Being active is fun and rewarding in itself but adding an element of competition can take you to a whole new level. If you find yourself needing a new challenge, if your routine is becoming lackluster, or if you want to simply up-your-game, then signing up for a competition might be just what you need!
Whatever your fitness level, there is bound to be something out there that will light up your competitive spirit. Obviously, as an ex-Olympic sprinter, my thoughts always go to running first, but you can find a way to set yourself a challenge in any type of sport or activity. Maybe you could challenge a family member to a bike race, take part in a community activity day or join a swim team? I’m going to give examples about running a 5K but my tips can be applied on any type of competition.
I like 5Ks because they can provide a level of competition for all fitness levels. Maybe you can just challenge yourself you walk the full five kilometer course, or – at the other end of the scale – you could try to complete the distance in the fastest time. Whether you are a seasoned athlete, a stay at home parent, or a weekend warrior, setting your sights on walking / jogging / running a 5K is an achievable and rewarding goal.
Training for a competition is not a one size fits all situation. Recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses will enable you to address the areas of your body that need work.
My 5K example: if you are constantly tight in your hamstrings and hip flexors then adding more extensive stretching to your training plan may help you run more freely.
Think about your competition: if you’re covering a long distance than pacing yourself is vital. If you need a powerful start, then your training needs to focus on those first moments of your challenge.
My 5K example: a 5K race involves using your aerobic system approximately 80% of the time and your anaerobic system approximately 20% of the time. Following a training plan that trains both of these systems effectively can result in a faster time on race day! Training your anaerobic/sprint system will give you a confidence boost too because knowing you can “out-kick” people in the final stretch is a great feeling.
When it comes to an endurance type of competition, selecting a good fuel to power your training and eating high quality foods to rebuild and regenerate after your workout is important. Just like a car cannot run without gas, you can not compete well on an empty tank. When you are preparing for a competition, make smart choices and ensure you are consuming “good” carbohydrates and proteins.
My 5K example: the great thing about fueling up for a 5k race and training is that it is very simple and easy. Unlike running a marathon you do not need to overload the night before with carbohydrates and fats because the duration of the race is so short.
Carbs and fats are an essential energy source for high intensity aerobic exercise but your body probably has sufficient fat stores to call on if needed, so focus your energy on fueling up on quality carbs before your run.
Selecting equipment based on your personal needs can drastically improve your performance. When you first get started out on an activity, make sure you are comfortable and, if necessary, protected. Then, if you start to take part in an activity regularly, consider investing in equipment that’s tailored for you. Often specialist equipment can give you an edge, provide extra support or improve your technique.
My 5K example: just because your friend loves to run in one type of shoe, it does not automatically mean they are good for you too! Did you know that excessive pronation (foot instability) can slow each stride down by 0.2 seconds? It may not sound like much but, when you think about how many strides you take in a 5K, that 0.2 seconds can multiply into a few minutes.
Written by Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA. Samantha is Director of Fitness Education at Herbalife.