Written by Taylor Thomas of Thomas Endurance Coaching
Training is a dynamic process that involves pinpointing individual areas of both strength and weakness, and adapting those areas over time with the correct amount of training dosage. In doing this many athletes find themselves following advice or approaches that may not be the best for them. These misconceptions can lead to derailed training, frustration, or not reaching your full potential. Perhaps one of the best ways to avoid these common missteps in your own training is to pinpoint them before they happen. Let’s take a closer look at several of the most common issues that athletes of all ability levels have.
More is Better
It’s all too common to hear athletes talking about how much they ride or run, wearing their massive volume as a badge of honor. While this “just ride” approach may work sometimes, and often for short periods of time, it’s rarely a sustainable approach to long-term fitness. Volume is an important part of training, however, it’s important that it be implemented at the correct time of year, and in the correct doses. Every athlete, depending on their goals, race calendar, and strengths and weaknesses, requires a different approach to volume. Knowing how to critically approach volume in relation to an overall training plan is the key to success. The answer is rarely to do more, as often as possible.
Constantly Searching for Fitness
Yes, increased fitness is the end goal for all athletes. However, one misconception is that if an athlete continues to train without rest or periodization, they will continue to see fitness gains. In fact, there is a point of diminishing returns where, if pushed too hard, athletes will reach burnout, overtraining or injury before they see an increase in fitness. Fitness isn’t linear, and it’s not something that should necessarily continue to increase year round. The focus instead should be on a thoughtful approach to fitness such that key elements of an athletes physiology are being developed at the correct time of year. It might be okay to sacrifice sprint speed, or a few watts on FTP if other complementary areas are developed to help support overall goals. The moral to the story is, instead of chasing constant rear round race-specific fitness, know when and how to shift focus during key times of the year such that it complements both strengths and weaknesses. This will ultimately lead to more overall fitness and a more well-rounded athlete.
Strength Isn’t Important
Inevitably the first thing to go when an athlete gets busy, or race pressure increases is strength training. All too often the thinking is that there’s no need to work the muscles that are receiving the most stress during training ie. your legs. However, quite the contrary. If you want something to be stronger, you have to work it, and that applies to endurance sports as well. Give the same weight to strength work that’s given to discipline-specific sessions and you’re guaranteed to see an improvement in things like power, sprint speed, leg spring stiffness, and more. A consistent focused and dynamic strength regiment is important year-round for athletes of any caliber and all disciplines.
FTP is Most Important
Given the availability of modern power based training metrics both athletes and coaches have more insight than ever into human physiology and adaptation. One of the most popular bike related metrics is Functional Threshold Power (FTP). While FTP is no doubt a critical metric, and a great indicator of success, it is both a dynamic metric and one that’s situated amongst a variety of other equally important metrics. Depending on the discipline focus, FTP may or may not be the primary driver of progress. It’s also key to look specifically at what testing protocol is used to test Threshold. If you’re an XC mountain bike racer then maybe the classic 20 minute FTP is valuable. However, for a time trialist, or ultra distance athlete, using a protocol that tests longer duration, or late-stage power, is likely more valuable. Understand how to properly interpret and use FTP to realize how to place the correct level of importance on it. Some athletes have a naturally strong “engine” producing high thresholds, while others may never reach those numbers. Give the proper attention to other metrics such as Watts per Kilogram (W/Kg), Time to Exhaustion (TTE), PMax (Maximum Power), and/or VO2Max which may be equally or more important depending on what it is you’re trying to accomplish.
Take the “Off Season” Off
For many, the “off-season” brings about dreams of lounging around during the Winter until the inevitable fight to regain lost fitness and shed excess weight begins. While that’s a relaxing thought for some this time period, often classified as late Fall to early Winter, is the most critical time for any athlete. It’s the time when you can finally work to hone in on what it was that held you back in seasons past, prepare the body for the rigors of racing, and plan appropriately to reach your goals. While the offseason should be a time of decreased volume and intensity, as well as increased flexibility, it should be anything but downtime. Treat it more as a “transition season” where all of the pieces can be put into place in preparation for a successful season to come. Use this time for focus, not fumbling.
The current landscape of endurance sports is one that’s filled with information, often complex metrics, and multiple approaches. Learn from your past mistakes and the mistakes of others. While there’s no shame in making them, there’s no doubt that missteps along the way can derail your focus and training. Take care to think objectively about your training and do what’s best for you. Mistakes happen, but they don’t have to be the same ones over and over again.
Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) and has more than a decade of experience in the endurance sports industry as an athlete, coach, race promoter, and team organizer. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels and specializes in both a scientific and metrics-based approach to endurance sports. They guide athletes in all disciplines of both running and cycling. For more information on their personal coaching and training plan options visit http://www.
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