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EPC Tips – Stress Management

STRESS MANAGEMENT

What can create both a positive and a negative response, is something everybody experiences, most people desire less of, and many people struggle to balance? 

The “S” word… STRESS!

Stress Management is our fifth component of our Six Components to Endurance Sport Success. In our daily lives, we experience both physical and emotional stress. As athletes we need stress in the form of “training load” to provide the stimulus from which we can improve. The key to a good training program is one that provides just the right amount of stress; not enough and we stagnate or get stuck on a plateau, too much and we get fatigued, sick or injured. Both too little or too much physical stress leads to an inability to progress or improve in your training. Emotional stress encompasses stress from work, social/family interactions, and general life stress. Deadlines at work, bills piling up, and arguments with a loved one are all examples of the emotional stress people experience in their daily lives. While it’s impossible to avoid all emotional stressors, it is important to keep them to the lowest level possible. The key point here from an athlete’s perspective is that at the end of the day stress is stress, whether it is physical (training) stress or emotional (mental) stress. All stress adds up and contributes to your ability, or inability, to recover from your training and improve your performance.

Combining both your physical stress from your training and emotional stress from your life provides your complete ‘stress score.’

In general, the more stress you have, the more difficult it will be to train, recover, and improve. One of the largest factors that contributes to a professional athlete’s high level of performance is that they are able to organize their life in such ways to minimize their emotional (life) stress while maximizing their physical (training) stress. True ‘professional’ athletes are able to make training and racing their only job, minimizing their financial stress via sponsorships, minimize their social stressors and general life ‘overhead’. Many struggling professionals, up-and-comers, or ‘recreational elites’ must maintain a source of income, balance a family/social life, and maintain a much higher level of emotional stress that make it difficult to compete with the more established professionals. Age-groupers don’t have the luxury of mid-day workouts and time to put their feet up between training sessions. Amateur athletes must make their jobs and families priority number one and two and their sport takes the third or even fourth priority. 4:30am wake-up calls and/or late-night sessions squeezed in around their busy lives is a necessity. Lower training volume is almost always a result, as is also carefully (and often unsuccessfully) balancing the physical stress vs. emotional stress scale to maximize their performance. If your emotional (life) stress is heavy, then your physical (training) stress must be lighter. It all adds up! It’s critical to pay close attention to your stress balance if you want to make continued improvement in your sport.

 As an athlete, I like to look at stress in two ways: chronic stress and acute stress.

Another key piece of stress management is recognizing the different types of stress and their effects on your body. I consider chronic stress as the long term effect applied to your body. This involves your endocrine system and maintaining hormonal balances. The human body releases the hormone cortisol (among others) when under stress. Cortisol is designed to help our bodies manage brief periods of stress, but when we put our bodies under extended periods of stress (through long, hard training sessions (physical), and/or long stressful days at work (emotional)) our endocrine system can overload our bodies with cortisol (and other stress hormones) that can disrupt your body’s natural functions. With elevated cortisol levels you may experience issues including fatigue, inability to recover, slowed tissue repair, digestive issues, weight gain, poor sleep, anxiety, and depression among other things.

How can you improve or lower your chronic stress load?

1. Get More Sleep

Sleep is perhaps the most important stress management tool. Aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep everyday is ideal. Often times, in periods of high stress, it is more valuable to skip a workout in favor of more sleep. Under periods of high stress, sleeping can become difficult for many people. Practicing improved sleep techniques like a warm bath, warm drink, and relaxation before bed can assist in improving sleep.

2. Diet & Nutrition

The more you are under stress, the more important a nutritious diet becomes. Eliminate the junk (sugar, fried foods, refined foods, etc.) and maximize the fruits and vegetables should be the the focus points (read my Diet & Nutrition article). Maintaining stable blood sugar throughout the day with small frequent meals will help regulate proper body functions as well.

3. Relaxation Techniques

Practicing yoga, deep breathing, visualization techniques, and simply reading a book can help lower stress levels. Spend time being still and quiet.

4. Sense of Humor & Laughing

Lighten up! Surround yourself with fun people at times and smile and laugh. It’s proven to relieve stress and make you a happier person.

Acute stress is looked at more in the short term. It’s the immediate effect you experience in the hours and days following stressors (specifically physical stress). This is the immediate fatigue you may feel from a training session, or the soreness or stiffness you may experience after a tough workout. High amounts of acute stress can occur by increasing training loads beyond what you are accustomed. These can be planned increased training loads, as in a training camp, or they can be unplanned by doing too much too soon, training too far above your current fitness level. Muscle damage, glycogen depletion, and dehydration can all contribute to high levels of acute stress. Acute stress contributes to increased chronic stress, and if left unaddressed, this increased stress can lead to deep fatigue, illness and/or injury. Always being aware of how you can recover better and more quickly following training sessions will help you get on the right track for managing your acute stress loads. Our saying is to “Take care of your body!” We see too many people willing to spend thousands of dollars on equipment, travel and entry fees, as well as enormous amounts of time in training yet be unwilling to spend some money on their body to keep it happy, healthy and performing at its best.

How can you manage your acute stress load?

1. Follow a Progressive Training Program

Your training must progress gradually to avoid excessive acute stress. Following a training plan or working with a coach that will keep you on track and hold you back if you are a ‘go getter!’ Fitness is a long term commitment and can’t be rushed.

2. Recovery Nutrition

Consuming calories immediately following long and/ or intense training sessions is a critical recovery strategy. There are commercial products on the market designed specifically for this purpose (First Endurance Ultragen being among the best). The key is to include both carbohydrates and protein in adequate amounts to begin the restoration process (see my Diet & Nutrition article for more specifics).

3. Soft Tissue Massage

Massage therapy is helpful for increasing blood flow to damaged muscles and loosening adhesions of soft tissue. Two professional massage sessions a month is a worthwhile investment (weekly is even better, once a month is better than nothing). Daily self-massage (foam rollers, massage balls, massage sticks, etc.) is also time well spent and can be done before bed as part of a relaxation routine.

