Thursday, January 29, 2009

Recover From the Stress of Training and Competition

By Brad Kearns

Competitive athletes must honor the concept of "peak" performance by carefully planning periods throughout the year in which they reduce training to recover and rejuvenate for more intensive training and competitive periods. When I was a professional triathlete, I learned that recovery meant not only physical rest, but also forgetting about the sport at regular intervals. This "amnesia" is necessary at the end of the day, on your regular days off each week or month and during periods of the year (typically winter) when you hang up your tools of the trade and relax, or at least pursue alternate, less structured forms of exercise.

If you are sitting around on your "off" day agonizing over a missed workout, your sore knee, diet indiscretions or you're chatting on the Internet about whether Lance Armstrong is ever going to race the Hawaii Ironman, you are compromising your mental and emotional recovery. Many fitness enthusiasts go so far as to design their social lives around their avocations. While this is cool, it also can create an all-consuming lifestyle in which one can easily get out of balance. I was laughed knowlingly when I read a "Triathlete Magazine" interview in which Greg and Laura Bennett (a married couple who are both Olympic triathletes) said they "make an effort to socialize with people who know nothing about triathlon."

Here are five life balancing tips to help you to recover from the stress of training and competing:

1. Pursue Non-Athletic Hobbies: Read, watch movies, paint, garden, landscape, golf (no offense, Tiger, you know what I'm getting at...) or do anything else that stimulates a different element of your personality as long as it doesn't involve your sport. Cross-country skiing is often mentioned as great "cross training" for endurance athletes, but it might be more productive and nurturing to your athletic career to buy a downhill ticket, shred some slopes, chat on the lift, chow down in the chalet at lunch and Jacuzzi at night without feeling like you have to "squeeze in a workout" to get your heart beating into the aerobic zone every day.

2. Make Time Off Really Off: Unplug physically and mentally by committing to a departure from "routine" training behavior. Enjoy foods that you normally might avoid, stay up late and watch a movie without doing any stretches. Sleep in, wear clothes that don't mention endurance events and steer conversation away from athletics at social gatherings. Finally, make a conscious effort to relax into your alternative behavior by challenging and reframing feelings of guilt or anxiety you may experience when you're not training.

3. Address Weaknesses: Away from the training grind and compelling goals of the racing season, take time to reflect upon your physical and mental shortcomings. Physically, this might involve seeing a professional at a physical therapy clinic to develop a routine that addresses anatomical weaknesses. I know a competitive runner who was beset by injuries. She purchased a book called "Pain Free" and developed a stretching and strengthening routine to manage or eliminate her injuries quickly.

4. Challenge Self-Limiting Beliefs: Physical weaknesses are one thing, but many athletes suffer more from attitude and belief flaws that translate into poor performances. For example, as a runner turned triathlete, I developed a self-limiting belief about my ability to compete against experienced swimmers in the aquatic phase of the event. After repeated whuppings on the race course, I became intimidated and passive in the water, and my performances suffered accordingly. After enough complaining and self-pity stories at the finish line, I decided to change my attitude. I made swimming a training priority and relished the challenge of improving my worst event. On the starting line, I pretended I was there only for a swim race, and devoted 100% effort and focus on that event without worrying about what came next. My performances improved dramatically.

When you realize that athletic success goes far beyond the single dimension of "hard work" and can devote energy to these peripheral elements of peak performance, you are on the path to reaching your true athletic potential.

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