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Australian National Champion Power lifter
Is this the summer you step up to a half-marathon? Here’s an 8-week training plan that helps you focus on quality training over quantity.What do you do when you set yourself a goal? Pray? Visualise achieving it? Tell all your mates so the pressure’s on not to make a goose of yourself? All these approaches have merit, but there are some very specific self-assessments you can make to put your goal more in your control.
Don’t just do what you like or what you’re good at, do what you need.
It’s the runner who boasts about how many kilometres she does in a week, but never does interval training; the strength athlete who does lots of 2-inch bench press because he can pile on the weight and it looks fantastic; the footy winger who will sprint with the ball but avoid tackling practice. It’s something that applies to any sport, but particularly sports with different disciplines, like triathlon, power lifting, adventure racing – the top guys may not be the best at any one activity, but they have no major weakness, either. So find your weakness, work out what you need to improve it, and do it. As you fix one weaker area, something else will then be weaker by comparison – so it’s a never-ending quest.
When we set a goal and make a detailed plan, we rely on steady progress and improvement to take us to that goal – and the most common thing that interrupts and reverses that progress and improvement is injury.
Identify any part of your body that will be most at risk from injury. For instance, my goal is to snatch the Commonwealth open bench press record for my weight class in December, so in my case the vulnerable area is the elbow joint and the muscles around it. In equipped bench pressing, we have some protection for the shoulder joints and the wrists, but my elbows will be exposed to over 272% of my bodyweight. Consequently, I need to do some assistance exercises to strengthen the muscles in this area and then look after them with self-massage and compression. I also have to be realistic about how often I can put this more fragile area under strain with heavy pressing.
Protecting yourself from injury becomes difficult when you do a contact sport, because you don’t have much control over someone standing on your head when you’re at the bottom of a ruck. But you can take some preventative measures to protect yourself from some forms of contact. These include strengthening the core so that your body is less vulnerable under impact and identifying joints susceptible to impact injuries, such as knees and ankles, then developing more strength and flexibility in the supporting muscles.
Sometimes – and especially beyond a certain age – it becomes harder to improve your strength, fitness, speed or reaction time, but one thing you can always improve is your technique. No matter what sport you play, working on your technique can help your performance, improve your efficiency and make you less prone to injury or error. Even if you are happy with your technique and don’t want to change it, there will always be something you can work on to make it more consistent. Work on your cues, practice your actions blindfolded and watching yourself on video will all help.
The scoreboard never counts anything you did in training. You might have done PB after PB, looked unbeatable and humiliated your training partners – but none of it matters unless you can learn to find that balance between nerves and excitement on the day of competition so you can replicate your best form. Work out now how you’re going to deal with it. Try to anticipate any scenarios that might put you off your plan and work out how you’ll react – it will save you getting flustered on the day. Don’t be afraid to get advice – athletes tend to openly discuss physical or technical weaknesses, but are reluctant to spill all or get proper coaching on the mental side of performance.
For some people, the problem might be turning on mentally day after day of training. Sure, life gets in the way and you might have lots on your mind, or there could be a bunch of off-putting people around at training and Barry Manilow is blaring over the speakers. But guess what? On comp day, you might have lots of distractions too, and you won’t be able to tell the crowd to cheer for you or go away. You won’t be able to choose what music’s playing. You can’t be sure everything’s going to be perfect in your personal life or at work. All that ability to have a rifle barrel-like focus and fire up has to come from within. Get it right in training and it will be easier to do on comp day.
If your goal relates to a specific event or competition rather than some general improvement, then you need to prepare for the conditions. There are only a few sports where this won’t really apply – squash maybe, or indoor volleyball – everything else has some variable in conditions. It could be the playing surface (e.g. tennis, trail running), weather, variations in rules or officiating those rules, the periods between lifts/attempts (e.g. strength sports and field athletics), the time of day of the competition and even the opposition (e.g. Aussie cricketers preparing to play three-spinner attacks in India). Do whatever you can to replicate the conditions of your goal event. Be prepared for the fact that this may come at the expense of your ‘normal’ training performance and even your results at minor competitions between now and your goal competition. Doesn’t matter. Keep your eyes on the prize.