The 6 Keys to Great Training and Big Improvements

There are a lot of athletes who do not train to win races. Many train because they enjoy being fit and performing at their best in non-competitive events like cycling tours, charity rides, or the local group ride. Still more train because of the role being fit and active and engaged in sport plays in their identity. Regardless of whether an athlete is a competitor or not, we train in order to improve performance. And over 15 years of working with all types of athletes, CTS Coaches have come to recognize that athletes who make the greatest fitness and performance improvements share 6 key things.

Room for Improvement

Novice athletes, experienced athletes returning to sport after a long absence, and athletes with a lot of excess bodyweight typically make rapid and significant improvement. This makes sense because there’s a huge gap between their current performance level and their maximum potential. There’s a misconception, however, that experienced athletes and athletes who have been following structured training plans for a long time have only marginal gains left to accomplish. Unless you are a pro athlete or knocking on the door to be one there is still a substantial gap between your current performance level and your maximum potential. The gains you’re after are more challenging to achieve than the novice’s, and therefore require better planning and more precise execution, but we have yet to find the amateur athlete who doesn’t have room to improve his or her performance. Athletes who understand and embrace this always have something to train for.

Great support system

Athletes who improve their performance the most almost always enjoy the enthusiastic support of family members, friends, and training partners. The ideal scenario is not just that your family tolerates your training, but that they actively encourage it. It is similarly important for athletes to reciprocate that support (some of you can be a bit self-focused…) and provide opportunities for the people who support you to share in your accomplishments.

Willingness to make wide-ranging lifestyle changes

A multi-faceted approach to improving performance is the way to go! It’s not just a focus on training that yields results. The people who improve the most are the ones who are willing to change the way they eat and the foods they eat. They’re willing to try new nutrition strategies during their training sessions and events. And they are also willing to alter some of their lifestyle habits to get more rest and reduce their overall stress levels. No one change triggers big improvements. It’s the cumulative impact of many small changes that yields massive results.

Strong communication skills

The strong silent type doesn’t usually achieve as much as the great communicator. While diligently following a training plan is important, it is equally important to provide your coach with subjective information about how the workouts feel, how you feel afterward, what you’re doing in between workouts, and about lifestyle stresses and time constraints. There’s a reason why CTS Coaching packages have more opportunities for communication than most coaching programs include at similar price points. A monthly conversation about your training – which is all that’s included in many coaching programs – is not enough. That’s a training plan with adjustments, not a coaching program. Only a fraction of the conversations between CTS Coaches and their athletes only focus on workouts. The majority of the conversations are about the athletes’ lives, balancing competing priorities, managing stress, and optimizing recovery and nutrition strategies.

Consistency

While many of the behaviors that help athletes improve the most involve activities outside of training, there is no substitute for completing the work of training. Successful athletes make training a priority, even if they don’t have much time to devote to workouts. Consistency is more important than any specific workout because it enables you to accumulate training stress in a methodical way. When training is haphazard and the times between training stimuli are unpredictable, you only achieve a portion of the potential adaptations.

Respect for rest

If you want to achieve greater improvements you have to take rest and recovery very seriously. Those athletes who regard rest as a necessary evil or something that can be disregarded do so at their peril. Under-recovery not only diminishes the adaptation you achieve from the work you’ve already done, but it also reduces the quality – and eventually the quantity – of work you can do in the future.


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Some of you may read the list above and come to the conclusion that you are not capable of great improvement because you don’t have one more or of these things. That’s the wrong way to think about your future. There is no perfect athlete. It is unrealistic to believe you can attain perfection in the way you train, eat, rest, and balance your lifestyle. Being an athlete is not about being perfect, it’s about striving to make the most of the opportunities you have. And the more ways you try to optimize your training the more likely you are to tilt the balance in favor of continued and significant improvement!

