How Physio Can Help Sports Performance

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If you play sport then you may have seen a physio for injury rehabilitation - but did you know physiotherapy can also improve your sporting performance, show you how to reduce the risk of injuries and teach you how to stretch and warm up correctly?

 

About sports injuries

The most common sporting injuries (according to ACC) are to the head, shoulders, hamstrings, knees and ankles. Most sports injuries are easily preventable, which is where a physio comes in. They can help you rehabilitate from an injury, show you how to prevent one occurring or work with you to improve your sporting performance.

 

When should I see a physio?

As a general guideline you should see a physio if:

  • You cannot continue normal sporting, work or daily acitivites; or
  • Your injury is recurrent; or
  • You are concerned about record from your injury.

Remember you don’t need a referral from your doctor to see a physio and any physio that is an ACC provider is able to lodge a claim for you.

 

How can I prevent injuries?

Here are some tips to help prevent injuries. Click here for more details.

  1. Start off slowly
  2. Balance between training and recovery
  3. Don’t train through pain
  4. Warm up and stretch
  5. Cross train
  6. Get the right gear
  7. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

 

How can physiotherapy help?

Injury prevention
Feel like you're waiting for an injury to happen? Take the proactive approach and see a physio for injury prevention advice and techniques.

Your physio can help with:

  • Identifying any previous injuiries that have not healed.
  • Teaching correct techniques for warming up and stretching.
  • Prescribing an injury prevention programme specifically tailored to you and your sport.
  • Giving you a biomechanical screening assessment.
  • Prescribing an individual exercise programme to correct any muscle imblances and improve your movement patterns.

 

Injury rehabilitation and management
Your physio can conduct a thorough assessment to get an accurate diagnosis and will design a treatment and management programme that's just right for you and your sport.

Your physio can help with:

  • Pain managment
  • Postural education
  • Joint mobilisation and manipulation
  • Specific rehabilitation exercises
  • Strapping and taping
  • Developing a programme for a safe return to training, or modifying your training to suit.
  • Referring you to a specialist if your injury needs further investigation.

 

Sports performance
Looking for a boost in your sports performance? A physio can help with a screening assessment and an indivudal performance plan to address any weak areas.

Your physio can help with:

  • Sport specific conditioning to meet your goals
  • Home and gym-based strength and flexiblity training
  • Exercises to improve your efficency of movement patterns
  • Core stability programmes (such as pilates)
  • Improving your breathing control
  • Biomechanical screening assessment to identify any faulty movement patterns that may be impacting on your performance.
  • Many physios also offer video analysis of your activity and movements.

Come and see Rolleston Central Physio for all your Injury needs.

How Physio can help After a stroke

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How Physio can help After a stroke

If you have suffered a stroke then physiotherapy can play a very important role in your recovery; both during your hospital stay and after you leave.

 

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when there is a sudden interruption of blood flow to part of your brain, this causes it to stop working and damages brain cells. Strokes are usually a combination of different factors. According to the Stroke Foundation of New Zealand, all ages can suffer from a stroke but 75% happen in people over 65.

Common risk factors for having a stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Inactivity
  • Heavy drinking
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity.

As you can see from the list above, there are many risk factors for stroke that you can change. If you are concerned about the risk of having a stroke then please seek help from a health professional. Remember, as movement experts physiotherapists can help you design the right exercise programme to suit your needs.

 

How can physio help?

The first priority is that your condition is medically stable, once this has occurred your focus can shift to rehabilitation. Your rehabilitation will delivered by a multi-disciplinary team, this could include physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

Rehabilitation usually starts in the first few days after a stroke - while you are still in hospital. Your physio's role will be to help return as much normal function as possible so you can continue to do the things you enjoy in life.

Rehabilitation will be influenced by the severity of your stroke and the resulting problems. It may include:

  • Helping you relearn how to perform basic movements, such as getting out of bed and walking.
  • Specific exercises to aid in your recovery by strengthening weak muscles, improving your balance and teaching you new ways to complete tasks.
  • Teaching you how to use any equipment that may be needed to help keep you safe.

