Every time I follow a major sporting event like the Olympics, I become super-inspired to get back into competitive exercise.
Like millions of others around the globe, I dust the bike off, join a gym or take up a new sport.
After the success our athletes had in Rio, many Malaysians will also be feeling the post-Olympic buzz and will likely be renewing their local badminton club membership or taking up swimming classes.
Many more will be joining one of the endurance race events coming up over National Sports Day (Hari Sukan Negara).
There are cycling races, marathons, as well as the ever popular Spartan endurance races on Oct 8 and 9. (All National Sports Day events are listed on the Fit Malaysia website, www.fit.my)
For some, it will be your first-ever event, so we are going to look into what it takes to be a successful weekend warrior and the little details you need to know about exercising safely on your training for that day.
Be goal orientated!
Health, weight loss, social activity, stress management? It’s important that you are aware of the underlying reason you are getting back into exercise.
Having clear-cut goals and a step-by-step programme to start you on your path to glory is the best way to ensure you stick with your routine and get the most benefit out of exercise.
Do some research and get some expert advice before you sign up on a programme, because all of the above goals need vastly different approaches.
Remember, aiming for a personal best in an endurance race or pushing yourself to win a match is stressful, so, if you got into your sport or event for health reasons, then remind yourself of your goals and don’t get swept away by the adrenalin rush!
Before you start, be smart
If you are above 30 years old, haven’t exercised for more than six months, or feel that you are overweight, then make the time for a physical check-up with your doctor.
Look out for inflammation markers such as homocysteine, high cholesterol levels, elevated blood pressure, unusual levels of C reactive protein or uric acid.
Other markers you should know for setting goals: weight, body fat percentage and body mass index (BMI).
Get a clear understanding of what these markers mean and where your body should be for your age and height. Identify a clear goal to aim for, and then a healthy ball-park figure that you don’t want to lose sight of three months down the line.
When I overstep the scales at 95kg, hit 20% body fat and a BMI of more than 27, then the alarm bells start ringing – which always seems be the encore tune to the ringing of Jingle Bells at Christmas time and my annual pilgrimage to celebrate this most festive time in the Christian calendar with my family in England.
Utilising the “three strikes and you are out” concept, mine are the minced pies and that “just one more” slice of Christmas cake my aunts try to push on me before I jump on a plane and fly beyond a reasonable food postage range.
So, if weight control is your goal, then set your three strikes and make sure you understand your wiggle room before countermeasures need to be deployed.
Before you splash out on a new bike or sign up for an endurance race, take a trip to your doctor’s office and make sure you follow their exercise guidelines, especially if you have any contraindications to exercise, or pre-existing health conditions.
If you don’t currently have a doctor and are looking for a suitable doctor or trainer for advice, then check out the Exercise is Medicine (EIM) initiative for a list of their recommended professionals.
Slow and steady wins the race, but ask any professional athlete and they will tell you that preparation is the real key to success.
Warm up with light physical activity and slowly build up your intensity and joint range of motion before your event.
I like to warm up with a five to eight minute jog at 50% intensity to stretch the legs before increasing to 60-70% and moving on to more complex actions like sideways movements and star jumps.
When I’m feeling really warm, I will do exercises like a high knee run, deep squats and lunges before finishing a warm-up with short 80-90% sprints.
Stretching plays an important role in the health of all warm-blooded mammals, which is why a yawn and a stretch is the first thing we do when we wake up in the morning.
Firstly, I must confess that I’m a big believer in continuity of movement, which is why I will never do static or passive stretching.
It just doesn’t make sense to hold a stretch for 40-50 seconds, fighting the pain and bullying the muscle fibres into opening up.
I try to incorporate as many muscles and soft tissue fibres as possible in an interactive way, which is why I love active stretching or The Mattes Method of AIS.
By stretching actively, we are constantly moving agonist versus antagonist muscles in their natural relationship of continual opposition, improving our biomechanics and neuromuscular connection.
If you haven’t yet tried an active stretching session and want to see how top athletes prepare for a race, then have a look at www.thestretchclinic.com.
Learning how to keep hydrated is one of the biggest challenges for endurance racers in hot climates like Malaysia. Cellular hydration is just as much about replenishing salt and mineral levels, as it is about drinking water.
Aim for a good electrolyte replacement drink while training, and a well-recognised hydration supplement on race day, especially for any event lasting more than two hours.
The osmolality of blood is 280-290 milliosmoles per kilogramme; a sports drink should be in this range or slightly less.
In life, we often learn the hard way the importance of balance, and the harder we train, the more recovery our bodies need before we can comfortably push the limits again.
As we become fitter and stronger, our bodies adapt and we can increase training intensity with shorter recovery times, but this is a fine line, with the increased risk of injury as the stresses of exercise build up.
This is where we come back to the benefits of stretching, as well as cold swims, sports massages, and ensuring we eat nutritious foods and get to bed before 11pm.
Make sure you understand your recovery needs and invest in a sports massage before you end up on the physiothrapist’s table.
Whatever your sport or activity of choice this National Sports Day, make sure you get out and enjoy the atmosphere.
Your participation helps bring people together in a celebration of Malaysian culture, so make the most of this opportunity to meet new people, reconnect with old friends and celebrate our way of life through exercise.