principles to perform

7 Principles to Perform Better in Sport and Life

For everything that happens in life, our responses are heavily influenced by principles we establish based on our values and experiences. When it comes to improving performance and outcomes in sport or life, I recommend abiding by these seven principles.

Find your inspiration

Inspired athletes always perform better. Whether you’re extremely fit or just starting out, inspiration is what pushes your performance to the next level. This is why I tell my coaches our first job is to inspire athletes. When it comes down to it, I’ll put my money on the inspired athlete with less fitness over the the extremely fit athlete who is just going through the motions.

Stress then rest

A significant amount of stress is required to cause a training stimulus, and then an athlete has to take adequate rest in order for the body to respond to the stress with positive adaptations. Many athletes get stuck in the middle, with training that is not stressful enough coupled with too little rest. This happens in life outside of sport as well. You work hard, but not hard enough to really get ahead. You take vacations or try to enjoy the weekend, but you don’t really disconnect enough for those periods to be adequately restful.

We have been told multitasking is a good thing, but often it just means being busy with things that don’t matter. When it comes to training, go out and do the work that matters. Do it at intensities that are sufficient to cause meaningful adaptation. Then, go home. You have to make it more on/off than kind-of-hard and kind-of-restful. At home, at work, and at play, when you’re on, you have to be on and engaged. When you’re off, be off.

Love what you’re doing as much as you love the outcome

Whether they are good or bad, outcomes only come around every once in a while. You might have 3-4 big goals in a year. Olympians spend four year working toward one outcome. In contrast, the training process is part of every day. The best athletes are those who love the process of training because they get to do something they love every day.

The same is true in career and life. The best employees I ever had were those who genuinely enjoyed what they did day-in-and-day-out. That doesn’t mean they never had frustrating days, but it meant their relationship with their job and the company was not merely transactional: I work X hours, I get Y dollars. The most successful parents I know love the mundane activities and everyday occurrences in their children’s lives. They do not merely trudge through the day-to-day routine in an effort to produce successful adults.

Take pride in your work

Many athletes are self-deprecating about their own training and performance. They downplay the effort and commitment they’ve devoted to training because there are other athletes who are doing more and performing better. I understand not wanting to be boastful. However, there are times when you must give yourself credit because no one else will. There will always be someone faster and stronger than you. Don’t let their performance level diminish the pride you have in your accomplishments and the work you’ve done.

Surround yourself with positive, motivated people

The people we spend time with have a lot of influence over our thoughts, feelings, and decisions. Optimism is contagious, but so is pessimism. When you surround yourself with positive and motivated people, they help lift you up when you need it and you have the same effect on them when they need it. In contrast, negative people, those who don’t believe in themselves or blame everyone else for their failing, and those who criticize or laugh at your goals and training, will eventually drag you down to their level. Stay with the people who lift you up and disconnect from the people who only drag you down.

During the pandemic, isolation was a big problem for athletes, students, workers, and seniors (and many others). What we learned was that, even if you can’t physically surround yourself with positive influences, it is important to maintain connections with people who can lift you up and inspire you to be better. Call your friends. Skype/Facetime with your relatives. Talk with your coach.

Remove barriers to performance

A lot of people try to take half-measures when it comes to things that are hurting their performance. They’ll cut back on beer, but not eliminate it. They’ll stop eating ice cream, as much… They’ll get a trainer to ride indoors, but never set it up. They’ll set an early-morning alarm and always hit snooze. Instead of reducing the barriers to performance, you must remove them.

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Having trouble sticking to a nutrition program? Remove the foods you don’t want to eat from your house entirely. Can’t find enough time to ride outdoors? Get a smart trainer and put it somewhere you can keep it set up all the time. Can’t get out of bed for early-morning workouts? Get a training buddy so having to be there on time helps with motivation. If you can’t physically meet your training buddy, then online group rides can work. Or just set up an accountability check-in before you each do your own workouts independently.

Can’t escape work emails when you’re at home? Turn off your phone or put it away when you get home. I have seen many athletes derail their training by getting pulled back into work tasks during the time they set aside for training or family. Be protective of your time and mental bandwidth.

Keep it simple

Your biggest fitness gains come from your fundamental aerobic training. Nevertheless, people sometimes cut back on the fundamentals to spend time chasing ‘marginal gains’. Over the long term, I’d say the fundamentals get you 90% of the way to your maximum potential, and all the other activities combine for the other 10%. Don’t forego substantial gains in basic aerobic fitness from endurance rides, aerobic and lactate threshold interval workouts, and speed work to chase a marginal gain from improving your left-right pedal balance. There’s a time for optimizing pedal balance, but if pursuing a 1% gain means foregoing a 5% gain you could have made from sticking to the fundamentals, then you would have been better off keeping it simple.