 

Long term recovery

How long it takes to recover depends on the severity and location of your stroke and your access to treatment. Everyone experiences different problems and recovers at different rates. When the hospital-based rehabilitation service feels you are safe to go home you may be referred to appropriate community-based services, this will often include physiotherapy.

A physiotherapy programme can help you with many symptoms that are common after a stroke. Some private physios also offer rehabilitation after a stroke.

Common symptoms that you may experience

  • Lack of energy - this is because your body is recovering from an injury to your brain. Relearning new skills also makes you more tried as they require so much concentration. Breaking tasks into much smaller steps can help with this as can increasing your activity slowly rather than in large steps, and remember to schedule in regular rest breaks if you need them.
  • Weak muscles – sometimes your arm and/or leg can feel weak or difficult to move.. Specific exercises, prescribed by a physio, can help you regain your muscle power and control.
  • Lack of sensation - after a stroke parts of your body may feel numb or just different to normal. Gentle massage (soft touch) can help as can exposing your skin to different textures and temperatures to help normalise sensation.
  • Balance - you might feel unbalanced or unsteady while moving around. A physio can advise on how to walk safely and improve your balance, this could include daily walking practice or making your home safer e.g. removing rugs that you may trip over. Sometimes a walking frame or stick is given to help you move around independently.

It's also important to note that after a stroke you are more at risk of having a fall. 

 

Does it work?

Your best chance of recovering from a stroke is getting medical help early. People usually show signs of improvement after a few days but you often need to be patient as the function may return slowly. It's also important that you stay motivated and continue doing the exercises you have been given, even if your progress seems slow. If the exercises have become too easy for you ask the physio for some more difficult ones. Like an athlete in training you need to push yourself to improve.

You do not need to be able to access high-tech equipment to improve. Recently, in the largest stroke rehabilitation study in the United States, researchers compared two common techniques to help stroke patients improve their walking. Both methods—training on a body-weight supported treadmill or working on strength and balance exercises at home with a physiotherapist—resulted in equal improvements in the individual’s ability to walk by the end of one year. The important thing is lots of practice. You will not get better just sitting around!

Support Your Mind for Better Workouts

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We all want to do our best while we train.

When you end your workout or finish up a competitive sports match knowing you could have put more into your performance, that slight twinge of guilt is never too far behind. That mysterious internal voice is already saying: “You could have pushed harder”.

Yet, how do you power through your workout when your body doesn’t feel as strong as it did yesterday or last week? How do you push through those patches where your goal feels a little too far from reach?

 

Your mind is your powerhouse

Making it to the next step in your fitness journey comes down, in part, to mental focus.

Developing techniques to help get your thinking right, means your body can follow. Professional athletes and personal trainers know this. They also know small gains or “wins” are the progress markers you should use to propel yourself forward. Especially when injuries set temporary limits.

Beyond fine tuning your mental focus, you still need to listen to your body. Reducing or even completely quieting physical distractions lets you pay attention to what matters most: your breathing, your movement, your goal.

So, how you do you support your mind for better focus which creates better performance? We’ve got some tips to help get you started:

 

Mind over matter: 5 tips for better sports performance

 

1) Start setting realistic goals.

Remember: what matters is you. Setting goals means working toward a fitness goal you feel comfortable with. A goal you can achieve based on your ability, time, and effort. Stop competing with your mate or that “really fit” guy or girl at the gym.

Sir Edmund Hillary, New Zealand mountaineer, got it right when he said: “It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”.

While having a goal to reach for is a great start, most fitness coaches and sports psychologists will tell you the best way forward is to break your training down into manageable pieces.

Think about it like this: you aim to complete an endurance event in a set amount of time. This number represents your personal best. And you want to tackle the biggest challenge on offer — a triathlon made up of a 1500m swim, a 40km mountain bike ride, followed by a 10km run.

Signing up for this event and “ just going for it” may leave you feeling disappointed later. While your fitness level may be high, your goal is focused solely on the final outcome: setting a personal record. Second, you’ve left out many important stepping stones or smaller goals that will help you focus on making incremental performance improvements.

