Rhys Chong talks about a winning team for success in sport and life

Winning a Gold Medal at the Olympics, winning the Tour de France or winning an Ironman are spared for the elite athletes of the world. Every sport has its unique demands but there is one goal all athletes strive for … to be the “best he/she can be”.

Whether you are a professional or an amateur there are aspects of training which can help you be the “best you can be”. The key is to have a team of specialists who work specifically for you. Bradley Wiggins, Chrissie Wellington, and Sir Chris Hoy all have a team of professionals guiding them to success.

 I completed my Ironman and had a team of professionals working with me. I knew if I wanted to be the “best I could be” I would need coaches for different parts of my training. In my team was a training coach, swim coach, bike mechanic, nutritionist, mental conditioning coach, massage therapist, physiotherapist, and pilates instructor.

 Each member of my coaching team had their role to play at various stages in my year of preparation for the Ironman. My training coach directed the overall training plan and as my strength and technique improved, with the help of other specialists, I focussed on work with my mental conditioning coach. I did have injuries during the year but they were minor. It helped to condition my body with gym work and pilates. The expert physiotherapy treatment and massage therapy I received allowed me to train 6 days a week.

 Elite athletes will train in cycles of 4 years in preparation for the Olympics. The focus of their team is to have them at peak performance for that one race on that one day that really counts. This could be your “A” race for the year when you want to set a PB (Personal Best time). 

 My advice is to plan your training with your coaches. Your entire physical and mental preparation will be for your “A” race. The synergy created by pinpoint focus on your “A” race will create incredible results. 

The benefits of having a team of coaches are far greater, when compared with a computer or book prescribed program. Your coaches are with you from the beginning of your journey through to crossing the finish line. They know how you “tick”, and can provide you with emotional guidance and motivation, in the good times and the bad. Your training can be adapted to fit with what is happening in your life. When it really matters we all want to talk to people and training is no different.

If you want to race an Ironman for the first time and want the right team of coaches to work with, see  www.physical-edge.com   

Rhys Chong

Author, Physiotherapist and Ironman

Advertisements

Interview: Rhys Chong about First Time Ironman book

First things first – completing an Ironman Challenge is no New Years Resolution. When did you suddenly realise that you wanted to become an Iron Man, after no prior training?
 
The Ironman had been a dream of mine for 10 years. The distances in an Ironman seem impossible but this made it more exciting. I saw athletes in there 70’s and 80’s complete the race, athletes with half a functioning kidney fight to the end, and amputee athletes limp over the finish line.  I keep videos of these hero’s on my website http://www.physical-edge.com They all inspired me and I decided it was time for me to step up and stop thinking about it. I had a friend who became my coach and he promised to help me. Knowing I had his support, I made the decision to do the Ironman and entered. 
 
What do you think planted the seed of the challenge in your mind?
 
I worked in a gym as a Physiotherapist and there were two personal trainers who did Ironman. I already wanted to do an Ironman, but with their coaxing and hearing their stories the idea grew more and more. The more questions I asked them the more I got excited about the idea.
 
Why did the Ironman challenge draw you in?
 
It was a challenge beyond my comprehension. It seemed totally irrational and inhuman to do, and yet by watching the youtube videos (www.physical-edge.com) I was captured by the enormity of the task. Watching  Ironman athletes cross the finish line in total euphoria was incredible. I wanted to do that and I wanted to be an Ironman.
 
You’ve had – and have – an amazing career in physiotherapy – you recently started your own physiotherapy business in 2007 Why that line of work?
 
I believe people are gifted with certain natural talents which do or do not fit with his/her chosen career. If you can find out what you do best and choose a career which matches your talent, then everyday you wake up and are excited about going to work. I had wanted to be a Physiotherapist since I was 12 years old. I naturally enjoy being around people and hearing how well they are doing in life. I have good sense of touch which is important in Physiotherapy and I love sport. These Olympics are dangerous as I find myself glued to the television all day.  I enjoy helping others and having my own business allows me to be creative in how I work as a Physiotherapist. I was going to be an Artist or a Physiotherapist, so having a creative outlet is even more fulfilling. You can see a video on http://www.physical-edge.com which gives more insight into my passion for Physiotherapy.
 
