Sunday, May 17, 2015

From The Ground Up

From the Ground Up:  From the beginning; starting with the basics, the foundation or fundamentals.  You may have heard this saying when people are talking about anything from starting a company to any number of other new projects that require starting from something completely unformed and building it piece by piece.

Any athlete I speak with wants to gain speed, power and the ability to go the long haul without injury.  The athlete that can train most consistently is usually the one that makes the most long term gains over time.  Yet, when time commitments begin to be limited, the first thing to go is strength training, core work, and warm up dynamic stretching.

When athletes like Mark Allen and Dave Scott were running blistering marathons during the 140.6 swim, bike and run that still have proven to be some of the fastest in our sport, they were putting a huge emphasis on strength training to maintain durability and power through the late stages of the event. 

As multi-sport athletes, we have a huge amount of time invested in our bodies and training routines.  We have to be balanced and work on weaknesses throughout the season to achieve our best results, especially as the season wears on.  Just as our cardiovascular training is periodized to match our needs as the season progresses from base phases to speed endurance and finally race specificity, so must our strength training routine evolve and change to integrate.

Photo Credit: Pedro Gomes

Trust me, I've been as guilty as the next person in certain years of the "keep the cardio and don't worry about the rest" camp.  It's much easier after a long day on the bike or a hard run to skip my session of TRX or core work to the following day.  However, I've also seen my body suffer as small muscular imbalances and weaknesses are exacerbated during miles and miles of swim, bike and run hours that could have been prevented with simply making the extra fourty-five mins twice a week in the weight room or twenty minutes of TRX.
Photo Credit: Pedro Gomes

In the beginning of the season, when athletes are laying their foundation at aerobic base paces and heart rates, it's the perfect time to be sore and go through an adaptation and then harder or maximum strength phase for a four to six week period.  Even smaller athletes and older athletes can benefit greatly from this phase that helps them build muscle mass to power the bike and withstand the pounding on the run.  Once the intensity picks up and the weekly volume starts to climb, it's important to move to a more maintenance phase of strength that still incorporates balance, agility and core strength movements via body weight or other functional total-body movements.  In addition, strength training can be more sport specific and even time saving by creating training programs that incorporates it into the swim, bike and run portions via paddle work in the pool, over gear work on the bike and hill repeats on the run.

One of the biggest improvements I've made in the past year is the addition of experts in this specialized area to not only hold me accountable, but to guide me as I complete my program with hands-on feedback and injury prevention BEFORE it becomes a problem or issue vs. after.  I've found this has kept me a healthier happier athlete for the long haul and I see it as a trend among many professionals to have their trusted "team" around them throughout the year. 

I've been working with Vesla 360 in Cranberry, PA since last September.  Having both the physical therapy aspect tied directly into the strength training has been a huge advantage to work together synergistically.  Last week, I started feeling like my hip and glute were getting tight again and causing a bit of pain and fatigue as I was running.  Instead of pushing through it, I spoke with my coach and immediately called Vesla to schedule an assessment.  Sure enough, my glute was inflamed and unhappy.  Aimee, the head of physical therapy let me know our course of action and communicated with Frank, the head of strength training and conditioning, about my state of affairs.  Next week, we'll continue our path of keeping my posterior chain strong (which is need for quad-dominant triathletes!) while doing stim and other soft tissue work to make sure my glute and hip are lose enough to handle the work load of regular training.

I'd encourage those of you who aren't putting a focus on this aspect, to start reading and talking to others about where you can get started developing a routine that works with your training to keep you in the game throughout the season.  I see many athletes (and have been one of them) that start the year excited and training like a mad fools, only to be on the sidelines by mid-July, just when the race season is heating up and getting fun.  No one wants to take time off due to a preventable injury and we certainly all want to make gains and maintain the level of strength we currently have not just for triathlon, but for living a healthy life!   If you build it from the ground up, your body will be healthier for the long haul and allow you to do what you love without worrying if your body is stable enough to handle it.

Thanks for being on my team, Aimee, Frank and all the other members of Vesla 360.  You guys are top notch and have gotten me healthy and have kept me that way.  Thank you for being a partner that I can recommend to my athletes with confidence and personally lean on for support and learning.  I've already seen great things from them this past season and I know there will be a lot more in the future!  Make sure you check them out if you are local to the Pittsburgh area!

Monday, May 4, 2015

It Comes From Within

Why do some people seem to succeed at whatever they decide to do?  Have you ever thought that before?  It seems to come so easily from the outside looking in.  However, I’m pretty sure if you saw the trials and hours of dedication behind the scenes it would be apparent that the path to success was not a linear line, but rather a veering course that eventually arrived at the destination.  

Picture Source
I recently had this thought as I was summarizing my life to a bunch of young women at a local junior high school program that I helped entitle “Strong is Beautiful”.  Each year about 80 girls or 80 boys in the 12-14 age range are assembled (alternating years) to spend a Friday night fostering their development with programs at an age where this kind of guidance is crucial.

As I looked out into their faces, I couldn’t help but think back to when I was that age.  There were times when girls could be so cruel to one another and my role models were extremely important.   I was so thankful for the shelter of sports to help me devote my time and energy to something I enjoyed and where I could see progress.  

My main points included making sure they knew that I came from a very small school in the local area and that at times, I felt very alone, like I would never find my place in this world.  I emphasized the importance of education and how committing to being the best student possible opened multiple doors for me in life.  I talked about confidence and examples in my own life of going against the grain when others doubted me or weren’t supportive of my crazy dreams or ideas.  I spoke about belief and how the person most important to be true to is staring back at you in the mirror every day. 

The comments suggested to me as good things to share were important messages for all of us, even as adults.  When asked the question:

“What would you say if you could tell your 8th grade-self something?

People responded with:
  • Nobody is born ____, you become _____ by taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, or searching for opportunities that fit your passions.  There will never be another "you" on this planet, so make your life a good story to tell.
  • Be patient, listen to advice given.  Think hard about your decisions and realize it will impact you later in life.  Always listen and learn.
  •  You'll make it, you'll endure and your grown up life will be amazing!
  • If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right.
  • Have a deep love for God, maintain integrity, and always keep a strong work ethic; that's the one thing people can never take away.
  • The expert in anything was once a beginner.
  • Do what you love, it will lead you to the right people.  What other people think doesn't matter.
  • You can be healthy and accomplished at any size as long as you maintain a healthy lifestyle both through mind and body! 
  • It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
  • Strength isn't always about winning.
  • Every day you wake up, choose a positive attitude no matter will learn in life that your choice of attitude may be the other thing you have control over.
  It doesn’t matter what your age, these lessons still apply.  

I’m so thankful for good role models in my life and people who spent time with me when I was young.  My coaches, teachers, parents, friend’s parents and other positive influences gave me the tools I needed to truly believe that anything was possible if I just took the time to make it a goal and broke it down into smaller steps.  I hope my message will resonate with these young ladies that the pictures of women that have been airbrushed in magazines are not the goal.  Instead, that using your body, thanking your body for all it can do and treating it well with good nutrition can make all the difference!  

Thank you to the school for providing this amazing program for our youth.  I’d love to see something like this at every school at some point.  These teachers made it happen and it can be something that will change the lives of these young people forever.  I’ll forever be grateful to be a small part of that experience.

I'm thankful to my sponsors that support me and are a part of these events as well!