Thinking like a coach

One of our annual Montana Moves challenges asks you to create your goals for the year. These goals could be personal, professional, or wellness related. (If you haven’t done so yet, this challenge runs until March 4th.) Every January, I must admit I get the most excited to write down my athletic goals for the year. Writing down my big goals gives me a framework, strategy, and plan for the year. For me, I know that in the absence of concrete goals, my exercise is less focused, less consistent, and less effective. As I went through my yearly practice of goal setting and planning this year, I was thinking about the process, and I wanted to share some of that process, because I believe it can be a tool for bridging the gap between having a goal and making it a reality. This is a process that coaches use to build programs for athletes, teams, or clients, but I think many of the concepts translate to goal-setting and planning regardless of the type of goal.  In other words, this process can be used to set personal, professional, or financial goals as well as physical.

Step 1: Begin with the End in mind

This is where your initial goal-setting will come in. I won’t spend much time talking about goal setting here—if you need a refresher, check out this post. The main thing is to begin with the end in mind.  What’s at the end of the journey? What are you trying to accomplish? Is it a big event? Is it something on your bucket list? Is it a personal best? Is it just to look smokin’ hot before your June vacation to some place warm? Be specific, write it out, and put these events on your calendar.

Once I have dates on my calendar, I like to figure out how much time I have to prepare for each event. I even have an app on my phone called “Days Until”. It’s a free, simple app that let’s me know exactly how many days I have until certain events. I even know how many days until my hundredth birthday (20,589 days, so there’s plenty of shopping days left for you to get me something nice). I also like to count how many weeks until these events, because a week is a nice, neat unit of training measurement that many coaches use, and is often referred to as a microcycle.

Steps 2 and 3: What’s the Big Picture? How does today’s workout fit into that?

Once I know how many weeks I have to train, I start thinking about the big picture. What are the general concepts I’ll need to work on over large chunks of time in order to reach my goal? One thing that I’ve done the past couple of years that’s worked for me is to divide my year out by the month–once again, a nifty, pre-made training unit. For me, I often use a month as a macrocycle. Anything from 4 to 8 weeks is common for a macrocycle.  It’s long enough to see a training effect before changing the emphasis of a program. This consistent varying of a training program allows for specific results, and is the best way to avoid the dreaded “training plateau”.

A couple of years ago, I made a marcrocycle spreadsheet that keeps me dialed into my training goals, and focused on upcoming events. Here’s what it looks like: 2018 Macrocycle (Neal) If you like it, feel free to copy it, modify it, and use it for yourself.

Let’s break down a few month-macrocycles from this spreadsheet as examples. Right now, my training focus is to build my aerobic base through cardiovascular training and cardio-strength training. My next event on the calendar that I’d like to be ready for is Run to the Pub, on St. Patrick’s Day here in Bozeman. So my microcycle (week) is structured to includ two running days, 2-3 resistance training days, plus cross-training days with things like skiing and swimming. Next month, I’ll bump the running up a little. In the meantime, each cardiovascular training session is designed to build up an aerobic base (nothing fancy, just building up volume) and each trip to the gym should focus on driving my work capacity (the ability to do high quality work while warding off fatigue). In this case, what I’m doing for resistance training is a complement to what I’m doing with my cardio exercise.

If you’re wondering, “Ok, Neal, you’re training for a road race, but you’re only running twice a week? Shouldn’t you be running more?” Perhaps. But alas, I’m not 23 anymore. I know my body, and these days I have to build the road miles slowly. Also, I like to ski, and XC skiing is great cardio. And finally, I’m not trying to hit my peak fitness until this summer, so I build up slowly to that, which helps me stay healthy. Showing up to a starting line healthy is always my first goal when designing a training program.  If you’re injured, you can’t train, and you can’t race–at least not well anyway–and the quickest way to get injured is to do too much too soon.

There are two events highlighted on my calendar this year. Those are the events I want to peak for and perform my best: the Bozeman Triathlon in June and the Montana Cup XC race in late October. My training goals and focus are designed to get me to those events fit and healthy. If I feel like doing something different, or I’m having a low motivation day, a quick look at my macrocycle calendar helps me re-focus. It’s on the wall behind my desk, along with my written out goals.

