Cycling / How To/Advice / Running /
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR PERSONAL BEST
At first, improving your personal best is delightfully easy. From couch potato to runner bean, you have watched the bathroom scales tip further and further in your favour whilst every time you head out, you beat the clock with joyful certainty. Faster, fitter, stronger, better; on and on you go, you are on an ever rising peak of performance, you are unstoppable.
But then one day, the bathroom scales don’t move… and it’s the clock’s turn to win the race. You still train hard and continue to eat well, you know what to do and what not to do, but somehow you have plateaued. Only now the winter has set in and the lung-busting, post-work sessions are becoming less frequent, less enjoyable. There is no substitute for hard work, a good diet and an intelligent understanding of how your body performs, but if your training has become a bit jaded then have a look at a few of our favourite tips to give you some inspiration.
Whatever you are passionate about, from running and cycling, to hill walking, climbing or winter mountaineering, we have made a few suggestions that will have you beating the clock and moving up a grade once more.
LONG TERM GOAL, SHORT TERM TARGETS
Firstly, it is important to recognise that you are only human. You will therefore find that over the course of the year your performances will naturally fluctuate. Try to time one of these natural fluctuations so that when you are at a peak it coincides with a particularly important event.
One way that you can do this is to work towards a number of short term goals over the course of several months. Your performance during these events is not necessarily important; it is more about keeping active, providing an engaging level of variety and above all, having fun. As the big event nears, these short term goals become more serious and you step up the training in order to hit your peak at the right time.
TAKE THE STAIRS
You may go running a few times a week, or head out to the hills for a walk at the weekend, but the chances are that like the majority of people, your time is spent being relatively inactive at work. There are many simple things like using the stairs rather than the lift, or going out for a walk at lunch that can add towards a more active lifestyle. It may feel minimal, but the more active you are, the better. There is even a school of thought that focuses on this intriguing form of exercise and has coined it; Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (N.E.A.T).
N.E.A.T treats every physical movement done throughout the day as a valuable source of exercise. Typing on the keyboard, fidgeting in your seat, walking to the train station; these are all part of your N.E.A.T workout. If you can consciously increase your N.E.A.T movements then the accumulation of these actions can increase the amount of burnt calories and is considered exercise. Although fidgeting in your seat is unlikely to raise your personal best, it does highlight the value of a consistently active lifestyle, as opposed to a stop-start approach.
COMFORT OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
When we feel comfortable we are free to concentrate on really pushing ourselves. Rather than feeling trapped inside sweaty clothes or wincing in pain as bad footwear rubs and chafes, we are able to focus on our performance and enjoy the moment. In essence comfort is the lack of discomfort.
Good kit can keep you out for longer, help you have a more enjoyable time and reduce the risk of injury. All of which can accumulate to give you the edge when it comes to the big day. A healthy injection of enthusiasm can go a long way this winter, and if the right kit can make you feel good then it begins a positive cycle that will have you training through the dark months and exploding into the spring.
DIVERSIFY YOUR SPORTS
In order to achieve your best it is important to put in the hours. Practice does make perfect and there is no substitute to going out and refining your skills. However, it is possible to get too much of a good thing and there comes a tipping point where tirelessly repeating the same activity can over-train certain muscles and leave you vulnerable to injury.
Try to treat your training as a varied process in which key elements of your performance can be refined without actually doing that specific activity. If you are a runner or cyclist, swimming will complement your training brilliantly. It’s low impact, and is great for cardio. Or if climbing is more your thing, how about stamina focused weight training. It keeps the bulk off whilst improving strength. The buzz word here is diversification.
WORK YOUR WEAKNESSES
As a child were you ever told that in order to have your pudding you had to eat your greens? Well, nothing changes. If you really want to improve you need to ruthlessly work your weaknesses. Your performance will only ever be as good as your weakest element so stop practicing the stuff you are good at; it’s time to get nasty.
Not climbing the overhangs at the local wall? Well get used to spending lots of time with your feet above your head. Avoiding a particular hill during your run? Guess what, you and that hill are going to get to know each other very well. The point here is relatively simple, if you really want to get better at something; you have to focus on the stuff you are bad at. It may be demoralising, but it is a sure fire way to improve.
TRAIN WITH PEOPLE BETTER (& WORSE THAN YOU)
It is highly likely that for long sections of your training schedule you will be by yourself. It is the inevitability of a busy modern life. The fact that you have made it out at all is commendable enough, let alone if you manage to turn it into a social event.
But every now and again try to train with somebody who is considerably better than you. It is a remarkable thing, but somehow it fast-tracks your development. You painfully force yourself onwards, but notably improve with every failed attempt to match them. Additionally you can return the favour by helping a new starter. It’s a great way to be (constructively) critical of technique which forces you to reflect and improve your own.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Many will tell you that recovering during rest days actually forms part of your training routine, so during those afternoons when you can legitimately absorb into the sofa, why not do a bit of additional research. Topical websites and magazines are a great way to get inspired about your sport and reading about the world’s elite is guaranteed to get you eyeing your kit, ready for your next outing.
No matter how hard you train, many of us are never going to reach the lofty heights of the professionals and that is absolutely fine. The important thing is to be passionate about it and to have fun. That way training hard becomes an enjoyable recreation and your elusive personal best is no longer a time, but simply the great feeling of doing the best you can personally do.
Rob Wells - Professional Climbing Daydreamer / Cotswold Outdoor HQ
When Rob isn’t writing blogs and copy for Cotswold Outdoor he can be found climbing in the South West or hopelessly attempting to defy gravity in the climbing centres around Bristol. With a background in both trad and sport Rob also enjoys walking, scrambling and spending his lunch breaks slacklining in the trees around Cotswold Outdoor HQ.