5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Training


With 17 years of experience coaching tens of thousands of athletes, CTS Coaches have compiled a ton of data about what makes athletes faster and stronger. We use that information in our Coaching College and continuing education program to teach coaches how to efficiently achieve big performance gains with the athletes they coach. We also have data to show what doesn’t work and what holds athletes back from achieving their best performances. As an example, here are 5 ways we see athletes sabotage their own training.

Starting under-hydrated

Athletes have gotten much better about consuming fluids during training. That’s a trend we’ve seen in training data over a period of several years. On average, athletes consume more ounces of fluid (bottles per hour) than they did ten years ago. That’s a good thing, but there’s still a problem of athletes starting their workouts under-hydrated. I wouldn’t call it dehydration, per se, because we rarely see athletes starting workouts in a truly dehydrated status. Rather, they are not starting their workouts fully or adequately hydrated for the efforts they are about to perform. I have said for years that the quickest way a coach can deliver a performance improvement for an athlete is to get them to drink more. To bring that statement up to date, I would amend it to say that the best way for an athlete to see improved performance in a workout (increased power for intervals, greater repeatability of high power outputs throughout the workout) is to get them to drink more in the hours before training and throughout the day.

Taking too little rest between workouts

In the comments sections of recent articles on this blog there have been a lot of senior athletes (60+, especially) who have talked about the need to take more recovery between workouts than they did when they were younger. While additional recovery time may be necessary for senior athletes, taking too little rest between workouts is a problem we see with athletes of all ages. It is difficult to break motivated, high-performing adults from the “more is better” mindset, but there is no doubt in the scientific literature that training adaptations diminish or disappear when athletes complete repeated training bouts with insufficient recovery between them. How much recovery is the right amount? Unfortunately there’s no single answer to that question, it depends on your baseline fitness, cumulative training load, lifestyle stress, and host of other factors. A general rule of thumb, however, is that the higher the workload from a single training session (either high intensity or high volume) the longer recovery period you need before you can train effectively again. That’s why you can do back-to-back moderate-intensity endurance rides, but should take at least full day of recovery between high-intensity VO2 max workouts.

Taking too much rest between workouts

Recovery between workouts is a bit of a Goldilocks story. Too little time between sessions and you’re too fatigued to perform effective workouts (see above). The opposite is also a problem. Too much time between sessions and there’s not enough cumulative workload to stimulate adaptation. This is especially true with more experienced athletes who need a bigger stimulus in order to affect a meaningful adaptation. Many of you are fit enough that a single workout, no matter how difficult, is not enough to cause an adaptation. You need that workout plus the ones before it and after it together to force your body to notice and respond. We see this problem mostly in athletes who have trouble with training consistency; you can ride once or twice on the weekend and then miss all your workouts during the week. There’s so much time between the stimuli that you’re just treading water. You’re able to maintain fitness that way, maybe, but probably won’t see much – if any – improvement.

Taking too much time off

Any prolonged break from exercise (4 weeks or more) will set you back significantly. You’ll lose baseline aerobic fitness and your power/pace at lactate threshold will diminish. I’ve said this for years but it bears repeating: you can’t make significant gains year over year when you lose 20% of your hard-earned fitness during a prolonged layoff. Fitness is easier to lose than it is to gain, but it is also relatively easy to maintain what you have right now. You can reduce your training workload by nearly 30% (10 hours/week to 7), and as long as you keep some intensity in there you can retain most of your current power at lactate threshold and the vast majority of your aerobic endurance. But if you sit on the couch, get fat, and figure you’ll take two months off, prepare to spend about 5 months training your ass off just to get back to where you are right now.

Failing to look at training data

Athletes generate more data than ever before and it’s getting easier and easier to gather training data. The irony is that even as power meters, GPS units, and smart trainers get less expensive and more ubiquitous, athletes aren’t doing anything with the data! Please upload your data. If you’re self-coached you don’t have to do the level of analysis our coaches do; there’s still a benefit to aggregating your data to see simple metrics of how many hours you’re doing, how many weekly kilojoules you’re accumulating, and whether your normalized power outputs or best 20-minute powers are improving, staying constant, or declining.

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Here’s the easy summary to avoid being your own worst enemy: focus on consistency, use your training data to optimize the amount of recovery time you’re taking between workouts, and drink a bottle or two of fluids in the 4 hours before your workouts.

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 19

  1. My CTS Coach has my weak spots pegged on this! Too much time in between workouts. Get the rides in during the week AND the weekends!

  2. Great article! As you know Garmin 820 has a “recovery advisor” that suggests the time you next before your next workout. It seems to correlate well with my perceived “readiness” most of the time. At 73 y.o. rest is extremely important. What is your experience with this feature?

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  4. I for one find at 67 is to ride twice a week and combine it with gym work out twice a week plus a weekend casual ride.

  5. There could be a dozen-plus ways to sabotage training, so my reply is in addition. Loved the article! In my experience, the two ways are: less than optimal nightly sleep and nutrition. Both can easily hijack training regimens.

  6. Absolutely essential to maintain a year round training program with long term goal of increasing conditioning. Breaks should be maintenance mode with a psychological as well as physical recovery objectives.

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  8. @ JUDD. Yea i hear ya about the early morning ride.. drink too much before bed and it means a couple of visits to the bathroom during the night…disruptive to sleep.
    after a big hard workout on the bike,,,it takes a couple of days for my legs to feel fresh again. everyday i climb 4 flights of steps to get to my work space. The morning my legs feel fresh going up them, almost light as a feather where they seem to be filled with helium, i know the next day on the bike will be awesome. I noticed this lightness effect when climbing the steps after around 3 days of rest following a big climbing big max power ride..usually no sooner. i love my steps to work for this feedback.

    1. I’ve been using a heart rate variability app. Seems pretty good. I think it’s more reliable than going by feel or resting heart rate in the morning.

  9. Too little rest in between workouts v. too much? How does one know when the amount of rest is just right? Your rule of thumb is an outside guideline, but are there numbers which can offer athletes some assistance in figuring this out?

    1. Not an official answer of course, but this is an area where the “art” of coaching plays a much bigger role than the numbers. Every single one of us is unique in our recovery and the way we respond to stress and strain in training, and adaptation to that stress and strain. If you are self-coached, take into account how you are doing with your workouts (are you hitting the numbers? what’s your RPE?), how you feel (do your legs feel like jelly? how is your attitude? Legs feel like lead? low energy or high energy? Sleeping?), all of these things are clues to your recovery, but you have to then experiment….what does an extra day of rest do for how you feel? One less day? Can you push one more day and still recover in a day or two or three? Any coach worth their salt will tell you they can help guide you, but it takes time and experimentation to really fine tune the details for each individual athlete.

    2. I had the same problem Goldie, started using a heart rate variability app I downloaded and in my opinion it’s much more accurate than going by feel or RHR.

    1. Have to drink lots of water before bed. It will hydrate you overnight and you’ll feel the difference in your workout, especially cardio.

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