4. Manual Manipulation

Your body takes a beating with all the training. Take care of your body by visiting a osteopathic physician (D.O.), physical therapist (P.T.) and/or chiropractor to give your body the regular tune-ups it needs. These visits can go a long way to maintaining overall health and keeping injuries at bay.

5. Stretching

While science will say there is no evidence that stretching actually does anything, but most people will agree that, at the very least, it feels good. Unless you are genetically hyper-flexible, including some stretching in your weekly routine will help you stay loose and maintain an effective range of motion. It is another great activity to include in your nightly relaxation routine.

6. Compression

Another controversial technique in the recovery equation. The verdict is still out as to whether compression actually does anything, but if you think it does then go for it! Donning compression clothing post-workouts and pneumatic ‘compression boots’ are two tools to consider including in your recovery routine.

Written by Cody Waite, professional XTERRA athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Endurance Performance Coaching. Looking for help with your training for 2015? Check out EPC’s Personal CoachingGroup Coaching, and Custom Training Plan options created to fit your needs and budget. 
 
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EPC Tips - Race Day Nutrition

EPC Tips – Race Day Nutrition Strategies

Last week I discussed some basic principles of effective daily diets and training nutrition for endurance athletes (see: IV. Diet & Nutrition, my fourth component of six from my 6 Components of Endurance Sport Success).

This week I want to touch on ‘Race Day’ nutrition strategies for short to medium length endurance events of 1-5 hours in length.

This duration of event includes road bike racing, mountain bike racing, longer running events (half-marathon, marathon, and ultra-events for faster runners), as well as sprint and olympic distance triathlons, XTERRAs, and 70.3 distance triathlons (for faster athletes). I have found over the years from personal experience, and through working with a variety of athletes in my coaching business, that the following guidelines work well for 90% of athletes. Once race durations extend over the 5-hour mark however, the game changes a bit due to the drop in intensity and what individuals can stomach for ultra long events, requiring a much more individualized approach to nutrition. Please use the following guidelines as starting point from which you can experiment with until you find what works best with your physiology and gut.

PRE-RACE MEALS

Typically endurance events take place in the morning, so dinner the night before and breakfast are the two meals that will primarily fuel your event. These two meals are what I will address below.

Your dinner the night before an event should be something you are very familiar with. There is no need to ‘carbo-load’ or gorge yourself with extra calories the night before a race as this only slows digestion and can cause digestive stress during your event. Typically athletes take the day two-days out from the race as a very light recovery session, or complete day off from training. This will not only allow your muscles to recoup, but also your glycogen levels to completely restore. The day before race day, then consists of a light workout to shake the legs out and prepare to race. This session is short and sweet and should’t dip much, if at all, into your glycogen stores. Your normal eating routine should be more than enough to ‘top off’ your glycogen stores before race day. The one thing you may want to add in however is an electrolyte sports-drink that will also top off your hydration and electrolyte levels.

As for dinner, the best is to stick with lighter, easy digesting foods that are higher in carbs and lower in fats. Rice and potatoes are ideal sources of carbohydrate, along with some vegetables and small amount of lean protein. My two ‘preferred’ meals for the night before are either sushi or thai (specifically Massaman Curry). I tell my athletes to have two options in mind for both dinner and breakfast so you can be flexible depending on your race venue, and also be willing to go off ‘the plan’ if required, if your race venue does not have exactly what you need/want. Being flexible helps to keep stress low and energy levels high. Your dinner should be eaten a bit earlier than normal if you have an early start and earlier wake-up call, so you can maintain similar digestion time between dinner and breakfast that you’re accustom to.

Now it’s race day and time to wake up! I recommend to set your alarm 3-3.5 hours prior to your race start so you have time to ‘wake-up’ and maintain a normal morning routine. Breakfast should come around 2.5-3 hours prior to start time so you have time to digest your meal and have necessary bathroom deposits. Your breakfast is the food you will actually ‘race on’ so it needs to be predominately carbohydrate with some small amounts of fat and protein (especially as race duration increases). I recommend basing breakfast portions on the duration of your event. Shorter events require less fuel and thus can be smaller, while longer events require more fuel and can be larger. Overall the meal should be relatively light and easy to digest. Sticking with the rule of ‘two options,’ I prefer either toast, peanut butter, banana and honey or oatmeal, banana, butter and honey. I feel confident that I can either bring with me or find these two options just about anywhere I go to race, and they are easy and quick to prepare. I am also a coffee drinker, so coffee is included in my morning routine. Here is how I structure my race breakfast based on the duration of the event:

I like to do an inverse ratio of coffee to toast or oatmeal based on the duration of the event…

Event < 2 hours:

  • 3 cups/shots coffee/espresso
  • Half slice toast, peanut butter, half banana, honey OR
  • 1 packet plain instant oatmeal, 1 pat butter, half banana, honey

Event 2-3 hours:

  • 2 cups/shots coffee/espresso
  • 1 slice toast, peanut butter, 1 banana, honey
  • OR 2 packets plain instant oatmeal, 2 pats butter, 1 banana, honey

Event 3-5 hours:

  • 1 cup/shot coffee/espresso
  • 2 slice toast, peanut butter, 1 banana, honey
  • OR 3 packets plain instant oatmeal, 3 pats butter, 1 banana, honey

NOTE: I start every day, including race day, with 20 oz. of plain water before I eat or drink anything else.

RACE NUTRITION

After breakfast you should have roughly 2-2.5 hours before race start. I find it best to arrive (parked) at race venue about 60-90 minutes prior to start (depending on size of race/venue and air temperature/weather). During this time between breakfast and race start you have last minute packing/prepping, travel, set-up, and warm-ups to deal with. During this time, you should sip a water bottle of electrolyte drink mix to keep topped off prior to race start. When you’re ready to head to the start line you should have your nutrition schedule in mind and fuel sources planned and ready to go. I have found that most less-experienced athletes consume too many calories (and sometimes liquids) in their races. In general, I’m a fan of the ‘less is more’ concept and that you can always add more as you go if needed. Stomach bloating is harder to reverse than is running low and adding an extra gel or drink from an aid station. The following is a guideline of what I recommend to my athletes based on the durations of their event. Remember that everyone is different and practice makes perfect.