21 Responses to “The 6 Keys to Great Training and Big Improvements”

  1. David Roberts

    Support for my cycling became a whole lot better after I talked my wife into trying a tandem. She really enjoys it and now we train as a team: indoor focused workouts, gym, and of course outside on the tandem where we take part in and lead group rides, etc. I know, I’m lucky. Marriage is a team sport to start with, or should be, and a tandem is a relationship accelerator. Why waste time? Get where you’ll wind up anyway, but faster. All the tandem teams I know have super-solid relationships. Cause or effect? Plus it’s fabulous for the legs.

    On the Afib thing, I have several riding buddies who have had problems with that. At 71, I’m now quite a bit older than they were when they first had an attack and I’ve had none. The lesson I’ve learned from them is that besides luck, as one gets older it makes a difference not to try to wring that last bit of performance out of one’s body. Plenty fast is fast enough.

    Reply
  2. Doug

    On the Afib, here’s what I learned after suffering through it for years. First, the more episodes you have the more likely you are to have more. The electrical pathways for this to happen become more established with each episode. Once you have an episode you must take some time off the bike. I tried everything but magnesium supplementation seemed to work the best but did not cure it. The best magnesium supplements I found were ReMag and transdermal gel/lotion. Eventually had to have an ablation and have been fine for several years now with no re-occurences. The oral medication the doctors prescribe actually slow your heart down when it begins to increase in beats, not something particularly helpful to a cyclist. Lennard Zinn just published a book titled, “Haywire Heart” which may be a helpful read. Caffeine must be avoided!!! Suggest reading Dr. Carolyn Dean’s book, “The Magnesium Miracle”. Suggest taking Joe Friel’s advice, “Train hard, rest harder”, as so many people forget they are not machines.

    Reply
  3. Don

    Re atrial fib. I have been experiencing it and managing it and competing at a national level for 8 years now and would be happy to contribute to your article. I know many others who have the condition as well. The fundamental principle seems to us that everybody is different in some way. Generalisations are not valuable.

    Reply
  4. sbr4me

    My question to the cardiologist remains unanswered.
    Does intensity influence Atrial Fib? I suggest that the more intense the activity the more chance for A Fib issues. Study the high activity endurance athlete attempting to surpass personal best with the recreational athlete who cycles to work or moderately exercises. Example: would be a cyclist that uses the bike for transportation versus the cyclist that uses for competition.

    Reply
  5. Ray Scott

    I have great support from my wife, family, friends and neighbors. When I won all 3 gold medals in the 2014 Senior Olympics I took the time I needed to follow Chris’s advice on interval training. My wife encouraged me to display my 3 gold medals next to a picture of me riding my bike from an article which was published in our local Beach Life magazine. The article focused on a bad accident I had in 2013 which caused me to break my pelvis and left hand. My Dr. told my wife, don’t take the bike away from him. I recovered quickly and won gold the next year by sticking to my training program. The article was written on my accident, recovery and success. I ride in groups, with my son-in-law and many friends. My motto, train with a goal in mind, stick to that goal and only good things will come as a result.

    Reply
  6. Sarah

    How to get the enthusiastic support of your family:
    1. Find out what they like (hint, it might have nothing to do with a bicycle). Don’t know? Ask! Many would be floored if you asked them about their hopes, dreams, maybe something they’ve always wanted to do.
    2. Support them (enthusiastically) as they chase a dream or a hope or a wish.

    Many of these types of articles contain the suggestion to ride with your family member, but that will cultivate tolerance for your sport/training instead of wild enthusiasm. If they see you support them the way you want to be supported, you’re more likely to get some pretty wild enthusiasm.

    Reply
  7. Will Lembke

    This was a great article! A great support system is very important. Although it is sometimes difficult for friends and family to fully understand the passion and time commitment. 97% of my time is spent riding solo given time constraint of other important things in my life so it is difficult to get to a group ride. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • JJ

      Your local bike shop is sure to have a Saturday morning group ride. If the shop is a good shop. They will have a no drop ride and a sweeper in the back so everyone stays on the same page. Be sure to check out several shops and find the right group. Some shops give a little discount for participating. The more riders they have the happier the shop.

