Either way, the time to start getting ready for your passion is now. “It takes a good three months to get in even some kind of basic good shape,” says BMX champ Mike Day. That means if you start now, you’ll be in minimally decent shape by the end of April—or, to put it a better way, you’ll be in shape to start training to be in great shape.
When it comes to getting ready for action, you can’t rush things. It takes time to build strength in the muscle fibers, and then you have to build enough strength in the tendons at the end of each muscle to handle that additional strength. Your proprioceptors—a kind of all-over sensing organ that tells you where your body is in space—need to be honed to improve your sense of balance.
Day advises, “Find a coach or a personal trainer who can work with your schedule. A trainer will help you get motivated to stick to your plan. The most important thing is to start with a plan and a goal. You have to have a specific goal when you begin or intensify a conditioning program.” Most people who fail to stick with their program are the ones who don’t have a defined goal in mind.
Conditioning your body to be strong, with a good sense of balance, is one of the best ways to prevent injury. Day, who was the Olympic silver medalist when BMX debuted in 2008, is now coming back after major surgery in May 2010, when he had a disc replaced in his spine. He believes the over-use injury to his back would not have happened if his core had been stronger. It made him realize how necessary it is for any athlete or active person to work on strengthening the core. That area of the body—between the upper chest and groin—is the center of athletic power. Every athletic and active movement operates from it.
You don’t need a gym membership to work your core. Day does it on an exercise ball, a great piece of equipment that can easily be stashed in a closet or a corner. In an interview on the Red Bull Website, Day said, “I do a lot of exercises on the ball, because it seems to fire everything in your core to keep your balance. I wish I would have known how important the core was before I got hurt.” One of the exercises he believes is the most productive is the hyperextension—a kind of reverse crunch, where you lie face down with the ball centered under your groin area and then bend your upper body down and slowly lift it back up again, keeping the spine straight, not curved.
Another big fitness factor is stretching. It does a lot to prevent injury, but the flexibility you get from stretching will also make you a better athlete. You’ll be able to reach farther, take larger steps and recover more quickly if you get off balance. A 20-minute stretching session every night before going to bed will give you a greater range of motion and more flexibility by summer.
Day also has a word of warning: Watch out for distractions that can take away your focus. Sometimes, you have to learn to recognize distractions: that sudden phone call from a friend just as you’re leaving for your workout (never answer the phone at workout time), the “Oops, I’ve got to stop at the store for toilet paper before I forget” moment (nothing deters you from your scheduled workout. Nothing!) and the little chat with the person behind the counter or the guy who used to be your trainer. Never change the routine of leaving at your scheduled time to get to where you intend to start your workout and begin your warm-up.
Stay focused and, by summer, you’ll be ready for action.