Dr Sunny Jutla, MBCHB BSC(Hons) FHEA MRCEM FRCEM Dip Med Ed, Specialist Digital Clinician at Medichecks shares seven top tips on getting into endurance exercise, for those of us about to be inspired by the Great North Run - as the iconic Geordie event returns on 10 September.
'Don’t go from 0 to 100'
"Whether you’re returning to exercise after a break or starting a new programme, a gradual build-up is key. Don’t delve straight into the intensity and frequency you think you can do - pushing yourself too far and too fast can lead to injury.
"Pushing yourself too hard can lead to overtraining syndrome – a condition brought about by excessive training without giving yourself time to recover properly. Once you’ve been doing the same exercise at a lower intensity for a few weeks, and it feels like it’s becoming too easy, up the ante and slowly scale up in weight or intensity. If you still think it’s too easy, think about increasing your rep count, together with doing each rep slowly and effectively.
"Consistency is more important than intensity when it comes to preventing injury and improving your results. Consistently going out for a run or a cycle at a steady pace three to four times a week will decrease your risk of injury compared to running twice a week at a higher intensity.
"Consistency is key when trying to reach your individual health and fitness goals!"
'Make time to warm-up'
"Warming up is beneficial regardless of the type of exercise you are doing. Make sure to warm up at least five to ten minutes before starting your activity. This prepares your body for exercise by slowly increasing your heart rate and improving circulation, which helps to loosen your joints and increase blood flow to your muscles. So, whether you are weightlifting, cycling, or running, ensuring you warm up will reduce your risk of acute injuries such as hamstring or calf strains.
"A warm-up not only prepares your body but also gives you a couple of minutes to mentally prepare yourself for the workout ahead. When your body is ready to handle the demands that exercise has on it, you can tackle new personal bests and quicker recovery times.
"An example of this is the “Ramp Warm-Up"- It stands for raise, activate, mobilise and potentiate."
'Allow time for your body to recover'
"The opposite of a warm-up, a cool-down is designed to lower your heart rate and get your breathing rate back to normal. It also helps clear lactic acid from your muscles, preventing cramps and soreness.
"A cool-down doesn’t only mean stretches, it can mean just three to ten minutes of lighter exercise, like walking after a run, which is a great way to slow your heart rate down before you start stretching.
"It’s important to also take rest days in between your exercise sessions, especially when you first start back after resting for a long time. This can help re-balance your routine, and ensure that you stay motivated!"
'Combine the two types of rest (or recovery) days'
"On a passive rest day, take the entire day off from exercise to give your muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue time to rebuild. This is most likely needed after a day or consecutive days of hard endurance training.
"On an active rest day, you should keep your step count to around 10,000 or perform a calm and relaxing exercise that stretches your body, like yoga or pilates.
"Recovery doesn’t just take place during the day either, sleep also plays an important part, as it enables your body to store energy and repair muscles. Alongside giving you spikes of hormones (such as the growth hormone and testosterone), sleep can help aid recovery and prevent injury."
'Work on your technique'
"One of the most common causes of sports injury is poor technique.
"When performing a new exercise, it is best for a personal trainer or experienced athlete to guide you so that you continue with the correct technique. It’s also recommended to start slowly when running, or on lower weights when strength training.
"Once your technique is perfected, you can then run faster and increase the weight you’re lifting. Making sure your form is correct (and never pushing yourself beyond your safe lifting limits) will be more beneficial in the long run than lifting heavier weights and achieving faster times in the short term.
'Eat well to fuel your workouts'
"Getting your nutrition spot on before training sessions will give you more energy to hit the speed or intensity you want, and also help kick-start recovery after your sessions. Eating carbohydrates and drinking plenty of water two hours before you exercise can help with this.
"Good foods to eat before you exercise include oats, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables.
"Try to avoid saturated fats, such as cakes and biscuits, before you exercise as these can take longer to digest and may cause an upset stomach.
"To help manage your nutrition alongside fitness, it’s worth prepping your food beforehand. Often, boxing up nutritionally balanced portions in your fridge/freezer in bulk can help maintain a steady routine.
"Post-workout, it’s recommended to add electrolytes to your water to help rehydrate water in your system from sweating. Protein after exercise can also help muscle repair and growth and works together with pre-workout carbs to reduce the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)."
"Blood testing can give insight into your general health, as well as your muscle health and nutrition, providing a good baseline for anyone starting endurance training. You could try a performance blood test to keep you keep track of how endurance exercise impacts your kidney, liver, and muscle health, as well as hormones and key vitamins, as deficiencies can cause an array of symptoms that can affect training.
"This is a great way to also establish your baseline as it can help you monitor any changes you make and see the improvements that can motivate you further."