Strengthening this “red zone” is one of the keys to improving your performance and remaining injury-free for every sport. Your power comes from the core.
These muscles stabilize your torso and provide the base on which you can build power and strength. It doesn’t help to have strong legs if you have a weak core.
Twice a year I offer an AB CHALLENGE series and I hope you will join me. I need to clarify that this challenge focuses purely on ABS; however, it is imperative that you use your core to complete the exercises.
In my workouts, I talk about the pelvic floor. Contracting the core is not the same as holding your breath or sucking in your belly. Both of these actions are dangerous when strength training as they increase intra-abdominal pressure, which is not good.
Check with yourself. Do you know how to hold your core? If not, please repeat this glute and core maintenance video once a week until you feel comfortable with this action and can activate the core with awareness, then automatically when required.
Ideally, you should be able to recover within 24-48hs, just in time for your next workout.
The key is to repeat the stress so the muscles can continue to build week by week. It is only through repetition that you will get stronger.
There are no shortcuts.
So do you need to be sore after every workout?
It depends on several factors:
1. Short and long term goals
3. System you want to improve
4. Time of the season
1. You have a big goal and a short amount of time (3 to 8month) to achieve it.
With a short timeline, you will need to see consistent gains each week.
Yes, the pro athletes feel sore like this AND worse. But it is their job, and when they are not training, they use their time to recover with naps, massages, ice baths, proper nutrition, chiro, acupuncture, and more.
The best way to help reduce the soreness is to follow a yearly periodized training program, focus on the workouts that matter the most, and then spend the rest of the time recovering. The training will still hurt, and you will be sore, but you will have more days when you aren’t sore.
If you have reached your goal for the summer and are looking to maintain and enjoy your current fitness level, you may not feel sore for the rest of the season.
2. If you have a moderate to big goal but lots of time to achieve it (a year or more), you don’t need to push as hard with more time and can improve slowly.
3. Which system are you trying to improve?
If you don’t feel sore after the workout, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t improving.Training is not just for your muscles. There are so many other systems that are also working hard, which you may or may not be aware of.
With each training session, you become more efficient at your sport, strengthing or building new neural pathways. These pathways help you improve your technique so you don’t need to work as hard.
It is necessary to build a solid aerobic foundation. These are the easy rides, runs that shouldn’t be painful or make you sore.
Each ride or workout builds mental resiliency, improves self-confidence, and creates healthy habits.
Every workout creates stress on the body, which cumulates over time. You may be able to accomplish your goal by completing either 2-3 long workouts in the week or six short ones. The six short ones will not make you as sore as the longer workouts, but you will have made the same gains if the accumulated stress is the same at the end of the week.
Stimulates Growth cycle and Reverses catabolism
After 25, our cells stop growing and building on their own. We are now mature humans and are beginning the 2nd stage of life, where the cells start breaking down. Exercise stimulates a chemical reaction, reversing this process and stimulating new growth.
3. You don’t have any goals and would like to stay fit for life.
If training negatively affects other parts of your life, you may need to prioritize and re-evaluate. Since this is your hobby and not your career, you may be willing to give up a bit of speed or strength to not be sore. Or you may want to improve slowly year by year instead of trying to do it all in one season.
4. It is the off-season
You can NOT continue to improve in ALL areas throughout the year, nor should you try to maintain peak fitness. It is NOT possible and will only get you injured. You need to prioritize the different systems throughout the year. As a cyclist, your season would look something like this, along with the relative soreness you should feel.
January to February – build strength in the gym = muscle soreness
March to May – build endurance = body fatigue as you are building a base
June to August – build strength and power = muscle soreness from high-intensity interval training
September – taper, and race = body and mental fatigue as you are recovering from a full season of training
October – transition = no soreness or residual soreness from the season as you take time to recover fully
November to December – work on injuries/weaknesses = no soreness or start strength training phase = muscle soreness from getting back into the gym
Breathing is the one activity we think should happen naturally and correctly.
But evolution does not always mean improvement. Over time, breathing correctly has become a lost art, leading to poor mental and physical health and less than optimal athletic performance.
