Fail to Prepare; Prepare to Fail!

After using the phrase ‘Fail to prepare; prepare to fail!’ this week, I thought it would be a great place to start when writing my blog. As I’m in the process of training for the London Marathon in 2012 I find myself back in the same mindset as I was as a footballer, not leaving anything to chance and making sure every training run is prepared for properly. It made me think about how others prepare themselves for their sports or just for training in general. I’ve come up with a few questions and tips that might help you train and perform to your best…..

  • Are you eating the right foods before training or the main performance? 

TIP – What you put into your body prior to training/performing will provide you with the energy you need to perform at your best. If you don’t eat right, don’t expect to perform to your best! High carbohydrate foods before hand should leave you with the energy to perform at a good level without feeling tired/drained. I tend to eat foods like, chicken, pasta, rice, bananas, toast and cereal. The size and type of food depends on the time of day I eat it and how long I have before the performance. Ideally, a big meal should be eaten 3 hours prior to the performance or smaller, lighter foods such as toast for anything closer to the performance. Remember to leave enough time for your food to go down and start the digestion process or it will sit on your stomach and make it uncomfortable to run or move when performing.

  • Are you drinking enough of the right fluids before and during training or the main performance?

TIP – Very similar to the tip above, the fluids that you put into your body prior to and during training/performing, will prevent you from becoming dehyrated and will replace lost salts from sweating. Drinking plenty of water before training/performing will help the body be at its best. If you feel dehydrated the damage is already done! It only takes 2-3% of water loss in the body before endurance starts to suffer and your performance also suffers. A little bit more(5%) and it effects the mind making it hard to concentrate and the body continues to suffer with pace slowing down. Keeping hydrated is vital! Isotonic drinks are a good tool during training/performing as they replace lost salts and also have a high concentration of carbs to keep the energy levels up. If possible, try to take plenty of fluids with you during your training/performance and keep drinking small amounts at regular intervals. It’s easier for sports like cycling for obvious reasons that you can connect a drink to your bike, but I’ve been known to hide drink bottles in a quiet place on a route I plan on taking a long distance run, so that I have a drink at certain stages of that run. Don’t neglect drinking fluids and make sure they are the right fluids, not fizzy drinks, tea, coffee etc as they are diuretics and will only dehydrate you more!

  • Do you have the right equipment and clothing?

TIP – This is a very important tip! Having the wrong equipment or clothing could be costly, not just because of comfort but because you can risk injury. Until you know a sport, it’s very difficult to know what you might need, so make sure you speak to the right people and get advice on the essentials from people who perform in that sport or know their stuff. An example: Until running long distances, you might not have ever thought about blisters, chafing, correct trainers for your gait etc, but all of them can make the difference between performing at your best and a very uncomfortable event. Clothing such as 1000 mile blister free socks, lined shorts, vaseline or other lubricants to prevent chafing and correct trainers(sometimes fitted with orthotics if necessary!) are a must. Sometimes it’s trial and error but there are specific sports shops that can advise you if you need help. How about riding up a steep hill on your bike and the gears keep slipping? Again something that can cause an injury if you’re on a road amongst traffic and can really make your ride much more difficult. Maybe it’s about the right foot wear in a football match. Do you have moulded boots for hard grounds and studded boots for soft weather grounds? It’s not just the equipment/clothing it’s also the colour! I have recently been on a training run in the clothing you can see in the picture to the right which looks fine until you know I went out later in the day and misjudged the time. I ended up running in the dark in black clothing without any reflectors on. I rarely make mistakes like this and there were no problems on the run, BUT there could have been and next time I might not be so fortunate. I have learnt from my mistake and it’s a good mistake to highlight as an example of the title of this blog.

So in conclusion, don’t leave things to chance! There are many more tips I could give you about performing to your best but the blog would go on all day, so I’ll save it for another day. The higher the level you perform at, the smaller the margins are. Not drinking enough, eating the wrong foods at the wrong time, wearing the wrong clothing and using the wrong equipment and generally not preparing for your performance could be the difference between being a winner or a loser! What would you rather be?

Running the VLM Marathon in Memory in 2012

Many people out there will know it is the time of year where they are starting to prepare for the Virgin London Marathon in 2012, after receiving an acceptance letter from the ballot, or feeling the disappointment of receiving a rejection letter instead. I was one of the latter and when you have your heart set on something as much as I did, I can tell you just how bad it feels to have the chance taken away.