      Reply
    • gkuch

      I also do most of my training solo, due to work and family, but two things that mitigate this for me are Swift and Strava. I have a pretty strong support group on both, and of course reciprocate. It really helps to have others give you not only Kudos, but make meaningful comments on your training, so I try hard to do the same for them. Neither of these apps costs much, and, assuming that you already have a trainer, computer and power meter, you are in business. Some of my support group I met at Sr Games, and I know they are close to me in age. Others I just know through those two apps, and I have no idea how old they are, but we don’t neccesarily compare times and power output with each other, only with our own personal past rides. Give it a try.

      Reply
  8. Dean

    My training partner just decided to hang it up after reading an article on Afib he is a 55 year young guy What are your thoughts on Afib and the 50+ Masters

    Reply
    • CTS

      Stay tuned. We’re working on a piece about the recent Afib stories. – Jim Rutberg, CTS

      Reply
      • Lucas M

        As a 30-something young guy that developed A-Fib after 5 years of solid endurance training I can tell you it is a serious condition that’s worthy of thoughtful consideration.

        Reply
  9. Marc Frank, Westminster, CO

    Absolutely a terrific write-up for us non-professional riders, thanks! I found it to be oh, so true and a bit inspiring. Go fast… or Go Slow… Just Ride, Baby!

    Reply
  10. Eric Pardue

    I have all of these keys except for what I think is the most important one and that is a great support system, especially from family members. It’s hard enough not having local training partners or riding friends, which I have neither of, but when you don’t have the support and encouragement of your immediate family, well, that’s even harder. The funny thing is that prior to 2014, I thought that I had the support and encouragement of my immediate family. In 2001 I was “reintroduced” to cycling when we moved to a new town and for the next 13 years I truly believed that I had that family support and encouragement in my cycling and training but I guess it was all just a “front” as it came out about a year ago that my cycling, training and, well, general exercising is and had been offensive to them. Now, when I need to do indoor exercising such as core work or trainer workouts, I have to plan them when accordingly, when nobody is going to be home. it really plays with your head

    Reply
    • CTS

      That’s very unfortunate for you, I’m sorry you have to deal with that. I’m glad, however, that you’ve chosen to stay engaged with sport and exercise. The alternative – living a sedentary existence so your family members won’t be offended by your activity level – sounds even worse. One suggestion might be to engage in some of the social aspects of Strava or other similar online fitness tools or communities. There are many like-minded athletes out there and the new online and app-based communities are great for giving athletes who feel isolated a community they can be part of. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

      Reply
    • Ernesider

      We’ll support and encouragement are a two way street and if one is returning what one receives in equal measure, there is less likely to be a problem. However if one’s special interest takes up all one’s free time there may may difficulties. Not to have noticed your family’s lack of enthusiasm for thirteen years suggests that you may have become a little over-focused …!!!

      Reply
  11. tom pecsok

    Been reading and following u about 12 years. This may be my first ever response. The Ultimat Ride is the only book on biking I have ever read. It has been my bible. My take is this….consistancy, diet, and rest. I am 77 and still kind of have PR’s. Also good to have a goal…for example, I am thinking of riding the triple bypass for the 10th time next year, and I honestly think I can target for a PR…not sure, but why not?
    I have no delusions though…stuff happens…but encourage people to keep going…consistency…rest…consistency…rest….etc
    ANONYMOUSE..PLEASE

    Reply
    • Tom

      Interesting you posted my (anonymous?)comment from 18 months ago…nothing has changed…am just a bit older…doing my 10th TBP this year …had to go to high school reunion… believe me, older riders can keep going….consistency, rest, consistency, rest…repeat

      Reply
  12. sandro D

    That was great advice and I think the key was, that it was the accumilation of the (6) things and not just one that will make the best improvement.
    Kind of similar to the person who wants big biceps, and thinks it will happen if all they do is bicep curls, when infact they need to exercise their whole body and their bicep, is just one of the parts of the whole.

    Reply
  13. Rob Payne

    Right on point!

    Reply

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