When you undertake any new endeavor, there are things to learn and skills to develop, be it public speaking, ballet dancing or safe exercise for better health. Skills are obtained and honed to perfection through the application of practice, guidance, and consistent self-assessment. When it comes to sports, the process of developing a particular skill, say low-impact running, has an initial intellectual component (you’re thinking all the time, trying to ‘get it right’). However, to run freely, joyfully, and most effectively, it is important to stop thinking, as recommended by Ashley Yeager in her recent article, entitled “Thinking Hard May Make You Slow,” published in the Bicycle Lab Newsletter. Just let your body apply what it has learned. I find this process paradoxical, challenging, and extremely satisfying, for whatever hobby I happen to be undertaking. My interests have ranged sequentially, over the last 50 years, through attempts to become a skilled water-polo player (8 years), martial artist (3 years), flautist (12 years), mathematician (5 years), French scholar (8 years), and currently an Ironman distance triathlete (15 years). In each case, I reached my perceived limit, and moved on to the next thing. This process was great fun, taught me many skills, and clearly defined my limitations in each.
You only have to ride one truly difficult bike course, such as The Mountains of Misery Double Header in Virginia, to appreciate the mind-boggling achievements of riders in the Tour de France. I was extremely fit in 2009, when I rode this challenging course in Virginia with my bike partner and cycling mentor, Rory Conolly. This road ride through beautiful country covers 125 miles of rollers, hard inclines, scary descents, and long grinding ascents, with a total of over 13,000 ft of climbing. I achieved an average pace of less than 9 mph, but it felt as though I had been put through a meat grinder. A little while later, in 2010, during the Lake Placid Ironman race, which has a hilly 112-mile bike course, I averaged 16.3 mph, which gives you some indication of the challenging nature of the Virginia ride. On the Tour de France the riders complete rides like this day after day. This sense of appreciation of the masters was an unexpected benefit of my hobbies, as I came to really admire Bruce Lee, James Galway, Carl Freidrich Gauss and my youngest son, Nigel.
You learn by doing, and you have to start somewhere. This is a surprisingly exciting process, but it can be risky for athletic endeavors. The approach I recommend for skill development with respect to any kind of sporting or exercise-related activity is as follows:
- Watch the activity, read about it and try to determine risks, such as injuries that may be induced by overuse (e.g. knee damage when running, getting killed by trucks whilst cycling, or drowning in open water).
- Decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks for you personally, and if so make a plan. For instance, if a common injury induced by the activity is related to muscle strains, undertake appropriate strength training before you start. Think ahead, train intelligently and learn from your mistakes and those of others.
- I strongly recommend that you study complementary activities, such as Feldenkrais, Gyrotonic, Continuum or weight training, if you can find the time and the money to do so. Naturally, you should also consult your health care providers, and if possible include a Sports Medicine Physician in your ‘pit crew.’
- Talk to people who perform the activity. Try to include novices and experts. Novices remember their struggles, whilst experts might not, but they do know a great deal more about long-term participation.
- If you become serious about your sport (without taking yourself seriously, of course), find the right coach. This might be a friend helping you to choose running shoes, a bike expert to achieve a comfortable position on the bike (the most critical factor for cycling happiness), a fitness instructor at the gym who will explain how to use equipment correctly, or any of a myriad of potential helpers and guides. I know that my coaches have been invaluable to me with respect to reaching my training goals.
- Give your chosen activity a try, and learn from your mistakes.
- Talk about your experiences with peers undertaking the activity, and in chat rooms.
- Keep a diary of what you learn, and try not to make the same mistake twice. You will make mistakes, and that is how you learn, but try not to make mistakes that terminate the activity.
- If you enjoy the activity, find your motivators and set some goals, strictly adhere to the rules for safe training (10% rule and so forth, as discussed on this web site and many others).
- If you don’t enjoy the activity, do something else that will keep you in top mental and physical condition.
I won’t attempt to discuss specific skills for specific sports, as I don’t know what it is that you want to do, and the choice is almost endless. The approach I recommend is essentially the same for all, as listed above. If you have questions about triathlons, I can certainly provide some input or point you in the right direction.
Enjoy, because life is brief.
|WorkoutPLAN Coach: Chris Hauth|