"Life is not built around an Excel spreadsheet.”

“Life is not built around an Excel spreadsheet.” If there is one phrase tri coach Matt Dixon repeats to his athletes, it’s this. While a training plan is essential for most age-groupers, failing to yield to life events results in setbacks, not growth.

“Trying to ram a rigid plan into the dynamic of life is a recipe for disaster,” Dixon says. “Simply sticking to the plan without adjustment typically results in the accumulation of fatigue, heightened injury risk and less-than-optimal yield for your hard work.”

Triathletes, who are often overachievers by nature, can feel the pressure to “do it all”—be a perfect spouse and parent, excel at their job, handle social commitments and nail every workout, every time. But checking all the boxes comes at a cost, Dixon says. “The goal is not simply execution of a rigid plan, nor accumulating hours. We must respond as life events happen, sleep gets compromised or fatigue accumulates.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should skip a workout every time life gets in the way. But a little wiggle room—missing a swim in favor of date night, or cutting a ride short because you were up all night with a sick child—can go a long way in keeping athletes happy and healthy.

Should You Skip?

Some excuses for skipping a workout are just that—excuses. But some hold water.

Excuse: “I’m tired!”
Recovery is important, but that doesn’t make fatigue an automatic license to skip. Some fatigue is normal—even important—to manage and train through. However, if you are developing fatigue to the point of insomnia, night sweats, suppressed heart rate or great perception of effort relative to normal output, take a rest day.

Excuse: “My daughter has a band concert.”
“As an amateur, it is worth remembering that this is a hobby, albeit a serious one for many,” Dixon says. “Remember that family is first, and if one training session is missed because of important functions or life commitments, just keep smiling and carry on.”

Excuse: “I’m too busy!”
A few missed workouts do not a disaster make. If a pressing deadline at work is skewing your training schedule, focus on hitting your key sessions (brick workouts, intervals, tempo efforts) and scratch your supporting (read: “easy”) workouts for the day.

Excuse: “I’d rather ride with my buddies.”
You’ve got two hours of intervals, while your pals are planning an easy out-and-back to the coffee shop. Though the lure of donuts and conversation can be strong, stick to your plan.

“The worst modifications are those that change the entire theme of a session to train with buddies, make it more fun or simply do something that you like better,” Dixon says. “If it is written in the plan, there is a reason for it. If you don’t know, then ask your coach.”