How did your line of work influence your decision (and success) in completing the Switzerland Ironman?
 
I have treated professional athletes in sport and work with amateur athletes. I have a passion for endurance events like the Ironman and Tour de France. In these events there are many injuries. I like the “buzz” of having an injury to heal in a tight time schedule, as happens when an event is coming up. Endurance athletes often get injured when they are doing their longest training sessions. This can be 3-4 weeks away from a big race. This is when the pressure is on to perform as a Physiotherapist. My contact with endurance athletes excited me and increased my desire to race an Ironman.
 
 
How did you stay focused and commit to the challenge once it had been finalised? 
 
The best way to commit to anything is “burn the bridge behind you”. Once I had made the decision to enter the Ironman I entered online immediately. I made the commitment by paying £450 and registering for my first Ironman. The bridge was burned and I could not go back. Once I was committed, all I could do was look forward and find a way to make it all happen. I think the greatest driver to keeping me focussed was the fear of not finishing the Ironman.  Everytime I thought about the race it frightened me and spurred me on to train and stay focussed.
 
What drove you to complete the challenge?
 
Every Ironman believes he/she will do anything to finish the race. I was committed 100% to get to the finish line no matter what happened. The pain was bad in the last 20km of the race but I was not going to stop running. I think this belief is developed in long hours of solo training in the cold and wet months of winter. I forced myself to train hard in these conditions and if I had made this sacrifice then I was going to get to the finish line of the Ironman.
 
What were you thinking from one stage to the next?! Did your mind wonder to what you were going to have dinner, or did it focus on the pain?!
 
My mind was focussed on my race plan. I had worked with a mental conditioning coach prior to the race. I had created a visualisation of my entire race, including breakfast and celebrating at the end. It is a type of hypnosis and I knew exactly what I had to do for each stage of the race. I only focussed on what I had to do next, so very short term. If I did have a moment to relax e.g. on the bike leg, I took the opportunity to enjoy the moment and really appreciate the fact I was actually racing the Ironman. I wanted to enjoy the race and capturing the scenery in Switzerland was breath taking.
 
Your words when you crossed the finish line?
 
YES!!!!!!! I was euphoric. I sounded like I was about to charge the enemy in war. The crowds were cheering and I was ecstatic. I screamed a war cry all the way down the finishers shoot to the finish line.
 
Was there ever a moment during the challenge when you worried about the lengths you were stretching your body?
 
At one stage on the bike my left knee kept subluxing, as the muscles on the outside of my leg had got so tight it was pulling my knee cap laterally with each stroke of the pedal. It was sharp pain and I had to keep my leg moving in a straight line to control the knee cap. I was worried about running the marathon next.
 
Your book ‘First Time Ironman’ launched this month – a tick in the box, life long ambition, or did you write it ‘just because…?’ 
 
I wrote the book because I now help business men and woman, entrepreneurs and celebrities train and complete an Ironman in 1 year. The book was designed to give first time Ironman athletes an appreciation of training for the race and the race itself. I wanted to know what it was like to train and race an Ironman and I know others would to.
 
What would you like your readers to gain from it? 
 
I want readers to see that racing an Ironman is achievable even with running your own business and having relationships. If you commit to racing the Ironman the rest will fall into place. It is key to have a great team of coaches and medical staff to help you. The book gives you an insight into how I used my team not only to have a great race but also a fantastic experience. 
 
How did you find running your business whilst simultaneously writing your book?
 
It was tough at times but being super planned made all the difference. I worked with my coach on a weekly basis to get the timing right and when my work got too much we altered it. 
 
It’s a pretty intense life you seem to lead! Hows the social life?!
 
Social life did take a back seat but when I did go out everyone wanted to hear about my training and were inspired by my plan. They wanted to donate to the charity I supported and in some ways I met people I never would have met without doing the Ironman. My coaching team are now great friends and they all came to my wedding.
 
