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 have had 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 2017. What you do in the next three months will play a huge role in determining whether you exceed your expectations in 2017 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…

3 Responses to “Why Training Fails, And What To Do About It”

  1. Gerry Breneman on

    Great article. It hits the nail on the head. Being retired with lots of options for recreation and travel, consistency has gone out the door. I’m getting more excercise now but am not as strong or fast as when fitting training in around the structure imposed by my work schedule.
    Another point that resonates is going hard, really hard on the hard days. Also I like the point that is made about periodization and the focus. This is consistent with being consistent.


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