Fire up your training

You’ve been training for a few years now, results happened quickly, improvements kept coming, you felt unstoppable, riding the high of your triathlon successes. But as quickly as the results came, you suddenly feel like your improvements are slowly withering away and your shot at another PB seems like a distant memory. You keep training but your body just doesn’t seem to respond like it used to. Paces seem to be faltering, or even slowing down, energy and motivation wavering, race results diminishing. Does this sound like you? Good news is – you are not alone. Most athletes hit a plateau at some point in their training. We often see it in athletes after 2-3 years in the sport, but it can happen at any time. So with some understanding, practical tips and know how – you can smash through the plateau and be back on your way to your next PB in no time.  

What is a training plateau? 
Firstly, to understand why you have hit a training plateau, we must understand what it is.  When you put your body under physical exertion or physical stress (training), it creates a multitude of physiological responses at a cellular level in your body. Once the body is stimulated by the stress (training) it then goes through a process of adaption to meet the demands of the stress. As adaption occurs, the body is then better equipped (adapted) to handle the training load and it therefore becomes easier (ie you become faster / stronger / more efficient).  

Training increases must then be applied to elicit further physiological responses in the body and to continue improvement. This can be done in a number or combination of ways including increases in frequency, duration and/or intensity. If not, or if you don’t allow the adaption process to occur (through over training or under recovering) then your body will undoubtably hit the dreaded training wall plateau.  

Hitting a training wall or plateau is a frustrating part of training that most athletes will unfortunately experience at some point. The key is recognising it and making changes so you don’t find yourself stuck there and treading water for too long. So if you are consistent with your training, but have stopped seeing the results, try these practical and effective tips and training methods to smash your way through that training wall plateau and reap some serious results (and PB’s!) as a result.  

1. Don’t just train more
I put this first, as it’s often the ‘go to’ for athletes if they find themselves in a plateau. This can often be the worst thing you can do, especially if you have hit that wall due to over training or under recovering in the first place. Overtraining generally leads to fatigue, injury and/or underperforming, all that go hand in hand with hitting a plateau. So if you find yourself in this situation, don’t immediately just train more. Yes it’s important to be disciplined and consistent with your training, but it’s also crucial that you pay attention and listen to your body. If you have been training consistently, then look at other signs and reasons as to why you have found yourself in a plateau (read on). More training doesn’t necessarily equate to better results.  

2. Get the balance right
How much you train, and the type of training you do over time, along with the amount of recovery and/or the recovery methods you employ will all help ensure your training keeps progressing. A well-developed training plan/program will incorporate frequency, intensity and duration to elicit a specific physiological response at specific times in your training. Training increases are needed for a progressive overload but it is the amount of overload applied to the body that is the key. Too much and you risk injury, illness and over training, not enough and you won’t get the physical response to improve. To continue to see improvements, your training plan must stimulate the body at the new fitness level. Adaption then takes place again (the plateau) and so the process then continues. If you get to a point where you aren’t coming out of your plateau, then review the frequency, intensity and duration of your sessions to ensure a continued improvement. Sometimes it can mean not quite having the balance right or at the right times that sees you landing in a plateau for longer than planned.

3. Mix it up
One of the reasons you may have hit a plateau is because you are stuck in the same training routine. That training routine may have worked well in the past, but it doesn’t mean it is right for you now. Our bodies are very smart and extremely good at adapting to outside stress, so if you don’t mix things up, it can not only affect your results, but it can also affect your motivation too. So make sure you mix things up every now and then. It doesn’t have to be drastic, but just by changing up a block or period in our training such as backing off your running and bumping up your riding can freshen up your run and boost your ride at the same time. Or if you are always prescribed an aerobic, high volume training program, try adding some more intensity into your training. You may even want to try and flip things around, start your build with some intensity, and then move back to aerobic and strength. Remember there is always more than one way to achieve results. So don’t get stuck in your ways. Change it up and then monitor your results to ensure you are getting back on track.

4. Embrace recovery
If you are one of those athletes that fears taking a day off training, you are actually more susceptible to hitting the dreaded training wall plateau.
A body grows and becomes stronger and faster AFTER it has adapted to a training stimuli. So the amount of rest and recovery you give your body is just as important as the training itself. Without sufficient recovery, over time your body won’t be able to absorb the training load and make the adaptations to increase performance.
Think of this process like climbing a staircase. You can’t keep climbing at the same rate and the same intensity forever. At some point you will need to stop and rest so you can recharge and keep going. That’s what recovery days / sessions allow. A chance for your body to recharge so you can then hit your next sessions stronger.  So if you are constantly fatigued, sore, or not hitting your target times or efforts in training, there’s a good chance that you are simply not giving your body sufficient rest and recovery. So listen to your body and back it off a little if you need. Try taking a day or two off to regain both your physical and mental strength. You may just be surprised with how taking just a few days off can actually help not hinder your training and performance. So don’t fear recovery sessions or days. Embrace them.