Map out a realistic plan. Build towards completing such a challenge 1 kilometer at a time. Use those small wins to help you gauge your training progress.

For example, a small training win for the mountain biking portion of the event might be riding sets at 50 to 65rpm with high pedal force. Your goal is to focus on the feel of each correct pedal rotation instead of simply pushing downward on the pedals.

You may also strive to improve your swimming skills. Another small win would be perfecting how you swim paces so you know how fast you’re swimming distances. Further, swimming consistent times is a milestone to achieve before focusing on bettering your speed.

 

2) Try visualisation and positive self-talk

Carl Lewis, Olympic track and field athlete once said:

“My thoughts before a big race are usually pretty simple. I tell myself: Get out of the blocks, run your race, stay relaxed. If you run your race, you’ll win… channel your energy. Focus.”

Using visualisation or imagery can help you fine tune mental focus for better performance.

As the understanding of the impacts of mental training for sports has increased, so have the number of professional athletes using visualisation. The New York Times has reported on Olympic athletes using this practice to help them cope with distractions or unexpected events when they need to perform. Visualisation is also thought to create more consistent performance for these pro athletes.

Visualising success means achieving it.

According to Steven Ungerleider, PhD and author of “Mental Training for Peak Performance (2013)”, the better the visuals, the better your result. As you picture the steps you’ll go through to achieve your goal, use words that capture the rest of your senses — touch, smell, and sound.

When you hit the gym, are you thinking about which weights you’ll use or how many reps you’ll complete? What about the quality of your technique? How will your feet, knees, back and shoulders be positioned? What does a successful lift feel like? Can you smell the chalk you’ve put on your hands? Can you hear the weights clank together as you add more weight? Are you thinking about finishing your training session, feeling like a better, stronger version of yourself?

Visualisation also helps keep emotions in check, so you can overcome or control emotions like anxiety.

If thinking about 10 repetitions of a movement seems overwhelming, only think about completing one repetition to the best of your ability (this ties back to breaking down your goals). Make each rep as strong as it can be. What matters is you give it your all while staying focused on your task.

Words hold power, too.

We’ve all got an inner monologue going on. Yet, have you ever stopped to fully consider WHAT sorts of things you say to yourself? Positive self-talk is a great way to build your self-confidence and remove limits you’ve created for yourself.

Stop telling yourself, you can’t or you’re not up to the task at hand. Instead, use self-talk to boost your concentration and focus by using words that help you focus on what needs to be done.

Use words that help you focus on the present, such as “lift” or “jump” and use words that capture the mood of successful performance like “sprint” or “drive forward”. There may also be times where positive phrases are needed to help you with endurance — so, tell yourself to “stick at it” or “push on”.

If you tell yourself you’re the best, you behave like the best. So, when you talk to yourself, use words that are positive and repeat phrases that you find motivational.

 

3) Stay in the moment

The ability to remain in the present holds incredible power for improving your performance — and your life.

If you can remain focused on what you need to do, right now, you’re on your way to success. Ignore the ringing cell phone and finish your set of repetitions. Block out the cheers of onlookers as you score points for your team.

If you let yourself get distracted by what happened just before your workout or what you’re going to have to do after your workout, your attention is somewhere else. And your performance will dip.

 

4) Take stock and breathe deeply

How does you your body feel? Are you carrying tension in areas where you should be relaxed? Are you feeling pain beyond the “good pain” of using your

Knowing what’s normal for you and what’s not is the first step. If you’re feeling good, stay focused on your movement. Complete one strong rep with good control, then move on to the next one.

Remember to breathe.

Taking 10 minutes before training to centre yourself can help you focus for better performance. Breathing exercises reduce tension, allow you to shift your focus away from negative thoughts or stress, and naturally lead into visualisation and/or positive self-talk. You can also choose to do some stretching or listen to music for relaxation — it’s about what works best for you.

Armed with a sense of calm and the mental focus created by adding these steps to your pre-training routine, you may surprise yourself by powering through the most demanding moments of your workout.

