It was a long, frigid, snowy winter for much of the U.S. this year. Nowhere is this more true than the Northeast, where I live. I belong to a Facebook group (Team #SomeNerve) made up of amateur athletes, mostly local, who are training for bike races, half-marathons, triathlons and the like or are just trying to get back into a biking or running routine after many years away from activity. We all happen to be, shall we say, more mature – average age is probably somewhere in the 40 range.
Well, it was a difficult winter for even the most dedicated cyclists and runners. Tough to keep a training routine through feet of snow and temps in the single digits. But, those race dates don’t get postponed just because Mother Nature forced us indoors for long stretches.
The good news is spring has finally sprung and people are out, trying to reach peak training in time for their races. But here’s what my fellow team members are learning – even if you dutifully moved your workouts indoors to a tedious machine, you weren’t really training as much or as hard as you would have outdoors. Plus, you have become unaccustomed to the type of conditions, and consequences of those conditions, that are unique to outdoor training. And, soberingly, we didn’t get any younger over winter. Common complaints: tight muscles and joints, severe cramping and achingly sore muscles post-workout.
This led to a series of Q&A back and forths between several team members and me, their resident personal trainer. Here are the highlights:
Question Summary: What do I do to alleviate sore, tight and weak muscles?
Answer: One of the things most often overlooked in training is strength and flexibility conditioning. Those who compete in races, whether running, cycling or swimming, are all too familiar with the step-process of progressing distance/duration/intensity/speed in their respective disciplines. But it’s just as important what you do to train when you’re not in your running shoes, on your bike or in the water. Establishing a regular strength & stretch routine is important for performance improvements as well as to help prevent injury. Also important, beginning and ending your rides, runs and swims with the proper type of muscle and joint work helps to loosen you up before getting into the meat of your workout and lessen post-workout soreness.
Pre-Workout: Do not stretch prior to your workout. Exercise research has proven that static stretching before cardio activity has no benefit in terms of performance or pain and injury prevention. In fact, some studies have shown that static stretching muscles that aren’t warmed up could put the exerciser at higher risk of muscle strain. Instead of stretching, make sure you’re allowing for proper warm-up. Cycle, jog or swim at a leisurely pace for 2-10 minutes prior to your workout. How long you warm-up is determined by what your body needs. If it’s been a while, warm-up for longer. If you just exercised the day before, you may need less time. Ultimately, you are the best judge on any given day – listen to what your body is telling you in terms of warm-up.
Post-Workout: No matter how conditioned you are, it’s essential to stretch after every workout. You can use the stretches in the above workout links. Keep in mind that some post-workout muscle soreness is unavoidable if you have taken a long break from your workout routine. But pre-workout warm-ups and post-workout stretching will lessen the discomfort.
Question Summary: I cycled indoors all winter long and thought I was ready for an outdoor ride. Part-way through my first, long ride outdoors, I lost all energy and had leg cramps that were so severe, I fell off my bike. I realized later, I had sweat a lot more than anticipated. How much should I hydrate and fuel before, during and after a long, outdoor ride?
Answer: Our bodies get accustomed and unaccustomed to conditions relatively quickly. After cycling indoors for a few months, the change to a cooler environment and layered clothing was significant enough to cause a lot of perspiration without the rider realizing it. We often automatically think we didn’t drink enough water when cramping occurs. But we lose salt as well when we sweat. It’s important to replenish both water and sodium when we exercise vigorously or for long periods of time. Some rules of thumb for hydrating and fueling for endurance training:
Hydration: If you’ll be doing a long training session (over 1 hour) or will be training vigorously in a warm environment, weigh yourself after pre-workout hydration but before beginning exercise:
- Pre-Workout: 2 hours prior to exercise: 17-20 oz
- During Workout: 7-10 oz about every 20 minutes or more often in high heat. For endurance athletes or training at a very high level, particularly in warm conditions, I recommend a sports drink that contains sugar (not sugar substitute) and sodium. Caveat: Because of the high sugar and sodium levels in these types of drinks, they are not appropriate for light to moderate training. If the workout is less than an hour long and isn’t done in high heat, plain water is sufficient.
- Post-Workout: Weigh in again and drink 16-24 oz for every pound lost during the workout. Again, if the workout was particularly long and vigorous or done in hot conditions, sodium replenishment is also recommended.
Fueling: It is never recommended to workout on an empty stomach. However, it’s important to fuel up while still allowing enough time to digest to avoid stomach distress. Also important to avoid foods that are bulky or difficult to digest.
- Pre-Workout: 1 hour before, consume low-fat complex carbohydrates. Most of these also contain fiber. Try to choose items that aren’t very high in fiber. Whole grain breads, cereals and fruits are good choices.
- During Workout: Unless your workout is extremely long it shouldn’t be necessary to consume solid foods, a sports drink should provide enough calories to get you through. If, however, you will be exercising for several hours, energy bars are portable and easily digestible choices.
- Post-Workout: Within 1 hour of completion, your body needs water, sodium, protein and some fats to begin the muscle re-building process. High protein energy bars are good choices as well as traditional foods like nuts, chocolate milk (made with 2% or whole milk), other full-fat dairy products, eggs, fish and meats. Continue to avoid very high fiber foods for a few hours. Vigorous workouts can leave our digestive systems sensitive until our bodies have had some time to recover.
Spring doesn’t have to be as cruel as winter if you take a measured, pro-active approach to getting back out there in the great outdoors. Happy trails!
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.