The worst changes often happen gradually and almost imperceptibly. I was at the opening stage of the Colorado Classic yesterday (great race, BTW!) and had the opportunity to catch up with several old friends from pro cycling. One patted his belly and commented he didn’t remember gaining 15 pounds, but there it is! And that’s true of a lot of changes in our lives and our training. As I thought more about it and talked with my coaches, we came up with the following list of behaviors that slowly destroy your training.
Hanging on to an old bike fit
There are some athletes who might be able to ride the exact same setup at 50 that they could at 25, but not many. Your body changes as you get older. You’re not quite as flexible. Maybe you gained some girth around the midsection. You might technically be able to ride the same position you’ve had for 10 years, but it might not be the best, most powerful, most effective, or most comfortable position for you anymore.
I know athletes who won’t raise their stems because the bike no longer “looks right”, but they can’t ride in the drops at all because they can’t reach them. Listen to your body and stop worrying about mimicking some arbitrary style code. You might think it “looks right”, but on the road it just looks like you borrowed someone’s bike.
Taking pictures of everything
I’m all for social rides and even stopping to take pictures during more serious training rides. After all, there are easy portions and opportunities to stop during even the hardest training rides, and it’s not like we’re not on the brink of going pro. There’s a point at which it gets ridiculous, though. My Wahoo ELEMNT provides Moving Time vs. Café Time, and when I review data from athletes I look to see how much “café time” is incorporated into their training. Some of it is from stoplights and short breaks to take in the view, grab some food, or put on a jacket. That makes perfect sense. Sometimes you see a friend and stop to talk. No problem. If there’s 30 minutes or more of café time in every ride, it makes me wonder if you’re out there to train or smell the roses?
There’s nothing wrong with the latter, by the way. But when I see a goal-oriented athlete someone who says they’re committed to training start taking more and more café time, it is a clue there might be something wrong. I typically follow up with athletes to see if there’s too much training load, not enough recovery, or some new work or family stress.
Letting a training partner dictate your workouts
For years I’ve preached about the individuality principle of training, that your training has to be tailored to your specific goals and fitness level. Athletes get the concept when they are training for something specific, but gradually let it slide as they transition to more general training to stay fit and in shape. Over time that leads to a situation where you’re doing a lot of work but doing very little to address your own physiology. Performance starts to decline and you’re quick to blame getting older or gaining a few pounds, when in reality you’re just not training very effectively.
Taking training too seriously
On the other end of the spectrum, some athletes obsess about training to the point they wring every last bit of joy and spontaneity out of it. I like it when athletes are interested in their training data and focused on doing structured work that leads to measurable improvements. But there needs to be some balance and perspective. Even elite amateurs knocking on the door to become pros and Olympians take time to lighten up and have some fun. That’s even more necessary for athletes in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are ostensibly participating or competing in sports for fun!
Goals are important and valuable. They are no less valuable or worthy of your dedication because you’re past the age when you could be an Olympian. But amateur athletes who take sport too seriously are frequently mirroring behaviors present in their professional and personal lives as well. Sport probably started out being a way to relieve stress and tension, be careful that it doesn’t start contributing to that stress.
Placing feelings before progress
One of the things about CTS I am very proud of is our focus on pairing each athlete with the coach who best fits their personality, goals, and communication style. But because we know we won’t always get it right on the first try we also have a process for seamlessly transitioning athletes to another coach. More often it’s not a poor match, but rather a great coach-athlete relationship that has simply run its course. Athletes change their sport focus, become parents, start or stop competing, etc. Coaches go through changes in their lives and interests, too.
While we work to address those changes so the coach-athlete relationship continues to be productive, many new athletes coming to CTS tell stories of sticking with a previous coach for months or even years too long because they didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Meanwhile, their progress ground to a halt and they were constantly frustrated. Speak up if something isn’t working in a relationship, whether it’s a personal, professional, or coaching relationship. If the person on the other side values the relationship, they’ll work to find a solution.
Avoiding the Hard Stuff
Nature has a way of finding the path of least resistance, and so do people. In the beginning, or when focused on a valuable goal, athletes enthusiastically jump into hard workouts. They finish full sets of intervals. They ride through the last seconds of each effort. As time goes on that enthusiasm wanes and gets replaced by “good enough” and “close enough”. Even your perception of what a high-quality training session feels like can change, to the point that training in a new environment – like a training camp – can serve as a startling wake-up call that you can do much better. I’m not calling anyone lazy for softpedaling the last few seconds of an interval. I don’t think athletes intend for this gradual shift toward doing less work to happen. It just does.
The behaviors mentioned above seem like nitpicky details, but they slowly change the way you work out and whittle away at the effectiveness of your training. For time-crunched athletes looking to get the most out of their limited training time, my advice is to set up your cycling position for your body right now (not the body you had or want to have), go out and complete your own workouts at the right intensities and durations, save photo ops and café stops for recovery rides, and make sure to get together with friends and training partners for fun and unstructured group rides!
CEO/Head Coach of CTS