Event < 2 hours:

  • 2-0.5 hours pre-race: travel/warm-up bottle of electrolyte drink mix.
  • 30 minutes pre-race: 6 oz. flask of electrolyte drink mixed with water.
  • Cycling: 0.5-2 bottles of electrolyte drink mix, low calorie. Quantities vary based on heat/humidity of event.
  • Running: Little to no nutrition other than sips of water from aid stations.

Event 2-3 hours:

  • 2-0.5 hours pre-race: travel/warm-up bottle of electrolyte drink mix.
  • 30 minutes pre-race: 6 oz. flask of electrolyte drink mixed with water.
  • Cycling: 1-4 bottles of electrolyte drink mix, moderate calorie, 150-250 per hour. Quantities vary based on heat/humidity of event.
  • Running: 1-2 semi-liquid shots (gels), 75-150 cals per hour.

Event 3-5 hours:

  • 2-0.5 hours pre-race: travel/warm-up bottle of electrolyte drink mix.
  • 30 minutes pre-race: 6 oz. flask of electrolyte drink mixed with water.
  • Cycling: 2-6 bottles of electrolyte drink mix, moderate to high calorie, 200-300 per hour. Quantities vary based on heat/humidity of event.
  • Running: 2-4 semi-liquid shots (gels), 75-150 cals per hour.

Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Endurance Performance Coaching. Looking for help with your training for 2015? Check out EPC’s Personal CoachingGroup Coaching, and Custom Training Plan options created to fit your needs and budget.

Fruits and Vegetables

EPC Tips – Diet & Nutrition

This week we’re on to the fourth of 6 Components of Endurance Sports Success: Diet & Nutrition.

Discussions of diet and nutrition are often the most hotly debated topics in the fitness world, as they are fueled by emotion, personal beliefs and preferences. Within physical training concepts there are multiple proven and established ways to achieve similar levels of fitness and performance (high volume-low intensity vs. low volume-high intensity, for example). In much the same way, the same can be said for diet and nutrition concepts. There are multiple variations that can lead to similar results (meat eaters vs. vegetarians for example). The key point here is that people are different and different strategies work for different people; there is no right way. Regardless of where you stand on diet and nutrition, there are some key points that recent science and ‘experts’ have established that cross over between all ‘diets’ and are crucial for both long-term health and improved sport performance.

Without argument, athletes can make major breakthroughs in their training and racing performance by incorporating intelligent diet and nutrition strategies.

As you read on, please keep in mind that this is my opinion based on my own experience and study as a lifelong elite athlete, as well as over 10 years in the coaching business. I am not a dietitian, however I have always had a strong interest in diet and nutrition (for both ‘healthfulness’ and performance) along with a true passion for good food. This passion for food led to a short stint as a coffee shop and catering business owner after completing culinary arts school. Before we go any further, we should address my definitions of ‘diet’ and ‘nutrition’ within this specific discussion, as by themselves they can carry a multitude of different connotations. I like to break apart daily food intake and the total calories we consume into two parts. Diet is what I refer to here as your daily food intake (what’s on your plate) to get you through the day. Nutrition is referring to your training and racing intake (what you consume pre, mid, and post training).

DAILY DIET

Without writing pages and pages of nutrition concepts and theories, I want to keep it short and simple with advice on how you might be able to improve your diet, nutrition and performance. As athletes we hear the term ‘eating clean’ thrown around a lot. This term ‘clean’ can have many different meanings based on what you perceive as clean. Clean could mean simply not eating ‘fast food’ or overly processed foods, or it could mean eating only organic and naturally raised plants and animals, or it could mean a strict plant-only diet. The point is ‘clean’ is a relative term and what is clean to one person may be far from it to another (much like when you ask a typical single man what a clean bathroom looks like and what my wife, Kathy, thinks a clean bathroom looks like…two different bathrooms).

How ‘strict’ you want to be with your diet is up to you, but two focus points I have found to help everyone is to first limit/reduce the quantity of processed foods, and second, to base your diet on eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible. By simply following these two basic guidelines, you can transform an average diet into a very effective one. Processed foods are foods produced in a factory or laboratory. In general, the more humans tamper with ingredients found in nature the worse it becomes for you from a nutritional standpoint. For some reason we think we can improve nature, and we like to add additional ingredients and make our food ‘man made’. Take, for example, butter. Butter was once thought to be bad, so we manufactured margarine as a ‘better’ alternative. Not a good idea, as now we are finding it to cause all sort of problems. Surprise, saturated fats are not what we once thought! Or, take the egg. The cholesterol in egg yolks was thought to increase cholesterol in our blood, so we decided to separate what nature designed to be together by creating ‘egg whites’. Sadly, this ‘improvement’ meant we missed out on the nutrients in the egg yolks. This deeply held and popular belief has recently been disproved. Cholesterol in food actually has little to no correlation to cholesterol in our bodies and, in fact, whole eggs are one of the best foods we can put in our mouths!

Put simply, avoid processed foods and choose to eat as close to what nature provides us as possible, with the base being fruits and vegetables.

A third key concept is to NOT adhere to a ‘special diet’. Your daily diet should not have a name (Paleo, Atkins, Gluten-Free, Low-Fat, Low-Carb, High-Protein, etc.), rather just a good well-balanced diet based on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and small amounts of high-quality animal protein (if desired). Conforming to a ‘specific diet’ is not sustainable nor does it create a positive relationship with food. You can agree with concepts of specific diets, but when you begin to strictly avoid certain food groups, you are setting yourself up for a struggle (unless you have a true medically-tested allergy). As athletes we need all three macro-nutrients in our diets (carbohydrates, fats, proteins). Our primary fuel sources come from fat (low-intensity) and carbohydrate (moderate to high intensity) and when you limit your intake of either, your physical performance will stagnate or decline over time. Depending on your activity levels throughout your training season, you may need more or less of carbohydrate which leads to carbs being the largest variable macro-nutrient. Protein is not directly a fuel source but rather predominantly a hormone-regulating nutrient that is responsible for keeping our bodies functioning correctly. Most first world people consume excessive amount of animal protein in their diet beyond what the body actually can use. Rather than making the ‘meat’ the focal point of every meal, fill your plates first with vegetables, followed by whole grains as needed, and  then add small portions and of the highest quality protein (wild, natural, grass fed, organic, etc.) you can afford and prepare at home.

