Treat little things like they are big things
We all know how important it is to warm up, cool down, stretch, ice, cross train, do our drills, and get the core work in. But who has time for all that, right? I mean, we run/Tri because we like to run, bike, and swim. Quite honestly, even if we had infinite amounts of time, we still wouldn’t WANT to do all those little things. But if we want to be able to keep running, biking, and swimming we need to make sure we’re doing our homework otherwise we’re going to get injured. We’ve got to earn our miles.
The little things like properly warming up, stretching, cooling down, cross training, etc. are the bits that enable us to train. Without these facets, we’re unlikely to get as much out of a workout, effectively recover from a workout, or possibly even get injured. This is especially the case as we start getting a bit older and the recovery process slows down a bit. While a slightly lower metabolism isn’t exactly a bad thing for being able to continue working for long periods of time, the lower metabolic rate means that everything slows down. Including the cellular processes involved in the recovery process.
The more training we’re putting in, both in terms of total hours and training load accounting for intensity, the more recovery we’re going to need. The harder we work, the longer it takes to recover from the workout. The more hard work we’re putting in during the “quality” workouts, the more seriously we need to take recovery. Because we can’t get anything out of training if we aren’t recovering from workouts. The little things allow us to put in more time actually training. Better recovery workouts allow us to recover faster. Keeping up with the core conditioning allows us to get in more repeats before the stabilizers go kaput. Proper nutrition provides the fuel and nutrients required to train and recover. And how well we do with the little things determines how much of the “key” things we can handle. The little things are the prerequisites for the part of training we’re typically focused on.
Now this doesn’t mean that we need to immediately start doing three lift sessions every week, doing 30 minutes of core work after every run, and striders every day. That’s a good way to get hurt. Just like any other stimulus, we need to ease into it. If you haven’t been spending time in the weight room, maybe start with going twice a week for a quick session that’s just body weight exercises. Body weight squats are great for endurance athletes are that beat up from long hard runs. Maybe switch the recovery workout the day after your hard track session to being an easy 20-30 minutes in the pool instead of an easy 45 min run.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that the little things need to be accounted for in the overall training budget. We can only add so much at a time (the old 10% rule, right?). So if we’re adding cross training or core work in, we need to make sure that we’re counting that towards our total volume budget for the week. This can get frustrating for folks that are already training for a goal race, so the best time to initiate new training patterns is during an “off” season, or in between training blocks. That allows us to build the habit and incorporate it into our overall training plan prior to trying to hit specific workouts on specific days.
The big exceptions to incorporating things into the training regime are nutrition and sleep. We can normally clean up our nutrition at any point in time. The more high quality fuel we’re putting in, the more we’re going to get out of our workouts and the faster we’re going to recover. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it until (as unlikely as it is) someone presents hard data that it’s possible to out-train a bad diet. You simply can’t do it. The same thing goes with our sleep habits. It will only help our progression if we clean those up.
The other things we can incorporate without having to worry about overdoing it is the proper warm up and cool down. We may need to short the amount of “quality” work we’re doing so we’re not blowing our training load budget, but we’ll probably get more out of the work we do get in than we would have if we didn’t. By properly warming up we’ll be priming our bodies to really work, as opposed to stumbling through the first bit and then being in the hole for the back end of the workout. Properly cooling down also helps us recover from the workout faster, getting the metabolic waste products out of the muscles used immediately after the workout. Not only will we be less stiff at the start of the next workout (again, not losing training volume to not being fully ready to go when we start), but we’ll be less sore and less prone to injury in general. And that’s always a good thing.
The little things allow us to get more, better, work in on the quality workout days. Better nutrition means faster recovery and bigger gains from the workouts we’re doing. More sleep means faster recovery from workouts. Cross training allows continued aerobic development and prevents deconditioning while we’re recovering from hard workouts. Time spent in the weight room allows us to build and maintain muscle that enables us to work hard. Routine core work allows us to stabilize our shoulders, core, hips, knees, and ankles for longer and at higher power outputs resulting in faster performances and fewer injuries. Neglecting these invites the risk of injury, or at the very least not getting anything out of the miles we’re putting in. So yeah, we need to treat the little things as big things. We need to earn our miles.