Weekend Reading: Why training fails, and what to do about it

We’ve arrived at the time of the year when athletes are wrapping up their summer seasons and looking forward to the next steps in their training and competition calendars. For the vast majority of coached athletes, these are great conversations about victories, personal bests, and great personal achievements. But there are also some tough conversations about DNFs, mid-pack finishes, and goals unreached. When I talk with self-coached athletes there are a lot more of the latter than the former. So, if you’ve reached Labor Day Weekend with less-than-stellar results for the summer, here are some likely reasons and some proven solutions.

You were too scattered
You did an endurance workout on the weekend, a sprint workout on Tuesday, a climbing workout on Wednesday, and a group ride or run on Thursday. But sometimes you jumped into the Tuesday group ride and just skipped the climbing workout altogether. The basics of periodization say you have to focus on something, ANYTHING, in order to overload the system and stimulate an adaptation. When you were a beginner, just riding or running did the trick, but now you have to focus your efforts on accumulating training time at specific workloads. Once you have moderate to advanced fitness, focused and repeated efforts are the only way to achieve the overload necessary.

You were too inconsistent
The trouble with summer is that there’s SO MUCH FUN TO BE HAD! You can ride, run, hike, swim, drink beer on the back porch, go to the baseball game, go to the beach, etc. Inconsistency is a common thread with athletes who fail to reach their goals, even when the workouts they complete are done perfectly. Missing training means you’re diminishing your total cumulative workload – both in terms of time-at-intensity as well as caloric expenditure – for the training period, and the quality of other individual workouts can’t fill that void. Either work on modifying your schedule so you can be more consistent, or modify your expectations so they’re more realistic.

You didn’t do enough
I know it’s hard to hear, but many times it’s true. There are some genuine cases of athletes who overdo it with training, but I think we (the endurance coaching industry, cycling/triathlon/running magazines and websites, etc.) have so thoroughly scared athletes about the hazards of doing too much that many athletes are afraid to push themselves. It’s OK to be exhausted. It’s OK to do intervals until you’re weak as a kitten on the way home. You have to give yourself time to recover, but you will recover, and you will reap the gains you’re looking for.

What to do about it:

Get over it
What’s done is done, and you can’t change it now. It sucks to fail and it’s good to let that feeling sink in for a moment. You don’t want to be here again. You also don’t want to drag that feeling with you any longer than you need to. So let it go. People who achieve great wins sometimes let that success lull them into a false sense that they don’t have to work as hard now. And people who fall short sometimes let past failures create boundaries for what they can achieve in the future. Both are dangerous scenarios. Learn from the past, but don’t let it define your future.

Get organized
Organization is one of the key hallmarks of a successful athlete. It’s not just the organization of your training, but organization throughout your life. In our modern, busy lives there are a lot of moving parts and it’s difficult to maintain order. But order is helpful because it reduces lifestyle stress and increases training consistency, and that leads to improved training quality. One of the things we’ve noticed with CTS Athletes is that often their training is pretty well organized when they start working with a CTS Coach, and the bigger challenge is helping them reduce lifestyle stress by making changes at work and at home.

Get working
To put things in perspective it’s important to realize that even if you fell short of some season goals, you’re most likely more fit right now than you were at the beginning of the year. Your current fitness is your ticket to a more successful 2015. What you do in the next three months will play a huge role in determining whether you exceed your expectations in 2015 or have another so-so season. So now is not the time to throw up your hands in frustration, grab a beer, and plop down on the couch for football season. There’s work to be done!

In the late-summer and early fall I like to reduce the structure and regimen for athletes while keeping the workload relatively high. One way to do this is a simple and fun workout like HillCharges. It’s pretty self-explantory: you charge the hills and recover on the descents and flat ground. It works for running as well as road cycling and mountain biking, although it’s best when the hills are rollers of 2-5 minutes rather than sustained climbs of 8minutes or more. It’s not MountainCharges…

Have a Great Labor Day Weekend!
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

10 Responses to “Weekend Reading: Why training fails, and what to do about it”

  1. Christy on

    In this issue, the focus on the “season is winding down” is so opposite for us here in the deep South. We ride all year round. In summer, the heat and humidity forces us into riding before the sun comes up. We look forward to fall because we can put effort into training and enjoy longer rides.

  2. Dean Tonna on

    How would Hill Charges fit in with the Time Crunched training plan? ie. would it class as a SEPI workout, if so what cadence would you recommend ? thanks.

    • Jason B on

      I just do what the road has to offer… I have a 22 mile loop that lends itself very useful… sometimes you get a full recovery and sometimes not, thats the fun of it.
      Ride on!

  3. Charlene on

    Are there times when you should question a coach’s plan for you? Example: competing in a sprint triathlon event four days before your main event (sprint at worlds) of the season? (I am 62.). I believe I did not recover. I also needed to travel a great distance and change time zones by four hours.

    • Ryan Ross on

      Hi Charlene – my name is Ryan Ross and I am a Level 2 certified coach with USA Triathlon. I just competed in Sprint nationals, as well as many athletes I coach. I actually have two female athletes in your same age range competing in short course triathlon. I saw your post here and it really caught my attention. I have to agree with you – racing four days before a ‘big’ race, especially when you have the challenges of recovery at age 62 and significant travel. That is really unfortunate. I just wanted to chime in and say that professionally speaking, you are thinking correctly that you where not really set up properly for your big race. And that is certainly a big one!!! I hope that you discussed this with your coach.

  4. Sean Mooney on

    Thanks for the Weekend Reading articles, I find them to be very helpful. They are direct, to the point and reinforce basic training principles. Have goals and a plan…Do the work…recover…get results!

  5. Gary Stein on

    Great information and knowledge to have. It is presented in a way that I understand it and get it. I am new, just a couple of weeks with my new training coach Jane Rynbrandt. All the information I can get is very helpful along with this article: Why Training Fails… Knowing what I might come up against and avoid let downs or set backs. I can be better aware and avoid them..Thanks,
    Gary Stein


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