For quite a while now I’ve been deliberately battering my naturally fairly feeble body. Over the last couple of years I have upped the anti with greater loads and higher impact exercise to test the boundaries of what my body can do, and see what I can learn in the process. This is a conscious choice you understand, and one that I’ve taken partly by accident in the first place, and then by further design.
As a keen cyclist for many years (and a swimmer before that), the bulk of my exercise regime over the years can be bracketed in the ‘low-impact’ group favoured by the elderly or those with joint impairments. Whilst I fully intend to be one of the old ladies swimming morning lengths of the pool, and hope to swing my leg over my bike long into the future, I’m not quite ready to limit myself physically just yet. As an endurance cyclist first and a fitness professional second, I will always be playing catch up with my more athletic fitness colleagues who leap and bound up and down the gym, or pop a human flag from the nearest lamp post. But I do want to steadily expand my physical potential for as long as that is possible.
So, in the last couple of years I have been dabbling in some weightlifting, and trying tentatively to include a bit of running. To do both without problems ideally you need to have good posture, good stability, and for the Olympic lifting, good form in some of the grounding strength movements that form the foundations. But even with all of these elements in place if you are not used to the different loading you have to keep a careful eye on volume and intensity to avoid injuries or issues, or just debilitating soreness.
Some of you will have seen my weightlifting antics on twitter or Instagram and either been confused/impressed/unimpressed depending on where you are coming from. To clear up any question marks, I won’t ever be a ‘weightlifter’, nor is this my main sport or pursuit. I am a cyclist first and always will be. This is simply a personal endeavour that I am involved in for the fun of learning, for the effects that it has on my body and mind, and for what it might bring to my work as a coach/conditioning specialist.
As is always the case for me, I learn the most through experience and in the first eager six months in the weightlifting gym I was often there for an hour and a half at a time, enjoying the drills and practices and racking up sets and reps with pleasure. Not surprisingly it was the after effects of this momentary fun that started to become a hindrance to other activities and sometimes made me stiff and sore for days. Unlike most of the men and women in the gym, this type of exercise at the strength and power end of the spectrum could not be further from my biological norm, and as a result I had to learn to approach the discipline in a more measured way to make the most of the benefits without suffering from any of the pitfalls. I studiously started adding up the total reps in any workout and limiting the number I allowed in any one session.
My detour into running has been equally painstaking. Once or twice over the years when I’ve tried a bit of running before I’ve always found my joints really struggle to deal with the impact. Sometimes it has been my ankles and for a while an old crash injury to my knee was a limiter. A careful selection of footwear and then an introduction of short bursts of running drills began a patient journey of progression towards a full 20 minutes of running. And so after easily six months of preparation it was with great amusement that my flat mate watched as I staggered, no limped, up the stairs after my first parkrun. No joint injuries or problems as such, just the sheer shock to my body of all those impacts with the ground. It felt like I had run a marathon. Hundreds of NORMAL people do park run EVERY week, and yet for me this had been a fairly momentous achievement, and one that I am trying to consolidate before considering my next move.
This sort of challenge is of course what I am looking for all the time. I want to feel stronger, and maintain my bone and muscular health as I move towards middle age. I want to be able to run for a bus or a train easily and I want to make sure my body is as capable as it can be, so that my overall health and well-being as well as my cycling fitness is maintained long into the future.
In my recently published book ‘Ride Strong; Essential Conditioning For Cyclists’, I explain one of the key principles that I apply to my training and my work – The Success Formula.
The success formula dictates that the more deconditioned you are, the more you will need to focus towards the left of the equation, and then progressively move the emphasis towards the right. I do this with my clients, and I do it for myself too. Not only does this equation help you to know where to start with your conditioning, but it also allows you to know when to make a change in your conditioning plan to remind or recondition the body in some of the earlier phases.
In my early days in the fitness industry as I trained my almost exclusively cycling body to become a more robust all rounder, I spent an awful lot of time on restoring my flexibility, alignment and basic movement ability. I was shocked to learn I had poor posture, and a weak and imbalanced core, and I had difficulty with some of the basic strengthening movements that everyone should strive to perform easily and well. Patience and consistency in applying these principles to my training has brought me a long way, but I am happy to acknowledge the need for a return to some flexibility and stability work over the coming months, as I consolidate the improvements I have made.
Where do you think you sit on the success formula spectrum?
How can you move yourself further to the right to enhance your movement and power potential?