As endurance athletes, it is safe to say that nearly all of us are chronically dehydrated.

The fourth concept is hydration.  If you train for 10 or more hours a week and don’t consciously consume multiple glasses of water a day (outside of training) you are in a negative state of hydration. Hydration is not always recognized by our thirst mechanism. Often it is confused with hunger, which leads to excessive calorie consumption. By making a conscious effort to drink large glasses of water throughout the day and before meals you can do your body a world of good. The final piece of the puzzle and, perhaps, the most important for those struggling with achieving an ideal body composition, is to only eat when you’re hungry and to stop eating BEFORE you feel full. Achieving your ideal body composition has more to do with the “calories in vs. calories out” principle than actually eating healthfully. By eating both healthfully and in the appropriate quantities that your body requires, you will continue down the road towards the lean and powerful body you desire.

DAILY DIET DOs & DON’Ts:

  • DO eat when you’re hungry (as frequently as needed)
  • DO eat as close to nature as possible
  • DO maximize fruits & vegetables (8+ servings/day)
  • DO avoid processed foods (chemically altered and/or high in refined sugar)
  • DO eat the highest quality foods you can afford (organic, natural, free-range, grass fed, wild, etc)
  • DO drink plain water throughout the day (between workouts)
  • DO eat small quantities, more frequently
  • DO eat pleasurable foods (“treats”)
  • DO NOT exclude foods or food groups (unless you have a true allergy, or you just don’t like them)
  • DO NOT follow a ‘named diet’
  • DO NOT over consume animal protein
  • DO NOT over eat (except at Thanksgiving, then go BIG!)

TRAINING/RACING NUTRITION

Supporting your physical training efforts with adequate and appropriate nutrition is essential for long term success in endurance sports. The more you train the more nutrition you need to support your training and recovery. Improved sports-nutrition can also lead to improvements in your body composition (ie. increased lean tissue) which is perhaps the most effective way to improve both your speed and endurance for racing.

As mentioned above, our primary fuel sources are fats and carbohydrates (glycogen). Fats are the ‘unlimited’ fuel source for low-intensity activity. Through effective aerobic training we improve our body’s ability to use fats for fuel at higher and higher effort levels. The more aerobically fit you are the faster you can go while using more fat and sparing more glycogen. Training the body to spare glycogen is one of the primary goals of the training that we do as endurance athletes. Glycogen is a limited source, and for longer activities, we must supplement with carbohydrates to spare and help delay the depletion of our stored glycogen for as long as needed to get to the finish line. For this reason, training nutrition revolves around consuming the right amounts of carbohydrates in our daily diet and as sports-nutrition while we train. This is why low-carb diets do not work for endurance athletes when they are in stages of heavy training and/or racing. We need carbohydrates to perform at our peak! During other times of the year, when training volume and intensity are low, reducing the extra carbs is helpful to minimize weight gain (ie. nutrition periodization).

Consuming calories prior to, during (for longer sessions/events), and following training sessions sets you up for success with not just the immediate session but sessions in the days to come. On the flip-side, you do not want to consume any more calories than required to fuel your training. Your muscles require fuel to function and the following are some simple guidelines to consider to maximize your training program.

  • PRE-WORKOUT

The calories you consume prior to your training sessions provide the starting point from which you draw energy. For efforts lasting two hours or less you need little more than your regular meal 1-2 hours out from the start. For longer efforts you can ‘pre-load’ with a bit more calories (especially if it’s low to moderate intensity). If it’s been more than 2 hours since your last meal (ie. early morning workouts), you will likely be better off with 100-200 calories of primarily carbohydrate before your session. With proper fueling throughout your day you are less likely to need a ‘pre-workout’ snack or meal.

  • MID-WORKOUT

Workouts lasting 90 minutes or less require little to no mid-session fueling, other than water and/or electrolyte drink. This is especially true if you are well fueled prior to beginning the session. Workouts beyond 90 minutes are best served with 100-300 calories (of predominantly carbohydrate) per hour of training. The fuel source when training at low intensities is best coming from whole foods as much as possible versus ‘sports nutrition’ sources. As intensity ramps up in training, more calories can come from liquid/semi-liquid sports nutrition sources. Beyond 90 minutes, you also want to include electrolyte supplementation through drink mixes or tablets, and plenty of water (1-3 bottles an hour depending on body size, temperature and humidity).

  • POST-WORKOUT

Consuming calories following your workouts is essential for maximizing recovery, refilling energy stores, and readying yourself for your next session. The trick with recovery nutrition is understanding how much fuel (and what type) you burned in your workout compared to how much you replaced while working out. Far too often I see athletes sucking down ‘gels’ in the middle of an hour long session or finish a moderate session and then down a 300 calorie ‘recovery drink’ before going home for dinner and throwing down another several hundred more calories of food. This ‘train hard, eat hard’ way of thinking can make it difficult to achieve your goal body composition for competition. The goal with recovery nutrition should be to consume enough calories both during and following your session to replace the carbohydrates you used in order to refill glycogen stores. Your next meal will address the additional calories (if any) that may be needed to feel satiated. Here are some recovery nutrition guidelines for different training sessions. Keep in mind that your daily training load also affects your calorie needs (ie. the more sessions per day the more accumulation of calorie burn occurs).

