I was wondering what to write about this week when I went out for my morning run…. And 12 miles later, I knew what it would be: the principles of exercise.
No, I didn’t have some kind of epiphany while trudging around Bramhope and Adel in the rain, it’s just that by the end of the session, I was blowing out of my backside, which reminded me of what is probably the most important principle: ‘use it or lose it’.
It’s just two short months since I ran Spartathlon and in the lead up to that, I was probably in the best running condition I’ve ever been in – 100-mile training weeks and knocking out 40-mile runs in one go – but there I was this morning, struggling to complete a distance less than a half-marathon. That’s a long way to fall in just two months.
Even worse, psychologically, I’m finding it hard to push myself further, which means I’ll probably lose more fitness unless I can pull myself out of the rut: In short, training less has led to a vicious circle of declining fitness that I need to arrest.
We’ve all been there: We take a week or so off for any number of reasons: a cold, a big event, stress at work or whatever. Suddenly, getting back on the horse gets more difficult the longer it goes. The snooze button seems more attractive than a run… “Start again on Monday” we promise ourselves… but when Monday comes we find another excuse.
There’s no easy way to reverse the trend either, if you’re suffering from similar. You simply have to grit your teeth and force yourself to start again, though there are some techniques that can help.
- Tell yourself you’ll feel better after. I absolutely promise you that barring injury, you always feel better about yourself after exercising. There are biological reasons for this such as the rush of endorphins you get from exercise, but also psychologically, the fact you’ve beaten a demon will get you smiling.
- Set yourself a goal. I keep banging on about this, but goal setting keeps you on the straight and narrow. If you exercise to just maintain a base level of fitness, that’s fine but you are more likely to find a reason to stop than if you are exercising to achieve a specific aim. Think of what you want to achieve and set a marker. It could be a 10km race, dropping a percentage of body fat or beating a 3-minute step test result * But find something to aim for and go for it.
- Use visualisation. Where do you want to be in five years time? Exercise and good diet have been proven countless times to help people stay healthier, feel better and ultimately live longer. Think forward to where you want to be, then think of the alternative. Keep the ‘good’ image in your mind. Make it another long-term goal. Focus on it and use it to spur you on.
There may be other ways that work for you… but (and this is not a plea to come to classes or take up PT sessions) make sure you stay active. By sacrificing an hour of hard work NOW you could be adding years to your life, ultimately staying healthier and more active for longer.
The six principles of exercise
While, I’ve only focussed on one above, here are the six principles of exercise *
The Principle of Individual Differences – we are all different and therefore, we should find exercise programmes that are bespoke to ourselves. This doesn’t mean you have to go and employ a PT (but it would be nice if you did!!), but you should at least be trying things for a couple of weeks, and if they aren’t working for you change them.
The Principle of Overload – a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for your body to adapt to training.
The Principle of Progression – there’s an optimal time where that overload will make a difference. When you hit it, you need to increase the overload.
The Principle of Adaptation – the body will adjust to increased physical demands (and to decreased ones for that matter). In short, practice makes perfect, but it’s also why you might get muscle soreness when you first start a programme for the first time in a long time.
The Principle of Use/Disuse – your muscles will get stronger (hypertrophy) with exercise and atrophy (weaken) with disuse. It’s important here to remember muscles are not just about building big biceps – probably the most important muscle you have is your heart, and by doing cardiovascular exercise, you can improve the performance of the heart and lungs.
The Principle of Specificity – exercise needs to be specific to the kind of sport you want to excel at. For instance, if you want to excel at a sport where there are lots of changes of speed and direct, training for it by running long distances is probably not the way to go. That doesn’t mean running long distances would be bad for your overall fitness, but you would not be performing sports specific training.
* Three-minute step test: Check your heart rate and note it down. Find a step and step on and off vigorously for 3 minutes. Check your heart rate again and record it. Keep doing regular aerobic exercise for a month and take the test again. See if your heart rate at the end has improved.
** Wilmore, J.H. and Costill, D.L. Physiology of Sport and Exercise: 3rd Edition. 2005. Human Kinetics Publishing.