As Kayla Imrie, New Zealand Olympic kayaker, said: “If it was easy, everybody would do it. Trying to make it to the top is never going to be an easy job. There’s always going to be highs and lows.”

You have to find a way to push through tough moments to get to your goal.

 

5) Remove distractions with the right gear

Wearing the right clothing makes a huge difference.

As Muhammad Ali once said: “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe’.

If you go for a run and mother nature offers up wind and rain, what keeps you feeling warm and dry? The right gear.

Sportswear that keeps your body feeling comfortable contributes to better mental focus. This may sound odd, but if you think about the number of times you’ve had to adjust your clothing during your workout or you felt too wet and too uncomfortable to keep going, you’ll know this is true.

These physical distractions prevent you from staying focused on your goal. They stop you from pushing as hard as you can.

A zero-distraction workout is a great workout — one with unparalleled mental focus.

Next time, skip the cotton tee that holds sweat or the hoodie that keeps you just a bit too warm. Wear sports clothing that wicks sweat away to keep you dry, supports your body’s natural cooling process, and allows you to bend and flex however you need.

Put your mind to work

If you decide to get out of bed in the morning and go for a run, your body has to follow. If you choose to wear sports clothing that will keep you comfortable, you’re preparing to focus. If you can visualise running for 5 km despite a little wind and rain, you’re on your way to success.

If you use your focus to give it all you’ve got during your last 1km, your legs will carry you one step closer to your goal.

Advanced Methods for Muscle Stimulation in the Gym

 

If you’re getting bored with the same old strength training routine, or keen to bust through a plateau, then here are three advanced methods that can be incorporated into your programme to maximally stimulate muscle strength and size:

 

Drop Sets

Why it works: Drop sets involve taking the muscle ‘beyond failure’. They allow you to recruit and fatigue more muscle fibres in the working musculature than a typical set.

How to do it: Complete a set of repetitions on an exercise until failure (or close to failure), immediately drop the weight and perform reps until failure again without any rest, and then finally repeat this one last time. Basically, you’re performing three mini-sets at three different loads in one giant set. Use this sparingly as one drop set of a single exercise per muscle group should be sufficient per session.

Example: Perform a set of Lat Pull Downs to failure (e.g. x 10 reps @ 40kg), immediately drop the weight by 10kg and do the same (e.g. x 8 reps @ 30kg), finally drop the weight one last time and repeat (e.g. x 8 reps @ 20kg).

 

Pre-Exhaustion

Why it works: Pre-exhaustion involves fatiguing a muscle using an isolation exercise before fatiguing it further with a compound exercise as a part of a superset (i.e. two paired exercises). As per drop sets, this method allows you to increase recruitment of the target muscle group within the compound movement.

How to do it: Complete a set of 8-12 repetitions on an isolation exercise, rest for 60 seconds and then complete a set of 8-12 repetitions on a compound exercise involving the same muscle group. Pre-exhaustion can be challenging but less difficult than the drop set, so 2-3 supersets per target muscle group will be appropriate.

Example: Perform a set of Dumbbell Chest Flys (e.g. x 10 reps @ 15kg), rest for 60 seconds a then perform a set on the Barbell Bench Press (e.g. x 10 reps @ 60kg), repeat these two exercises for 2-3 sets

 

Accentuated Eccentric Training

Why it works: We are stronger on the lowering portion (i.e. eccentric phase) of an exercise than the lifting portion (i.e. concentric phase). Therefore, if we add extra weight on the eccentric phase we force the muscle to generate more tension than it normally would. This additional tension is a potent signal to stimulate muscle strength and size.

How to do it: There are a few ways to overload the eccentric phase of the movement, but the safest and easiest is called the “2-Up-1-Down” technique. Basically, you’ll lower a weight you normally couldn’t lift with one limb, and then use the other limb to assist in the lifting portion. This technique can result in a lot of muscle soreness, so start out with 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps of one exercise per target muscle group per session.

