Running Out of a Rut

Even athletes will sometimes find themselves in situations when they don’t feel like training. This can be after a long playoff run. It could be during the rehab of an injury. Or it could near the end of a career when the drive just isn’t the the same as it once was.

So what do you do to overcome a rut? How do you get going when you have no momentum? What helps you develop inertia to fuel future efforts?

Sometimes it’s as simple as taking the first step. And trail running offers a great analogy to help us get going.

Here’s how.

1 – The Arms Are the Drivers

If you’re a runner you’ll know how important the arms swing is for success. The arms help propel us and help us maintain balance. And because the arms don’t have to overcome the same resistance to gravity and are shorter levers than the legs, they can dictate the cadence of our stride.

What this means is that our legs will follow the speed of our arm swing. Want to move your legs more quickly? Swing your arms faster.

This is a great technique when climbing hills and near the end of races when fatigue may limit how quickly we can turn over the legs.

There will be something health-wise that comes easier to you than most. Maybe you are really good at meal planning. Maybe you are good at getting yourself to sleep on time. Maybe you are always punctual. Maybe you are good at keeping notes and journalling.

All of these things lead to success. The key is to do what you’re good at to start. Other positive habits will spin off from the good effort you are making in another area of your life.

2 – Lean Into the Hills

When I go for a trail run I typically lean forward slightly on climbs. This helps me maintain balance and get the best push to get up the slope.

In marketing, there’s an expression about ‘leaning into’ something. For example, if you blog and are married with kids, have a dog and like Seinfeld you should tell this story when you write.

But the other aspect of leaning into something means to tackle your goals head on. If you’re injured, you need to rehab the injury before you can get stronger, more powerful or faster.

Imagine if we were talking about improving a student’s GPA in school. If in every class they had a 90% average and one class was a 50%, there is more potential to increase the overall GPA if they focus on the class where they’re getting 50%. The same is true with training. If all we focus on are our strengths, our overall results won’t be nearly as good than if we put serious attention to where we need it the most.

3 – Getting Started Changes Things

Have you ever had a preconceived notion about something? And as things started to develop around that notion you were looking for ways to prove you were right in your thinking? In research this can be known as a confirmation bias.

Recently I was out for a bike ride with some neighbours. And near the end of the ride we had the option to take some back roads home or take the rail trail. I really wanted to avoid the rail trail as it’s less direct and can be very busy on weekends.

As we were rolling along we kept getting caught up in groups not paying attention and breaking our rhythm. In my mind I was thinking ‘see I knew we should have avoided the rail trail!’.

Soon after we linked up with some other friends that are really good cyclists. I was able to ‘grab their wheel’ and draft off them for a good while. When we got to the next stop at a light I noticed I was smiling and had really enjoyed the last segment. And I had totally forgotten that I wanted to skip the rail trail and go the other way.

4 – Let the Pace Come to You

When I went to university in Regina there would be winter days when your car just wouldn’t start. It wasn’t uncommon to have to plug your car in during the day and maybe need a jump from a friend after class.

Your car wouldn’t normally start the first time you turned it over. And once it did start you had to let it warm up for a bit before hitting the road.

When we want to get back into exercise we need to ease into it. When I go trail running I’ll do a few laps. And the first one is always a slow trot before everything starts to warm and loosen up. By going slow at first there’s a better chance I can finish fast(er) at the end.

The same is true for our training in the gym. Be patient with the process. You’ll get better results and have fewer setbacks if you take the needed time to realign your posture, open up your mobility and stabilize your core. Alex Van Nieuwkerk took this approach when he started back a couple of months ago and is now killing it with his training.

So to summarize…

  • Find an area of your health and fitness that easier for you i.e. similar to swinging from the arms to build speed.
  • Go after your biggest deficiencies first and tackle them head-on i.e. like leaning into a steep hill.
  • If at first you don’t enjoy the process, be patient and give it a chance. You won’t be at this phase of your training forever and you may just find something about it that you enjoy i.e. like riding the rail trail.
  • Start slow to finish fast. Rushing back into a training routine can be a recipe for poor results and potential injury i.e. similar to letting your car warm up in the winter.



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