I was determined that 2012 was going to be my year for running the marathon and I decided the ballot wasn’t going to be my last hope, so I made the decision to go for a gold bond place with a charity instead. I had planned on raising money for Cancer Research if I was accepted through the ballot, so this was the first charity I contacted. Unfortunately all their gold bond places had been taken so I contacted other relevant charities that meant something to me. I’m happy to announce that I was accepted by Macmillan Cancer Support and I can’t put into words how happy this has made me. If you read my story you will understand why. The story behind running the London Marathon for a cancer charity can be seen at my Just Giving page. I urge you all to read my story and then decide if donating is something you would like to do. If it isn’t, all I ask is that you share the link and make people aware of what I’m doing and for doing that I will be very appreciative.

So, now the hard work begins! The long training runs and the fundraising over the next six months all leading up to one day. I have no doubt it will be one very long emotional day for me but with all the support I have behind me, I know that when my legs start to fatigue, thoughts of everyone that has donated over the six months will give me wings and lift me to my goal. I will remember every penny donated to such an amazing cause and together we will make a difference to so many lives around the world.

As part of my fundraising and aim to raise awareness, I have started a facebook page to keep everyone that joins, up to date with my latest training, news, fundraising events and ‘thank you’s’ to everyone that donates to the cause. If you are on facebook, please feel free to join my page and support me. It’s amazing how far a few words of support can go on someone’s wall!!!

For the next six months, deep in the back of my mind one date will always be there…..22nd April 2012. When that day arrives I will run with all the passion and emotion I have in me and I WILL NOT let anyone down. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading this blog and my story, and also thank everyone for all the support you have given me so far and right through to race day. Without you, this would never be possible.

Thank you all.

 

Exercise: Back to Basics!

Recently I have heard a few people say “Don’t you have to be quite fit to have a personal trainer?” or “I need to get a little fitter before I have some personal training.” and my answer has been…..”NO, not at all! Every single one of us is an individual and our bodies work in very different ways. We all have to start somewhere and what better way to start than have professional advice from the beginning, rather than try when you don’t really know what you are doing!”

A friend of mine sent me some fitness blogs a few days ago and although most of them were a good read, there were points I disagreed with, one point in particular stood out in my mind and I would like to give my opinion to it. Here is the quote……

“Never do cardio right before weight training, doing cardio uses up your stored glycogen which will greatly compromise your energy level during weight training. On the other hand, doing weight training first will use up the stored glycogen then the body will look for fat to burn as energy.”

As I said above, every individual is different and has different goals. It is true that if you do cardio before weights, you will generally feel more tired during the weights but there is no reason why you can’t burn fat during a weights session too! Also, it completely depends on what is more important to you as an individual to what you do first. For instance, if you want to burn fat and gain general fitness, I would suggest the cardio comes first as it is more important for your overall goal, whereas if you wanted to concentrate more on building muscle or toning up, then the weights section would be more important and should come first, whilst you are fresh and can perform to your best. The other reason why I disagree with this statement is that when doing cardio, if you keep your heart rate to the correct zone, burning fat as an energy source rather than glycogen is easily done. So, like I said, we are all different and it’s about finding out what works for you.

Exercise is like trial and error, as long as the basic guidelines are followed and you are exercising in the correct manner and performing exercises safely(with the correct posture), the rest is about what works for you. You might find that a friend tells you to try something that has got them great results and when you do, you achieve nothing. This is because your body is not the same and will respond differently to some exercise than others.

What is important is consistency, will power, a positive mental attitude(PMA) and belief that with hard work you CAN……be what you want to be, work towards the shape you want to be and become a fitter healthier person. So, with this in mind, I’ve come up with a few pointers that might work for you and help you in the right direction to living a healthier lifestyle:

  • When starting to exercise for the first time or starting up again after a long break, don’t be stubborn and push it too hard too soon. Listen to your body and what it is telling you. If it has a few aches and pains, acknowledge them but don’t ignore them. If you try to push through them you are likely to injure your body by putting it under too much stress before it is ready.
  • Don’t neglect the boring bits! What I mean by this is the warm up and cool down before and after each session. These are not there just to make you look like you know what you are doing, they are there because you DO know what you’re doing! A warm up and cool down will get the body ready to exercise and also bring the body back to a resting state afterwards. Imagine your muscles like an elastic band; if an elastic band is left for too long in a draw and then taken out and stretched immediately, it is likely to snap. The idea of a warm up is to get the muscles warm and more flexible so they aren’t overstretched straight away and tear like the elastic band! Dynamic stretches(stretches on the move) are a big part of a warm up. It is also there to increase the body’s circulation and dilate the blood vessels ready to deal with the body’s need for oxygenated blood when exercising more vigorously. A cool down is just as important to flush away the lactic acid build up in the muscles to reduce stiffness/soreness in the body over the following few days. Static stretching is a big part of a cool down so that the muscles don’t tighten up and shorten after exercise. Keeping the muscles supple is a major part of any exercise programme.
  • Rest is just as important as exercising itself! If you continuously put the body under stress you are actually making micro tears in the muscles of the body. Without sufficient rest to recover, these tears will not repair right and an injury is on the cards. Scar tissue build up is very common from overworking without enough recovery and this can lead to a bigger muscle injury preventing you from exercising all together for weeks on end. Again, listen to your body and it’s aches and pains and if you feel like you need a day of rest and recovery, you probably do BUT this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to get out of exercising. Be honest with yourself because consistency is key.
  • Keeping your body hydrated is a must! Many people neglect the correct fluid intake which can be a bad mistake. The fluids lost from sweating whilst exercising means they are in constant need to be replaced. A dehydrated body will lead to fatigue and the muscles don’t perform as they should causing muscle pulls. It is important to prevent dehydration by continuously topping up your fluid intake before, during and after exercise to replace the lost fluids and body salts. A hydrated body will perform better and is less likely to have muscle injuries, which means regular exercise can continue consistently.
  • Lastly, many people struggle with knowing how many times a week and for how long they should exercise. There is no right or wrong(within reason!) but there are some good guidelines to follow. When starting up, try building up the time of the session gradually starting at 15-20 minutes and over time increasing it to roughly an hour maximum. Also, start with one or two sessions a week and add more as and when the body starts to recover quicker and you feel ready to exercise again. Three sessions a week is more than adequate to maintain a good fitness base but if you want to exercise more, there is no reason why you shouldn’t as long as you give yourself a day or two to rest every so often. Exercising five to six times a week is the maximum I would advise purely so there is a day or two to break the week up for a recovery period.

I hope this blog has given you an insight into a few basic pointers, to help get you on track for starting on the first rung of the ‘fitness ladder’. Remember, you know your body better than anyone else, so make sure you treat it with respect, listen to it and learn from it, and it will take care of you and reward you with the success of achieving your goals.

Consistent or Consistently Inactive?

The Findings:

After recently returning to full training from a calf injury, that meant not running for 25 days, I have witnessed first hand(again!) what a break in fitness training can do! The great thing about technology is being able to compare data and doing exactly that has shown me in black and white the differences between regular, consistent exercise, to irregular, inconsistent exercise. After seeing what it can do to someone like myself that is in the fitness industry for a living and loves to keep fit, I thought it might be a great idea to share my comparisons with others that exercise a lot less, to show the effects it can have on the body and change a few people’s mind sets towards regular exercise.

The facts:

I run 10 miles at a time 2-3 times a week with 1-2 resistance training sessions in between, consisting of full body weights and core exercises. The last time I ran(when fresh) before getting injured, was Sunday 10th July. Since then I have not been able to do any impact exercise so I’ve been limited to CV on a bike and weight training. Because of this I knew my fitness would suffer but I wasn’t sure how much until I returned from injury. My first run back from injury(without pain) was on Thursday 11th August, 32 days apart. The differences in pace, time, and most importantly heart rate are quite amazing!

Here is the comparison(make sure to click on ‘more detail’ for a thorough comparison):

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/comparison?activityId=105655672&activityId2=98138179

If you look at the difference in max and average heart rate between the two, the latter run was higher by 12 beats per minute, making the heart rate zone much higher and the body having to work much harder even on a flatter course. If this is what can happen to the efficiency of the heart of a personal trainer in 32 days, whilst continuing other forms of training in that time, imagine what it can do to the average person that neglects their body and the exercise they do to keep it in shape over months or years of irregular, inconsistent exercise. If the heart takes that short a time to become that less efficient, take a moment to think about the strain it will have on other organs of the body and the body’s performance as a whole. Even the smallest jobs could seem epic if the heart has to work so hard to make it happen, so here are a few tips to make sure you keep your body working as efficiently as possible.

