The Most Underrated Training Tips That Really Work!


The biggest trap athletes and coaches fall into is making training too complicated. We’re not trying to launch a mission to Mars here, folks. The problem starts with the amount of information we all have at our fingertips. We know more about the science of performance than ever before and we have access to more personal performance data than ever before. There are definitely times when it is important to delve deep into the data to find new ways to challenge an athlete and make performance improvements, but I see too many athletes who chase minimal improvements while failing to capitalize on gains that are far easier to achieve. In the pursuit of incremental gains athletes are ignoring some of the simple steps that are the foundation of training. Here are some of the most underrated training tips that really improve performance.

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Get more sleep

There is perhaps nothing that’s more underrated than the value of sleep. It is especially difficult to get highly-motivated, type-A, career professionals to increase the number of hours they spend sleeping. Perhaps it’s because we see articles from or about super-successful business titans that say these people only sleep 4-6 hours a night. But when you look at elite athletes, they sleep at least 8 hours a night and many strive to sleep 10 hours a night. Sleep duration and sleep quality have remarkable impacts on recovery for athletes, and getting more sleep improves the quality of your workouts and the amount of training stress you can induce and adapt to. You want to do yourself a big favor? Go to bed an hour earlier.

Make your recovery periods easier

To make your interval workouts more effective you need to increase the difference between your hard efforts and the recovery periods between them. It’s not just that you need to make sure your recovery activities, like easy rides, are truly easy. You also need to make the recovery periods between intervals easier. If you’re doing lactate threshold intervals you want your recovery periods to be very light pedaling. You don’t want to go from lactate threshold power to a moderate endurance power. What we often see in power files is that as an interval session progresses all power outputs migrate toward moderate aerobic intensity levels. The power during intervals decreases and the power during recovery periods increases (or was never low enough to begin with). To preserve the quality of your hard work – to get more high-quality work completed – you need to make sure your recovery periods are truly easy.

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Focus on something specific

Endurance training is all about accumulating enough workload at specific intensities to lead to a positive adaptation. That often means repeating the same or very similar workouts over and over again during a focused block of time, sometimes over the course of several weeks. It’s not sexy, but it’s effective. Most importantly, the alternative – jumping around through a bunch of different types of workouts – often doesn’t provide enough workload at any specific intensity to yield adaptation. The frequency is too low or the time between stimuli is too long. Doing 20-minute lactate threshold intervals gets boring, however. I understand that, and fortunately there are many different ways to target the same energy system. You can get creative with the workouts you are doing, but it’s important to stick with an energy system long enough to achieve real improvements. This usually means at least three weeks.

Do the whole workout!

One of the benefits to having a lot of athletes working with a lot of coaches under the same roof (figuratively speaking) is that we can identify behavioral trends in a larger population. One of the trends we have identified is that greater compliance yields better results. That might sound obvious but there are still many athletes who figure that completing 80-90% of the prescribed workload is close enough. For novices it often is, because they have more potential for improvement and it takes a smaller stimulus to yield measurable results. For athletes who are more experienced or have already achieved a higher percentage of their overall potential, completing all the work becomes increasingly important.

Some people have asked whether coaches should over-prescribe workload for athletes who chronically cut workouts short, thereby achieving the necessary workload even if the athlete only finishes 80% of the session. I see the logic but don’t like the implications. I think it sends a message that an athlete can or should be able to perform more work than is really appropriate for them. I prefer to work with an athlete to improve their compliance at the workload that’s actually reflective of their current fitness level.

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Stop overcompensating with calories

Caloric overcompensation is a huge issue for athletes. There is often a mismatch between the perception of how much energy you expended and how much energy you need to consume for recovery and/or fueling. At a moderate endurance pace a moderately fit cyclist burns about 500 calories per hour, and that’s being generous. A hard one-hour interval session might get you to 800 calories. Meanwhile you start workouts with 1600-2000 calories of stored carbohydrate and many times that amount in fat calories. I absolutely believe in replenishing 20-30% of your hourly caloric expenditure (primarily with carbohydrate) during rides longer than 75 minutes. What is more problematic is the amount of food many athletes eat after their endurance rides and interval sessions. Burning 1500 calories on a ride doesn’t mean you should eat a 1500 calorie meal right afterward, especially because you’re likely to eat another substantial meal a few hours later. Yes, you need to replenish glycogen stores and provide protein for building and repairing muscle, but a double-sized, fully loaded loaded burrito isn’t necessary for completing those tasks. Whether you eat a ton of food or consume smaller post-workout meals your glycogen stores will be replenished within 24 hours so you can start your next workout fully fueled.