What do you do to unwind in the evenings, or is unwinding unnecessary?
 
I will watch television or a movie and eat good food.  I enjoy life so I actually like doing things to relax to. I find working on my business and being creative or cycling 3-4 hours relaxing.
Your Ironman team helped Diccon Driver finish his Ironman challenge despite awaiting a kidney transplant.
 
How did it feel to a part of that monumental achievement?
 
Diccon is an inspiration to us all. His story is immense. I am proud to say I trained with Diccon and I think he will be the first Ironman who has had a kidney transplant. I am honoured to help Diccon and I am excited about his future race plans.
 
What are your plans for the future? Any more challenges?!
 
I have just had a baby so my new Ironman is taking care of her. This is an Ironman for life. I still go for bike rides and race team triathlons but my days of racing long distances have to take a back seat. I would love to do another Ironman with my children one day. Maybe when I am really old I will inspire them to race an Ironman.

Give yourself realistic timeframes to train

Having a goal is great because it drives you when times get tough during training, and it keeps you focussed through the training period. The time it takes for you to achieve your goal will vary depending on what that goal is. Sometimes I have seen people set goals with time frames which are too short.

When I completed my Ironman in Switzerland, I gave myself 1 year to prepare for the race. I worked with several coaches. Having 12 months gave me to time to learn and to get it right. I needed the time – because I was working – to fit in skill sessions, such as learning how to swim correctly, and to find the equipment I needed to race. I did get injured in the early stages of my training because my body was adapting to 6 days a week training. Having 12 months to train for the race allowed time for my body to recover from its injuries and to get back to full fitness to train again.

When the time to train before a race is too short there is greater risk of failure. I have had a client wanted to race the ‘Marathon de Sables’ in 2 years’ time, and to do an Ironman in 1 year’s time – and she had no background in endurance training; she also had an existing ankle injury. Setting goals like these is unrealistic; if you talk to a coach he will put a true time frame in for each event you want to complete. Personally I think it is better to leave more rather than less time to complete endurance events.

Remember, talk to your physiotherapist, coach or personal trainer when you want to set a new goal – to make your time frames realistic and to avoid injury at the same time.

Personal training series: Risk of long term injuries

 

Injuries can occur in several degrees of severity. Some injuries can be niggles which ease with time; some of these niggles continue to plague a person throughout their life. Severe injuries may require hospitalisation or immobilisation and rehabilitation; other sever injuries will handicap a person for life. There is a spectrum of minor to severe injuries, and each person’s injury sits somewhere along this line.

Why can’t you get rid of these injuries? When you get assessed by a physiotherapist the physiotherapist will tell you what the injury is and what needs to be done to heal that injury. I see the best results when the client follows the physiotherapists instructions and does their homework. Failed treatment usually results when a client comes to physiotherapy under the illusion that treatment for 30 mins twice a week will take away their pain without their having to make lifestyle choices to stop aggravating their injury.

When injuries are neglected during daily life and in training they become more deeply set in within the body. Pain can be remembered by the body through the nervous system. The nervous system is said to be ‘sensitised’ and will hence react to normal movement in an abnormal way. A person can live their life in pain even though the actual initial injury is healed.

Some injuries do require surgical intervention or help from various medical professionals. More than this, however, change in mental attitude is required about a client’s injuries. Sometimes injuries which have been present for a long time will continue to cause pain and it is about managing that pain through a different mindset.

Injuries should not prevent training; what prevents training is what decisions a person makes about what they are committed to do in their training and at home. Failure in physiotherapy and training should not be blamed on the clinicians; clients should look within to see the degree to which they are contributing themselves to the pain that they suffer. Physiotherapy requires input from the client just as much as the physiotherapist has his own input on the client.

It is clear that those clients who are most successful in physiotherapy are those prepared to make changes in their life. It is not easy to assess what changes you need in your life and that is where a physiotherapist and trainer can help you with their vast experience with other clients and their training. A physiotherapist and trainer can also monitor a client’s progress; help with maintenance of his good health; and inspire him to achieve goals that he never thought were possible.