  • Low to moderate intensity workouts under 90 minutes: little glycogen utilized. All you may need is a glass of electrolyte drink (low-calorie) and your next meal.
  • High intensity workouts of 1-2 hours: moderate to high amounts of glycogen utilized. Immediate 150-300 calories recovery drink, predominately carbs and 10-20 grams protein. Follow with next meal an hour after.
  • Low to moderate intensity workouts of 2-6 hours: with proper mid-workout fueling you shouldn’t dig too deep into your glycogen stores. All you may need is a glass of electrolyte drink (low-calorie) and light post-workout snack or drink. Followed quickly with your next meal.
  • Mid to high intensity workouts of 2-4 hours (races): high amounts of glycogen utilized (possible depletion). Immediate 200-400 calories recovery drink predominately carbs and 15-25 grams protein. Follow with carb-based meal when stomach is ready for it. Follow with potentially a second meal 1-2 hours after the first (more fats/proteins).
  • Monster workouts/races of 6+ hours: you’re likely depleted and dehydrated. It doesn’t really matter because you’ll need a few days to recover anyway…drink a lot and eat what ever the heck you want (without over eating!).
Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Endurance Performance Coaching. Looking for help with your training for 2015? Check out EPC’s Personal CoachingGroup Coaching, and Custom Training Plan options created to fit your needs and budget. 
EPC Tips Cadence

EPC Tips – Cadence is King

Last week, I discussed the importance of technique training to improve movement efficiency and lower race times (read: III. Skill Proficiency). As component number 3 in mySix Components to Endurance Sport Success, skill proficiency is one of the easiest ways for newer or less proficient athletes to improve their endurance and speed. This is because improvements in technique come quickly with regular practice that can be added to regularly scheduled training sessions.

This week I want to focus on one key element of skill proficiency that crosses all three major endurance sports (swim, bike, run), that nearly every less-experienced athlete could stand to improve: Cadence.

The rate at which you move your arms through the water when you swim, turn the pedals in circles when you ride, and take steps when you run is your cadence. One admirable observation you will notice when watching any elite endurance athlete performing their sport is that their turn-over (cadence) is high and effortless. On the flip side, you can quickly and easily identify less proficient athletes by their amazingly slow turn-over rates. This often is due to lack of balance or over thinking their stroke in the pool, or riding the wrong gear on the bike, or their heavy loping or plodding run style. Each sport (swim, bike, run) has their ‘optimal’ range of cadence, often decided by the cadences of successful champions of the sport from over the years; a stroke rate of 1.2-1.6 for swimming, 90-100 rpm for road cycling, and 180 steps per minute on the run are some examples of cadences to work towards.

In practical terms, as endurance athletes we want to move faster through the production of more power.

Please note that you can also move faster by reducing resistant forces like wind and water drag, but that is another topic. To help paint a mental image, in physics, power is generated from the muscular force we can apply (to water, pedals, ground) multiplied by the rate at which we can apply that force (cadence). If we can maintain the same amount of force (distance per stoke, gearing, stride length) and do it faster through an increased cadence, we will produce more power, and everything else being equal, we would go faster. The ability to maintain force and increase cadence is no easy feat, but it can be done through effective training. To put this concept of cadence to a real life example, go to a triathlon as a spectator and spend time to watch all the finishers in each of the three disciplines, and you will notice a direct correlation to finish times and cadence. The front pack swimmers will all have higher cadences than the mid-packers and as you stand and watch the rest come in you will notice the cadences dropping off. Same for the bike; the first athletes off their bikes will have smooth and fast cadences and the cadences will drop as the bike-leg finishers continue to arrive. On the run it’s often the most dramatic scene with faster turnovers leading the way, and as the rest of the field makes their way in to the finish line the cadences get slower and slower and… slower.

What follows are some training sets you can incorporate into your own training sessions that address improving ones cadence.

Often these sets/drills are best added at the beginning of a sessions as part of the warm-up and maybe again at the end as part of a warm-down. Spend time improving your cadence and your overall technique and efficiency will improve, along with your race times!

THE SWIM

Swim cadence is the hardest of the three to measure accurately while performing the movement. There is a great tool made by FINIS called the Tempo Trainer Pro, that is basically a small, water-proof metronome that you can set to specific rates and hear while you swim. First you want to practice with he Tempo Trainer to find you ‘normal’ swim cadence for 50-yard repeats. It will take some trial and error to find the rate that matches your current preferred cadence. Once you have your ‘baseline’ you now have a point from which to begin challenging yourself.

Let’s say your ‘normal’ cadence is a stroke rate of 2.0, that’s a single stoke every 1-second or a complete cycle every 2-seconds. The goal with this set is to try to lower and lower stroke rates until you can no longer ‘keep up’ with the beeps. Then back off slightly and practice the challenging, but achievable rates in subsequent sets, for example:

  • 4×50 descending (increasing) stroke rate as 2.0/1.9/1.8/1.7 seconds per stroke
  • 3×50 @ 1.9 seconds per stroke
  • 2×50 @ 1.8 seconds per stroke
  • 1×50 @ 1.7 seconds per stroke

THE BIKE

Training to spin a higher cadence first with lower gears and then gradually adding larger gears will improve your power on the bike. In our 12-week Trainer Series program we include spin-ups as the warm-up for every session. Spin-ups are a classic drill for improving cadence. This particular version is best performed on a trainer for a super-controlled environment.

Begin by being in your easiest gear. Small chainring in the front (34-39t) and largest cog in the back (23-28t). This provides very little resistance and easy spinning (if you’re in a bigger gear you will be limited by power and high aerobic expenditure, as opposed to spinning capabilities). Start by pedaling at 80 rpm (you’ll need a cadence monitor for this). Every 60 seconds increase your cadence by 5 rpm (85-90-95-etc.) until you reach 120 rpm. That is the first rep. For the second rep, return to 80 rpm and increase cadence by 5 rpm every 30 seconds up to 130-135 rpm. Return to 80 rpm once again and perform the third and final rep, from 80 to 145-150 rpm, increasing by 5 rpm every 15 seconds. If you cannot achieve the recommended upper cadences, go as high as you can get and continue to try higher and higher cadences with each session you do. The goal will be to reach to highest cadences, with little to no bouncing in the saddle and relative ease.

