Behold, the Streakers. In virtually any athlete community, you can find someone who has ridden, run, climbed, swam, hiked, or something every day for the past 30 days, 6 months, or even multiple years. In an era when the value of recovery is more understood and accepted than ever, training streaks make little to no sense. Performance plateaus (and often declines), and the risks of injury, Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-s), burnout, and overtraining all increase. And yet, athletes continue to start Streaks. Do they know something you don’t?
What is a Streak?
A streak is simply performing the same exercise on consecutive days for a set period of time or indefinitely. It can be as innocuous as walking a mile a day or doing 20 pushups every morning when you wake up. But some people take it further, running a marathon or riding 50 miles every single day. Entrepreneurial athletes have even created brands around their Streaks, like “Ultramarathon Man” Dean Karnazes (who has worked with CTS multiple times) and the “Iron Cowboy”, James Lawrence. As of this writing (January 16, 2023), ultrarunner Candice Burt is 73 days into a world record setting streak of running an ultramarathon distance (32 miles) a day. And there are examples in cycling, mountain biking, and other activities as well.
Are Streaks good for performance?
No. As an endurance training methodology, Streaks are stupid. They are typically designed around completing a certain training time or distance every day. Initially, training workload ramps up quickly and fitness may rise dramatically. However, with no rest days there is insufficient time to balance the workload with enough recovery to encourage positive adaptations.
At best, a Streaker reaches a balance point where you’re getting just enough recovery to keep grinding along day after day. But even in this best-case scenario, you’re not getting stronger or faster. If you are tracking training data, Chronic Training Load (CTL) will be very high, but also stagnant. CTL is a rolling average of Training Stress Score over the previous 42 days. As you become fatigued, rides or runs gravitate to a steady, moderate pace. This leads daily TSS to stay relatively constant, which means CTL stays relatively constant. Streakers mistake this high CTL for a high fitness level, but it’s only that high because of the lack of rest days and very low TSS recovery days. You’re not very fit. You’re just sustaining a lot of workload.
At worst, athletes suffer from overuse injuries, illnesses, and even traumatic injuries from mistakes resulting from exhaustion. Streaks are also difficult to support calorically, which often leads to energy deficits, diminished recovery, and poor food choices.
In many cases, keeping the streak going matters more than the likely detriments to performance. As a result, Streakers are generally not the fastest or highest performing athletes – at least not during the streak.
Are There Good Reasons to Train Every Day?
The most important thing to remember is that athletes are humans first, and human behaviors are motivated by many factors. Riding your bike every day for 6 months or running a marathon a day for 50 days isn’t going to prepare you to win races, but winning races isn’t the only reason athletes train. We train for personal satisfaction, social interactions, and community. We exercise to achieve personal goals, stay healthy, preserve or enhance functionality, and cope with stress. And we train because it’s fun.
Most people, most of the time, can achieve everything they want from training without embarking on Streak. Nevertheless, a Streak can be useful in a few instances.
Long Streaks are often more about control than training. As coaches, we see athletes embark on Streaks in response to uncertainty or traumatic personal and professional experiences. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, there was great uncertainty about careers, mortgage payments, and the health of loved ones. There were also no events to prepare for. Many athletes turned to training Streaks because cycling or running every day was something they could control when everything else seemed to be out of their control.
I was a Streaker. It was in 2021 and my response to a personal crisis. After riding every day for three weeks I recognized the stupidity and futility of the Streak from a performance standpoint. Yet, I stuck with it for another 25 weeks in pursuit of stability, not fitness. Thankfully, in conjunction with therapy and help from friends, it worked for me. That’s not to say a training Streak is right for everyone, and it’s certainly not a replacement for seeking professional help.
On a lighter level, a training Streak can be useful for creating new habits and separating yourself from old ones. This is often the basis for a 30-day cycling, walking, or running Streak. By committing to ride your bike every day for 30 days, you break down the barriers that have prevented you from being consistent with your training. You’ll have to get used to washing cycling clothes more frequently, keeping your bike ready to ride, creating space in your daily schedule, eating and sleeping like an athlete, training in variable weather, etc.
Once the routines are established, they are easier to continue, even when you start adding back rest days.
Tips for Training Streaks
If you are going to engage in a training Streak, it is important to set realistic expectations and to carefully monitor your physical and mental response. Here are tips and what to expect, from my personal experience and interviews with other athletes and coaches.
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Set your parameters:
What constitutes a completed activity that counts for the Streak? There’s no right or wrong answer, but determine whether it’s a set distance, duration, elevation gain, or something else. The simplest version is just that the activity starts and finishes, no matter how short.
Stop fighting the weather:
It is hard to be a fair-weather athlete and stick with a training streak. You must have the gear to exercise outdoors safely and comfortably in wind and cold and rain, maybe even snow. More important, you must stop caring so much about the weather. Just put the gear on and go, or train indoors on bad weather days if that’s an option.
Be prepared for a lot of laundry:
Seriously, keeping up with the laundry generated by training every day – especially in the winter when there are multiple layers – is a pain. Invest in a couple more sets of training clothes to make the rotation easier. And if you’re training alone… wear clean shorts, but tops and accessories (hats, gloves, vests, warmers) can go a few rounds between washes.
Maintain your equipment:
You will wear through gear faster than ever before. For cyclists, that includes tires, chains and cassettes, disc brake pads, and brake rotors. Expect cycling shorts to wear out faster. Runners should expect to purchase shoes more frequently.
Don’t expect to feel good every day:
When you take rest and recovery days between training sessions, you feel reasonably good when it’s time to train again. When you train every day, how you feel from day to day is less predictable. On the days when you are tired, if you’re going to continue the Streak, back off and complete the day’s objective as easily as you can.
Prioritize nutrition, hydration, and sleep:
If you’re going to skimp on rest you must compensate by staying on top of caloric intake, macronutrient composition, and fluid intake. Perhaps most important, you must prioritize sleep, both in terms of quantity and quality.
Know when to quit:
The human body is not unbreakable and training Streaks are not infinitely sustainable. A training Streak typically serves a purpose for a particular person at a specific time in life. The Streak has no inherent value, what’s valuable is the purpose behind it. Don’t get caught up in continuing the activity once the purpose has been satisfied or is no longer relevant.
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