5. Go hard on hard days, easy on easy days
Far too many athletes spend time in the ‘grey’ zone. Sitting in that middle ground of training. I understand it, it feels like you’ve had a good work out, but still got some left in the tank, it’s not super hard, but not easy either. But there lies the problem. Each type of session has a purpose at specific times in your training build. If you are always training in that ‘grey’ zone, you will miss the benefits of building a sounds aerobic base and therefore stunt your maximum aerobic function (your engine!), and at the other end, you will never hit hard sessions hard enough to effectively improve your VO2Max – which is what every athlete should be aiming for. Plus another down-side – you are at an increased risk of over training and/or under recovering.  So know and have a purpose for every session you do. If the purpose is aerobic base development, train in that zone, if it’s technique, go slow and focus, if it’s VO2max or speed, go hard and fast. Save the tempo and threshold training for race specific sessions when they are needed, and they certainly aren’t needed in every session.

6. Include specific training blocks
Many athletes get stuck into the ‘3 swims, 3 rides, 3 runs’ routine and then find themselves stagnating in one or more of the 3 disciplines. To give your training a little boost, while still balancing your time and recovery, look at including a block of training which focuses on one or two disciplines for a specific period of time, not all three. As an example:
Plan a 6 week ‘swim’ block if you have found you aren’t making progress in your swim. You might still train 9 times a week, but the ratio may be 5 swims, 2 runs, 2 rides. Similar plans can be done for the bike and run.

7. Add a training spike 
If you feel like you train specifically, you tried the recovery, have a good balance but still feel like you are in a rut, the next step might be a training spike. A training spike can often come in the form of a training camp. Training camps provide a training spike through a condensed training overload over a specific period of time – generally from 3-5days. Your aim is to overload your training during that specific period, then allow sufficient recovery and you should see the benefits a few weeks later. You can choose to attend a specific training camp, or you can simulate your own at home. As an example, you might normally swim 3km on a Friday morning, ride 3hours in the hills on a Saturday and run 1hour on Sunday. A training spike over the same 3 day period may look like the following*:

Friday AM: 3km aerobic strength based pool swim
Friday PM: 45-60min easy technique focused aerobic run
Saturday AM: 4hour aerobic strength based hills ride
Saturday LUNCH: 2km easy recovery pool swim
Saturday PM: 60-90min aerobic strength based run
SUNDAY AM: 3hour flat aerobic ride
Sunday LUNCH: 45min easy technique focused run

*Keep in mind that everyone’s training load and demand is different. Depending on the time of the year and phase in your training program, your training spike might focus on increased frequency, duration, intensity or a combination of all three. It should also have a particular focus based on where you are at in your training such as aerobic strength base or race specific phase.

8. Plan a bi-annual /annual recovery phase
A sound training plan will build you up over time, aiming to peak you for your specific key race/s, then include a recovery or transition period where you enjoy some recovery and down time. Too many athletes are frightened of having time off after a key race for fear of loosing the fitness they worked so hard for. Yes – you will see some decline in fitness after a week or so, but it is necessary. If you don’t, you actually run the risk of under recovering. The key though is not stopping fully. In general, aim to move your body for fun, enjoyment and exercise – rather than viewing it as training. Try something new, jump on a mountain bike, sign up to a yoga class, go on a hike… the list is endless. The movement and exercise will help maintain some fitness while fast tracking your recovery. Our bodies can’t be at their peak year round, so take some time off after a key race to refresh physically and just as importantly mentally, and you will come back even stronger for your next race or season.  

9. Seek out a coach
When you started out in the sport, you may have been training yourself, joining in on group sessions or even following a template training plan. But as you progress, your training needs to progress too. So if you are serious about improving, it may be time to seek additional guidance through a Coach. A Coach can provide a training program that is periodised, with specific training blocks and cycles to help you get the most out of your training, and also leap you out of that plateau. Do some research on Coaches that provide individualised training programs designed for you. It will cost you a little more, but don’t underestimate the value a personalised coach who can add to your training and progression as an athlete. 

Although there can be a number of reasons for a training plateau, most of the time you can come out the other side with just a few small changes to your training, recovery or lifestyle to get you are back on your way. So instead of getting stuck behind the training plateau wall, listen to your body and make some changes to ensure you are back on your way to your next PB in no time!  

