As an endurance sports athlete for over 25 years and as a coach for over 20, there is one training mistake that I’ve found most all athletes (including myself) make at some point or another.
Athletes don’t go easy enough or hard enough
IF YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO GO EASY, GO EASY!
More specifically, athletes go hard when they should be going easy and go easy when they should be going hard. This most commonly occurs on rest/recovery days. A ‘shake out’ run or an easy ride should be exactly that… easy. However, what often occurs is that athletes ride or run with others on their easy day and therefore ride/run at the pace of their training partners. For this reason, unless you know that everyone in the group is doing an easy ride/run (and that their ‘easy’ pace is the same as yours!), it’s best to do easy workouts solo.
YEAH, IT’S SUPPOSED TO HURT
Without getting too deep into physiology, one of the most important roles of the body is to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself (i.e., if you place your hand on a hot surface, it hurts so you pull your hand away before it gets badly burned). Since your mind and body don’t know how high you plan on ratcheting up the workout intensity, it warns you when your intensity is getting a bit too high by self-regulating itself via hyperventilating and making you feel like your muscles might burn off the bones. While you cannot and do not want to stay this deep in the pain cave for too long, there is a substantial physiological benefit to going to this point for relatively short periods of time. As noted above, training at this level isn’t exactly pleasant and as a result, many athletes reduce the scheduled intensity to a level that is a bit more comfortable, or at least manageable.
YOU MAKE THE LARGEST GAINS AT EITHER END OF THE SPECTRUM
There is value to riding and running at a comfortable pace, mostly for building or sustaining endurance capacity. However, purely from a physiological standpoint, the biggest game changers to one’s fitness level occur at either end of the spectrum (easy and hard). While effort level is subjective based on an individual, the main take-away is that for someone looking to improve their fitness, training at a comfortable level will elicit some positive changes, but not close to the same benefits as strategically placing easy/hard workouts into a training program.
TAKE THE EGO HIT
Another reason why athletes don’t adhere to their ‘easy’ day(s) is because their ego can’t take it – it’s true! Whether it’s because they can’t stand getting passed by every Tom, Dick, and Harry on their run or they can’t deal with seeing a speed below 10 mph on their speedometer, for a lot of athletes this is a big reason why they don’t go easy enough. For these athletes, training in a setting where they are unlikely to come across a lot of other athletes or taking off the speedometer/power meter and riding by feel is strongly advised.
REST IS NOT A WASTE OF TIME
Despite most athletes knowing that rest is when the body realizes the gains from hard training sessions, many athletes still have a hard time taking a day off or training at a light intensity. The theory that more and, or harder is always better is common among many endurance athletes. As a coach, it’s important that you stress to you clients that they must be honest with their training logs. If you put rest days on a client’s schedule and they denote that they adhered to them – but they actually did a 10 x 400 track workout – you’re going to be pulling your hair out trying to figure out why they aren’t advancing or had a bad race.
MY ROLE AS A COACH IS TO DO WHAT?
I get it, a lot of people get into running, cycling, swimming and triathlons because they are ‘type A.’ These type of people often run around at a hundred miles an hour with their hair on fire all the time. So for them to slow down in any capacity of their life, least of all in training, often requires a herculean effort on your part. For these clients, your role typically ends up being less ‘pushing’ and more ‘restraining.’
When working with clients, it’s critical that they understand the true value of easy and hard days. This is often best accomplished by explaining the physiology behind various training intensities and more specifically, how it impacts their ability to reach their goals.