I have been attending yoga classes for over 20 years. Every time they started or ended the class with alternate nostril breathing or “breath of fire,” I would grit my teeth and go through the motions waiting for it to be over so I could get on with the workout. I never asked why we were doing these breathing exercises, and I barely participated long enough to receive any benefits.
During the summer of 2021, I attended a course titled “Breathe: Your health, movement, and performance depend on it!” led by Brian Justin. The course was based 100% on Patrick McKeown’s book “The Oxygen Advantage.” McKeown’s theory is that most of us are over breathers, consistently and constantly hyperventilating, which hampers the body’s ability to utilize oxygen. Our problem isn’t that we don’t have enough oxygen, but rather it is a problem of not having enough carbon dioxide (CO2). C02 is what determines how much oxygen your body can use. It is the crucial variable that allows the release of oxygen from the red blood cells, which is what you want most when climbing a hill.
For years I taught box (or square) breathing to help calm the nervous system, and I knew that breathing was a critical component missing in most training programs, including my own. Still, I was skeptical that breathing exercises offered the long list of benefits listed below, and so began my six-month-long research into the art and practice of breathing.
Breath by James Nester was the book that best explained the importance of breathing correctly and adopting a breathing practice. In his book, Nester undergoes a personal and journalistic journey to uncover the importance of breathing, how over-breathing and mouth breathing lead to health problems, and how to change our breathing patterns to improve our health and performance. I realized that what Nester had discovered as “new information” was what yogis and Ayurvedic medicine have known for centuries. Better late than never.
Excited by the positive results in my own life, I started to sneak some breathing exercises into my classes. I began to teach specific breathing exercises to private clients that would best suit their unique breathing issues and habits. In a few short weeks, my clients reported better sleep, more energy, better endurance in their sport, shortened recovery time, and generally feeling more calm and relaxed.
I wanted to know more and dove deeper, reading into all the types of breathing, purposes, and goals. I was shocked to learn that there are more than 30 different breathing techniques to choose from, which at first glance seemed overwhelming. In the end, I realized that except for Whim Hoff, every author or Teacher agrees on one type of breathing; slow breathing. Slow breathing is the most simple of all the breathing exercises. It is so simple that I’m sure you will think like I did, that it would be of no use and a waste of time. But not everything in training has to be complicated or painful. When possible, enjoy the easy ways that can improve your performance. So what is slow breathing?
Inhale through the nose slowly for a count of 5
Exhale through the nose slowly for a count of 5
Repeat for 2 mins, working your way up to 5 minutes every day. Once you get to 5 minutes, repeat twice a day, once in the morning and once before you go to sleep.
If counting to 5 is too long, you feel breathless, or it doesn’t feel easy, start with a count of 3 or 4 seconds and work your way up to 5. TIP: DO NOT MAKE THIS HARD.
So are you ready to read how you will benefit?
improves aerobic performance and V02 max
improves heart rate variability (see post on HRV to come)
improves sleep quality
reduces inflammation and recovery time from training
lowers blood pressure
lowers resting heart rate
reduce asthma symptoms and breathlessness during exercise
Watching the Tour de France you wouldn’t think that a cyclist requires any upper body or core strength at all.
But I’m sorry to break it to you, if you are not a professional cyclists and no longer in your 20’s or 30’s, or 40’s, increasing the strength of your core and upper body will not only make your time on the bike more enjoyable but could also make you faster.
A cyclist with a weak core will compensate flexing at the wrist, locking the elbows, and shrugging their shoulders up to their ears. This acts as a brace for the upper body and puts pressure on the wrists and elbows as well as increases tension into the shoulders. Maintaining this tight, locked position usually results in numb hands and a sore neck or upper back. In addition, a weak core results in additional strain to your lower back, causing more pain and discomfort both on and off the bike.
But it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Start by adding these four exercises into your weekly routine.
AND WHY EVERY ENDURANCE ATHLETE OVER 30 NEEDS TO INCLUDE IT IN THEIR YEARLY TRAINING PROGRAM
There are SO many other systems in the body that are developing during weight training that does not get as much attention but are equally, if not more important, than bigger muscles.