THE RUN

Increasing your running cadence will not only help you run faster but can also lighten the stress you put on your joints reducing fatigue. One helpful focus point you can think about and train is minimizing your ‘ground contact time’. To achieve higher cadence you need to reduce the amount of time your feet spend on the ground. The less time on the ground, the quicker they move from one step to the next. A great drill that isolates this concept is called Ankling.

Ankling involves very short, and quick steps. You first make contact with the ground on your forefoot, letting your foot roll down, pronating as it naturally does. As or slightly before the heel touches the ground you want to pick the foot up and move it forward for the next step as the other foot  goes through its motions. These are very quick motions with small steps, moderate knee lift, and very little forward speed. You can use your Tempo Trainer metronome (or a metronome app on your smartphone) and begin with a slow to moderate tempo to learn the movement. Once you master the movement you can up the tempo to faster and faster paces, as high as 220+ beats per minute as a real challenge. Perform this drill over a set time of 20-40 seconds or 10-20 yards per rep.

Think QUICK FEET!

Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Endurance Performance Coaching. Looking for help with your training for 2015? Check out EPC’s Personal CoachingGroup Coaching, and Custom Training Plan options created to fit your needs and budget.  Don’t forget to ‘LIKE’ our EPC Facebook Page and follow Cody on Instagram
EPC Training Camp

XTERRA Training Camp in Colorado

The second annual EPC Spring Training Camp is scheduled for April 8th-12th in Fruita, Colorado.

The camp features two ‘half days’ of training (allowing for travel to/from Fruita) sandwiching three full days of training opportunities.

“The idea is for athletes to come when they can, whether it’s Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, depending on your work/family schedule, and get some great structured training in with a great group of athletes,” said organizer Cody Waite. “In addition to killer training, the Fruita area has a lot of dinosaur attractions and scenic hiking trails for the whole family to enjoy, so consider bringing the whole gang!”

Learn more

EPC Tips - Skills

EPC Tips – Skill Proficiency

We’re continuing in our thought process for our “6 Components for Endurance Sports Success,” our third component we’d like to address is Skill Proficiency (here’s components I. Aerobic Conditioning & II. Muscular Stability in case you missed those).

All sports, activities, and human movements are learned skills. As newborn babies, we are capable of only laying in one spot, with minimal skill to move. As humans grow and develop, we quickly gain strength and learn new physical skills, from supporting our own head, to sitting, to crawling, to squatting to standing and finally walking. From there the pace at which we learn new skills occurs rapidly and seemingly with minimal effort. We begin to learn more complicated, although still basic skills like running, jumping, skipping, throwing and catching a ball, and riding a bicycle. Then, if you’re fortunate enough to be introduced to higher level complicated movement skills, you might learn how to swim, swing a golf club, or perform gymnastics to name a few. Every one of these learned skills requires practice to be able to get to a point where they appear to happen effortlessly. For some people, this effortless appearance of skill comes more naturally than others. One thing that holds true is that the more skillful you are at particular movements the better you are able to become at the activity and the higher level of performance you can likely achieve.

Learning and practicing proper technique is crucial to mastering any skill.

Proper technique, in and of itself, can often be argued or debated within circles of experts in a particular area of movement. Regardless of the agreed upon “correct” technique, finding a technique that works for you and practicing to improve it leads to improved skill proficiency. In most endurance sports, the specific movements required to participate are relatively basic skills we learn as children (swimming, cycling and/or running being the most common). Unfortunately, with perhaps the exception of swimming, most endurance athletes feel they already ‘know how to’ pedal a bike and run from a mechanical standpoint, therefore neglect the aspect of developing effective technique in their sports. By learning effective movement techniques and spending time practicing them (as elite athletes do) you are able to improve your own strength, stability and range of motion specific to your movement, leading to improved movement efficiency. These factors enable you to perform your movements with more power, less energy, over longer periods of time and with less chance of injury.

You will often overhear athletes and coaches talking about or read about the importance of an athlete’s Vo2 Max (the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can utilize). This number is often used as a comparison between athletes or to measure the potential they may have in endurance sports.

While an athlete’s Vo2 Max is certainly an important value, another equally important (if not possibly more so) is the measure of an athlete’s efficiency.

Take two similar runners with identical Vo2 Max values; the runner with greater running efficiency will out-run the other with less efficiency because she is wasting less energy and therefore can sustain a higher percentage of her Vo2 Max for a longer period of time. In fact, movement efficiency is so important that a “hard working” athlete with a genetically lower Vo2 Max can out-perform the more “naturally talented” athlete with the higher Vo2 Max by being more efficient and wasting less energy. And the longer the test (or race) the more noticeable the effect of improved efficiency is.

It could be said that success in endurance sports is directly related to efficiency. In the study of physics, efficiency is the ratio of output to input. In the equation (r = P/C) P is the produced output and C is the consumed energy. The produced output (P) can never be higher than the consumed energy (C), therefore efficiency can never be higher than 100%, with the higher the percentage equaling less wasted energy (in endurance sports, energy not directly being used to move yourself forward). Your goal as an endurance athlete is to achieve the highest level of efficiency through skill proficiency so you can tap into the highest percentage of your given Vo2 Max. We do all the training we do to maximize our endurance, strength and speed to achieve the highest Vo2 Max possible, but if we neglect the skill proficiency piece of the puzzle, we are limiting the percentage of the trained Vo2 Max we can tap into. On race day, it eventually all comes down to minimizing the the amount of energy wasted that leads to fatigue that slows us down. Look at the elite fields at any high level endurance event and the abilities of the top level athletes are very similar; they all have similar Vo2 Max values and they all train and race at near similar speeds.

The athletes that cross the finish lines first are not always the fastest athletes in the race, but rather, they are usually the athletes that slow down the least.

They are the athletes who waste the least amount of energy and are the most efficient. Improving one’s skill and technique equates to less wasted energy, higher efficiency and faster race times.

