind chill and mixed precipitation will make your experience in the winter much more enjoyable, whether you choose to workout outdoors or are forced due to challenging conditions to workout indoors.

The six pieces of gear that every endurance athlete absolutely should have as part of their winter collection are:

1. A windshirt– Whether you’re going for a run, a climb, a hike, or a bike ride, a windshirt is the most versatile, practical piece of clothing you can own. (You could also throw in windpants which are made from the same category in with the shirt). In fact, I like to state that a windshirt is the best piece of clothing EVER invented. What makes it so great is that it is lightweight, it protects you from the wind very well (although it’s not designed with a ton of insulation to keep you super warm in very cold temps), it’s breathable, and it dries very fast (which is critical in the winter). I often wear just a synthetic base layer and the windshirt when I go skate skiing or for a run in cold temps and it ends up being all I need as long as I’m moving. My personal favorite is the Marmot DriClime Windshirt, but other companies also make descent equivalents, like REI.

2. Windstopper clothing– If I plan on doing a bike ride in the winter or go downhill or cross-country skiing on a very windy day, I always make sure I’m wearing windstopper gloves, hat (or on the bike, balaclava), shirt, and — ahem– underwear. There are two things to think about in the winter: insulation from the cold and protection from the wind. You often won’t need a ton of insulation since you’ll be generating heat while moving along, but you will need protection from the wind. Windstopper material is specially designed to protect against the biting cold of the wind. It does come with the trade-off that it’s less breathable, so you want to be sure to regulate any excessive sweat build up when using windstopper material. Any wind stopper gloves from REI, Black Diamond, Craft or other manufacturer will do. As for underwear, I’d highly recommend underwear by Craft, especially for men, who will need to protect certain appendages.

3. Running shoe ice cleats– There’s nothing more tedious than relegating all of your runs to the treadmill as soon as the cold weather and snow comes. I’ll often advise my clients to do some of their runs indoors in the winter, but will always encourage them to get outside when possible. After all, the races you’ll be running are all outdoors (unless you’re track & field person), so the more running you can do outside the better. One essential piece of equipment all runners are going to want to have are ice cleats for their running shoes. Ice cleats go on the bottom of the running shoe will help with the grip on icy or snowy trails, as well as roads (although I’d not recommending wearing them on roads where pavement is showing since this will ruin the cleats). Some good brands/models to consider are the Yaktrax Pros, Petzl Spiky Plus, Stableicers Sport, or Icespike. Runner’s World did a nice review of ice cleats.

4. A headlamp– Days are short in the winter and it’s virtually impossible to do your early morning workout or after-work workout with sunlight or at least without starting (in the morning) or finishing (in the evening) in the dark. Headlamp technology has improved leaps and bounds the past 10 years and it’s really easy to find an inexpensive, lightweight model to help light your way. I’d highly recommend an LED headlamp from Black Diamond, Petzl, or Princeton Tec. Something like the Petzl Tikka, Princeton Tec Aurora or Black Diamond Ion are just the right size and strength for nighttime running or skiing. Backpacking Light has a descent comparison of LED headlamps.

5. Bike trainer– Sometimes the roads are just going to be too snow-covered or icy to safely go out and do a ride or perhaps you just don’t feel like hauling our your mountain bike to hit the trails. That’s when a bike trainer will come in very handy. In the height of the winter (roughly mid-December to early March), I do the majority of my bike workouts on a trainer (it’s much easier to get on the trainer at 5:30am on that dark, -15 degree morning). You’re going to want to decide whether you should get a magnetic or roller trainer (I’ll defer that debate to another time) or even a CompuTrainer (which I’d recommend for advanced athletes with a bigger budget). I ride a magnetic trainer and highly recommend Kurt Kinetic or Cycle-Ops.

6. Home gym for strength & power- Okay, so this isn’t just one piece of equipment, but a few (which you’ll need to vary the types of exercises you can do at home). Sometimes the weather is just so crappy (think, 33 degrees and raining), that you have no choice but to workout indoors in the winter or it’s just easier to do the particular exercise or workout indoors (think weight training). That’s when a home gym comes in (if you prefer to go to a gym outside your home, make sure they have the equipment you need). I’m a big proponent of functional movement exercise to simulate the sport you training for, which as an endurance athlete, is not body-building (read: no need to be able to bench press 300+ lbs). Given that, most of the equipment you need for the type of strength and power training for endurance sports you can store in your home, would cost you about 1-2 months worth of gym membership (approximately $100-200, with the exception of a core board, which would run the budget up), and would include the following:

  • dumbbells– get two dumbbells and about 50-60 lbs. of weight per dumbbell (you can always purchase more weight later if you need it). Having dumbbells you can add/subtract weight from will make it easier for changing resistance levels & for storage.
  • physioball– you will use this for a variety of exercises, including balance, and strength. Check the specs to make sure you get the right size.
  • medicine ball(s)– typically one 12lb ball will cover most exercises you’ll do.
  • stretch cords (or resistance bands)– these can be used for simulating a variety of strength and stretching exercises. Make sure you get the right resistance level.
  • core board– a core board is fantastic for core stability exercises and should be part of any home gym. The Reebok core board is perhaps the best one on the market.
  • pad– any foam pad will do, as long as it serves as adequate protection for the floor and cushioning for when you lie on it.
  • foam roller– a foam roller is fantastic for self-massage, which is something I recommend as part of active recovery. The more harder the foam roller, the better it will work.
  • yoga strap or rope– any 8-10 foot piece of rope or yoga strap will work perfectly in assisting with active isolated stretching exercises, which I often recommend as part of active recovery.