Now let’s look at October and compare it to February.  October is a peak month. My aerobic base will have hopefully been built.  So I’ll be free to do more intervals, tempo runs, and speedwork in preparation for the Montana Cup XC race. To me, this is the fun stuff, but it has to be earned. I can’t start with it. My microcycles (weeks) in October call for four runs per week, plus a bike and endurance lift for cross training.  That leaves a rest/recreation day for other fun. Perhaps some fall hikes.

After the Montana Cup, my racing is done for the year, and I switch gears to off-season strength, hitting the gym three times a week and lifting pretty heavy stuff (for me). This change is good for my body and my mind.

In summary

Start with your SMART goal, write it down, and get it on the calendar. Begin with the end in mind. Then, if it’s helpful, write out some training focuses–perhaps chunking them into macrocycles. Finally, write down your plan for the week (microcycle), making sure it fits into the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. On low motivation days, look at your goals. Ask yourself why you are going to exercise today.

Finally, always be able to answer these two questions:

“What is my goal for today’s workout?” (Now)

“What am I working toward?” (Big picture-future)

Happy training!

Neal

P.S. For more on training goals and how to manipulate exercise variables to reach goals faster, check out today’s webinar Sets, Reps, and Such.

Wellchat Episode 11: These Go to Eleven

Eposode 11: Recorded February 5th. Neal and Cristin share their favorite goofy movies, which naturally leads into a conversation about exercise intensity. Happy American Heart Month!

For further insight into this week’s Wellchat, check out this clip.

The Montana Moves & Meals Wellchat is available on Itunes podcasts! Subscribe and take us with you for a walk, run, or drive!

Ridge Laps and The Law of Specificity

I had my spring training plan all laid out. After an off-season of strength training and skiing, I had begun to slowly add some running mileage back to the routine. The Run to the Pub was 9 weeks away. Plenty of time…

Then a friend asked me to be on her team for King & Queen of the Ridge, an annual Bridger Bowl event in which you see how many “Ridge Laps” you can do in a meager five hours. A ridge lap involves a nearly 500 foot vertical bootpack from the top of the Bridger ski lift up to the top of the ridgeline, and then you ski back down. Sounds fun right?

This is one of those events that I’ve heard of, and in the back of my mind thought, “Hmm, I wonder how I’d do in that? Maybe I’ll try that out someday.” It reminds me of a time in my younger life when I thought I’d really like to skydive. And then I got an opportunity to go skydiving, and it got real, and I thought—do I really want to skydive? Maybe I’ll just save that for later. (I’ve yet to go skydiving.)

Last year, the same friend asked me to be on her team, but I had a race the same day as the event. A fine and good excuse. This year, I had no excuses, and I agreed to join her team before I could think the better of it. This left me two-and-a-half weeks to prepare. No problem right? [Insert “freaking out” emoji]

scream emoji

So I’ve hurriedly modified my training for the past couple of weeks, and I’ve done some very specific training to prepare for the event. The most specific training I could do is to actually hike the ridge and ski down, which, luckily, I’ve been able to do a few times. But since I’m not to the point in my life where I can go ski everyday, I also have to supplement with other types of exercise.

The first sport-specific workout I did in preparation for this event, was hauling sandbags up and down a stairwell in the MSU Fitness Center. I did 10-minute intervals of stairs, while practicing different carries: front, suitcase, on the shoulder, under the arms, and overhead. Then I would do a one-minute ski drill followed by a three minute rest. I structured the workout to mimic the event itself: a long hike under load, a short ski run, and short break in between.

Then this weekend, in my garage, I did loaded step-ups on a box, except this time I wore my ski boots. Who needs ankle weights when you can just slap on a clunky pair of ski boots? Again, the theme is to mimic my movement and feel as closely as possible to the real thing.

The reality is, I’m not going to gain that much physical or cardiovascular fitness in two weeks. However, two weeks is enough time to have an effect on my neuromuscular system, the connection between brain and body—how the body moves and how the nervous system recruits and fires muscles. This in turn can lend a little mental edge and the confidence of knowing I have had a bit of focused practice for the event. If the training is challenging and specific, the actual event seems much easier mentally.

