At Concept2 NZ we are fortunate to work within an inspiring community of athletes across a range of different sports. In talking with these athletes and learning about their journey’s to the top (which we love to share with you in the interviews on this blog!) we are privileged to observe some of the habits and practices of top athletes that they use to help them be at their best for both training and competition. You want to operate at your best to fit an effective exercise regime into a busy week, or train to reach a personal goal, so in this post we run through 5 healthy habits of athletes that you can take onboard too.
Warm up/Warm down
For an athlete, their body is their business. It requires careful attention and nurturing in order to achieve the very best performance. Looking after their bodies within each training session is crucial for an athletes’ ability to continue to train at a high level, day in and day out. That is why all top athletes will dedicate between 15-30 minutes at the start and finish of each session to a warm up, and warm down routine. What is included in the warm up depends heavily on the sport and what will be involved in the particular training session, but usually it involves gradually mobilising the main muscle groups that will be called upon, and gently working through the movements and systems that are central to the workout.
Endurance athletes, including rowers, will need to warm up their cardiovascular system, as well as relevant muscles groups (legs, arms, core, hips and back). If speedwork or race pace pieces are involved in the training session, some short bursts of 30 seconds to 1min at pace towards the end of the warm up are important to be ready to go for the main portion of the training session. Equally important, at the end of a training session athletes will also warm down, gently working over fatigued muscles to loosen tight-spots, and work out any lactic acid or stiffness brought on during the session. A good warm down will help to allow athletes to recover before they are required to train or race again, and to avoid carrying stiffness and soreness into the next workout.
Include a 5-10min warm up and warm down at the beginning and end of your next exercise session and notice the difference in your recovery the next day.
Stretch and Roll
Stretching is often included in an athletes’ warm up or warm down, while some athletes we have spoken to also include stretching and rolling on a foam roller in their evening routine before heading off to bed. Either way, taking time to stretch or roll out tight muscles is an important part of an athlete’s recovery process which keeps their body in form to execute demanding training sessions, and maintain good technique under fatigue. It is also a great way to identify potential muscle imbalances that could signal a need for injury prevention measures. Staying injury-free under the stress of high training volume is a fine-line that all athletes have to balance, and including targeted stretching and rolling in their daily routine is an effective way of identifying and preventing potential problems before they have a chance to interfere.
Regular stretching and rolling on a foam roller are important for keeping muscles and ligaments loose an relaxed.
Stretching and rolling on a foam roller can be just as beneficial for anyone who exercises regularly, or those who simply seek to improve mobility and comfort in their daily lifestyle. Check out our interview with double world champion rower and qualified yoga instructor Sophie MacKenzie to see how you can add stretching into your daily routine.
For athletes (and the rest of us!), sleep is the most important regenerative action their bodies can undertake. The physical benefits of sleep- an opportunity for the body to repair tissue, grow muscle, and synthesize hormones, are essential to an athlete’s ability to continue to develop and perform. Top athletes will seek to get a minimum of 8 hours sleep, with the more hours asleep before midnight the better. Often, top athletes will be up early in the morning to make the most of optimal training conditions, so it is even more important to turn out the lights early in the evening, snuggle up and get some rest.
Getting plenty of sleep has significant mental benefits too, increasing our ability to retain and recall information- pretty useful when learning new skills, or performing under pressure at work. Feeling tired is also a common driver of unnecessary calorie consumption towards the end of the day, which can have a detrimental effect on weight-loss efforts. Regardless of your fitness goals, try to add a bit more sleep into your schedule, you may find your waking hours are just as productive without the late nights!
Plan Your Training Fuel
At the highest level, athletes will follow a specific, nutritionist recommended diet that will keep their body fuelled for training and racing. While there are some sports and disciplines that require some food restriction at times to meet competition criteria (lightweight rowing, boxing etc.) even these athletes will very rarely undertake any meaningful exercise on an empty stomach. Fuelling your body correctly for exercise, whether you are an athlete or simply exercising for health, has an impact on a whole range of lifestyle aspects including: your mood and motivation, enjoyment of training, and your food choices for the rest of the day. Top athletes will plan their food around training as carefully as the training session itself, and will often have a go-to meal before and after the session, as well as a plan for maintaining blood sugar and electrolytes during long, endurance workouts.
Eating the right food around exercise is important for you to be at your best
For ideas and inspiration on the kinds of foods you should include in your diet and exercise plan (and when to have them) check out our article- Top 5 training foods to boost your workout results.
Athletes who reach the top of their sport, don’t just get there by chance. Yes, physical ability and talent of course have a part to play, but just as critical is a desire to learn and the initiative to ask questions. Very few athletes who succeed on the world stage do so without a coach or mentor- someone to help them learn and understand what they need to do to perform at their best. Rowing is a great example of a sport which requires athletes to be inquisitive and mentally invested in their performance- we are not born with the knowledge of how to row, it is a learned skill and a key part of learning is engaging in the task and asking questions. At the top end of sport, the best athletes will continue to learn by trial and error- testing their limits to see what could be possible beyond asking a question that has a documented answer, often in collaboration with an experienced coach who has the background to help forge ahead and break new ground. Seeing the best athletes achieve feats that were not previously considered possible, is a big reason we as spectators get excited about watching sport- and it is all born out of asking questions.
Next time you work out, think about the exercise you are undertaking and the technique you using. Who could help you refine your technique or training approach to achieve better results? Perhaps a trainer or a coach is available to ask? If you are trying to get the most out of your workout on the Indoor Rower or SkiErg, check out our technical resources and start your own inquest for improvement!
Give these 5 habits a try today, you might just find they work as well for you as they do for our best athletes!