We know that working hard is important—but to see results you also need to work smart.
We hear a lot of talk about “doing the work.” A quick Google search reveals many variations on the same theme, like:
“When you have a goal, you have to do the work. No excuses.”
“Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.”
“Do the work, be the prize.”
“Nothing will make you feel better except doing the work.”
“Show up. Do the work. It’s worth it.”
These slogans can inspire and motivate! However, it’s only through doing the right work that we will achieve the results, win the prize, and make our big dreams a reality.
We can think about doing the right work in three ways: consistency; discipline with intensity and volume; and recovery. If you don’t nail these three training fundamentals, you might be sabotaging your training.
Consistency is the most important element of any training plan. In order to build your fitness and prepare your body for the demands of race day, you need to be able to train daily.
To train consistently, we need to plan ahead in order to balance training with other life priorities. By reviewing your schedule ahead of time, you make certain the ability to carve yourself a slice of training time while making sure to fulfill other important life responsibilities. Put your training on your calendar and consider it an appointment with yourself!
Of course, in some cases, it may not be possible to fit the scheduled training on a particular day. Life is super busy, right? If you have one, make sure to review your schedule with your coach so she/he can help you make the appropriate adjustments to keep you on the consistency bus.
If you are self-coached, review the rhythm of the plan. Consider whether it’s possible to swap days, shorten or modify a workout, or skip the session when unexpected conflicts arise. When making adjustments, just be mindful not to set yourself up for too many hard or long days in a row. While double sessions are par for the course in triathlon, quadruple workouts are a very bad idea for most (if not all) age-group athletes.
When all else fails, remember one day here and there won’t ruin your overall consistency. But if you find you are regularly missing multiple workouts (especially key workouts), you may need to rethink the flow of the plan and/or your life schedule to set yourself up for success.
Discipline with Volume and Intensity
A second area where athletes unknowingly sabotage themselves is in their discipline sticking to intensity and volume targets.
It’s important to stick to the targets for how hard or easy a workout should be (intensity) as well as how long or short a workout should be (volume). These components bring about different performance adaptations. Over time, appropriate exposure to varying training stimuli followed by recovery will allow your body to adapt, get stronger, and rock it out come race day!
Let’s consider the case of Robert (name changed to protect the saboteur), who is working toward his first 70.3 race. Robert has trained for short-course triathlon the past several years, so his coach designed workouts to help him develop his endurance for the longer event. On one particular Saturday, Robert has a standard two-hour endurance-paced bike workout, perfect for the development of his aerobic endurance.
Ideally, Robert would nail both the duration target and the intensity target. But, he might start thinking that it doesn’t feel hard enough (he’s used to busting his lungs!), or that if two hours is good, then three hours surely must be better.
The next day, Robert feels so wiped that he can’t complete his run. In fact, he winds up being drained for a few days, and missing a swim and a bike. Here is where discipline intersects with consistency.
All too often, we see athletes like Robert pushing their endurance-based workouts into a tempo or Zone 3 effort because they feel like they aren’t working hard enough. Unfortunately, by raising the intensity, the athlete no longer reaps the endurance benefits, and he isn’t working hard enough to reap the benefits of a high-intensity session. He’s stuck in the gray zone — the consistency is threatened, and the athlete’s performance may plateau, or even get worse.
Robert is doing work–but not the right work.
Recovery is central to your body’s ability to adapt to the training sessions. Training breaks you down—recovery lets your body put itself back together.
Let’s consider the case of Sally (name also changed), an experienced long-distance triathlete who has completed 10 iron-distance triathlons. She is doing the workouts as planned and she is always consistent, but her performance has hit a plateau.
Her training is compromised by heavy legs, soreness, and fatigue. Sally finally comes clean to her coach and reports that she hasn’t been sleeping well, and she’s been trying to cut weight by restricting calories during training. Sally is harming her recovery, and may even be falling into a nonfunctional overreaching state (a precursor to overtraining syndrome). Although she isn’t doing more than she should, she is under-recovered.
So, what are some ways to enhance recovery?
The most important recovery tool is sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation or “sleep debt” increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol while decreasing the production of glycogen. This combination means you won’t wake up feeling ready to tackle the day’s training session.
Fortunately, this one is relatively easy to address. A series of studies conducted by the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic found that athletes who increased how much they slept, saw improvements in their performance, lower resting heart rates, decreased daytime sleepiness, and improved mood and cognitive functioning. All of these improvements came without changing their training approach. All they did was get more sleep, which in turn reduced their stress, increased their glycogen storage, and improved their bodies’ ability to rebuild and restore muscle.
We like to say: Sleep equals speed.
Beyond sleep, you can enhance recovery with daily nutrition, as well as properly fueling and hydrating before, during, and after workouts. If you aren’t putting the right gas in your tank, your car won’t work the way you want it to.
We also recommend that our athletes engage in some type of myofascial release to support recovery. This release may include some combination of self-massage and foam rolling, deep tissue sports massage, or active release technique. For example, work to incorporate foam rolling into your schedule. Start first with two days a week, then build to every other day. Deep tissue massage (or ART) is great once or twice a month, as your schedule or budget allows.
If you aren’t incorporating a consistent recovery protocol into your training plan, then your body won’t adapt to the training stimulus. Eventually, this can lead to burnout, injury, or overtraining and under-recovery. This takes us back to overall consistency, which will be impacted as well.
Proper training isn’t just about doing the work. It is about doing the right work, which includes a focus on consistency, discipline with your intensity and volume, and recovery. Get the mix right, and you will continue to see your body and mind working properly towards your next big dream.
This article originally appeared on Trainingpeaks.com.
A USA Triathlon Level 1 and USA Cycling Level 2 certified coach, Maria Simone is the owner and head coach of No Limits Endurance Coaching. She enjoys long weekends in the pain cave, races with hills, and hard runs through meandering single track trails with her husband and two dogs. Maria takes a holistic approach to training that considers physical ability, mental strength, and life-work-training balance. Maria works with endurance athletes of all levels, with the common thread of helping her athletes pursue and achieve their big dreams. She blogs about her personal experiences in training and racing at www.runningalife.com.