Training for any sport or fitness goal requires a time commitment. It can be a difficult balancing act just to get all of the physical training requirements and sleep, while still having a functional work and personal life in the weeks and months leading up to a race. A nutrition and hydration strategy must be implemented for training sessions to optimize performance and post exercise nutrition needs to be monitored to help speed up recovery time & maintain a healthy body. Of course, the dedicated athlete should also be engaged in a year round core, strength and flexibility program. Now, factor this all into a busy life of work, family, school, etc. and those 24 hours we are given each day quickly disappear. Given the limited amount of time one has to train some days, what can an athlete do to maximize that time?
One of the most effective ways for the time crunched athlete to improve performance and decrease potential injuries is to implement a post-exercise mobility and flexibility program.
Here is a scenario as coaches we see far too often after a workout. Rob the runner has just finished his favorite cross-country training session on the Pineridge trails. He quenches his thirst with something to drink, scrolls thru his mile splits on his watch and is elated to see he has set a PR on this course. Then he hops in the car and drives away. Now, this all sounds good, but Rob is missing one very key component to not only his training, but also overall body health. He neglected the opportunity to properly cool down and spend a few crucial minutes on flexibility when the muscles are warm to minimize stiffness and tightening up.
What parts of the body should you focus on after a training session or race? First, target the primary muscle groups used during that workout. Next, move towards other areas of your body that are feeling tension. How long to hold a stretch depends on the individual needs of the athlete. Some stretches are held for 10-15 seconds, others as long as 2 minutes. Consulting with a fitness specialist can help you determine not only what muscle groups you should be targeting and the best way to do that, but also what muscles may need strengthening to maintain a balanced body.
The goal of a post workout program is to help return the muscles and joints to their normal range of motion and reduce any tension, while allowing the body to cool down as heart rate & body temperature return to normal resting levels. This is also important preparation for your next training session as the cool down allows the body to continue removing waste from the muscles. So, if you are one of the many time crunched athletes, remember you will get more benefit from shortening your workout by 5-10 minutes and using those extra minutes to properly cool down and do some flexibility and mobility exercises. Last but certainly not least....stretching just feels good! So, make a little time every day even if you didn’t exercise to just stretch it out.