Skill proficiency and the subsequent improved efficiency can be developed in two ways. The first being the concept of simply time spent performing an activity. This is in line with the “10,000 hour theory”; stating that if you spend enough time doing a particular activity (10,000 hours according to the theory) you will become highly proficient at it. But what if you don’t have 10,000 hours to wait for this improved proficiency and you want to get better at your sport in less time?

Good news, you can!

With specific and deliberate practice through technique drills you can accelerate your learning curve.

We can improve our individual muscular strength, stability, mobility and flexibility by performing an endless variety of exercises off the playing field in a gym or our own homes. While this practice is critical to long term development and success in sport (see previous article addressing this concept), these exercises are rarely specific to our exact movements we are trying to improve in our sport. Performing glute bridges for example, is a great exercise to improve hip stability, however we do not come anywhere close to performing a glute bridge in our actual competition. Performing technique drills however do just that; technique drills typically take you through a very specific movement pattern (often broken into a smaller segment or skill of the movement) pertaining to your specific sport. Technique drills effectively incorporate sport-specific development of strength, stability, mobility, flexibility, balance and/or coordination. For this reason alone, all elite level athletes perform technique drills in their training programs throughout their entire year and all age-group athletes should do the same.

We’ve all seen the poor swimmers at the pool with the wonky arms, sinking hips, or dropped elbow. We’ve also all seen the cyclists with the bobbing upper body, or crazy low cadence, not to mention the runners missing any knee lift, or dropping their hips with every step or extended ground contact time and loping strides. Don’t be that person! Your skill and technique can be easily developed with deliberate and consistent practice, throughout your entire training year. It’s in your control.

In fact, aside from dropping excessive body weight, improving your skill and efficiency of movement is probably the fastest and easiest way to improve your race times!

I’ve seen so many athletes come to me with technique issues, and by spending just a small amount of time every week addressing these weaknesses, they have seen enormous improvements in not only speed and endurance but also the enjoyment of their sport.

Written by Cody Waite, professional XTERRA athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Endurance Performance Coaching. Check out EPC’s Personal Coaching, XTERRA Group Coaching, and Custom Training Plan options.

EPC Tips

EPC Tips – Muscular Stability Exercises

Last week we discussed the reasons behind the importance of muscular stability training for endurance athletes.

If you missed the article, you can find it HERE. To reiterate, stability training is the combination of strength, mobility, and flexibility training that improves our force production, muscle recruitment, and range of motion that increases our movement efficiency by allowing us to generate more power, resist fatigue, and reduce occurrence of injury. The majority of this type of training involves executing multi-joint, multi-plane movements that engage the core muscles of the hips and shoulders. These exercises can include everything from the more complicated olympic lifts that are best performed under the watchful eye of a coach to very simple body weight movements like push-ups and pull-ups and the multitude of core exercises that can easily be performed on your own at home or on the road.

I have received a lot of email questions over the last week asking what are some of the exercises I recommend.

This week I would like to respond with six exercises that I include in my own training as well as nearly all of the athletes we work with at Endurance Performance Coaching (EPC).

There are a lot of resources available out there on the internet and in books and magazines for strength exercises for endurance athletes. For the most part, there are no ‘bad’ exercises and the more variety you can include the more likely you’ll stick with consistent weekly strength and stability training throughout your entire year of training and racing. I encourage you to add the following routine to your training program 2-3 times a week for 6-8 weeks and see the improvements for yourself. Begin with 2-3 sets of 10 reps of each and as you adapt you can progress the reps to as many as 30 reps or extended duration hold times. Good luck and have fun!

Read More

Written by Cody Waite, professional XTERRA athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Endurance Performance Coaching. Check out EPC’s Personal Coaching, XTERRA Group Coaching, and Custom Training Plan options.

EPC Tips - Improved Strength

EPC Tips – Improved Strength and Stability

Our concept of “6 Components to Endurance Sports Success” was introduced at the first of the year (read about it HERE). The idea that there are six areas of development required for endurance athletes to maximize their fitness and racing performance came about from our years of working with amateur endurance athletes coming from all kinds of different backgrounds. One area that we continually see needing attention in nearly every athlete we work with (including ourselves) is improved strength and stability. Even the athletes coming from high levels of single-sport competition, and even some from weight lifting backgrounds (especially those coming from a weight lifting background), can seriously lack strength and stability in the areas required for successful endurance sport competition. We’re not talking about moving big weights around, making a lot grunting noises (well, maybe a little grunting), and using the word “bro” throughout your training dialogue kind of strength training; we’re talking about relatively light to no weight exercises performed in functional movements that apply to our sports.  Developing the core stability required to maintain form and function when you’re deep into your race should be the goal in your strength training and the following paragraphs will help you understand why.

Most endurance athletes are surprisingly weak.

Sure they can complete a marathon, an Ironman, or even a 100 mile foot race through mountainous terrain, but none of that necessarily equates to them being particularly strong or stable. Strong in will and determination, perhaps, but ask them to perform a one-legged squat and not have their knee track to the inside or execute a single-leg prone bridge and not have their hip drop, and more often than not, they can’t do it. Many will claim that endurance athletes don’t need to be “strong”, rather, they argue that aerobic fitness is the most important thing and that any time spent training outside of their primary sport is a waste of time. They say for example, “If you want to be better at running, you simply need to run more.” Aerobic fitness is certainly required to participate in endurance sports and it is true the more you run the better a runner you will become; however, time spent improving your muscle recruitment, strength, flexibility, and stability will improve your economy of movement. This means you will be able to move (with what fitness you have) more powerfully and efficiently while wasting less energy and minimizing potential injuries. All, which in turn, yield faster speeds and increased endurance at the same level of aerobic fitness.

Pure muscular strength, the muscle’s ability to apply force to a stationary object, is what allows us to move. When swimming, we apply force to the water, pulling ourselves forward with every stroke. When riding a bike, we apply force to the pedals while turning the cranks at high cadences to produce more power. When running, every foot strike applies force to the ground for the push off, and with appropriate stability and flexibility allowing increased stride lengths and stride rates, we run faster and faster. Through the implementation of resistance training you can increase the force-producing capabilities of the “major muscles” that contribute to forward movement. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, leg curls, leg extensions (to name a few) will train the force-producing quadriceps, hamstrings and glute muscle groups; exercises like pull-ups, pull-downs, chest press, rows, shoulder shrugs and presses will train the larger back and shoulder muscles for force-producing movement strength. A stronger muscle will be able to produce more force for the power required to move as well as fatigue at a slower rate, thus increasing your muscular endurance.

