At 58, Daley is still in good shape having recently completed an 800km cycle ride across Australia in aid of the Steve Waugh Foundation.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a world-beating athlete to take these simple steps to improve your performance as you exercise.
1. Get good sleep
It might seem strange to associate sleep and exercise. However, sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle and has many proven benefits. Too much or too little sleep is associated with a shorter lifespan—although it’s not clear if it’s a cause or effect.
If you’re looking to exercise, sleep may be one simple way to improve your performance. A Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina.
When it comes to our health stress and sleep can both affect cardiovascular health. Getting a good amount of sleep can reduce stress and help improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
If you are struggling to sleep, you may need to re-think some of your habits. Avoid caffeine, nicotine or alcohol from 4-6 hours before you go to sleep. Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet environment and turn off all electronic devices. Where possible it would be useful to develop a regular sleep routine so your body gets used to sleeping.
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2. Keep hydrated
Whatever your level of exercise and fitness, it’s important to keep hydrated when you exercise. Did you know that around 60 per cent of your body is water and it plays a vital role in every bodily function?
When you exercise you lose a lot of fluid through sweating and breathing and this can lead to dehydration. If you are dehydrated not only can it affect your general health it can also impact your ability to exercise. Depending on the level of dehydration you are facing, you may feel tired quicker and find your ability to control your temperature has been reduced.
Water has the additional benefit of helping to fuel your muscles, so make sure you drink before, during and after exercise. Drinking plenty of water may also help you to reduce or prevent cramp. Drinking little and often will help you get the most out of your exercise session and give you the best chance of working to your peak performance.
How much you need to drink is not an exact science as there are so many factors that affect your fluid consumption from fitness levels to genetics. So listen to your body and if you feel thirsty, drink.
After exercising, don’t forget to hydrate! This helps restore your fluid levels and gives your muscles the opportunity to fully recover. The sooner you do this, the sooner you’ll be ready for your next exercise session.
Strategies to stay hydrated
3. Choose the correct clothes and shoes
Whether you are looking to exercise for the first time or a regular – the key to your workout clothes is comfort. While some people are keen to look great while they exercise, your workout clothes should be less about fashion and more about fit. What you wear can impact your performance.
Sport and activewear is designed to consider the type of workout you will be undertaking and what type of fabric the wearer will need to be comfortable. For yoga and stretching, a cotton/polyester mix and lycra work well. For high-impact cardio-based exercises like jogging and aerobics, you should consider durable, performance fabrics that are moisture wicking like nylon/cotton blends known for helping you stay dry while sweating.
Avoid fabrics that could rub against or irritate your skin whilst exercising. You need to be able to move so pick clothes that won’t restrict you. Fit is more important than size in workout wear, as some workout clothes tend to be more form fitting than regular clothing. You should be aiming for a comfortable fit without being skin-tight.
Also, buy a pair of trainers that are suitable for your workout. You will feel more active and they can also protect your feet from injuries. It’s worth getting specialist advice particularly if you’re considering starting running or any high impact activity.
4. Set SMART goals
‘Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible’ – Tony Robbins. This quote is key to your exercise journey. What are you trying to achieve? Are you looking to lose weight, improve your fitness, tone up, have fun or just make friends with new people as part of a new hobby or interest?
However, if you’re going to set goals – always make them SMART! SMART goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For example, if you are planning to lose weight – how much are you planning to lose and by when? What steps are you going to take to do it? Are you going to join a slimming club, commit to exercising or cut down on sugar? It’s easy to measure weight loss but are you looking to lose pounds or inches or both?
So, if you were to write this as a SMART goal it might look like this: I will lose a stone in 4 months. I will do this by exercising three times a week, cutting out takeaways, reducing my consumption of alcohol to 6 units at the weekend and by walking to the shops instead of taking the car.
By having a goal you are more likely to achieve real results. Perhaps, you mark off your exercise sessions on a calendar, you weigh yourself once a week or make a note of your alcohol consumption so that you can track your progress over the time period.
Don’t forget - exercise is always more fun in a group, it keeps you motivated and you are less likely to cancel if you are going with a friend. It also keeps you accountable and if you are setting goals your friends can help you to keep you on track.
5. Mix and match – get out of a routine
When exercising it’s easy to get into a rut. However, apart from preventing the boredom of routine, if you mix up your exercise routine you can avoid or delay reaching a plateau in your exercising performance and results. Variety is also key to keeping it fresh and keeping motivated. To make the most of your exercise programme, it’s recommended that you think about modifying your workouts every two weeks. This should give you more inclination to stick to your workouts and make them more enjoyable. Varying your exercise routine can also help you to keep pushing yourself. If you keep the same routine your muscles adapt to the programme within six to eight weeks – reducing any improvements you could make.
However, don’t worry, I am not suggesting that you turn your back on a sport that you love – but just mix it up a bit and boost the intensity of your workouts. For instance, if you walk or run, try adding some intervals of jogging or faster running or consider adding more hill work to your route. You can also cross train and perform different activities to provide your body with a new challenge. Alternatively if you use weights or undertake resistance training - change the sequence in which you perform the training exercises. If you tire the muscles in a new order, you are requiring them to adapt to a new training regime.
With exercise as with anything it’s always good to get into positive habits and it’s always better to do something rather than nothing! However, if you haven’t exercised for a while it’s better to start off slowly and build up your exercising time and intensity rather than start at a frantic pace and risk burn out or injury. Additionally, if you suffer from an existing medical condition, it’s worth consulting your GP before you begin an exercise regime. Good luck and enjoy your fitness journey.
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About Daley Thompson
Daley Thompson has won more decathlon honours than any man before him. He was the first man to win two Olympic gold medals and a World Championship. He also created four world records, won three commonwealth gold medals (1978, 82 and 86), two European championships (1983 and 86) and was unbeaten for nine years. He also was the first athlete to hold all four major titles at the same time in the same event and is still the British record-holder.
Today, Daley is still passionate about fitness. He can often be found in his gym – DaleyFitness in Putney or working with young people to improve their love of exercise. He’s just launched www.daleyfiveminutes.co.uk – a portal of bite-sized videos (5 minutes each) that allows you to work on specific body parts and achieve all over body conditioning through circuit-led programmes, designed and presented by Daley. Depending on your ability, you can choose videos to fit your level, be it beginner, intermediate or advanced. For just £5.55 per month, it’s an affordable way to get fit. For your free, 14-day trial visit www.daleyfiveminutes.co.uk or click here to visit the sample videos created directly for SAGA customers.