My advice is that if you want to start training to help long term injuries, you would benefit from the input of a physiotherapist and personal trainer working closely together with your interests at heart.

Personal Training series: Running shoes and running biomechanics

There are many shoes on the market at the moment for running. Running biomechanics have taken a big shift in the last 5 years.  Running brands such as Asics, Brooks and  Saucony have created shoes which are designed to prevent collapsing of the foot, or increased cushioning for those people with high arches. The general understanding of biomechanics and these types of shoes, is one which involves a heel strike pattern. In this pattern the heel will hit the ground first, the heel of the shoe absorbs the shock; the heel then controls the foot as it passes through mid stance and toe off.

Conventional shoes have worked over time for some people; however for others they have not made any difference, and some people who wear these shoes are still prone to knee, hip and lower back pain. When running with a heel strike pattern it is thought that as the heel strikes in front of the body there is a vertical force passed back up through the leg, the hip, the groin, the knee, and the lower back and that this results in injury.

Over the last 5 years there has been a wealth of research and contentious debate over the benefits of forefoot running. Forefoot running is where a person runs landing more towards the mid and front of their foot, instead of the heel being the first point of contact when the foot hits the ground during running. The foot also lands underneath the body and the stress imposed on joints are reduced.

Support for forefoot running comes from practical demonstrations on treadmills. When someone walks on a treadmill they have a characteristic heel strike pattern; however as the speed of the treadmill is increased they naturally start to run more towards the mid and forefoot. It has been theorised that the body is not designed to run with a heel strike pattern. When videoed at a faster speed on the treadmill the foot can be seen to strike more towards the mid foot and spring off. When seen at its best – like in Olympic marathon runners – the foot will actually hit the ground under the body; it is then kicked up behind their back using the hamstring muscles, before quickly returning to land again directly under the body.

The theory that running on the forefoot reduces joint pressure has been researched. With forefoot running the force of the body passes directly up through the body vertically –thereby relying upon the natural cushioning effect of the quads and the hip muscles. If the body is stiff enough – and the biomechanics are correct – the knee and hip joints can absorb the repetitive loading of running and hence reduce injury to the joints.

There are now shoes which have been adapted for forefoot running. Vivo barefoot is one of these companies and has created a range of shoes designed for walking right through to cross country running. Forefoot running shoes are designed to have minimalistic cushioning in the foot. These shoes are designed for the foot to feel the ground and reaction forces of the ground as the foot hits the floor. When the foot can feel the landing onto the floor, it can stimulate muscles to fire and get immediate push off onto the opposite leg. The soles of these shoes are very thin and Vivo Barefoot have described the sole to being as close to skin depth as possible.

Clients have reported they enjoy using these shoes. They feel completely different to thick soled shoes. They also give a refreshing feel to the foot at contact with the ground. The key is that this ‘feel’ will stimulate better muscular activity, shock absorption and reduction injuries. There are many successful runners in Olympics and World Championships who do not have a forefoot running pattern. It is not advised that everyone run on their forefoot – and a physiotherapist and trainer will be able to tell whether your body is capable of withstanding the pressure required to learn how to forefoot run.

Recently a trainer started forefoot running; it has taken 4 months for him to be able to run on his forefoot for 10km continuous running. To change to a forefoot running pattern requires significant adaptation and change within the body. The runner must allow time for this adaptation to occur because if they push themselves too hard and too fast in training injuries will occur.

I believe forefoot running biomechanics seems to make sense; however I have also seen that not everyone is prepared to take the time to learn how to forefoot run and people who run heel strike can still become world champions.

If you want to learn how to forefoot run it is important that you see a forefoot running coach – such as a physiotherapist who has experience, or an independent specialised coach.

Personal Training series: Foot and Ankle injuries

The foot is often overlooked by medical professionals and trainers. The foot can be a common cause of problems in other areas of the body. Biomechanics of the foot can be complex; however if assessed with video analysis, looking at joint play within the foot and how the muscles are coordinated to control the foot, then often the problem can be identified.

