Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, hiker or just plain active Coloradan, summer is prime time for that big race, ride or trek. But there’s more than just putting in the mileage to reach that new personal record (PR) or just to cross the finish line or summit without injury—it takes a holistic approach to truly maximize your training and prevent injuries. We talked with professional trainers about the importance of cross-training, rest and recovery when it comes to reaching your full potential before, during and after your big event.
Training is like a pie, says Trish Bare Grounds, owner of Bare Essentials Sports Medicine and medical coordinator for USA Taekwondo. “If any piece is missing, like not getting eight hours of sleep at night, if their nutrition is not on point all the time, or not staying extra hydrated, they are missing a huge part of their training,” she says. “So they can’t train to the best of their ability because their body is not prepped to do it.”
But athletes at all levels tend to get tunnel vision. “The number one flaw we see is athletes spend all their time training for one thing,” says Chris Knott, founder and owner of Dunamis Accelerated Recovery & Performance. He calls it an epidemic in Colorado’s large running, cycling and triathlon communities. “Athletes spend more time asking how many miles they’re logging, as opposed to preparing their body to be more efficient and to be a better athlete so their body can just run, swim or cycle.”
As remedies, Knott suggests working on neurological efficiency and improving strength deficits. That can be done by mixing in exercises such as glute-hamstring raises or wall isometric lunges to improve breathing and the use of glute muscles. The purpose is to increase motor control and efficacy between muscle groups. He says it’s important to look out for these signs of neurological fatigue due to not training properly: lack of sleep, lack of hunger, lowered sex drive, decrease in motivation and decreased strength numbers.
Jessica Cozine-Lehman, physical therapist and owner of Great Moves Physical Therapy, recommends that athletes, especially runners, include the following training staples in their routine a couple days a week: prone and side planks; pelvic floor exercises, aka Kegels, “because that’s the floor of the core;” glute exercises, specifically for the gluteus medius on the upper buttock along the hip; back extensor exercises, such as the Superman; and hamstring walkouts “that work the hamstrings eccentrically as they’re lengthening.”
If you’re a trail-runner, it’s also important to work specifically on balance to avoid problems from the constant adjustments needed on uneven trails. Cozine-Lehman recommends standing on one leg with eyes closed. “Eyes closed is the key piece because it keeps your vision from doing the work and makes your body figure out how to recover using an ankle strategy, which is the most advanced form of balance recovery,” she says. “It’s a really simple exercise, although what’s happening in your body is quite complex.”
Bare Grounds also emphasizes the importance of balance training with a class or coach. “Within the mechanics of their sport, balance training is highly recommended as well as things like yoga, Pilates or balance type of work,” she says.
After a race or high-mileage training session, active recovery becomes all the more important, and Cozine-Lehman stresses this phase of lighter movement, stretching and flexibility exercises. She also suggests cross-training with swimming, yoga or cycling during the recovery period.
“Stay away from jumping right back into your training load,” she says. “You want to give your body and brain time to rest.”
Ice/Contrast Baths: Ice or contrast baths with cold and hot water can reduce inflammation and jumpstart muscle recovery.
Foam Roller: Foam rolling can reduce soreness and promote flexibility by releasing connective muscle fibers, or fascia.
Float Pod: Benefits of soaking in a float pod include relaxing and decompressing joints to promote recovery.