Archives for July 2011

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 : )

Training Tools

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you may already know that I love to train and keep myself as fit as I possibly can. It’s not just a job, it’s my life, it’s what I’ve always done and what I’ll continue to do until I physically can’t anymore! Weight training has always been very high on my list of priorities and over the last eighteen months running has featured more and more in my training routine. I’m a firm believer that you should use anything you can to make exercise as enjoyable as possible and recently I have found the perfect training tool to make my training fresh and more fun!

Over the last year I have got into a routine of running 2-3 times a week for 10 miles at a time. My times have improved dramatically and a lot of that goes down to challenges I have entered that keep me pushing myself further and becoming fitter. All the challenges were from the same source, the ‘Nike+ Running’ site.

After entering the ballot for the 2012 London Marathon I decided to run a couple of test runs to find a pace I think I can sustain for 26.2 miles. The problem I had, was that slowing my pace meant smaller strides, therefore the distance the Nike+ sensor recorded was dramatically wrong. Being a perfectionist, I found it very hard and quite annoying trying to judge a pace when the recorded distance seemed to be wrong every time I ran a slower, longer run. So, after asking a few questions to some running friends of mine, the unanimous decision was to invest in a watch that would be more accurate for recording my training.

That is when I bought the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch. Since that day I no longer have a problem with inaccurate readings, such as distance and times, and it also shows me in detail every second of my run, from the route, speed, distance, to the heart rate throughout the run and even the elevation. It also connects to the Nike+ running site so I don’t lose out on all the challenges that are pushing me to bigger and better things! For me, this is the tool of all training tools. It makes running long distances fun and seeing the results recorded on my computer for every step of my run, is incredible. With this new watch I can now train hard and enjoy the results!

Training doesn’t have to be a chore. Think outside the box and find something that can make your routine more fun and enjoyable. One thing’s for sure, if you are enjoying what you’re doing, you will get better at it and want to do it more and more. Why not try a few of the following if you want to freshen your training up:

  • If you have a friend that trains in a similar way you do, why not set a challenge between the two of you as a bit of friendly competition. We all like to be winners and even if it’s friendly, I guarantee you will push yourself harder just to beat your friend!
  • If you do the same exercise over and over again it starts to get repetitive. Try mixing it up and doing something different, your body responds better to variety and when you return to your old routine you will start to enjoy it again.
  • If you train alone, try training with a friend for a change. By having someone training with you with similar goals that can help push you along when it’s tough, it can really motivate you when you need it most. Also a little conversation can make the time pass quicker and stimulate the mind a little more.
  • A lot of people already do this but if you’re not one of them, listen to some upbeat music when working out. Design your own playlist of all your favourite music and see what happens. You’ll be surprised at how much energy you have when one of your favourite song comes on just as you’re starting to struggle.
  • If you train with a friend, how about setting mini competitions each session where the loser does a forfeit, such as an extra sprint or 10 press ups etc. You’ll be shocked how well you step up to the challenge.

There are many ways of keeping your routine fresh and enjoyable, just think about what makes you tick, add it to your routine and keep working hard. As I always say “play hard, work harder!” and you will see the results.