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I’m not saying you shouldn’t work on smoothing your left- and right-side power outputs, improving the aerodynamics of your riding position, or any of a host of other ways you can improve your performance. What I am suggesting, however, is that you make sure you are reaping the benefits from fundamental training principles before you chase after incremental gains that are harder to achieve and yield smaller improvements.

Have a Great Weekend!
Chris Carmichael

CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 13

  1. Unintentional OVER TRAINING is a, or even THE major problem for me in middle age. I constantly come to the edge between forced adaptations and breakdown. It’s much easier to cause damage at middle age than in youth. Chris’ advice is more suited to young athletes in this case. Doing even harder workouts is the LAST thing I need if I want to walk or have a productive life. It takes surprisingly little to damage the body now, in contrast to when the cartilage cells are still being created below age 25.

    Unintentional UNDER EATING was THE major problem during my youth. I am happy to say I have become much more skilled at eating properly now. It’s no joke. Eating enough was super challenging as a young adult athlete. Happily the hypoglycemia and the insulin responses are mostly a thing of the past now. Only rarely do I discover deep hunger by mistake now, of a level capable of interrupting or ruining a day’s planned training schedule. I wish I had a nutrition coach when I was 20 something, as I might well have achieved more with skilled help with eating.

    Here’s a tip: If you drink alcohol on some day, glycogen storage will be completely zapped for that day. You have been warned!!!!

  2. Excellent advice for any athlete -regardless of his/her age- who is really committed to the sport he loves!!!! I would add: WARM UP PROPERLY BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO STRETCH OR BEFORE YOU START TRAINING AND DO NOT FORGET TO STRETCH AFTER YOU FINISH RIDING YOUR BIKE OR WHATEVER YOUR TRAINING WAS ABOUT.

  3. Great article again Chris. I especially like your points in the opening paragraph about “…making training too complicated … (too much) information … at our fingertips … etc.” So true about the way we are taking on all these things similarly in our everyday lifestyles out of fear of failing if we don’t – or striving to achieve and be “the best” at any cost. And as for using the yardstick of business titans sleeping 4-6, right, none of them push their bodies to the limits of physical endurance that top elite athletes do.

    Regarding the point on Recovery, would you please clarify what principle to adopt for this in terms of RPMs one should aim to turn over because I find that pedalling at 85-95 rpm – as recommended in your CTS programs – even in the easiest gear takes almost an entire 5 mins before my HR is really down. Oh, by the way, almost forgot, am aged 66, a recreational/”week end warrior” road cyclist; aim to train 7-9hrs … presently following your 12 week Comeback program following a layoff. Thanks Chris & team, always enjoy your articles and tips

  4. things are complicated because you guys gave me a flat writing that training 85-95 rpm are acceleration but try to make the asphalt road and Butch is very light and I’m pedaling missing pedal missing machas there try to not spend 95 rpm or decreases of 85 but training asim found it extremely difficult and stressful hope to help me train keep intensities example 100 rpm at max 200 rpm asim will be easier to try to maintain a media training for wheel 85-95 rpm and very unpleasant and I’m trying to do a workout correct but I am preucupado to be prepared to it will run on a test slope 800 meters in four minutes at most I am every day more desisperado for training and help for missing two months to race that will be on 6th November 8 the explosion racing slope that quickly and 4 minutes on Friday and on Sunday the marathon really want to win, it thank you!

  5. Smart, simple, doable.
    Your point about recovery is especially dead on. Key to the “recovery” interval after the “intensity” interval is not just about slowing down, it’s also about rapidly getting your heart rate down and shedding the heat you’ve just generated. Several published studies demonstrate dramatic power – endurance benefits of cooling down between intervals.
    Our athletes: recreational and pro’s are reporting very significant benefits by lowering their skin temperatures up to 20 degrees during long rides and during recovery periods of HIIT bouts and doing hill repeats.
    The core principle is the faster your body works to cool itself, the faster you fatigue.

    1. With the above comment we can all begin to appreciate the usefulness of heat acclimation for athletic performance. There are heat adaptations which improve performance. Be sure you are getting all the heat you need for optimal performance training. And during a competition, conversely, always strive to avoid overheating as much as possible. Keep cool during events. Get hot during training in reasonable quantities and frequencies!!!

  6. I especially agree with the “doing the whole workout” comment. I find that I do the whole workout best & most reliably when I am in a group, where the dynamics help you not “wuss-out” and the motivation stays high.

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