A Summer of Sport
The summer of sport we have had this year in the UK has been unreal! I absolutely love this time of year when there are so many different top-level sports and high-end competitions happening and we can watch them all from home.
From Wimbledon and some pretty impressive play there to the Lionesses absolutely smashing the Euros and making history to then watching the athletic championships followed by the Commonwealth Games onto the World Equestrian games it has literally been non-stop!
I don’t know about you but I know for me watching all of these elite athletes at the top of their game really inspires me and gives me that fire in my belly for my own goals. I’m sure many of you probably watched Lottie Fry & Catherine Laudrup-Dufour last week at WEG and felt exactly the same.
Sometimes what these athletes achieve across all sports can seem completely unrealistic for us mere mortals to achieve but they follow very simple and practical regimes laid out by their coaches that all of us could implement ourselves & lead to us achieving our goals & having our own success.
When you’re at the top of your sport major championships happen every 4 years, for example, the Worlds & Olympics happen on a 4-year cycle. That means that these athletes plan their training, competition schedule and rest time around the major championships so that when they come around they are at peak performance and can do their best.
Training on a 4-year cycle sounds like quite a complex programme doesn’t it? But in reality, it’s not really.
They will look at the big overarching goal (macro goal) in terms of what wants to be achieved within the next 4 years and break that down into more manageable micro-goals across that 4 year period. Each year the athlete will have a competition aim within their schedule for example the European Championships. But the whole programme is being driven by the idea of the big championships and huge success at the end of the training block such as Olympic Gold.
So what do these athletes actually do in order to be competition ready and have their bodies at peak performance?
Within their training programmes, they will implement a strength and conditioning routine, recovery work whether that is physio or a massage appointment, self-myofascial release such as using a foam roller or massage gun and aerobic conditioning.
Every sport has its athletes doing strength training which is so important as it helps to improve your strength, speed, stamina and ability to react both mentally and physically.
How many times a week these athletes will do their strength training in the gym or runs out on the road depends on the overall goal, what the sport is and how often they are competing.
For example, a heptathlete has 7 events so their training will be far more varied than say a dressage rider who only needs to focus on conditioning and strength for 1 phase.
It has been great leading up to WEG to see Catherine Laudrup-Dufour sharing her training. She used to suffer as a young rider with incredibly bad lower back pain and although she was working with a physio regularly, often after competitions she would be in a lot of pain.
This is when she started working on her own physical self and developed a strength and training routine with the help of a coach. She now trains from home 6 days a week and takes her training as seriously as her riding.
As she has explained before if you’re trying to create a movement on the horse and you’re not physically strong enough or stable enough to give the correct, clear aid the horse is never going to get it and you’re going to only confuse him & be unable to ride the movement correctly. Adding in that little bit of extra work on yourself really goes a long way!
Within every sport, recovery is a huge piece of an elite athletes' programme! In sport, it’s actually typically harder to overtrain than it is to under recover so recovery protocols are always going to be a priority to keep the athlete on the road. Thinking about sleep, nutrition, alternative therapies. These will keep the athlete mentally and physically injury-free and fresh & this is absolutely imperative!
Even if you love your sport or what you do competing at a high level with a lot of pressure on you can become overwhelming and sometimes too much so taking care of the mental side is just as important especially if you are experiencing injuries or setbacks. Kelly Holmes has previously said that she wished at the time she was at her best there was more awareness and support around mental health within Team GB as when you pick up injuries or don’t win the title you’ve been training towards for 4 years for it can be really tough to bounce back.
Obviously, with any sport and training, there is a high element and risk of injury. We all know in equestrian sports that the risk of injury is even higher due to the nature of the sport being more dangerous as we are sat on a live animal.
Silly accidents can happen, mistakes in training or just simply fatigue wearing down the body over a period of time. I think it’s amazing to look at how these athletes come back from injury, for example, take Chloe Kelly from the Lioness squad. She had an ACL injury 9 months previous to the Euros. She rehabbed it correctly, followed professional advice, did her strength & physio work and had the mindset of seeing herself play in the final. She followed through and did just that! I think that is a great example of how you can come back from injuries but it is not always that easy.
Injuries sadly are inevitable when it comes to sports & training. When you put your body through intense & stressful activity you are at risk of picking up an injury and there is no real way to avoid that. There’s always ways to train around injury to keep yourself physically fit but they can be really debilitating mentally & emotionally so it’s important to acknowledge that.
What matters is you realise that for some athletes it’s part of the process and we will all know that with our horses picking up injuries along the way! But it’s following a concise, recovery plan led by professionals and following through on that will get you back to your peak performance!
All athletes tend to take an off-season break too, you’ll often see the athletics team jetting off all over the Caribbean or look at Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand, they head off to Mauritius when their schedule on the race track quietens down.
Downtime and rest are so important, not just for the body but also for you personally. Training & competing at whatever level is incredibly demanding and mentally draining so it’s important you have time to switch off. That might not necessarily be going away on holiday but having a quiet week or maybe a week off work where you stay at home, catch up on admin or daily tasks and just have a nice quiet week for yourself taking the pressure off.
It’s easy to look at elite athletes and think no, there is no way I could do what they do and for some of us, it won’t always be possible. Obviously, coaches cost money, programmes can be expensive and a lot of these athletes will have sponsorship or funding to help them afford their careers. They are obviously full time professional athletes & it's important to remember most of us are not!
However, the one thing we can all take from this is that following a concise programme that gives you clarity & direction and leads to a specific outcome can really help you to achieve the goal.
If you are clear about why you’re doing what you’re doing and can see the benefit behind the work you are doing, you're going to be far more likely to follow through and get it done!
If you’ve got big goals you want to achieve but you have no plan or maybe you’re doing a little bit of training here and there but not considering recovery then see if you can take a leaf out of one of your favourite athlete's books. It’s important to remember that it’s a full package from recovery to training that will get you there and get you your best results!
It’s fantastic to see the perception of the rider changing into an athlete in Equestrian sports and I love that the likes of Catherine & Kent Farrington share their training so much on social media to raise awareness of just how important it is you are strong as your horse! You can find Catherine & Kent's channel here (click on the name) and I hope this helps you to get some ideas & influence your own training & programme moving forwards.