All of this has to do with what exercise scientists refer to as the Law of Specificity, Specificity Principle, or SAID Principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). This principle states that the body will make specific physical adaptations depending on the type of stress, or demand, placed upon it from physical activity. In other words, you get what you train for. This holds true for general adaptations like greater strength or cardiovascular fitness, and very specific adaptations like the ability to hit a golf ball, serve a tennis ball, or ski moguls.

What makes this concept important for us? Well, let’s start with the assumption that most of us aren’t professional athletes, and don’t have professional coaches figuring everything out for us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have goals. There are still reasons why we exercise (or there should be). Let’s also assume that we don’t have all the time in the world to exercise. Between work, social and family life, and the rest of life’s responsibilities, most of us have a limited window of time to exercise, so those precious minutes need to count.

While it’s perfectly fine to squeeze in a short bout of exercise just to get us moving and make us feel good if that’s all there’s time for, if you have a specific goal such as losing 15 pounds, running a half marathon, or improving your pickleball game, you should spend the majority of your allotted exercise time doing things that will lead to the specific results you desire.

If you need more help, there are always personal trainers and coaches who are excellent at creating programs to fit your specific needs. You can also tune in to next month’s Montana Moves webinar, Sets, Reps, and Such, which will get into the SAID principle as it relates to resistance training.

But in general, if you want to be a better swimmer, spend most of your exercise time in the pool, and when you’re not in the pool, condition and strengthen the muscle groups and movement patterns that help you swim. If you want to lose weight, choose more intense exercise that burns a ton of calories, and promotes lean muscle development. If you want to be a better downhill skier, strengthen and condition your lower body, core, and do sport specific drills. Then hit the ski hill as much as you can! Or if you want to do King and Queen of the Ridge, hike the ridge, and when you can’t hike the ridge, carry sandbags up stairs, or do step-ups in ski boots. And if possible, do it longer than 2 weeks.

Be specific. You’ll discover specific, and hopefully favorable, results.

We’ll see what kind of results I get this weekend. Honestly, I just want to challenge myself and have fun. Whatever I do will be a personal best.

You can check in on twitter @montanamoves or at the bottom of this page to see how it goes!

Neal

bridger pano
On the 6th or 7th lap, I’ll try to remember to enjoy the view.

Wellchat Episode VIII: Injury Prevention

Episode 8: Neal shares some tips on how use exercise to reduce the risk of common injuries, and also how to exercise without getting injured.

Topics include:

  • Overuse Injury
  • The 10% Rule
  • Volume, Impact, and Surface
  • Warm ups and Cool downs
  • Self-Myofascial Release
  • Resistance Training
  • Rest & Recovery

For even more info on injury prevention and recovery, click here to watch one of our past webinars.

The Montana Moves & Meals Wellchat is available on Itunes podcasts! Subscribe and take us with you for a walk, run, or drive!

Basic Lifting Techniques: The Deadlift (Video)

Pop Quiz! What do the following things have in common?

  • A small child
  • A box of stuff
  • A barbell
  • A pencil
  • A suitcase or travel bag

Pause to think…

Did you get it? All of those things could be something we need to pick up off the ground at some point in our lives, or perhaps, quite often. Whether or not you go to the gym, we’re all weight lifters. It’s  something our bodies are designed to do. Unfortunately, a lot of people do it wrong, and doing it wrong leads to a lot of injuries every year. And believe it or not, yes, people have blown out their backs bending over to pick up a pencil off the ground—literally the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So check out the latest video from Montana Moves! In this video, I talk about a fundamental movement pattern, the hip-hinge, which everyone should practice and perfect. Then we move on to lifting things off the ground and putting them back down properly. When practiced in the gym setting or at home, it’s great for building strength and confidence.

One of my goals as the MUS Exercise & Fitness Specialist is that all of our employees know how to properly do a squat, and lift things off the ground properly. When we lift properly, not only do we minimize the chance of an injury, but we feel stronger and more functional as well.

Enjoy the video!

P.S. For those of you participating in our MUS Wellness Incentive Program, this video will be posted as a challenge on Friday!

Neal

Running Relaxed.

I just put the final touches on tomorrow’s “Running Relaxed” webinar, and I can’t wait to share it! One could make an easy argument that my involvement with this whole Wellness thing has its roots in running. Finding a passion for running at a young age led to much self-discovery, many life-lessons, and certainly an interest in how our bodies work and perform.

