Most athletes or individuals when they set themselves a goal no matter how big or small leave a crucial factor out of their training program. Whether you run, bike or swim (and indeed if you do all three) your rehabilitation, stretching and strength/core work is just as important to your performance as the time spent running/swimming/cycling those laps. It seems silly to pencil in all those miles and not actively write strength and rehab work into your diary. So here's my view on how to make sure you make it to the start line...
Endurance athletes, listen up.
Strength & Core work:
Strong glutes and a solid core are the base for pretty much most athletic endeavours. Runners need to keep their hips pushed through to generate forward momentum and get a good foot strike and cyclists will generate their best power output if they can avoid torso movement and drive all their power through their glutes and legs. So what exactly counts as strength training for an endurance athlete? Speed sessions will increase core and leg strength- either 400 meter track sprints with 1-2 minutes between reps or big gear bike sprints for anything from 1-4 minutes on a bike followed by a 3-5 minute active rest. Speed work comes with one caution- always make sure you warm up adequately. In speed sessions your asking more from your body than you normally give, your range of motion running will be larger and the impact through your joints/muscles will be harder. Similarly on the bike, you're putting more force through your muscles and knees, always build into a speed session with a good warm up. A speed session isn't something you want to be doing everyday, one a week or one every other week will help when incorporated into your normal routine.
There's also a lot to be done off of the track and there are plenty of exercises that are going to help build a more injury resistant body. Air squats, lunges and hip raises are a few great exercises to isolate muscle strength improvements. On the bike one of the easiest ways to improve your core is to cycle with no hands- even if your on your turbo trainer, it forces you to engage your core. If you don't want to risk that then drop down and hold a plank position for a minute at a time.
Stretch and rehabilitate:
Stretching is a pain in the ass quite literally. When you embrace the endurance world you want to save every ounce of energy for your sessions and the last thing you'll ever feel like doing is a stretch and mobility session. For most people this is something that's a 'cure' rather than 'prevention' & that's something that needs to change. Cyclists and runners should constantly be stretching their lower backs, hips, glutes and ITB's. To be honest any good yoga routine will get you into plenty of fundamental stretches that will help with your range of motion and mobility. If your suffering from a knee injury often stretching the lower back, hips and ITB can relieve some of the suffering.
Part of rehabilitating is listening to your body. You don't and shouldn't push yourself to breaking point every session, sometimes you'll be out there to just keep the blood flowing through your muscles and work on your base. You will know when you feel exhausted, a training program won't!!
One of the quickest ways to get injured is to use your body in a way that its not intended. A good running technique will not only make sure you always make it to the start line but also will have you setting PB's in no time. Find a running club and work with other runners if you're worried about the way your run. As a tip, think about a small gait, quick cadence (160+ steps a minute) and a good forefoot strike. If you're a cyclist, it's absolutely worth getting a 'bike fit' done, most good cycle shops will be able to provide this service. It will set you up with your ideal ride position and is worth every penny.
Last thing to say on technique is that it's always the first thing to suffer when you get fatigued so sometimes you'll have to spend time consciously correcting bad habits!
The best way to improve as an athlete is to make sure that you're out there able to perform consistently. Look after your body and it will look after you. For more information and tips please follow: https://www.facebook.com/MaxWillcocksTrainer