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.[blog_promo promo_categories=”bucket list” ids=”” /]
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.[blog_promo promo_categories=”coaching” ids=”” /]
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.[blog_promo promo_categories=”camp” ids=”” /]
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!
CEO/Head Coach of CTS
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