Example: Performing a Leg Press, select a weight slightly above what you could lift with one leg (e.g. 100kg) and perform the lowering phase with it (e.g. for 2-3 seconds), at the bottom immediately use the other leg to assist in performing the lifting phase and returning it to the top position. Complete for 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps

 

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Why the shoulder is so vulnerable to injury and how to prevent it

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It’s been bugging you for a while now.

There’s a dull ache in your shoulder and the more you play the sorer it gets.

 

RESTING UP ISN’T AN OPTION. IF YOU STOP NOW ALL YOU HARD WORK TRAINING WILL BE LOST. AND WHAT’S MORE, IT MIGHT GIVE SOMEONE ELSE THE CHANCE TO TAKE YOUR SPOT ON THE TEAM.

 

So you push on.

The pain goes away when your shoulder ‘warms up’ so you figure it can’t be that bad. It’s not until after the game that you really feel it. And now the pain it affecting your sleep.

You should really see a physio. But you’re too busy and just can’t find the time.

Then, two weeks out from the biggest game of the season, things change.

Instead of just an aching shoulder after training, there’s a shooting pain running down your arm. You can’t lift it above your head because it hurts too much.

And it’s not going away.

 

The Problem with Repetitive Action in Sport

What are the skills and movements in your sport that you do over and over again?

Many sports are built upon throwing skills (e.g., water polo and cricket), hitting skills (e.g., volleyball and tennis) or skills that involve reaching overhead (e.g. badminton and swimming.

But when these skills are performed repetitively, structures of the shoulder are placed under major stress. Therefore, athletes who complete in these sports are more susceptible to shoulder pain and associated risk of injury.

 

Here’s why.

Common to all these sports are propulsive and ballistic movements of the shoulder (e.g., throwing, striking and pulling). And repetitive action of these movements increases the wear and tear on the joint. So to resist injury the different structures of the shoulder must be moving properly.

 

The Anatomy of the Shoulder Girdle

The shoulder girdle comprises three different joints or ‘articulations’.

The most well-known structure is a ball and socket joint. The rounded head of the humerus bone (ball) rests in the cup-like glenoid fossa (socket) of the scapula, or shoulder blade. Around the joint sits a very loose joint capsule, which is home to a number of fluid-filled sacs called bursae.

Compared to the hip (another ball and socket joint in the body) the shoulder socket is quite shallow. This permits large ranges of motion of the arm.

The scapula itself is also highly mobile – it can glide and tilt upwards, downwards and around the thorax. Which means you can easily change the position and orientation of the socket.

A highly mobile scapular with a shallow socket is why you have enormous mobility at the shoulder. For instance, try testing the range of motion of your shoulder compared to your hip.

But there is a trade-off between mobility and stability. A shoulder joint that moves around a lot comes at the cost of it being much less stable.

And rather than strong ligaments holding the shoulder joint together – which happens in the knee joint – the shoulder is reliant on muscles for stability. The biceps brachii and rotor cuff muscles surround the shoulder joint and prevent the head of the humerus slipping away from the ‘cup’ it rests in. Other muscles are responsible for movement of the scapula, controlling the position and orientation of the ‘socket’.

But here’s the thing.

The muscles that control the shoulder must be well-balanced and working in unison. If the socket is not in a good place, or imbalances develop between muscles, physical load and stress go to all the wrong places – like the joint capsule, ligaments and tendons.

When this happens, it’s just a matter of time before you’ll experience pain. Which over time, becomes a chronic injury.

 

The Importance of Physical Training

By nature, the repetitive actions of sport place stress on the body. Over time, this will increase the potential for further stress and harm. That’s why your physical preparation is critical to restore the balance.

The first challenge is to identify the issue(s) causing the problem. And as it turns out, your posture is a likely culprit.

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How does your head sit in relation to your spine?

If it’s held forward of your torso, rather than resting on top of your spine, your upper back muscles will constantly strain to hold it there. And the resting position of your shoulders will put the shoulder ‘socket’ out of alignment.

Do you have a rounded upper back and ‘caved in’ shoulder position?

