1. Too Easy on Hard Days, Too Hard on Easy Days
This is perhaps the most common training mistake that I see on a regular basis, as well as the most common training mistake that I hear from fellow UESCA coaches. Training intensities at either end of the spectrum typically elicit the greatest physiological responses. Therefore, what happens when an athlete goes too hard on easy days, and too easy on hard days is that most all of their training is performed at a middle’ish intensity and thus, not very impactful. This is because it’s neither easy enough to develop one’s low end aerobic capacity, or hard enough to increase one’s high end fitness benchmarks such as lactate threshold or VO2 max. As a result, athletes that train like this don’t realize much, if any performance and fitness gains.
2. Not Enough Rest
Hard workouts… or any workout for that matter only has value if an athlete can reap the rewards from it. And in order to reap the rewards, one must get enough rest and recovery. Endurance sports tend to attract individuals that like to push the limit and always have their foot on the gas. For these athletes, more is better. As such, rest and recovery is often viewed as wasted time that could be better spent doing intervals, a long ride/run, plyometrics, etc…
For these athletes, it is a near certainty that they will get injured, suffer from overtraining syndrome… or at the very least, see their forward progress stall and possibly regress.
Proper rest and recovery are just as important to the training process as hard and long training days.
3. No Specificity
Training programs should not be generic. This is a given. However, even with ‘custom’ programs, many of them still lack the degree of specificity to make them as practical and useful as possible. For example, if an ultrarunning race has a lot of technical terrain such as off-camber, rooty and rocky sections – it would be advisable to spend some time training on this sort of terrain (if possible). Or if a bike race ends with a short, steep 200 meter uphill finish, it would be advisable to try to replicate the finish sprint, both in terms of length and incline during your training.
4. No Adjustments
While seemingly common sense, training programs should likely not be a ‘one and done’ sort of scenario. The reality is that there are near endless reasons why a training program would need to be modified. Whether it be illness, injury, unforeseen work/family obligations or being overly fatigued – the list goes on in regard to reasons why a program should be modified.
The amount of modification(s) is largely based on the degree or severity of the disruption. As an example, if a runner is set to perform 10, 400 meter repeats but at repeat number eight, they feel overly fatigued and nauseous, it would be advised to stop. This is an example of a small modification. Conversely, if an athlete has the flu, they should take the necessary time off to recover and start back only when they are 100% recovered and even then, they should start back slowly. This is representative of a much larger disruption and therefore the modification to the program would be much larger as well – perhaps even necessitating a reassessment if the race they are training for is still feasible.
In summary, a training program should be created as a template to follow but by no means should it be static. Training does not take place in an isolated bubble. As such, there are ups and downs and a training program must be fluid and dynamic to be able to appropriately accommodate this.
5. Focus on Minutiae
I see this ALL OF THE TIME! Athletes focus on the latest gear, squabble about the exact length of intervals – down to the second, or what type of recovery boots or percussion therapy tool to use. This is of course is not to say that these things do not play a role in one’s training progression, but in the whole scheme of things, their impact is quite minimal.
While it’s fine to pay attention to the aforementioned things, they should only be a point of focus after all of the ‘bigger ticket’ items have been covered.
I get it… as an example, it’s much more fun (and costly) to geek out over which bike will save you a few watts over that 40K time trial you’re targeting than a bike fit on your existing bike. But at the end of the day, as the mass of a rider is much more influential in respect to drag than a bike, buying a new, slick aero bike before focusing on one’s position is putting the cart before the horse.
6. Only Training at High Intensities
This mistake sort of corresponds to the prior area (Focus on Minutiae). For many athletes, doing high intensity work (intervals, plyometrics, tempo, etc…) is much more glamorous and fun than low intensity efforts such as endurance and recovery workouts.
