I raced in the Hunter Mountain Classic 78 Mile Road Race this past weekend, and although my time and average pace was good, I went from comfortable pacing with the lead pack in my heat to unable to hold even a strong by-myself pace. Granted, the climb on Route 42 was tough and there was a very strong wind on Route 28, but I felt I should have been able to stay with them longer if not until the finish. However, I realized after the race, that I strained the muscles in both of my inner thigh, which after some research, I found to be the “Gracillis” which is one of the adductor muscle group. The Gracillis also assists in flexing the knee joint, which a cyclists does a lot, for me an average of around 90 times a minute (540 times an hour) for the entire 4+ hour ride ( some 21,600 times each leg during the race!). See the image (source: Wikipedia).
I think the strain results from trying to get the most out of my pedaling stroke. Pulling up on the pedals on the up-stroke involves flexing the knee and the ankle, trying to make a smooth circle with the pedal. Try this exercise on the bike: only clip in on one side and the try to pedal the smoothest circle you can do (with constant pressure for the full 360 degree rotation). You will feel it in the inside of your thigh on the up stroke. This is the Gracillis muscle.
So now that I know the problem, I have to strengthen this muscle, otherwise I will continue to strain it on hard rides. But how? A bit of research turned up a very cool exercise library website, which gives you a graphic view of every muscle group and one or more exercises to strengthen that group. Check it out at FitnessVancouver.ca. Thus the title “There’s and Exercise for that.”
With the weather going from early spring conditions (I can’t say that we have had a real “winter” this year) to late spring in just a few days, everything is coming out of hibernation: the spring flowers are up, the trees are budding, the rabbits and other small animals are out, the noisy peeper frogs are singing away (earliest date in memory), the mosquitoes are back (ugh) and so are the folks looking to restart their running and cycling for the year. But will they continue or will they burnout and return to the easy chair? We know the rabbits and skunks will continue, they have no choice, they are driven by instinct. But what about us? It seems that our instincts drive us to conserve energy, not go out there and run a few miles or do a few pushups and crunches everyday or every other day. Truth is our subconscious is programmed to avoid stress, pain, and exhaustion, all or some of which is included to some level in any exercise program. Motivation is the key. Planning and setting appropriate goals is the best way to motivate yourself. Achieving these goals provides rewards to keep us moving forward, even though it is not easy. Unfortunately, most of us get really excited about getting out there again, work too hard, get burned out, and quit in a few weeks or days since our goals are not readily achieved and seem totally unattainable.
But what about those goals? I can say that my dream goal is to win the Cat5 Men’s 55+ race at the Tour of the Battenkill this year. Is that a great goal? It certainly is, but is it realistic? Probably not for several reasons. More importantly, is it motivation enough to keep me working out every day to achieve my best performance? Also, probably not, because I can’t measure it until the end of the race. That makes it hard to keep focused when it is more than 3 months away. So how do we keep motivated for the “Dream Goal” without burn-out. We do that by creating a plan, which will contain intermediate goals, like building strength for climbing, improving pedaling technique, improving speed and endurance, etc. We then go create short-term training goals to meet the intermediate goal plan, each building towards the larger goals. Getting immediate short term goals that are achievable quickly, can keep us motivated to train for the long term goals. For example, with 3-1/2 months to go to the big race, layout the sequence of desired training. First month is base building both on the bike and doing strength work in the gym. The second month might be speed, climbing, and endurance intervals on the trainer and the roads. And the 3rd month is building distance and endurance to meet the rigors of the 62-mile tour race. Finally the last two weeks is polishing the skills and tapering the workouts down before the big race.
So the first week of my training plan might be do 5 days of 45 minute rides at a easy pace. The second week would then add short intervals at 80% HR on one or two days, and so forth, each building on the prior week. These are attainable goals, and allow me to realize that I am making progress towards the long term dream goal. As I always say, the hardest part of working out is getting started, so reward yourself for getting out there. You can even set goals during a workout…. instead of looking at the total workout goal of 5 sets of 5 minute intervals at 85% heart rate, you just focus on completing the interval you are on. Completing the task at hand, then when that is done you rest, pat yourself on the back for a getting it done as planned and then start the next one. Before you know it, ol’ Jed’s a millionaire, and you have completed the last interval and the days workout goal. Now you are feeling great that you got through them all as planned. That’s the way you do it, you can only eat that elephant one bite at a time.
So you say you are not a athlete that has been competing and training for many years and thus don’t have a clue about creating training goals and plans. That’s no problem, you can still set goals and a plan to achieve your goals. There are many websites and books devoted to training, but developing a relationship with a mentor or coach can improve the process greatly. The plan needs to be tailored to you specifically, that’s why a coach who talks with you for the first time, and hopefully many times during your relationship, will assess your goals, desires, current fitness, level of activity, recent performance and all parameters that affect your ability to achieve your fitness goals. Only then can they create a plan that will get you on the path to the goals. But that’s not the end there, the athlete and the coach have to work together on the plan and the implementation of it. No plans are set in stone, injuries, personal time commitments, illness, and a host of other things can affect the plan. The idea is to make it a fluid plan the develops as you do. A framework for achieving your goals.
So I recommend that anyone who is resuming or starting new on a fitness program find a coach or mentor that can work with them, help them set realistic, attainable goals and create a plan for success. Something reasonable and achievable without the burnout that results from over-training or the frustration from making no progress. We all can do it, we just need a plan.
Here’s to your fitness journey! Enjoy it!
I love it when I can translate some of the training and insights I’ve gained from my work to my personal life and interests. Take my current role in IBM, working on development transformation. Transformation is all about radically changing how you do things or what you do, to bring about a significant, positive change. But as we all know, change can be scary. It takes you out of your comfort zone. Change can be hard, especially when we try to change too many variables at the same time. In business, the more variables you change concurrently, the riskier your project is deemed to be. This business example can easily be applied to someone trying to make positive changes in their overall health and fitness. When a person suddenly says, “Enough is enough! I have to drop this 20lbs,” they’re highly motivated and looking to make big changes. They dust off the treadmill, buy some new dumbbells, swallow their last beer and swear they’ll never eat out again! They make it through their first week, feeling pretty good, though a little sore. The second week comes and goes… (that beer would really take the burn out of my quads right now), and week three… you know how the rest of the story goes.
Although some people can be successful introducing several changes at once around diet and exercise, I believe, just like the risky project, the more things you change, the more opportunities you create for failure. So what’s the solution? Well just like in business, you need to create small wins. Pick up most any resource on leadership or change management, and the concept of creating small wins – achievable interim goals – along the path to the primary objective (e.g. drop 20lbs.) is essential. Small wins are about creating opportunity for you to succeed. Feeling successful is what fuels your motivation to continue down the path to your goal.
Here’s an example. Rather than adopting some drastic change in your eating habits which will shock your system and be difficult to adhere to, you instead define your first goal. Change #1: focus on portion control for the next two weeks. Continue to eat all the foods you normally would, but eat the appropriate serving size. Since most Americans today simply eat too much, focusing on portion control alone will yield weight reduction benefits. By the end of two weeks you’ll feel successful and motivated to introduce your next change. Change #2: (in addition to portion control) eliminate two to three obvious enemies (high sugar, saturated fats), from your diet, such as soda and potato chips. Not sure what to eliminate? Consult myplate.gov. Then your next change could be around making smarter food choices…
And so the cycle of introducing smaller goals and allowing yourself to be successful changing one thing at a time, can significantly improve your chances of achieving your overall objective.
So whether you’re looking to eat healthier or adopt a more active lifestyle, get big results with small wins!