This may just be a bad habit – i.e., you can fix it easily when asked. Or, tightness of the pectoral muscles might be pulling your shoulders forwards.

 

REGARDLESS OF THE CAUSE, POOR UPPER BACK POSTURE TILTS THE SHOULDER ‘SOCKET’ FORWARD AND ALTERS WHERE THE ‘BALL’ SITS. WHICH CAN RESULT IN SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT WHEN YOU THROW, STRIKE OR REACH OVERHEAD.

 

What can you do about it?

It might be as simple as making a conscious effort to hold good posture.

But it’s more likely some remedial will be required. Which typically includes:

  1. Exercises to improve your shoulder mobility
  2. Basic self-therapy work to release your tight shoulder muscles and increase range of motion
  3. Exercises to improve the resting position and range of motion of your thoracic spine.
    Strength training is also a great way to combat shoulder issues.

The two main areas to focus on are the stabiliser muscles of the scapula and the group of muscles that collectively serve to hold the head of the humerus (‘ball’) in the socket – i.e. the ‘rotator cuff’.

Crucially, each individual shoulder muscle must be working properly and strong enough to do its job. But more importantly, all of the shoulder muscles must function in an integrated and coordinated manner.

What are you doing to prevent a shoulder injury? 

Make an Appointment with Rolleston Central Physio so we can help you!

Time to get serious about concussion

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Concussion is a hot topic (that affects both men and women!) across a number of sports at the moment.  Recently there have been a number of athletes retiring due to multiple concussions including Steve Devine, Ben Afeaki and Lance Hohaia.  Ben Afeaki retired after a third concussion in three years, citing ongoing issues including nausea, ‘fogginess’ and concentration issues.

Concussion is classified as a traumatic brain injury.  To label it anything other is to gloss over the severity of this injury.  The damage to the brain reduces neural activation; therefore the brain has to work harder to function.  As a result, physical or mental exertion before the brain has recovered can lead to post-concussion syndrome or prolonged symptoms.  Sustaining another concussion soon after the first (called ‘second impact syndrome’) can cause exponential and permanent damage.

A concussion does not always result in the athlete being knocked unconscious. Common complaints include headaches, visual disturbances (blurred, double vision or difficulty focusing), dizziness, loss of concentration and memory, balance and coordination deficits.  Concussion in youth athletes is particularly concerning as their brain is far more vulnerable.  The International Rugby Union requires a minimum 3 week stand-down for senior players, and longer for under-19 year old athletes.

Its time to ditch the “get hard” mentality and take control of your wellbeing.  If you, your child or someone in the sports team you’re involved in has had a concussion – take control and urge them to seek medical advice.  In the first instance a concussion assessment by a Sports doctor/Rolleston central physio is a good place to start.

What is Prehabilitation?

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We’ve all heard of “rehabilitation”, but a word gaining more and more traction in the physiotherapy world over the past several years is “prehabilitation”. As the name suggests, prehabilitation is the preparation of the body or mind for the exposure to a stressful event. Most commonly, we physios use it for pre-operative exercise programmes.

Poor pre-operative measurements of strength, range, pain and function are associated with poorer outcomes post-operatively. Although the operation in question is attempting to fix something, the process of going through surgery – however minor it is – still has repercussions on the human body. You will likely come out more sore and swollen, with reduced range and strength. Not only must you recover from the operation in question, you must rehabilitate all the pre-operative losses due to your injury / condition!

Prehabilitation is the attempt to improve outcomes BEFORE you go in to surgery, to hasten your recovery and improve your outcomes AFTER surgery. And, as the research would suggest, that it is a smart thing to do.

In a study looking at patients getting spinal surgery, prehabilitation was associated with a shorter hospital stay and improved patient satisfaction.

Another study assessed the benefits of prehabilitation on patients undergoing an anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction, and found that a six-week progressive program led to improved knee function based on physical and self-reported assessments. Twelve weeks post-operatively, these improvements were maintained.

A study assessed the benefits of a six week pre-operative exercise programme in patients requiring knee joint replacements. Patients who participated in the programme were less likely to require discharge to post-operative rehabilitation facilities and improved functional outcomes.

