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It can be challenging to get active in the depths of winter, but regular exercise is a three punch combination to hit the ‘winter blues’, cold-weather weight gain plus winter viruses and infections.
Indoors or out, exercise boosts serotonin levels to improve mood. Improved blood circulation from moderate exercise (30 minutes each day, according to a study from the American Journal of Medicine) can jump-start the immune system, while sun exposure in small doses helps boost both mood and immunity – just 15 minutes a day gives sufficient amount of vitamin D to improve immune system health and help the body properly absorb calcium for strong bones. Sunlight also stimulates the same neurotransmitters as antidepressants do, which will help the 4-6% of the U.S. population who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Even people serious about their sports goals often turn to the trainer or the gym when it’s cold, but that’s usually not a lot of fun for the family. Take on board your responsibility to set an example by showing that a fit, healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be a part-time pursuit limited by the weather – try some of the activities below with the family this winter.
Much of last year I was on the bench with injuries. The tendon tears in both hamstrings that crept up on me late in 2013 really put the brakes on my lifting and soon I had to stop all running. I don’t think there was any one single event or even an action that caused the tears – I believe it was simply the result of a lack of recovery.
I had been running with athletes I trained, then I’d lift heavy for powerlifting. It’s a dicey combination to begin with, but then add in my age (44) and a lack of recovery, and at some point, something was going to break down.
You can train the house down have a program that looks great on paper, but if you keep picking up injuries then it’s always one step forward, two steps backwards.
Recovery is usually the first thing to get compromised when you’re not a pro athlete or able to train full-time. You can pay for great nutrition products or services to take care of your diet, but too often training time is jammed into tight schedules and then proper recovery procedures get blown off as we rush to our other daily commitments. It’s a bad call, because these recovery procedures are often a major factor that separates the pro from the wannabe. Sure, pro athletes train more, and you know why they can do that? They recover better between workouts than the average joe. No doubt superior conditioning built up over years helps, but in large part they recover well consistently because they have the luxury of time and a support team to do whatever it takes revitalize both mind and body so they can hit it hard again day after day.
Too often we feel the pressure of limited time that we can allocate to our sport, and tedious recovery practices seem to come at a cost to time that could be spent training. Without proper recovery, however, progress is blunted and if injuries come up, we go backwards. A good run of training without injury or burnout is what keep us inching forward.
Quality sleep and plenty of it is a priority for athletes, especially as it stimulates the production of human growth hormone that is so important for helping muscles repair and rebuild.
You can read and hear a lot about how much sleep you “need”, but many studies show how athletes can increase their performance simply by sleeping more. If you train hard, you’ll probably benefit from more sleep than a less active person – it’s as simple as that.
A solid warm-up and cooldown also play out in the long term. I picked up the quality of my warm-ups, which was a major factor to overcoming chronic shoulder soreness. My cooldown, on the other hand, was like a Bear fan at a Packers game when the Bears aren’t playing – in other words, not well supported and largely non-existent. Now static stretching, elongating the spine (e.g. hanging off a bar), and mobility exercises will become my post-workout ritual.
I’m jumping on the yoga train too, with a 10-15 minute session minimum each day that I hope will become a daily ritual to release residual tension and stretch muscles and ligaments. Reducing built-up muscle stiffness and tension is a bit of a theme for me, and I’ll be conscious of my seated posture at work and making sure I get up out of my chair every hour.
There will be food packed with my training gear so that I have a snack to go if I can’t get to a meal within half an hour of a session. Then I have a new thing to experiment with – I’ll take a small amount of protein prior to going to bed (a protein drink or yogurt), because protein (casein protein in particular) has been shown to improve recovery by stimulating muscle protein synthesis overnight.
A running colleague in her 40s swears she halved her DOMS last year by foam rolling within 12 hours of training. I’m sold – I’ll be doing this after every session, along with some massage when possible (usually this means my wife walks on my back or hamstrings).
Last but not least, compression garments will always have a place in my training bag so I can slip into them straight after training, and depending what I’m doing, I’ll wear them in warm-up or during events/training.*
Compression is pretty much a gimme when it comes to recovery. Sure, there’s a cost to the clothes, but as a recovery tool there’s almost no other cost to me – using it takes no effort from me, it doesn’t burn up any additional time, I don’t have to schedule anyone and I’m not limited to when or where I can wear it. This is one facet of recovery where even the richest baseball or football player has nothing on me.
This year my aim is to do the Crazy Double again – powerlifting and Strongman events in the first half of the year, then a trail running ultra marathon in September. Recovery will be the key to getting through this madness!
* I wear Elite Compression Shorts in warm-up or during power training for legs, and Compression Arm Sleeves for very heavy bench or push-pressing. Compression Race Socks are a must for long distance running and deadlifting, and I use Compression Calf Guards when running on sand.