There are several other factors to consider when addressing the concept of muscular strength. Equally important, and perhaps even more valuable to the endurance athlete is the concept of muscular stability. This concept focuses more on the “minor muscles” that don’t necessarily contribute directly to forward movement. These muscles include, but are not limited to, the collection of core muscles that surround the hips, including the lower back and deep abdominal muscles. Stability and power in all sports initiates from the hips and extends outwards to the limbs that make the movement happen.

Excess movement beyond that which is required to execute forward movement is wasted energy and this excess movement occurs from lack of stability.

Wasted energy occurs in running when your hips drop from side to side with each stride, or your knee dives inward or outward with each step, for example. “Fish-tailing” when swimming indicates lack of core stability and wastes energy as you move down the lane wiggling from side to side with each stroke. Rocking hips and/or upper body movement when cycling is another example of wasted energy that stems from a lack of stability in the hips. Along with hip stability, shoulder stability is another critical area that requires attention for swimmers (or any activity involving power production from the arms). Stabilize the hips and shoulders with specific training movements and you improve your form, efficiency, power production and endurance. Time well spent.

A factor that coincides with stability surrounding a joint is flexibility. Joint flexibility contributes to range of motion which is essential to producing power for movement. Anyone with inflexible joints can attest to the limited power and speed that is attainable. On the contrary, hypermobile joints that are “overly flexible” can create issues of instability and possible injury. An increase in muscular strength surrounding the hypermobile joint can often improve the stability for those individuals. Just like strengthening muscles with specific exercises, you can improve your flexibility and range of motion with specific exercises. By honing your flexibility (either minimizing or maximizing) your surrounding joints will become more stable and powerful, and in the long run, be less prone to injuries.

Being able to perform an endurance sport event requires your muscles to repeat movement over and over for many minutes to several hours. Overuse injuries are a major cause of missed training and unmet goals for endurance athletes. If your muscles are not functioning in the way they were designed, you are putting increased stress on your other soft tissue and joints.

Training muscles to function or ‘fire’ correctly when called upon, and for longer periods of time, requires specific training.

We engage our larger ‘primary mover’ muscles very easily when training, but often the smaller supporting muscles get overpowered or neglected causing them to ‘turn off.’ These muscle ‘imbalances’ often lead to frustrating niggles, if not full blown injuries, that can derail an athlete’s training and racing objectives. By activating these smaller muscles with stability training exercises, you allow them to ‘turn on’ in conjunction with your dominant muscles both improving your economy of movement and resistance to injury.

Fortunately, many endurance athletes embrace the idea of strength training. Most athletes typically include some form of strength training for several weeks during their off-season. Unfortunately, most athletes end up dropping their strength training sometime early in their pre-season training, either because they are bored due to limited knowledge of core exercises or they feel it gets in the way of their sport-specific training. This is an unfortunate occurrence. For long-term continuing improvements to occur from year to year, it is critical to include strength and stability training throughout the entire year. Your return on investment in strength and stability training includes increased force and power production with decreased rate of muscular fatigue for forward movement, increased economy of movement with less wasted energy and ability to tap into more of your given aerobic capacity, and more consistent training and capacity for higher training loads due to increased injury resistance. For these reasons alone, endurance sports athletes should make strength and stability training a high priority in their overall annual training program in order to reach their highest level of performance.

Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Endurance Performance Coaching. Looking for help with your training for 2015? Check out EPC’s Personal CoachingGroup Coaching, and Custom Training Plan options created to fit your needs and budget.

EPC Tips - Base Building

EPC Tips – Early Season Base Building

With January coming to an end in another week, most northern hemisphere athletes are polishing off their off-season training programs and transitioning into their early season base building programs.

As I discussed in a previous article (I. Aerobic Conditioning), it’s important for athletes not to fall into the trap of only long, slow, distance training during their base building phase of training. The goal during this pre-season time of training is to prepare the body for the demands of your Race Preparation phase of training that gets you into race fitness. You’ve hopefully come off your off-season training program with improved skills and general strength and conditioning, and now you’re ready to dig into the aerobic conditioning endurance athletes love to do.

For most endurance athletes this pre-season training should focus on sport specific strength and endurance along with appropriate amounts high intensity efforts to train speed and power over short, manageable distances.

The following session is a great one that can be easily adapted to a swim, bike or run sessions. The session targets both ends of the aerobic conditioning spectrum making it very time effective for athletes on a tight schedule. After a warm-up, you perform multiple sets of short, powerful intervals with adequate rest. You want to tap into some of your fastest speeds here, as they are broken up over very short repetitions, making the efforts achievable and not overly stressful. After the power sets, you transition to a strength set to develop sport specific strength and endurance.

The example that follows is for a run session intended to be done on a track near a hill.  You can also do this on a treadmill (by adjusting distance for time, and incline for hill) if a track and/or hill are not available.

WARM-UP:
5:00 Dynamic Warm-up exercises
5:00 Drill Progression (practice a specific drill you learned during the off season)
10:00 easy run
4:00 build to tempo effort
1:00 walk

SPEED/POWER SET:
Multiple Sets of the following:
4x[100m at 400m speed/pace, 300m easy jog]
800m easy run
Repeat 2-4 times

STRENGTH SET:
Run uphill for 5:00-15:00 at a moderate effort, with downhill recoveries
Repeat 2-3 times as desired to achieve 10:00-30:00 minutes of uphill running

WARM-DOWN:
5:00+ easy running
5:00 walk

Written by Cody Waite, professional XTERRA athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Endurance Performance Coaching. Check out EPC’s Personal Coaching, XTERRA Group Coaching, and Custom Training Plan options.