A female lifts weights in a gym

Preparing your body for your event

Now you’ve signed up for your challenge event, it’s time to start getting into shape. Read our guide to stretching exercises, strengthening and conditioning. We also have tips on managing injuries, nutrition and recovery.

Stretching tips

Stretching regularly to maintain or improve your flexibility and range of motion is an essential part of training for your event. Here are our top tips.

  • Never stretch cold muscles. A good stretching routine will help to restore the muscle balance and allow you to be more flexible.
  • Repeat stretches 2-3 times if certain muscle groups seem particularly tight.
  • Aim to hold stretches for 40-45 seconds each time and complete them after your training session.
  • Consider investing in an MOT with a sports physiotherapist or having a sports massage to help manage the build-up in tightness which can occur during your training.
  • A ‘foam roller’ can be used to help your stretching on a daily basis by giving you a self-massage.

Glutes

Keeping your back straight, sit on the floor with one leg out straight. Cross the other leg over, keeping the knee bent. Hug your bent knee towards your chest to feel the stretch in your backside.

Hamstring (origin)

Lay on your back. Pull one leg up to your chest and hug with both arms. Keep one leg straight on floor keeping ankle flexed.

Hamstring (belly)

Lay on your back. Keep one leg on the ground. Raise your other leg, holding the back of your calf. Bring that leg towards you until you feel the stretch in the middle of your hamstring.

Lower back

Lay on your back. Bring one leg up towards your chest and rotate your lower knee to the floor using your opposite arm as a weight. Keep one leg straight and both shoulders on the floor. Your other arm should be straight out and at shoulder level.

Quads

Hold the top of your ankle with the same side hand and bring your heel towards your backside. Your hips should be pushed forward.

Hip flexors

Kneel on one knee and have a 90 degree angle at both knees. Push your hips down and forwards until a stretch is felt at the front of the hip.

Calf (gastrocnemius)

Stand with your feet a shoulder width apart. Take one foot forward and keep your feet parallel. Maintain the arch in the forward foot by pressing down with the toes to stop your foot rolling in. Straighten your back leg and feel the stretch in the top area of the calf.

Calf (soleus)

Repeat position of the gastrocnemius stretch, but this time bend your back leg to take the stretch into your lower calf above your achilles.

Strengthening and conditioning

Strengthening and conditioning is a great form of cross training which will help improve the strength of your tendons, muscles, bones, and ligaments. We've listed a few key exercises you could try below.

Finger crusher

Get into a sit-up position. Find the natural arch in your back and place your hands under the arch. Engage your lower abs and pelvic floor and push your spine down onto your hands, trying to crush your fingers into the ground. Aim to hold this for 45-60 seconds per set.

The next level: Add small, alternate leg lifts, while still keeping even pressure on your hands or extend your legs into a ‘bicycle’ movement.

Back extension

Lie on your front with your toes on the ground and fingers on temples. Raise your chest off the ground by using your lower back muscles. After a few seconds relax back to the ground - repeat this movement for up to a minute or as long as you are comfortable.

The next level: Extending your arms out in front of you will add a greater lever angle and make this exercise more challenging.

Plank

Lift your body up with your weight on your elbows and toes. Keep a straight line from the neck down through the legs to your ankles and engage your core. Keep your chest over your elbows. Hold for 30-60 seconds or for as long as you feel comfortable.

The next level: Add in small alternate leg lifts. If this is too hard to begin with, you can avoid lower back pain by doing this with your knees on the ground.

Side plank

Make a right angle with your supporting arm, your feet together and engage your core. Rise up, making sure you squeeze your glutes and push your pelvis through. Hold it for 30-60 seconds or for as long as you feel comfortable.

The next level: Lift your free arm into the air, keep your side really strong, and don’t let your middle sag.

Bridge

From a sit up position, raise your hips up so your body forms a straight line from shoulder to hips and knees. Hold this position for 45-60 seconds or for as long as you feel comfortable, by squeezing your glutes and your lower abdominal muscles.

The next level: From a bridge position straighten one leg at a time, aiming to not let your hips sag as you do so.

Single leg squat

Stand on one leg, use your glute on your standing leg, keep your hips facing forward and aligned with your knee and toe. Push your hips backwards while you bend at the knee. You don’t want your knee to roll inwards, so go down as far as you can without that happening before moving back to a tall standing position. Repeat 8-15 times.

The next level: You can use a Swiss ball or a wobble board under your foot.


How cross training can help

Strength exercises are one form of 'cross training' or 'XT' in the training plans. Other examples include all different forms of cardiovascular training. These exercise the heart and muscles and will definitely keep you aerobically fit. Your heart doesn't know the difference between going for a walk or cross training, it just works as hard as you ask it to. You can really boost your fitness with additional XT in your week.

Managing injuries

Time and effort

If you are struggling to get out for your training session due to an injury or weather conditions, you can complete the session using cross training.

It's fairly common for people to panic and just stop training when an injury hits, but providing you can cross train safely and you are pain free (consult with a doctor or sports therapist) you can maintain and even progress your fitness. Simply reproduce the time and effort specified in the training session using other options available to you.

Don't forget your training goals

Keep it specific

Cross training can add a lot of value and variety to your weekly training, but don't forget your goal.

At the end of your block of training you need to feel you have the strength and the fitness to complete your chosen event. The minute your conditioning or cross training is becoming so hard that it's leaving you too tired to complete your key sessions, or even risk injury itself, then the cross training has lost its benefit. Remember, it's there to support your activity, not totally replace it.

Improving your cross training

Heart rate

If you want to get serious with your cross training, you may wish to buy a heart rate monitor to help you hit your training in the correct effort zones. A heart rate monitor can also help you to keep a track of your fitness as you train more. Over time your should find that you're able to train at a similar intensity but with a lower heart rate. You may also notice your resting heart rate going down a few beats!

Using the gym to support training

Gym classes

If you are a member of a gym or fitness class they can be a great way to motivate you to continue your conditioning and cross training. Pilates, yoga and other core classes can be a great option to add to your training mix.

Nutrition and recovery

Balance the triangle
Macmillan mid green icon - frying pan
Protein rich carbohydrate clever
Hydration
Macmillan mid green icon - knife and fork cutlery
Never hungry never overfull
Macmillan mid green icon - broccoli, vegetable
Micro-nutrients
Macmillan mid green icon - alarm clock
Depleted sessions
Fueling your training sessions
Macmillan mid green icon - moon crescent
Go to bed
Ignore the myths
Macmillan mid-green icon - warning sign
Avoid the terrible toos
Macmillan mid green icon - weighing scales version 2
Monitor your health
Macmillan mid green icon - sad, frowning face
Know when to back off