The Little Things Become the Big Things

Jan
2

Posted by Coach Laura Henry

When we think of our goals - whether they be crossing the finish line of a running race, a triathlon, or a cycling race - we typically think of the “big things” that we need to do to reach our goals. For instance, if we set a goal to complete a half marathon, we think about all of the running that we will need to do to prepare to successfully reach that finish line. We may even think about the specific types of runs we need to complete to be truly successful - speed sessions, long runs, and progression runs that focus on a strong finish. What I can say with relative certainty is that we are not thinking about the extra sleep, stretching, foam rolling, and strength work we need to do to reach a goal of completing a half marathon when we contemplate setting that goal.  Rarely, if ever, do we consider the “little things” that we need to do to reach a goal when we’re in the goal setting stage.

I constantly encourage my athletes to focus on the “little things” that will set them up for success on the path to their goals.  I firmly believe that the “little things” collectively add up to be “big things” to help athletes reach their goals.  The “little things” may vary in importance for each individual athlete - i.e. the athlete who constantly is getting short-changed on sleep would most benefit from consistent sleep - but there are a few universal “little things” that all athletes can incorporate into their routines to make them smarter, stronger, and faster.

Sleep

In an increasingly busy world, sleep is generally one of the first things that gets compromised when we need to "make time" in a day to accomplish all of the tasks required of us in our daily lives. The reality is that we cannot “make time” (as there are only a finite number of minutes/hours in a day), but we can allocate time to various activities. While sleep, at face value, may seem like an easy activity to short-change because it generally takes up a significant number of the finite hours in a given day, it actually should remain high on the priority list of activities to allocate time to for athletes looking to maximize their potential. Sleep is a restorative phase that allows our bodies to recover from the stress we place on them over the course of a day. When we start to include a training regimen as part of that daily stress, that recovery becomes even more critical.  We cannot, as athletes, reach our true potential if our bodies are broken down and tired.

Stretching

Stretching is one of the best “little things” that an athlete can do to maximize their potential. It has a multitude of benefits, including increased range of motion due to enhanced flexibility and better recovery from workouts. Swimming, biking, and running are, at their core, repetitive movements.  Over time, repetitive movements can cause tightness due to a loss of elasticity. Stretching, both dynamic stretching and static stretching, can help keep this tightness as bay. I generally recommend that my athletes stretch every major muscle group for at least 2:00 per day.  With consistency, stretching will yield the result of increased flexibility and elasticity in 4-6 weeks.  Neglect to take time to stretch on a daily basis, though, and those gains are lost in a mere two weeks.

Foam Rolling

Self-myofascial release (better known as SMR or foam rolling) has many of the same benefits of stretching, to include increased flexibility, pain reduction, and injury prevention.  SMR focuses on the fascial and neural systems in the body by focusing on alleviating trigger points, knots, or adhesions that develop in the body over time as the result of repetitive movements.  Alleviating these relaxes our muscles, thereby restoring elasticity and function to the soft tissues in the body.

Strength Training

Strength training is an element often overlooked by athletes who have cardio-based goals (i.e. a running race or a triathlon). While I can certainly empathize with how much of a hassle strength training can appear to be, it is something that I believe every athlete should incorporate into their training plan. Research has shown that a solid strength training plan that is well-thought out and executed can reduce the amount of cardio volume that athletes need to incorporate into their plans by up to 25%. Many people think of strength training as something that must be tackled using heavy and expensive equipment and by going to the gym; this is not actually the case.  Strength training is easily completed at home with bodyweight exercises that help develop stability, efficient movement patterns, increased range of motion, and stronger muscles and tendons. Suspension training systems and a set of dumbbells are relatively inexpensive tools that can be purchased for the home in order to progress to higher levels of strength training when the athlete is ready. Proper form is critical to safely and successfully execute a strength training plan, so I encourage athletes to either work with their coach either in-person or remotely via video calls or with a certified personal trainer to make sure that their form is spot on.

 

So, how does one learn to allocate time for the “little things” in addition to all of the other things that one has going on? I encourage my athletes to start with relatively small goals, such as stretching for 20 minutes in the evening right before bed. Once that goal is a consistent habit (i.e. after a few weeks of doing that), then other “little things” can start to be incorporated. Habits can start to build on each other, eventually becoming part of the normal routine. Other tricks to incorporate the “little things” include foam rolling while watching TV with the family, doing a bodyweight strength routine while the kids are playing in the family room, or aiming to go to sleep 15 minutes earlier than normal.  Over time, most athletes come to realize that all of these “little things” do collectively become “big things” and help them reach their goals feeling strong and with a smile.


 

Laura Henry is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 3 Coach and is living in upstate New York outside of Syracuse. She has been involved in endurance events for over six years and has raced virtually every distance triathlon and running offers. As a former swing shift worker with a demanding schedule, Laura knows what it’s like to set goals and train as a time-limited athlete on a non-traditional schedule, and she focuses on developing effective plans for other time-crunched athletes. Her enthusiasm and passion for helping athletes of all ability levels reach their personal goals has enabled her to coach many athletes to success. She is an active volunteer leader with Team Red, White & Blue, and aside from endurance sports, Laura’s other interests include traveling, hiking, photography, mountain biking, cooking, skiing, and snowshoeing. Coach Laura can be reached at Laura@TeamMPI.com

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