Your Next Task: Relax

The mind-body connection is real—ignore it and your fitness will suffer

Jun 5, 2007
Outside Magazine
Summer Fitness

COACH AS COUNSELOR: Rick Crawford shares a low-stress moment with pro mountain biker Shonny Vanlandingham in Durango, Colorado.    Photo: Tom Fowlks

Smart Fix: Train Your Brain

Need motivation? In recent studies, scientists have shown that aerobic exercise can cause the brain to grow new nerve cells. The research, published earlier this year, also suggests that physical exertion could help prevent memory decline and other cognitive disorders.

IT'S A BASIC ATHLETIC LAW: What goes on in your head—and heart—is just as important as what happens in the gym. Which means stress in your life affects your athletic performance, and any training program worth following takes that hard truth into account. So says cycling coach Rick Crawford, who's made a believer out of pros like Discovery Channel Team rider Tom Danielson. Last year, Danielson, who credits Crawford's coaching for much of his success, placed first in the Tour of Austria and second in the Tour de Georgia.

Crawford's philosophy boils down to this: Stress, like physical exertion, requires treatment and recovery. "I try to understand what is going on in my athletes' lives," says the former mentor to Lance Armstrong. "Is there a significant other draining the system? Are finances a problem?" The trick is putting a quantity on these things so you can make appropriate adjustments. Use the Stress Tracker formula below to apply Crawford's holistic system to your own training.

Stress Tracker
Numbers don't lie. Use this formula to find out if you're in the red or black when it comes to stress. The test, which pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer helped Crawford create, lets you keep tabs on daily ups and downs and account for them in your fitness program. Follow the guidelines below, and if you're in the hole after three weeks, Crawford says, "Use the fourth week to balance your credits and debits."

THE LEDGER: Balance your training regimen just like your checkbook.
1. On a calendar, mark each day of a three-week period with a Stress column and a Recovery column.
2. Stress is the debit column and is broken into three categories: Physical (P), such as a workout; Mental (M), which could be something like prepping for a presentation; and Emotional (E), like that argument with your spouse.
3. Recovery is the credit column and divides into: Sleep (S), how much, in hours; Rest (R), where watching TV counts; and Therapy (T), anything you find rejuvenating.
4. Assign a numerical value between 1 (minimum) and 10 (maximum) to each category daily.
5. Add up your daily totals at the end of the period. If you don't balance out, you need to recalibrate. Excess stress means you need more rest or therapy. A recovery overage is fine, but it means more work could be done.

P5: Had an OK workout, nothing great
M7: Computer crashed; had to start over on that presentation
E8: Your girlfriend's still miffed thatyou forgot her birthday
Total: 20

S8: Slept long and well
R4: Caught The Daily Show before bed
T2: Took the dog for a walk after work
Total: 14

Daily Total: Excess Stress 6

No, the best treatment for sports injuries does not involve your couch. Inactivity itself can be mentally and physically draining, says Laura Keller, director of rehabilitation at the Stone Clinic, inSan Francisco, and the stimulation from exercise can actually speed healing. Here are Keller's tips for going fromgimp to game. —Megan Michelson

Cardio: Use an upper-body bike or swim laps with a buoy between your thighs. Strength: Do single-leg squats at less than 90 degrees on your good side, crunches and sit-ups, or seated arm exercises.

Cardio: Sit upright on a stationary bike, use an elliptical machine with the good arm, or hike. Strength: Do squats (no bar) and lunges or arm exercises, like lateral pulls, on the uninjured side.

Cardio: Ride a stationary bike, unloading your back by putting your hands on the seat and pushing up to stretch out your spine, or walk for 15 minutes (the time it usually takes for most lower-back pain to set in) twice a day. Strength: Try squats and walking laps in a swimming pool to relieve pressure on your lumbar. Or sit on a stability ball and perform triceps and biceps exercises. The ball will make you engage your core, which releases your back.

Cardio: Use an upper-body bike or swim laps in a pool with a buoy between your knees. Strength: Put your legs on a gym ball and your hands on the floor and do push-ups, holding the plank position on the last one for one minute. Also, try arm workouts while sitting on the ball.

Cardio: Hike, run, or walk. Strength: Dotriceps extensions and biceps curls on the injured arm, with a resistance band over your forearm, not free weights. Stick to your usual lower-body workout.

Filed To: Recovery

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