Of course there is all the ancillary gear that goes along with the above list to help you do you workouts (such as your bike or skis), but I am assuming you have most of that gear. The items on the above list will compliment those items and allow you to focus on your winter endurance regime much more effectively and enjoyably.

Looking at Yourself Naked in the Mirror: Assessing Your Season

October 18th, 2009

naked-reflectionNo matter what your sport and when the season for that sport ends, it’s important to look back and do an assessment on the season– what went right, what went wrong, what to do differently next season. It’s a critical step in the lifecycle of a season (mesocycle) and lifecycle of an athlete’s career (macrocycle). If you work with a coach, a season end assessment is an important communication tool to adjustment your training accordingly.

Assessing your season should like looking in the mirror naked at yourself: fully transparent, exposed, and hiding nothing. It’s a time to be honest with yourself and your coach– don’t hide anything. Talk about what you did wrong and where you could improve. On the flip side, give yourself heaping praise when it’s appropriate. No one is perfect and always has room for improvement, which is why the season assessment is done in the first place.

Also, in addition to a self-assessment done by the athlete, I will always provide my own, independent assessment as a coach to my clients. The athletes I work with always get feedback from me throughout the season, but at the end of the season I like to do a ‘final wrap’ and provide pointed areas where I think things went well and not so well. This is often very valuable feedback to the athlete and gives them insight as well as motivation for planning out the next season. On the flip side, I also ask my athlete’s to assess me as a coach. For me, this is a great way to get pointed feedback on what I did well, and what I could improve upon. That’s a topic to drill into another time, but worth mentioning at the moment as part of assessment time.

The key things you’ll want to assess about your season include the following:

  • Season’s Strategy- I always start every season with a planning process with athletes (and if you do not work with a coach, this should be where you begin on your own). There’s an annual plan of how the season will be approached, periodizing the year around selected races. This is the place to start. Every athlete’s plan changes 100% of the time due to family, work, health or other issues. Assess why these changes occured and how you would plan differently next time. Were the goals of the season achieved (why/why not)? Were they the correct goals? Did you achieve the objectives planned throughout the season (why/why not)? Was the volume correct? How about the intensity? Were the races the right ones or far enough apart? Did scheduling work as planned?
  • Physiological training– A general look back at how you performed overall physiologically is critical. The main questions to ask yourself are: how well did I execute? How did I handle the volume and intensity perscribed over the course of the season? I typically ask my clients to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 in their discipline (in triathlon: swim, bike and run), and then provide open-ended feedback as to why they assessed themselves the way they did.
  • Mental skills- Mental skills is one of three main pillars of multisport training, so it’s important to look back and assess your mental performance for the season. Were you relaxed or agitated? Did you think positively or negatively? How did you do with the mental skills exercises perscribed in your plan? Often times mental skills training is ignored, so understanding if this is an area for improvement is critical.
  • Nutrition– Another of the main pillars of multisport training is nutrition, both everyday and race day nutrition. Everyday nutrition is what you eat on an everyday periodized in line with your physiological nutrition. Questions to ask include: did I stick with the outline of total calories, and breakdown of fats, protein and carbohydrates targeted? Did you eat the right quality of foods? Did you develop a routine with your nutrtion so it became an integrated part of your day (often times the biggest challenge for people)? Also, you will want to look at race day nutition, which is fueling for the days preceeding, day of and days after a big “A” race, such as an Ironman, or shorter distance races. I always work to make sure my athletes have a very methodical (but flexible) approach to race day nutrition, but execution is key. Questions to ask: Was the plan leading up to race day work for you? Did you follow it? Did you “bonk”, have GI issues, or other issues the day of a race? If so, why?
  • Race Strategy– Having a sound strategy for each race (particularly “A” races) is key, so looking back on how the planning and strategy execution worked for those races is important. Questions to ask: Did the race strategy planning process work? Did you execute against the strategy effectively? How would you adjust the strategy?

Be sure to document all of your thoughts on the season assessment. Having it in writing is important to capture the data, and a way for you to communicate it to your coach if you work with one. I typically provide my athlete’s a form to capture the input. I have them save it as part of their athletic journal.

Finally, the most important step of the season assessment is to analyze and optimize. It’s one thing to have collected all the data, but it’s another to look closely at it and undertake concrete changes. This seems like an obvious step, but it’s one that surprisingly gets omitted since many folks feel that if they’ve at least documented it (or had the discussion), then they’ve done what they needed to do. In fact, it’s critical that you outline exactly what changes you plan on making for next season. For instance, if in the season assessment you note that “I had difficulties getting my bike speed to where I would have liked. I really think had I spent the time on more bike speed work, it would have made a big difference in my performance”, then you’re going to want to do things to analyze and optimize this:

  1. drill into the why’s behind this (why didn’t you do more bike speed work? Was it because you didn’t plan it or was it because you did not execute what was planned? Or perhaps what you had planned did not work for you– then you should undertand why this was the case. )
  2. what are you going to do about it? Let’s say you did not execute appropriately against what was planned for bike speed workouts since they were difficult for you to hit the splits over the course of the season and you did not accurately measure your baseline bike fitness to set those split times (hopefully this would have been caught while executing at the time, but let’s say it was not). You’ll want to then be specific in optimizing by having a recommendation of “next season I will set my bike split times for my speed workouts based on results from my periodic bike tests.”

Once you have your specific recommendations, you’re good to go for planning out next season. I will be addressing this exact topic– planning out your multisport season– in my next blog post (stay tuned!).

There are certainly different ways to approach the season assessment, and I’ve outlined some ideas that have worked for me and the athlete’s I work with. Perhaps you have some ideas on what has worked for you? What are some of the things you look back on and assess? How do you see yourself when you look naked in the mirror at season’s end?