It is not uncommon to see an athlete that can perform in a race at a high level from a time or placing standpoint, but when you look at their heart rate, they are near maxed out the whole time. Environmental considerations aside, this athlete likely is poorly conditioned from an aerobic point of view due to a lack of low intensity workouts. Athletes such as this often experience two main things:
- Their training in terms of feeling good and bad on various days fluctuates substantially due to a lack of aerobic fitness
- Their overall ceiling at which they can perform at is very limited and does not increase past a certain point
This athlete would benefit from incorporating low intensity training to develop their aerobic capacity. For example, let’s say that an athlete is ‘prescribed’ to do endurance runs at no more than 130 beats per minute. At first, the athlete might only be able to run a 11 minute per mile pace. But as they become more aerobically fit, they will be able to run at an 8 minute pace at the same 130 beats per minute intensity.
7. Following Someone Else’s Plan
Scenario: Your running buddy just qualified for the Boston Marathon
Your Goal: Qualify for the Boston Marathon
The Result: You follow your buddy’s exact training program and your progress slows
Just as everyone learns at a different pace and learns best via different learning mediums, everyone’s physiology differs, as does their current fitness level. Moreover, people respond differently to the same training stimuli. Therefore, just because a training program works for one person does not necessarily mean that it will work for you. In fact, given all of the variables that go into creating a custom program, the chance that your friend’s program will work for you is minimal.
8. Getting Bad Information
The great thing about the internet, is that you can find information about any topic you want (and a lot of it!) with a few touches of your keyboard or phone. The bad thing is that a lot of this information is either flat out wrong, antiquated or solely the view and opinion of one person. This is of course is not to say that you should not use the internet as a resource for training information, but just be aware of where you are getting your information.
For example, I would likely trust a peer-reviewed paper on PubMed about carbohydrate metabolism over that of ‘Katie’s Keto Blog‘ … Just sayin’!
9. Too Much, Too Soon
‘Cardiovascular fitness precedes musculoskeletal readiness’
This phrase denotes that when someone starts exercising, their cardiovascular system adapts at a faster rate than their muscular and skeletal systems. This is especially important for runners and athletes of other impact-related sports to understand.
This is likely one of the main reasons why beginner runners get injured. Because they feel their aerobic condition is improving, they ramp up their training volume to reflect this increase in aerobic fitness. In this case, everything is OK until it is not. New runners might blow off the signs (ex: overly sore muscles, shin splints) of under adapted muscles and bones as just things that go along with getting in-shape and thus keep pushing. Then they get a stress fracture or suffer from connective tissue/muscle injury that causes them to take a lot of time off of training.
Therefore, the moral of this ‘story’ is that when starting a training program, slow and steady is the right course of action.
10. Train Through an Injury
Many endurance athletes are phobic of taking time off of training. Whether it be a rest day, a taper or time off to recovery from sickness or injury, a lot of athletes view time off through the lens of regression and thus getting less fit.
This is especially the case with injury. Whether it be a full-blown injury such as severe hamstring tendinosis, or a niggle while out cycling – many endurance athletes opt to ‘tough it out’ and continue to push themselves. There is no doubt that endurance sports are hard and pushing through discomfort is a necessary trait to have success both in training and competition. However, the discomfort should be a result of one’s training intensity or volume (ex: long training session) versus that of injury or illness. Understandably, it might take a new athlete a while to learn through trial and error and overall body sensations what is likely discomfort due to intensity/volume or injury/illness. However, once learned, an athlete must listen to and respect their body and the overall training process by taking the appropriate measures (ex: time off, rehab, reduced volume/intensity).
Trying to push through an injury or hoping that it will magically get better by doing more of the same thing that resulted in the injury in the first place is not only wishful thinking, but for lack of a better word… stupid.
While this blog post could have been about 1,000,000 words long as there are near countless ways that mistakes occur in training (and racing), these are the ones that I have found to be most prevalent. Therefore, whether you’re an athlete, coach, or both – I hope that this post sheds some light on key things to focus on and think about in respect to the training process.
Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running, ultrarunning and triathlon coaches (cycling coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.
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