These seven principles, along with others, have served me well. That doesn’t mean all outcomes in my life have been positive or that everything has worked out the way I wanted it to. However, having beliefs, principles, and convictions provide a structure that keeps me headed in the right direction.

By Chris Carmichael,
CTS Founder and Chief Endurance Officer

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Comments 16

  1. Love what you do as the way you love yourself. Take pride of your achievements specially riding alone.
    Listen to others for you will need them along the way.

  2. Hi Chris –

    I absolutely agree that your first principle (“Find your inspiration”) is perhaps the most important.

    Like others, I know, I have definitely found it hard, at times to maintain my inspiration given current circumstances. I’m pretty sure the CTS blog has addressed this – maybe more than once. But I could sure use another one as we head towards winter…

  3. Thank you, Chris, for sharing the insights from your many years of experience— always thought-provoking and helpful. Greatly appreciated!!

  4. Chris,
    Picking up on one of your comments concerning power at LT. I am looking for studies that relate mid-sole cleat placement and increases in wattage. Have you experimented with or experienced any results from repositioning cycling cleats? The internet information that I have found seems to indicate that mid-sole cleat placement benefits some cyclist by moving more of the power production away from the lower leg muscles and toward the quads and glutes. Thanks- Joaquin

    1. Curiously I’ve seen an improvement when I’ve slightly forwarded my cleats (which were all pulled back).

      I’m trying to give it no importance at all since I’ve forwarded my cleats when changing from Time pedals to Speedplays, so I really can’t tell if there was one, the other or both that contributed to slightly higher power numbers.

      I think that it has a saying on sprints though, since I’m not a sprinter and my sprint efforts really had the most bump

  5. Not sure I agree about the last one. Yes there is benefit to keeping things simple but there is, I would argue, a greater benefit in stacking workout targets.

    For example you could just aim to do 2×20@FTP and leave it at that.

    You’d gain more though by setting some additional targets say any or all of
    – Practice visualisation
    – Monitor pedal balance every 2 minutes and see if small adjustments make any difference
    – Shift position every 3 minutes from tops to hoods to aero
    – Every minute shift focus/awareness to a different power contributor, e.g. Glutes>quads>knees>calves.

    If you can manage to do this then every workout becomes a lot more productive. Also the essential target of hitting power/time can become easier as this can be more motivating than just looking mindlessly at a number on a Garmin

    1. Martin:
      Thanks for you comments. I would answer definite “maybe to I wouldn’t bother” for your suggestion on adding more targets to your workout. I find it depends upon the athlete. Some athletes like more stimulus and other athletes not so much. I do know that the greatest benefits come from one physiological adaption…greater power at LT and/or FTP. This is why I like to keep it simple and focused on the clear goal of the workout vs. changing hand positions on the handlebars. As changing hand positions will not increase power at LT. I find athletes get more motivated to train when power goes up. An increase in athlete’s power at LT/FTP and their chance to perform better increases for their events. Keep the goal focused on what brings the greatest return…increased power at LT/FTP Chris

      1. I tried to combine two “targets” into one workout last Spring, was really disappointed with the results after 6 1/2 weeks of hard work. Could my error have been not focusing on one target and designing a proper focused workout (instead of my hybrid workout)? Reading Chris’s article has me thinking the “one goal” is correct approach for me. I will try again this Spring and see!

    2. When I do 2×15 or 2×20 FTP intervals, I focus on smooth, breath, relax, allow space for the pain, watch watts, smooth, breath, relax, allow space for the pain, watch watts…and that’s about it. I don’t have mental space for any other targets. It is like a 15 or 20 minute mindfulness exercise with pain added 🙂 This seems to work well for me, so I would have to agree with the principle of keeping it simple. Intervals hurt — but there is something profound and satisfying about…only the next pedal stroke. Only the next breath.

  6. Phenomenal, thank you so very much! I have just started out and Gabe been training on the bike and run on my own I found an ocean swim buddy. Two months dedicated training and have come second in my age group at the Malibu tri and Semper Tri, the work train balance is the hardest I will go bike come in check emails punch out about an hour later for a run. I just meed to commit to the training program that I have in my head and put down that computer. Thank you.
    Committing to a swim partner has been the best we arrange a time a few days before, meet up and go!

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