The Tips:

  1. When starting to exercise, try to get into a routine that the body recognises. Build it up so that you workout at least 2-3 times a week for an hour at a time.
  2. Everyone needs a rest to let the body recover and as I’ve mentioned before, the rest is just as important as the actual workout, but don’t leave it too long between workouts. As you can see from the stats above, if the gaps are too big between exercise, the body’s fitness will suffer and you will feel like you’ve taken a step backwards every time you start exercising again.
  3. Lastly, keep things fresh by mixing up what exercise you do, this way you will be less inclined to put it off as you are bored of your routine. By doing this you will keep your exercise routine fun, consistent and your body working efficiently for as long as you put the hard work into it.

I hope these three tips help you keep your body fit and healthy. If you have come across the same break in exercise and experienced the same fitness struggles, please leave your stories and let me know if this blog has helped you!

Listening to your Body

Learning about exercise, fitness and what to do to reach your goals is a never-ending learning curve. Everyone has an opinion and there are many that are controversial. It can be quite confusing hearing lots of opinions and advice from different people and even when we know our stuff, we all still make mistakes. I’ve recently made a big mistake at which I should have known better and it’s important we learn from these mistakes. We can listen to as much advice as possible from people who know more than us, but the most important thing, is to listen to our bodies when it comes to how we feel when training. Sometimes we can get complacent after exercising regularly and that can be a dangerous place to be, as I found out recently. When we commit to exercise we all like to push it hard and see results, but sometimes that’s not the way to go. The rest and recovery is just as important and sometimes more important than the actual exercise. What none of us want is to burn out and end up injured!

I was recently running on my usual 10 mile route and I could feel my right calf was tight. I’d been training hard for a couple of weeks before hand and wanted to keep pushing myself. My body was trying to tell me that it was time to stop and recover but I didn’t listen. When I felt my calf tightening I should have cut my run short, gone home and rested for a few days to let my body recover, but I didn’t and thought I could just get through until the end. I took my body one step too far and after a few quick successive sharp pains I felt a ‘ping’ and the damage was done, I had pulled my calf. I have pushed my body to the limit so many times before that I got complacent about my fitness level and ignored the signs. We all have a limit, we just need to know when to stop!

When we exercise and continuously push our bodies to the limit, we actually tear tiny muscle fibres. These muscle fibres are so small and there are so many of them that it’s not noticeable, but over time they rebuild and cause scar tissue, what most know as knots in the muscle. If we don’t give our body time to repair and recover, these small tears can be far worse and that is when more serious injuries occur. Muscle pulls/strains are common because of many reasons but they can be prevented with a little common sense and just by listening to our bodies and having a rest when we feel we need one!

Here are some signs that might help you prevent an over usage injury………

  • Dehydration –  The body is made up of 70% water. If the body gets dehydrated, normal functions will suffer including muscle performance. Generally, if you feel thirsty or you have a dry mouth, the damage is already done, you are already dehydrated. If you feel this way, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and you feel ready to exercise before trying to push yourself. Don’t ignore it and try to exercise as dehydration can be very serious.
  • Tiredness –  When you are tired mentally or physically, the reaction times slow down and concentration levels drop. If you don’t concentrate on a run, bike ride or many other activities, or you just react slower than normal, it may be the difference between putting your foot in a pot hole or seeing it earlier, dodging it and avoiding an ankle injury. If you feel tired, rest and make sure you have recovered fully before exercising again.
  • Tightness –  If you are contemplating a weights or CV session but a certain muscle or area feels tight, it’s tight for a reason. Don’t push through it and hope it eases off, as it can be far worse like a muscle pull, such as the one I’ve experienced through doing exactly this! Be sensible, let the muscle recover and make sure it is fully warmed up, stretched and feeling ready to exercise before you exercise again.
  • Illness –  If you are recovering from an illness, make sure you have recovered fully before trying to exercise. Your body’s immune system is down and exercising at this point can increase the risk of injury or further illness. There are some minor illnesses like a basic headache that exercising can actually help with. It helps to dilate the blood vessels in the body so the blood moves more freely with less pressure in the head, hence easing a headache, but if the body has an infection or virus, bacteria can thrive when the body temperature is raised therefore prolonging the illness. I suggest you take the extra few days to recover and make sure you are on top form to be able to push yourself hard, when you get back to feeling 100% again.

The key to preventing injuries is to be smart. If you’re in any doubt and you just don’t feel quite right, don’t risk it. That doesn’t mean don’t exercise just because you can’t be bothered, but be sure you are fit and able enough to perform to a good intensity and get the best out of whatever exercise it is you have chosen.

So, next time you want to exercise, let your body speak to you AND make sure you listen! Enjoy your workout : )