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.
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!