During the webinar, as the name implies, we’ll be focusing on how to run more relaxed. I believe that a relaxed runner is a better runner, for several reasons. More relaxed runners:

  1. Waste less energy
  2. Run more comfortably
  3. Run faster, farther (because they’re comfortable and conserving energy—see #1 & #2)
  4. Inspire others to run, because they look good doing it

The neat thing is, many of the tips and principles we’ll discuss are applicable at any speed, so whether you’re sprinting or running a 12-minute mile, you can learn to be more relaxed, more efficient, more comfortable, and just plain good-looking. I hope you can join!

Neal

Undulating Periodization (i.e. Climbing a Mountain of Fitness via switchbacks)

Wow. What a title. A little wordy, but sometimes you just have to go for it. Hopefully you’re hooked and ready for me to drop some exercise science! If you’ve ever trained for anything, have aspirations to train for something, or are doing so now, stay with me till the end—amidst the science, this article has practical information that can help you stay healthy while working toward a big goal.

Periodization is a training term, referring to planned changes in exercise volume or intensity over time. Volume is the measure of how much exercise you’re doing, and intensity is the measure of how hard the exercise is. Usually, this exercise volume and/or intensity increases over time, with a goal to bring beneficial adaptations to the person training. These adaptations could range from getting stronger, to losing weight, to preparing for soccer season, to running a trail race, to riding your bicycle across the state. It just so happens that I’m doing the latter beginning in a few days, and have been formally training for this goal for the past 14 weeks.

As I come to the end of my training, I wanted to use the opportunity to talk about a couple of training concepts that can help you if you’re working toward a long-term goal. First, the concept of periodization is fundamental to exercise science, but actually owes much of its origin to a Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist named Hans Selye. Selye is credited with the idea of the General Adaptation Syndrome (or G.A.S. theory), which describes how the body (particularly the endocrine system) responds to stressful environmental stimuli.

The reason this theory is important to exercise scientists and coaches is because exercise, as far as the human body is concerned, is a stressful environmental stimulus. The act of exercise takes our bodies out of cushy, comfy homeostasis, and puts stress on a number of our body systems, depending on what we’re doing, how long we do it, and how difficult it is. If you haven’t exercised for a long time, and then do some intense exercise, you know what I’m talking about. Or, if you exercise all the time in a certain way, and then go do something totally different, you know what I’m talking about.

The G.A.S. theory consists of 3 events:

  1. A stress (In this context a bout of exercise)
  2. A negative response from the body (Fatigue, stiffness, soreness, inflammation, depletion of resources, etc.)
  3. An adaptation from the body (Gain of lean muscle tissue, improved motor skills, gain of muscular strength, improved cardiovascular efficiency, etc.)

A periodized training plan takes advantage of the magic of this cycle, which is the adaptation. Our bodies are amazing at adapting to acute bouts of stress, but there’s a caveat. There must be sufficient time and rest after the negative response in order for the adaptation to occur. Without enough rest and recovery, and given enough repeated exercise bouts, our bodies and even our minds can become worn down, worn out, and exhausted. Injury, burnout, and even illness often follow.

“Rest is where the magic happens…”

Periodization is also sometimes referred to as progression. One strategy to build-up, or progress exercise volume and/or intensity is just to keep adding more and more over time, in more-or-less a steady progression. This is called linear periodization or linear progression. For example, say a runner accustomed to running 20-miles a week decides to train for a marathon, and has a goal to work up to 55 miles a week. She decides to add 5 miles a week every week until she is hitting 55. This is an example of linear progression, and when you look at the graph below, you’ll see that it is aptly named. Linear periodization or progression is pretty straight-forward and logical, and it can work, but it is not without some risks and pitfalls. It’s like the old “straw that broke the camel’s back” analogy. Everyone has a breaking point, and at that point, the body just can’t handle the ever-mounting stress, and things fall apart. That being said, a linear progression is still a much better plan than someone just jumping from 20 miles a week straight to 55. Mistakes like that are made often among recreational athletes, and are usually not without consequences.

Training Volume3
Example of a linear progression. A runner adds 5 miles a week until she’s up to her training goal.