 

Written by Coach Sarah, as previously published in Australian Triathlete Magazine

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Sarah is the Director & Head Coach at Complete Per4mance Coaching. Born out of the desire and passion to not just coach but to educate athletes, Sarah shares her 10 years of coaching and racing experience, knowledge and education with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance while maintaining a balanced, happy and healthy life.

Contact Sarah to discuss training options for you.

 

 

Are you sabotaging your racing success?

Why would anyone deliberately do that you may ask?
Don’t we all want to improve and get the most out of ourselves? Aren’t we all aiming to be better than we were yesterday? Heck we train every day (often twice a day), so why would we sabotage that? The problem with self-sabotage is athletes often don’t even know they are doing it. It can creep into our everyday lives, into our training and then that flows on into race day and before we know it we are sabotaging our own racing potential and success.  

So what can self-sabotage look like for athletes?
There are some more obvious ways self-sabotage manifests into our lives such as not eating as well as you know you could – even though you know eating better would improve your recovery and/or performance. Or training when injured for fear of losing fitness – even though you know a few days rest is what your body needs. These are classic signs of self-sabotage that can easily be addressed, but on top of these, there are a lot of hidden ways that you can be self-sabotaging without even realising it. Can you relate to any of the following?  

  • You tell yourself that you aren’t a ‘swimmer’, ‘rider’, ‘runner’ 
  • You worry too much about what others think of your performance 
  • Your self-worth is determined by your results and the praise you receive 
  • You tell yourself you aren’t ‘good’ enough 
  • You doubt your ability and don’t believe in yourself 
  • You say to others how you go doesn’t matter to you to avoid disappointment 
  • You feel unrelenting pressure and expectations to achieve 
  • You often say ‘I’m ONLY doing a sprint’, or I’m ‘JUST doing the half’ 

Self-sabotage is like an internal fight that is played out into your training and performances. You want to race well, yet on the start line all your fears come bubbling to the surface and you tell yourself you aren’t ready. You would like to push hard, yet you tell yourself you aren’t good enough. You line up on the start line knowing you have done the training, yet you start doubting your ability and hold back. You put high expectations on yourself, but those expectations bring about anxiety and fear. The internal struggle can be an ongoing battle, and that battle can be hindering your performance and sabotaging your racing success.  

How do we stop this subconscious self-sabotage?
The attitude, beliefs and the mindset that you take with you into training, and ultimately your racing will shape your performance and your success as an athlete. If you are able to shift your mindset, change your attitude and alter your beliefs, then you will minimise the effects of self-sabotage and reach your performance potential.  

The first step is to understand and recognise the signs of how you might be self-sabotaging through areas such as self-doubt, developing anxiety, setting high expectations, the pressures of perfectionism, worrying about what others think and many other mental self-sabotage roadblocks you could be hitting. If we can become aware of these signs and understand when and where they pop up, we can learn to shift them so they don’t negatively impact our racing.  

I have outlined my top 5 areas to help get you started in improving your mental resolve, shifting your mindset and changing your attitude to minimise the effects of self-sabotage on your performance.  

photo credit: witsup.com

1. Reframe your thinking
Our actions are inspired and driven by our thoughts. If we can work on changing the way we think, we can begin to change the actions we take. where the mind goes the body will follow” A practice I’ve used with my athletes is applying the use of positive affirmations or motivational quotes, along with trying to change the way we word our thoughts. Without realising it, we are often using negative affirmations in our everyday lives, and these negative affirmations can then be displayed in negative habits or traits.  Both negative and positive affirmations impact the neurological functioning of the brain, so if you repeatedly think that you are not going to succeed, or you are not good enough, this is a negative affirmation, and your body will subconsciously believe what you repeatedly tell it. But if you work on filling your thoughts with positive affirmations “I’m going to nail this session” – then you are more than likely going to. So the more positive affirmation you can include in your thought patterns, the better!  

Try this:
Instead of thinking: “I can’t”, try “I’m going to give it my best shot
or instead of ‘I’m never going to be good at swimming” try “I’m making progress every day 

So if we can reduce the effects of our limiting beliefs by changing the way you speak to yourself through your thoughts and work on our mental resolve, then we can diminish the effects of self-sabotage and start to have a positive impact on your performance.  

2. Worrying about what others think
For a lot of athletes, a big stressor pre-race is worrying about what others will think of their performance. On one hand, this can be a positive as it can push you harder when a race starts to become tough. It also feels good when you have a great race – who doesn’t like a little pat on the back every now and then! But if you are an athlete who relies on the need to receive praise, feel accepted or liked by others through your performances, then what happens if (when) races don’t go to plan? The sheer thought of a race not going to plan and worrying about what others will think can manifest into race day anxiety. This form of race day anxiety leads to self-doubt and has negative effects on your racing. The opposite to what you had to begin with. So instead of craving the approval of others, work on understanding why it is you race, finding your internal driver –not relying on external motivators from others. This will help reduce the need for approval and improve your race day performance by racing for YOU not for others. 