I have treated a runner who developed groin pain because he developed a stiff first toe (big toe). He was a 100m sprinter which involved rapid bursts out of the blocks and ten seconds of very intense running. Over time the big toe created abnormal ankle movement which led to knee, hip, pelvic and lower back pain. The weakest link among all these joints was his groin. The groin pain affected him so badly he could no longer compete for that season.

Another illustration is someone who has had a previous ankle injury and the ankle joint is stiff. When comparing the right and left sides they can see that one side of their body has less ankle movement when they squat. The restriction in the ankle will create abnormal knee and hip motion and have consequences on the pelvis and lumbar spine. The ankle joint can be a difficult joint to increase mobility. To keep the improved range of motion often requires regular home stretching. Sometimes a Physiotherapist is required to help return normal joint play to the smaller joints within the foot.

The foot and ankle are made up of an array of small and long bones; these bones all have to work in a coordinated fashion to enable the ankle joint to move correctly. It is the job of the physiotherapist and trainer to identify where these smaller restrictions may be – where they affect or present as generalised pain in other parts of the body.

Clinically, if the ankle has been fractured or sprained there can be restrictions due to a poor healing process.  If the restriction has come on with no trauma then maybe the ankle has been restricted over time due to myofascial restrictions throughout the foot and ankle. The latter can be corrected much more quickly. When a client has on-going assessment by their personal trainer and Physiotherapist myofascial restrictions like this can be easily identified, especially in the foot but also throughout the rest of the body.

The foot and ankle are the first parts of the body to connect with the ground when walking, standing, running. Before training, it is important that the foot and ankle have normal range of motion to prevent injury.

Personal Training series: Heavy weight training and injury prevention

Many people like to look their best and this requires a toned shaped body. Some people want to lose weight and this will also involve weight training. It has been found that a combination of cardiovascular exercise and weight training can get faster results because increased muscle mass will burn more calories and hence improve reduction in weight, as well as a shaped body.

If someone starts weight training from scratch injuries are often common because the correct movement patterns are unknown. Most people know that they can hire a one-on-one trainer to assist them in this process.

Weight training has many forms; if the weight training is kept at a light to moderate weight, and the movement patterns are correct, injuries can be prevented. Problems start to occur when weight training becomes very heavy. In order for muscles to grow they require a stimulus harder than the time before; training can start gradually and increasing in weight is a simple process. When a person starts to reach the maximum weight that they can push then challenges will occur.

The challenges of pushing weights higher than a person’s current maximum lifting weight will be controlling the weight when putting it into a starting position; lowering the weight in a controlled fashion; avoiding excessive joint position; and finally pushing the weight back to the start position. Sometimes lifting heavy weights will require standing, a lunge position or a position other than on a stable bench. When a person has to control a heavy weight, as well as the position of their entire body, the movement becomes very complex.

Commonly the injuries I see when someone lifts heavy weights are at the very start of the movement and in the middle of the movement. The weight is very heavy and at the start of the movement the person has to lift from a standing still position. To generate extra power a person will compensate by swinging their body to help; it is at this point that an injury may occur to the lower back, the sacroiliac joint, the knee or any other joint that is the weakest joint in the link. The time pain occurs is in the middle of the movement because the middle of the movement is the most awkward; controlling the body puts the body in its weakest position, and tissues get injured.

A client was training and wanted to be pushed more, and therefore was told to start Olympic deadlifts. She was 5 foot, of petite build, and when she explosively lifted this weight her sacroiliac joint popped. Treatment for this joint has taken several months and she now requires pilates and controlled movement training to keep her pain at a satisfactory level.

At some point in a person’s training lifting heavy weights may become necessary. If a physiotherapist can identify weak areas within the body – and the trainer is aware of these areas – then when lifting  a heavy weight in a complex movement pattern, the trainer can help a client control and prevent injury.

My advice is always to have your entire body assessed before you start lifting weights to give the trainer the information they need to prevent an injury from heavy weight training.