Stimulate Growth Hormones and Reverse Catabolism This one is a HUGE, if not the biggest, reason why everyone over the age of 30 should lift weights. After we reach 25 years (yup – that was just a few years ago…), our cells stop growing and building independently. We are now mature humans and are beginning the 2nd stage of life, where the cells break down. Exercise stimulates a chemical reaction, reversing the ageing process and stimulating new growth.
Increase Bone Density Lifting weights is a stress on the bones. The body responds by laying down more bone, increasing overall bone density, reducing the chance of osteoporosis, and hopefully future fractures when we get older.
Increase Metabolism at Rest Our metabolism naturally lowers, so we need to eat less or move more to maintain the same weight as we age. However, building muscle uses more energy, increasing metabolism at rest. Yes, during sleep, the body is repairing muscles that use energy and helps with weight maintenance. Weight training also increases testosterone in both sexes. Testosterone is vital in managing weight AND maintaining a healthy libido. Testosterone levels lower as the day progresses, so training in the afternoon or evening will boost
NOTE: This does not happen with endurance sports, and HIIT exercises for women may have the opposite effect and reduce testosterone levels
Train the Neuromuscular System The first few times someone learns a new movement, the brain has to create a pathway, telling the muscles how to move as they should. The more repeated the movement, the more solid and subconscious this pathway becomes. Once the brain no longer has to tell the body to move in that new way consciously, then more weight, speed, power, or move to more complex movements.
Improve Mental Resilience and Confidence Weight training allows for small wins throughout the overall training goal. Building strength in the gym builds overall confidence and permits the athlete to tackle more complex exercises in the gym or sport.
Learn Pain By pushing to “do one more rep,” you are teaching your body the difference between good pain (make you more robust) and bad pain (injury).
Boost Energy Levels and Mood Even a short 20-minute workout will release endorphins which act as an anti-depressant as the brain releases dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
Reduce Risk of Injury Weight training is a controlled environment where paying attention to form and working within personal comfort levels can build overall body and core strength, which will help reduce injuries during sport.
Thank you for all the good luck wishes for my 30th marathon! I don’t usually write a race report for (just?) a marathon, but since it was my 30th and a destination race, I thought I’d shared a little about my day….The weather had been quite cold leading up to race day. But the day promised to be perfect running conditions and didn’t disappoint. Having not run a big city marathon recently I prepared for security checks, long porta-pottie line ups and a lengthy wait in my corral to reach the start line. So, other than being a bit cold while I waited, everything went fairly smoothly and 23mins after the race started I crossed the start line and my marathon began.
The crowd support was amazing and the volunteers were fantastic – they really did the city of Philadelphia proud. Because of the wave starts which were three minutes apart, initially we had lots of room to run. But since the half and the full marathon ran together for the first 13 miles the course became quite congested at times. In some neighbourhoods the roads were quite narrow and the spectators were gathered on the road so it was challenging to find my pace. In my mind I was really hoping to finish sub-4:15 so when I reached the halfway mark at 2:08 I was a little worried. As the half marathoners broke off for the finish line, the pack dispersed and I was finally able to find my groove. As it turned out, the slower pace in the first half paid off for me as the miles in the second half clicked by easily and I just kept feeling strong! My pace picked up and I caught the 4:15 pace group. Once I passed them, I never saw them again:)
When I reached the 25 mile mark at 3:59, knowing I had only 1.2 miles to go, I knew I would finish sub-4:15, but didn’t think I would be so close to my personal best. I ran strong and happily into the finish. I looked at my watch and was surprised to see a sub-4:10! I couldn’t believe I was only 12 seconds off my PR!!!! I had to ask myself, Could I not have run just half a second per mile faster?!?
In the end, I had a great day on the course. I felt strong the whole way and enjoyed a world-class marathon here in Philadelphia. What more could a girl ask for?
The city of Philadelphia has been an amazing city to visit! The history here combined with some unbelievable collections of art has left Brian and I with too little time to see it all. We’re plotting out a strategy for our last couple of days….so we’re off to see a bit more before we head home later tomorrow.
Thank you again for supporting me in my marathoning adventures!