Preparing for a fitness challenge
Every year a wide range of fun runs, marathons, cycle races and multi-disciplinary fitness challenges are held in the UK. Many people take part for the right reasons – to improve their fitness levels, to challenge themselves and/or to raise money for charity.
However, not every competitor is as prepared as they should be and many will need help from a fitness professional such as a personal trainer. This blog addresses the importance of preparation for these events.
Distance, terrain and time frame
First of all, the personal trainer will need to ask some detailed questions to find out what kind of distance and terrain the event covers, for example, some runs may be on flat urban routes and others may cross hilly countryside. They will also need to know the time frame available to prepare for the event so that all the variables can be taken into account when planning the training programme.
The intensity of the programme can be built up over a period of time so that the client’s fitness will peak at the correct time for their event (see our blog on Periodisation: What it is and how to use it). This will also help avoid common injuries from overtraining, such as tendonitis or shin splints (see our blog on 5 common exercise injuries).
Assessing the client’s fitness levels
Preparation for an event will involve a range of factors, including the right nutrition, clothing and state of mind – but most importantly, the body needs to be up to the challenge.
If a personal trainer has a client taking part in an event in several months’ time, they will need to assess that person’s current physical levels (see our blog on The importance of fitness testing) in order to work out the most effective training programme.
Some clients may have decided to take part in an event to raise money for charity, having never trained before. As they are training from a standing start, the fitness instructor can use periodisation to progress them to the fitness levels they need to reach. Even if the client is already physically fit, they may need to adjust their training – for example, someone who regularly plays five-a-side football will need to change their exercise programme in order to run their first marathon.
Ideally a client should be running three times a week for around 30 minutes a time before they embark on serious training over longer distances.
Recruiting different energy systems
Depending on the event the client is undertaking, they will need to recruit different energy systems. For example, a marathon or half marathon will use the aerobic system as it’s a long, slow event that requires endurance rather than explosive energy.
Other events, such as the Tough Mudder - a challenging 10-12 mile obstacle race through muddy conditions, designed by British Special Forces – require a training programme that combines power exercises and sprint exercises to recruit the different energy systems that will be used.
For multi-discipline events, such as triathalons – run, swim, cycle – the personal trainer may be able to recommend a local club for additional training on the specifics involved.
Using cross training before an event
Cross training can be an important feature of training for any event.
If a client is running a marathon, a personal trainer wouldn’t simply put them on a treadmill each time they visited the gym. Instead they will devise a training programme that combines different aerobic exercises (running, cycling, elliptical machine), along with some resistance training. This will help the client to build cardiovascular endurance and to use different muscle groups.
Building up core strength will help support the client’s body and avoid injuries, whatever event they are taking part in, especially if they are new to training (see our blog on Personal training: exercises for the core).
Rest days are vital to allow the body to recover. A personal trainer may also programme in some active recovery training, such as a brisk walk, alongside the client’s gym sessions. It’s also a good idea to acclimatise by training outside if the event is going to be held outdoors.
A varied training programme will keep the client interested, help prevent injuries and bring better results.
The importance of stretching techniques
A personal trainer should also look at the best stretches and warm-up exercises for the client to do before starting their race or event and also for after they cross the finishing line. Different techniques will be required for people running a marathon and those taking part in a charity bike ride.
Using the correct stretching technique is essential to prevent injury (see our blog on Flexibility and warming up).
Before the event
While a marathon runner will build up their distances in advance of the event, they should reduce the length of their runs in the two or three weeks prior to the event. For the final two days of training, they should walk rather than run, to allow the body to rest and the muscles to rebuild.
Most people should be aware of the importance of keeping hydrated during a race, even over short distances. However, they may need advice on the best way to combine drinking water and sports drinks to stay hydrated, replenish electrolytes and take in glucose (see our blogs on The importance of hydration and on Sports drinks: hypo, iso, hyper-tonic).
A personal trainer could also make recommendations on nutrition, for example how to use carbohydrates for energy and protein for recovery (see our blogs on Do you know your macronutrients? and Effects of protein and carbohydrates on resistance training).
Wearing the right footwear and sporting attire can also make a major difference to the finish time and the comfort levels as a competitor goes round the course.
Blisters and chafing can be extremely painful so it’s best to get advice on the right footwear and clothes and to use a balm like BodyGlide or Vaseline on areas likely to be affected.
The sports attire required will depend on the activity – for example, a cyclist will need gloves, a helmet and different clothes and shoes from a runner. It will also depend on the terrain and the weather expected on the day (see our blog on Avoiding cold weather injuries).
In cases where the client may be looking to raise money for charity, the personal trainer should be aware that they may have very personal reasons for doing so and should be sensitive to their desire to take part in the event, whatever their levels of fitness.
If a personal trainer is presented with a client who is overweight or has poor fitness levels but is keen to take part in an event to raise money for charity, the PT should be sensitive to the client’s motivation. It may well stem from a very personal reason, such as losing a loved one, and the fitness instructor should make every effort to help them obtain the best possible results.