How to enhance your workout

Want to run faster, swim better, cycle harder? Some of the world’s top athletes and coaches share the secrets to making over your workout in small ways.
Published 21 December 2016

Make over your workout


Cycle smart

Get your bike serviced
Looking after your bike – and making sure it’s adjusted to fit you – is one of the easiest ways to get a better cycling workout. “Before riding a bike for the first time, take it for a service,” says accredited triathlon coach Sarah Koen. “Having it fitted by a professional can help prevent injuries and back pain.”

The saddle shouldn’t tilt at all – it should always be flat – and a wider one is often better for women. “Padded bike pants, known as knicks, are also a must during long-distance rides so you’re comfortable and can cycle for longer,” adds Koen.

Increase the intensity
Interval training is a great way to get an effective workout. Change between varying the resistance and your speed.

Burst out
If you have access to a gym, improve your fitness and weight loss results on a stationary bike. “Utilising short, sharp sprints on the bike is an amazing low impact way to optimise your fitness and weight loss results.” says exercise physiologist Neil Russell. "Try putting in a short 30 second near maximal sprint at the start of every second minute that you are on the stationary bike. If you are doing a weights session hop on the stationary bike for a 1 minute near maximal sprint each time you change weights exercises or machines."

Pedal the right way
Get your footwork right for maximum power. “Position the ball of your foot over the centre of the pedal,” says Gale Bernhardt, author of Bicycling for Women. Have tight calves or Achilles tendons? Move the ball of your foot to the front of the pedal. “This position requires less force to stabilise your feet,” she says. “Time trialists also use this position as it allows you to produce more power while using higher gears.”

Want to be a better cyclist?
Lift weights. To balance better on your bike – and have more power in your quads and glutes – incorporate some weight training into your weekly exercise routine, such as lunges with dumbbells.


Swim stronger

Breathe better
Breathing right is a huge part of swimming effectively so you don’t tire yourself out. “Getting your breathing into a pattern that’s comfortable for you also helps you relax and enjoy your swim,” says gold-medal-winning swimmer Alicia Coutts. Olympic swimmer Meagen Nay adds: “When you’re swimming freestyle, make sure your ear skims your shoulder when you take a breath, and keep kicking while you breathe.”

Break it into parts
For a better overall technique, do drills that focus on one area of swimming at a time. “To improve your kicking, hold onto a kickboard, wear flippers and kick only,” suggests exercise physiologist Dr Adam Fraser. Then after a couple of lengths, concentrate on your upper body. “Place a pool buoy between your legs so you can focus on your stroke,” he says.

Get the correct position
When freestyle swimming, your body should rotate in the water – it shouldn’t stay flat with your belly button facing the bottom of the pool. Rotating from side to side – by about 45 degrees – means you use your core more and extend your reach. “To get a strong stroke, keep your elbows as high as you can when you bring your arms out of the water,” says Nay. “For backstroke, keep your hips high in the water and don’t let your legs sink,” she adds. “Also, when backstroking, your little finger should enter the water first – not the back of your hand.”

Not a strong swimmer?
“If you’re not a strong swimmer, but want to improve your technique, most local pools offer adult lessons. They’re a great way to build confidence, technique and stamina,” says Koen.


Walk better

Add in hills
“Walking is a low-intensity activity, so if you’re not getting puffed, you’re not working your body hard enough to see any benefit,” says Griffith University’s Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology, Belinda Beck. “So, head for the hills or find flights of stairs. If you have bad knees, take it easy at first and slowly increase how much you do.”

Pick up your pace
A study of thousands of walkers found that the faster you stride, the bigger the health benefits. Aim to do your usual walk faster each time. As a quick gauge of pace, apply the ‘talk test’. “Your pace should noticeably increase your breathing rate, but you should still be able to talk,” says Dr Nathan Johnson, exercise physiologist at The University of Sydney.

Think about your arms and shoulders
Improving your posture will help you stride more easily. “Walk with your palms facing forward to help push your shoulders back,” says Beck. And watch out for your shoulders creeping up towards your ears. “That tightens you up and wastes your energy, which slows you down,” says world champion marathon runner, Paula Radcliffe, author of How to Run. “If you feel you’re tensing up, drop your arms and roll your shoulders a few times to get your shoulders down.”


Run right

Lift your feet - fast!
Here’s a hot tip to help you run more efficiently: imagine you’re running barefoot over hot coals. To do that, think about running lightly, using your feet to push up from the ground as quickly as possible. “The more your foot is in contact with the ground, the slower you run. Instead, put more effort into your next stride,” says Radcliffe.

Realign your posture
“A lot of your running style is determined by your head and shoulders,” says the University of Canberra’s Assistant Professor in Clinical Exercise Physiology, Lennon Wicks. “Your head should be poised high above your shoulders and hips, and you should run as if there’s a string attached to your head pulling it up.” Keep your jaw muscles relaxed and your mouth slightly open, so you can breathe through your nose and mouth at the same time, which is the easiest way to get more oxygen into your lungs.

Relax your arms
Another small but very important aspect of your running stance is how you hold your arms and hands. “Your hands need to be loose, but not limp. Don’t clench your fists because that can lead to tightness in your arms, shoulders and neck,” says Wicks. “Instead, run as if you’re holding a potato chip in each hand and don’t want to break them. This relaxation in your hands then flows through to your arms and your shoulders.”

Also make sure you’re swinging your arms from your shoulder joints, with elbows bent at 90 degrees. “To get good hip extension and stride length, your elbows should swing past the mid-section of your body,” he adds.

Want to run with ease?
Do yoga. Yoga can be a runner’s best friend – it helps build strength and flexibility in your quads, hamstrings and hip flexors.