If you’re reading this article, then you are giving endurance sports a shot. That is the first thing you did to improve as a beginner – and probably the most important. Pat yourself on the back and then grab a cup of coffee, because we are going to discuss 5 things beginners can do to improve.
1. The Greatest Ability is Availability
In order to improve, you have to be able to train. In order to train, you have to be injury free. When you’re injured there are two paths to take. One path is to go through the healing process and get healthy to train again. The other option is to fight through the injury while continuing to train. This ends up creating a new injury and inevitably a longer period of forced rest. The former path is the correct one!
There are a number of ways to stay healthy and here a few:
- Properly warm-up before and cool-down after the workout
- Eat a healthy diet
- Recovering properly (see next point!)
When you are healthy and injury free, you can train consistently. This is the most important contributor to your fitness development.
2. Take Your Rest Days Seriously
Beginners want to do all the workouts, all the time. As coaches we are happy that you are excited, but we also cringe a bit when a scheduled rest day shows up in training peaks with a 2 hour workout at an intensity factor of 0.90.
The rest day is designed to allow your body to recover and build from the previous workout or string of workouts. It is during rest (sleeping and days off) that your body gets stronger. During a workout you are tearing muscle fibers. While during rest they heal and get stronger, which will also make you faster. If you want to be stronger and faster, take your rest days as seriously as you take your mile repeats.
Failure to allow for rest and recovery can lead to overtraining.
3. Train In The Designated Zones
When your coach designs a plan, the majority of the work will be done in Z1 and Z2. Why? It’s because this is where the magic happens. Zone 3 is a grey zone area as it isn’t hard enough to create improvements while also being too hard to help you improve.
A coach will design a program that will have you doing short periods of work in Z4 and Z5 to build those fast twitch muscle fibers but also put an emphasis on Z1/Z2 where you build that aerobic engine. This is the engine that will get you to the finish line because you can burn fuel efficiently.
If you start to train in the higher zones you’re going to require more rest. More rest comes with a loss of time to build endurance and it comes with the opportunity for injury (see above about availability.)
4. Accept Strength Training
Endurance athletes tend to scoff at the idea of doing strength training. In my experience, this reluctance comes from this notion that they’ll look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The reality is that strength training is designed to help build muscle for endurance events because these are repetitive use sports.
When you run, you’re using your legs in the same motion over and over again. You want your leg muscles to be as strong as they can be to make turnover more efficient. And also to allow the body to absorb the pounding and not fatigue as quickly. The same for doing upper body strength training to help improve your swimming.
The athletes I work with will typically have 2 strength training days during their build and maintenance cycles and 1 day of strength training during their race specific phases. This allows us to break up the swim, bike, run monotony and address the muscles from different angles.
By the way, you don’t need the $100 per month gym membership to get a good endurance sports strength training session in. Body weight strength training is just as effective. And, with just a few low-cost items, you can have a tricked out home gym.
5. Sleep And Eat
I understand that our society rewards the hard worker that never sleeps and pats them on the back because they are always getting things done. I don’t understand this because when I’m tired I’m not nearly as effective as I am when I’ve slept.
As a matter of fact, when I worked in Manhattan for a rather large company, I’d close my door at lunch and take a 20 minute nap. When I woke up, the work I was able to do for the rest of the afternoon didn’t require 6 cups of coffee and it was always better than when I didn’t sleep.
Food. Food is your friend. In order to get through a workout effectively, your body needs to have the calories to burn. Food also helps you to recover quicker. The protein in the foods you eat will help repair the muscles you just broke down.
Bring recovery foods with you to the gym or pool or leave in your car so when your workout is done, you can eat something quickly before you get a bigger meal. I will have a Vega Recovery drink in my car that I can consume on the drive back to my house. Once home, I can shower and make a meal that will satisfy me and help me to recover so I’m ready to go the next day.
I’m sure you rubbed your hands together and said to yourself: Yes, give me the secret workout to get better when you read the headline for this article. The reality is, there isn’t a secret workout that is going to help you get better. It’s going to be all the workouts, done properly with proper rest and recovery that is going to help you improve.
These sports take time to get better at and there are no shortcuts. Do the small things and they’ll add up to big improvements. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us.