When it comes to your training there is a time and place where sessions go. You have weekly training blocks that build into months of periodization, and these periodized blocks are the foundation of yearly cycles of improvement. You don’t (well most of us don’t!) haphazardly throw in hard sessions or easy sessions whenever you want, especially if you are building towards a specific goal. You are following a plan that takes you from point A to B in an orderly fashion. If your training plan looks like this, does your daily routine reflect the same?
Whether you are a professional athlete or a weekend warrior looking to hit some new PRs, having a routine within your daily schedule will improve your performance. Having routines is not always easy for most. Perhaps you are juggling a family, work, school, and other life priorities all on top of training itself! All of these different avenues are pulling at you from every direction begging for your attention. This is all the more reason why setting a routine that includes boundaries will allow you to divide and conquer each task to your best abilities.
A routine does not need to only include when you work out, and in fact, it shouldn’t! Structuring all your daily activities will increase your productivity across the board and can help boost your performance in training. Training for endurance sports takes not only physical but a lot of mental energy. When we are in a session we are focused on hitting our target power, pace, heart rate, you name it. We are thinking about our form and technique, how much rest is left in the interval, how many more sets are left in the session, how can I improve upon the last rep? There is a constant flow of mental energy being pumped into training sessions that perhaps we may not even be conscious of, but it is there. If you have additional clutter constantly berating you from every angle, not only is it annoying, but it takes away from your complete focus on the task at hand: nailing your session. When our mind is clear this is when we set ourselves up for the optimal chance to perform our best. Having set routines allows us to free our minds of clutter evolving around: when will I get this done, where can I fit this next session in, did I pack enough food to eat post-workout?
First things first: you will find committing to a daily routine easiest when you plan out your weekly training schedule. This is where having structured workouts really can ease any idle time you take in planning sessions. For example: if you plan your hard interval sessions for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday then keeping this structure week in and out will make your weekly planning much easier. If you are working with a coach for some time, more than likely you are already in tune with their weekly flow of training and how each day of the week is structured: easy days, hard session days, long endurance rides, etc. If you do not have this plan worked out yet, try to find some time to chat with your coach so that you can figure out what training schedule works best for you.
Once you have your training schedule figured out, then it is time to decide what fits best for both your work/personal schedule as well as your individual needs. There are many of us who are self-acclaimed, “not morning people.” Perhaps this is true but does not mean we should completely block out the idea of training early in the morning prior to work commitments. Hitting your key sessions when you are fresh both mentally and physically in the morning can help not only increase the effect of the session but help to bolster your confidence when you are able to attack the session first thing in the morning. Getting into the habit of scheduling these sessions for the same time week in and week out will not only gradually help your body adapt to the load and stress placed upon it, but you will also find it easier and easier each week to perform these sessions. Some ideas for helping you avoid hitting the snooze button:
- Layout all of your session gear the night before, that way you save time in the morning and give yourself even less time to idle and come up with reasons to go back to back.
- Prepare all necessary nutrition the night before so you have ample time to eat beforehand, during, and are properly fueled post-session. This is especially crucial if you have an early session that is not at your home and requires you to jet off to work after!
- This can never be overstated: getting to sleep at the same time each night!
Below will give a guide as to morning, mid-morning, evening, and nightly routines to help set yourself up for success:
5:30 am: alarm goes off
5:30-5:50 am: breakfast, coffee consumption, light activation prior to the session
6:00 am: start the session
7:30 am: session ends
7:30-8:00 am: post-workout nutrition, shower, get ready for work
8:00 am: out the door for work (or stationed in office for remote work)
While everyone will have a different morning schedule based on timing and current life responsibilities, this is an example of basic time framing. Having your morning slotted out for specific time intervals allows you to not worry about trivial things such as “what am I doing right now?” You have a set start and end time. This allows you to stay on task and focus on the session at hand. This outline also highlights proper nutrition in your morning routine. Before any hard session, you should eat prior in order to replenish glucose stores from overnight. This will keep you fueled and more alert during your workout (remember your brain is fueled by glucose, better fueling will equal better concentration!) This also highlights immediate post-workout nutrition. Within 30 minutes of a session, you should be consuming either a recovery shake or meal that will replace what was lost; carbohydrates, protein, and sugars.
9:30-10:00 am: snack / stand up and walk around
12:00-1:00 pm: lunch
2:00-3:00 pm: snack / stand up and walk around
It is important to continually replenish your body throughout the day with nutrients whether you are working out in the morning, evening, or both. This allows you to stay on top of your energy needs as well as allows you to avoid running out of energy at the end of the day! Mid-day is where most of us can slip up when it comes to optimizing our body for training. We can either get too busy for lunch or forget to continuously hydrate throughout the day. This may seem okay at first, but when you begin your evening session, you will be running on low energy. Be sure to allow time to get up from your desk or chair at work, or if on your feet, take a seat for a few minutes if you can! Performing some dynamic stretches throughout the day can help keep you feeling loose and limber for when it is time to train again.
3:00 pm: Home from work
3:00-3:30 pm: prepare for the session; snack, light activation, foam roll
3:30 pm: Session begins
5:00 pm: Sessions end
5:00-5:50 pm: post-workout nutrition/dinner, shower
If you do not have morning sessions planned, or if you have two sessions for the day (most triathletes will) having a set post-work schedule can help you stay on task in order to complete your session as well as remaining on track to eating dinner at the same time (or around) each night. Having set times when you eat allows your body to become adapted to a set schedule or knowing when nutrition is on the way. After a period of time being on a routine, if you ever are off your stomach will definitely let you know! Depending upon your job and family requirements these times may not work for you, and you will need to adjust. No matter the time adjustments, having a set schedule from a long day at work can allow you to stay on top of your training and leave no wiggle room for excuses to not get it done.
8:00 pm: devices off and bodywork
8:30 pm: overnight recovery protein drink
9:00 pm: In bed/sleep
Though a shortlist, but potentially your most important routine: nighttime. We have heard the importance of sleep from mothers, doctors, and any sports-related article, but we will say it again. Getting not only the proper amount of sleep hours but setting a sleep routine is vastly important to your sports performance. Optimizing your body’s own circadian rhythm is vitally important. Your sleep and wake cycle is one of the most well-known circadian rhythms. This 24-hour internal clock coordinates mental and physical systems throughout the body. It also affects your digestive system to promote the production of proteins that match your meal timing, and the regulation of hormones that affect energy expenditure. The better you are able to fine-tune your sleep and wake schedule, the more you will find it easier to fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed. If you are not the type of person who currently has a set sleep schedule, have patience; getting into this routine can take some time to get used to!
Other important nuances of a nighttime routine are setting your sleep up for optimal performance. This means avoiding scrolling through social media or the internet at least one hour prior to bedtime. The blue light that is emitted from smartphones and computers can throw off your melatonin levels which are what make you sleepy, to begin with. Try developing a new routine whether that includes reading a chapter or two of a book prior to sleep, or jotting down some thoughts into a journal to clear your mind.
Finally, it is important to cover nighttime nutrition. While most of us can ace recovery during the day, we can fall short when it comes to sleep. Especially on hard session days, it is critical to consume a nighttime recovery drink to help rebuild your muscles overnight.
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Mac Cassin is the Chief Cycling Physiologist at Wahoo Sports Science. He holds a degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado-Boulder and has won multiple National Championships. The experience of juggling athletic goals with collegiate and career responsibilities has taught Mac that peak performance is achievable even for those who cannot focus exclusively on training. While concentrating on exercise physiology in an academic setting, Mac competed at the World Championships, Pan American Championships, and World Cups on both the road and track.