So linear progression is a better method than going straight from not-a-lot to a-whole-lot, but there’s still a best way. The best way minimizes risks and maximizes rewards, and it only requires a slight tweek or adjustment to the concepts just presented. What’s more, the best solution is rooted to the concept of allowing the body and brain adequate rest and recovery, and much research and practical application favors this training strategy. It’s called non-linear, or undulating periodization. Non-liner periodization does exactly what the name implies, training volumes and intensities undulate, both during the week (microcycle), and over the entire training program (macrocycle).

Let’s take a look at my macrocycle. Below is a graph of my weekly training, in minutes, over the past 14 weeks. For my training, I chose to measure volume in minutes instead of mileage, because when I rode on the indoor trainer or did a spin class during cold, wet spring days, then I wasn’t getting true miles (the bike just sits in the same place no matter how hard I pedal).

Training Volume
Cycling volume by minutes per week. The undulating pattern is by design.

Notice the peaks and troughs, and the overall trend over time. The training peaks provide extra stress to the system, and the troughs allow the system to recover enough to adapt (and hopefully not break down), while still keeping the overall volume on the up-and-up. Here’s the same graph with an arrow to illustrate the overall direction of the training volume, which turns out to be pretty linear:

Training Volume2
The non-linear progression still follows an overall linear trend, but the dips allow for extra rest and recovery. Think of a switchbacking trail up a mountain rather than a trail straight up.

Pretty cool, eh?

Another way I like to think of it is kind-of like switchbacks. A trail that just heads straight up the mountain would be like linear progression. If the slope is too steep, it can be very difficult, and it might break you at some point. But a path to the top of the mountain via switchbacks is a little more gentle.  Even the steepest of slopes can be managed with some thoughtful switchbacks. You’ll still get to the top, and you’ll hopefully be in one piece when you get there!

Finally, notice the graph climbed to its zenith a couple of weeks ago, and then begins to fall. This is called a taper, and it allows some really nice recovery to happen so that you feel fresh and fit when it’s go-time. This week, my final week before my ride, my volume will fall off even more. Personally, for big events like this ride or a long race like a marathon, I like for my volume to peak 2 to 3 weeks prior to the event, to allow for a full recovery and a peak performance. During the taper period, I also like to hold my intensity steady while the volume falls away. It’s like keeping the engine of a sports car revved-up, but not putting many miles on it.

There’s a fine line between optimal training and over-training. Over-training is a road to injury, burnout, dysfunction, and even illness. Whenever I set a goal and train for something, my first priority is to be healthy whenever it’s time to perform. Non-linear progressions help me get to the starting line healthy and confident. You don’t have to be a coach or exercise scientist to put these concepts into practice. If you’ve read this whole article, kudos to you! There was a lot of info here, therefore I will try to summarize simply:

  1. Your body and brain need the stress of exercise.
  2. Your body and brain need time to adequately recover from the stress of exercise.
  3. You will get better over time if you practice this model, and slowly progress volume and intensity.
  4. Be patient, trust the process, err on the conservative side, and meet your goal healthy and confident!

I’m ready to Rock n’ Roll!

Neal

 

RAM Update

I’m less than a month away from my Ride Across Montana (RAM), and my excitement is building along with my nerves. My training is going well, and the logistics are coming together, but there’s always the self-doubt that comes along with the unknown. I’ve done a few mulit-day bike tours, but never one as long as this. On the other hand, it’s a ride, not a race. No one will have a clock on me. I just have to keep moving, and I’ll have plenty of daylight following the summer solstice.

So far, I’ve logged over 50 hours in the saddle in preparation, and I have a little less than three weeks to train hard before I shut it down and take a few recovery days before the ride begins on June 25th.

Here’s a list of MUS stops on my tour:

  • Monday, June 26th. Flathead Valley CC, Kalispell
  • Thursday, June 29th. Great Falls College MSU
  • Friday, June 30th. Central Agricultural Research Center MSU, Moccasin
  • Monday, July 3rd. Dawson CC, Glendive & Eastern Agricultural Research Center MSU, Sidney

We’re working on some informal meet & greets at each stop, so if you’re at one of these locations, I look forward to seeing you! More info will be forthcoming as the RAM approaches!

Neal

Here’s a few “training” pics. I’m really excited to share more from the road in a few weeks! Follow along right here or on the Montana Moves twitter feed!

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