By: Michelle Magnan
When I met Matt Jordan, a sports physiologist and strength and conditioning coach, on a recent sunny afternoon in Calgary to chat about the training of elite athletes, I was not at peak condition myself. Earlier that week, I’d tweaked my lower back while doing kettlebell swings at the gym. I hadn’t attempted any workouts or running since. This injury-induced rest was not, as Matt would say, “purposeful rest.”
“Rest and recovery have to be purposeful,” he said. “For people who are very driven, that’s hard – usually they’re reactive.” Guilty as charged. I had not given my body enough time to recover between heavy workouts.
“Purposeful rest could be meditation or yoga,” Matt said. “If I went home and cracked a bottle of wine and sat on the couch, yes, that’s resting, but the other type of rest is like a balancing rest.” For the record, I’m very good at the former type. Having made a mental note to schedule more yoga, less wine, into my schedule, I asked Matt, who works with everyone from Olympic alpine skiers and speed skaters to UFC fighters, about his life as a trainer of elite athletes – and some of the tips he’d share with Everyday Athletes. Here’s what he had to say:
On his average day:
“I’m typically with a team in the morning at one of the training centers. A lot of time in the afternoon is spent doing research-related stuff, so the science, the physiology. I’m studying athletes with ACL issues, looking at muscle activation patterns and why some athletes cope and some athletes don’t.”
On what it takes to become an elite athlete:
“No question, you have to have some talent. But good athletes have the ability to get the little things right and they understand themselves. Competing, let’s say. Some athletes are very intrinsically motivated; it’s all about a feel that they’re looking for. Other athletes are absolutely driven by crushing the person beside them. Good athletes understand what motivates them. And the little things are seemingly very little but they’re hard for people to do well, like making sure that every single day you show up and deliver 100 percent in a warm-up. To do it with intention, purpose and focus is tough. Good athletes make every day count.”
On his top tip for Everyday Athletes:
“There’s a lot to be said for finding balance in training. A lot of the time, weekend warriors find it easy to work hard. That’s what they love. They show up and kill themselves. It’s really hard for someone like that to achieve the balance of having proper rest and proper recovery and doing it in a planned way, not a reactive way. Plan that balance in your world and stick to it. Take a day off here and there and listen to your body.”
On listening to your body:
“I’m really big on this: asking my athletes how they feel is a really good metric of how they’re doing. Obvious, right? But you don’t need to measure blood biochemistry and cortisols and all this other stuff. I track with simple questions like, ‘How are you doing today?’ You rate yourself from one to seven; one is good and seven is bad. You ask it in a systematic way so that you get a picture of what they’re like when they’re happy, healthy and rested, so that you know when they’re not. With all my athletes, that’s the single biggest metric that I rely on for knowing when they’ve been pushed too far.”
For an Everyday Athlete with no coach around, Matt’s advice is to ask yourself that question, day in and day out – and to go easy when the answer is, “Not great.”
That said, as we parted ways, Matt told me to not wait too long to get back into my workouts. He said I shouldn’t be fearful of doing the things I love. So, a couple of days later, I ran a 3-mile race that, before chatting with Matt, I would have backed out of. And the results weren’t too shabby: I came in second.
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