Many athletes start their workout by lacing up their shoes or throwing on a helmet, and getting right into their session. Of course just getting started can be a difficult step at times, but paying attention to a few specific preparation keys before you start a workout can mean the difference between getting the training response you want and possibly taking steps backwards.
Here are five things every athlete should do in this order, before they workout, to maximize the training session.
1. Clear Your Mind
All athletes have stresses in their daily lives that have nothing to do with workouts, training, or racing. Instead, they have life, work, family and other stresses, all which can take away from the quality of a session. If an athlete comes into a session with a focus on the negatives, it can be hard to accomplish positive things.
I have seen a number of athletes quit a session that was going well, change a session entirely simply because of attitude, or fail to execute a session effectively, because they are too distracted with the other aspects of their life. Sometimes athletes want to take their aggression out in a session, which may be the exact opposite of the purpose of the session, such as a recovery spin or technical development session.
A little bit of pause to relax, clear the mind and put 100 percent mental focus into the session will get higher quality and better training response from the session.
2. Determine the Purpose of the Workout
Every workout should serve two clear purposes: physiological adaptation specific to the goal and mental skill development toward execution of the goal.
Setting up the workout to make sure the physiological adaptation an athlete is specifically looking for starts before the workout, recognizing workout partners, goal intensities for the session, and making sure they match. For example, if you have a recovery spin or a steady state ride, going for a group ride with a number of attacks from friends who push the pace isn’t going to help you accomplish the workout goal.
No workout should just be about hammering either. There are so many mental skills and technical abilities that need to be developed and focused on during a session, in order to be effectively utilized in a race. No matter what you are executing in a session, it is important that it be executed as technically perfect as possible, each and every session.
If you identify the purpose of the workout, from a training and technical perspective, execution for success becomes much easier.
3. Budget Your Time
Every athlete finds themselves at some point, cutting a workout short because of other demands on their time that require their attention. For some, this is getting to work, getting to class, picking up a family member or having a meeting they can’t be late to.
This is going to happen to everyone at some point or another, but continuously cutting workouts short because of other demands, means athletes aren’t budgeting and managing their time well enough. This could be preparation that needs to be addressed, or simple distractions.
When you are rushed to finish a session, taking shortcuts in warm-up, cool down or even in the main sets begins to happen, meaning a reduction in the quality of the session. Being prepared with enough time to complete the entire session or making adjustments in your day to still effectively maximize the session can be critical to success. It’s the great skill of time-management.
4. Fuel and Hydrate
If you come into a high quality workout under-fueled and under-hydrated, you’re likely not going to be successful in getting what you want from the session. The longer and harder the session, and the hotter the conditions it is conducted in, the more pre-workout fueling and hydrating become important for success.
Probably the most overlooked aspect of workout preparation by athletes is neuromuscular activation. Going through a simple but short routine of movements that helps communication between the brain and muscles, has been shown to activate more motor units. This allows athletes to move better, easier, and produce more force with each movement. That increases the quality of the training session and response.
Utilizing these five preparation keys in the moments before the workout can go a long ways to helping performance. Use them, and you’ll likely see the benefit of better training and racing.