Studies have also shown that prehabilitation can lead to reduced pain and primary health-care requirements post-operatively. It is not specifically used to improve outcome in orthopaedic surgeries either. Several studies have looked at the benefits of prehab in patients who are undergoing heart, cancer and abdominal operations. Reported benefits have not only been physical but mental, with reductions in depression and anxiety, and improvements in quality of life measured.

If you are expecting to undergo an operation – or even just a physically stressful event – talk to Rolleston Central Physio about what you can do to better prepare yourself and optimise your outcomes after. As we like to say; the better you go in, the better you will come out!

Train Easy. Train Hard.

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Regular physical exercise makes your body stronger, especially when challenged with various strength and endurance tasks and, more importantly, when enough time is given to recover before the following workout. This training and recovery cycle is a small building block that forms each athletes’ training program.

In order to gain maximal benefits of regular training, workouts have to be well distributed across weekly and monthly training schedules, with variations of physical exercises and their intensities. There is no doubt that both types – high intensity interval training (for example: most fitness classes) and higher volume low intensity exercise (easy and relaxed running or cycling) – are effective at improving overall health and performance.

We can simply classify training intensities into three main categories of easymoderate and high-intensity training. Optimal training intensity distribution in this training intensity continuum is important and helps many elite and recreational athletes to maintain good training-recovery balance.

Have you ever asked yourself and noted how many high-intensity training sessions you have in a week, and how many of them are at easy exercise intensity? Can you identify which session in your weekly training schedule are easy, moderate or high intensity? These questions will help you to understand if you polarise your training, having both easy intensity and high intensity training days, or if your training is more monotonous and guided by “train hard every day” approach.

 

Simple ways to know that exercise intensity is easy:

  • You are able to talk using short sentences when exercising
  • You are able to breath through your nose if necessary
  • By answering a question: “Will I be able to maintain this exercise intensity for hour without being excessively tired at the end?”
  • You feel that your chest is not lifting hard with each breath
  • By using training zones based on heart rate readings determined in the physiology laboratory

 

You are likely at high intensity zone if:

  • You are not able to talk in sentences (just one or two words between breaths)
  • You suddenly feel that breathing just became faster and you need more air to keep going
  • For most people, sweating becomes profuse after 5-10 minutes
  • Your heart rate is close to maximal
  • You are running or cycling at a pace that you would not normally choose for a casual ride or run

 

Research tells that recreational athletes usually commit themselves to spending too much time in the moderate training zone, which makes all easy and longer duration training sessions too intense, and on the other hand, all high-intensity training workouts suffer from athlete’s inability to reach appropriate intensity. It is important to appreciate that training hard in each training session is associated with accumulation of excessive fatigue and overall stress, and in the long run could lead to overtraining and loss of desire to exercise.

So, how do elite athletes handle high training volumes, overcome training monotony and endure enough time for recovery?

Unsurprisingly, research studies tell us that most elite level endurance athletes naturally adjust to polarising their training with most training performed at easy intensity (~80% of training volume). The rest training volume is performed as high intensity workouts (~20%), and the least time is spent in the moderate intensity training zone. This model has shown superior results to improve endurance exercise performance and potentially leads to lower overall stress and reduced injury and overtraining rates. This is where the 80-20 rule comes from, if you haven’t heard about it already.

 

How to use 80-20 rule in your training:

  • Spend 80% of your training time exercising at low intensity and 20% of your training time challenging yourself with high intensity workouts
  • Use a heart rate monitor in order to monitor exercise intensity better
  • One or two high intensity workouts per week is sufficient training load to stimulate beneficial adaptations,
  • Dedicate your easy intensity days to build overall endurance, work on agility, improve general strength and flexibility
  • Have a clear plan of what you want to achieve in every session
  • High intensity workouts are: most fitness classes, bike spin workouts, tabata-type workouts, interval running session on the track
  • Low intensity workouts are: most yoga classes, longer distance running or cycling workouts, weight training in the gym