3. Fear of failure
Goals are big drivers. They are what help you get out of bed in the morning and keep you going when the training gets tough. But how do you feel if you don’t quite reach your goal? Do you consider yourself a failure for not achieving?  Do you punish yourself in some way, or give up totally? We all need goals and we all want to reach them, but don’t be so hard on yourself if you don’t. Worrying too much about results or the outcomes of your races can create unnecessary pre-race anxiety in the form of fear of failure. It is this fear of failure that can lead to athletes underperforming on race day compared to how they train on a daily basis. We probably all know or have trained with athletes who train the house down, but come race day things just don’t come together for them. These athletes are often extremely critical of themselves and could be fearing failure on race day. They’ve put in the hard work in training, everyone is telling them they are going to have a great race, and so they fear what may happen if they don’t. This fear can come from a number of areas including worrying about what others think (see above) and worrying that the hard work they have put into training won’t pay off on race day (the payoff syndrome). If you feel like this is you, then it is important to determine what the underlying fear for you is, so you can learn to overcome it and reduce this form of self-sabotage.

4. Striving for perfection
Striving for perfection for some can be an advantage, these ‘A’ type athletes have incredibly high expectations of themselves and their performance. However at the same time it can actually hinder an athlete’s performance. Because here’s the thing, nothing or no one is truly ever perfect, as much as someone may try. I don’t say that to stop you from striving for and chasing your goals, or be comfortable with settling for ‘middle of the pack’, but at the same time you don’t need to drive yourself into the ground trying to achieve perfection – because it’s never going to happen.  

Why not? You ask. Because if you are one of those athletes who is a true perfectionist, you will never be truly satisfied – no matter how much you excel, or what race results you achieve, you will always be searching. You will also find you forget to take the time to recognise your performance results when you do achieve them and actually acknowledge the hard work you have put in because you will always seem to find the negatives, or find the things that didn’t quite go to plan.  

You may also find if your race isn’t going to your ‘perfect plan’ then this can demotivate you or you can become frustrated with a situation or outcome, losing sight of the process and focusing solely on the end goal – and that’s when things can stat unraveling in a race.  

So chase your goals vigorously, but hold onto them lightly. Continue to aim to improve day in day out, but remember that it is ok if every race isn’t ‘perfect’. Those races that are the ones we learn from the most.  

5. The pressure of expectation
Pressure can manifest itself physically – through increased adrenaline, breathing and heart rate, it can be mental – either positive or negative thoughts, and/or emotional – positive feelings of excitement or anticipation, or negative feelings such as anxiety and fear.   

How an athlete views a particular race in regards to pressure and expectations can often determine how an athlete performs. If you are using expectations to your advantage, you view it as a challenge. However many athletes feel expectation as pressure and therefore a threat and have a negative response or experience as a consequence. So the feeling of pressure manifests into fears of failure. And as soon as an athlete fears failure (the outcome of a race) they are already beginning to worry about meeting their own or others expectations. This causes athletes to focus on an outcome and feeling the pressure to perform, which can turn into pre-race anxiety or incites uncertainty and hesitation. All which can stop an athlete racing to their full potential.  

The good news is, for most age group athletes, the pressure and expectations comes from within, therefore if you created it, you can also dismantle it. Instead of focusing on the end goal or result, break it down and start focusing on the process. When you start to feel pressure or expectations, break it down. Focus on what you need to do in that moment, not what you want to achieve overall. If you have been working hard on your swim technique and your hard work should net a faster time, don’t think about the time, think about the technique. If your aim was to PB on the bike, don’t think about the PB, think about what you need to do in the moment to achieve that such as technique, power or your effort level.  

And ultimately in the end, remind yourself why you started in the sport in the first place. The sport hasn’t changed over the years, it’s still the same as when you started, it is you that has changed. So if you are finding you can’t escape the pressure of expectation, are worrying too much about what others are thinking and fear failure, let it all go and simply go out there and find your fun again!   

 

Written by Coach Sarah, as previously published in Australian Triathlete Magazine

~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~
Sarah is the Director & Head Coach at Complete Per4mance Coaching. Born out of the desire and passion to not just coach but to educate athletes, Sarah shares her 10 years of coaching and racing experience, knowledge and education with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance while maintaining a balanced, happy and healthy life.

Contact Sarah to discuss training options for you.