10 Tips for becoming a better athlete without training more

As Coaches we strive to help athletes get the most out of themselves. We program plans to develop their strengths and improve their weaknesses.But when most athletes think about making improvements and becoming a better athlete, they immediately think about how they can fit more training into their week, or how much harder they can push in a session. But other than simply training more, there are lots of ways athletes can improve without having to train more. Here I share with you my 10 simple (but highly effective) ways to help you become a better athlete without more training.

1.Do 3 things in your day that will benefit you as an athlete.

I once read this tip from Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs. He had a list of 3 things that he would tick off each day to improve his performance, and I’ve been using this myself and with a number of my athletes since, with fantastic benefits. This doesn’t mean you have to train 3 times a day, it means finding a balance and combination of training, stretching, rolling, mindfulness, meditation, eating healthy, massage, sleeping –all of which should play a part in a sound training program. The thing I love most about this is,on days that are ‘ recovery’ days or easier training days, you can still do three things that will benefit your training. So for those athletes who ‘ dread’ recovery days, you can now look forward to them –knowing that they are improving your performance. The key to this is finding the right combination at the right time –and this often means listening intuitively to your body and understanding what it needs.So choose your 3 things each day wisely, and commit to them, consistently.

2.Set value driven goals. 

We hear it all the time. Have goals, set goals, work towards your goals…Most athletes have ‘ goals per-se, but what a lot of athletes are missing are the key values behind those goals. Knowing and understanding why you set them, what drives you, what motivates you and what steps you will put in place to reach them. Setting value driven goals will provide you with structure and motivation which will help ensure consistency –even during winter, which will equate to continual improvement.If you are unsure on how to set value driven goals, chat to a Coach or a mentor.

3.Follow a training program.

Athletes will benefit and improve by following a training program that has structure, periodisation and specificity. Even better than simply following a structured training program, is following a personalised program written specifically for you. A program that takes into account your work load, family time, downtime, strengths, weaknesses, drivers and goals. Without a structured program, we often see athletes over-train (as they are trying to keep up with others) or under recover (as they think more training is better) which over time can lead to injury or burn out. A structured program will ensure continual improvements as well as longevity in the sport.

4.Ask questions.

Don’ t just do as your Coach says. Ask why so you begin to understand how (and why) your program is written and the purpose of each session. Ask things like ‘ what purpose does this session have?’ , ‘ what benefit will this session provide?’ , ‘ how will this improve my weakness?’ Knowing and understanding your program will allow you to become a more knowledgeable athlete, you will understand the purpose of each session/week, which in turn will allow focus on the purpose (rather than just training for trainings sake) and you will have a better vision of how this works in with your goals, training and racing.

5.Fuel your body correctly.

Nutrition is a HUGE part of becoming a stronger, healthier and ultimately better athlete. As a Coach, I hear far too often athletes saying ‘ I do triathlon so I can eat what I like’. It is these athletes that generally have the mentality of more training is better. As much as this is okay if performance or your health isn’t a priority, but if you want to become a better athlete then it’ s time to start fuelling your body correctly.Your body will only function as well as the food you fuel it with. High processed foods such as cereals, breads, cakes, biscuits, and many sports drinks are calorie dense with very little nutrients, not aiding in your performance or your recovery. The problem with our sport though is the message that is being ‘ sold’ to athletes –eat lots of pasta, drink sports drinks, “carb load”.You should be fuelling your body with real whole foods, (not processed carbohydrates and sugar), which include a balance of good carbohydrates, good fats, and protein. You will feel better and your body will respond and recover quicker. To help understand your nutrition better and your individual nutritional requirements, I recommend seeing a Sports Nutritionist or Naturopath who can formulate a plan specific for you. One of the best investments you will make in your training and health.


Never underestimate the importance of sleep. This is the time when your body repairs damaged muscles, restores optimal hormone balance, aids mental recovery and overall health and well-being. If you find you can’ t get enough sleep during the week, use your weekends to catch up, or if you are lucky enough, take a nap during the day! But if you are compromising sleep for your favourite TV show, or up late on Facebook, then ask yourself –is this helping you to become a better athlete? Is it helping you towards your goals? If not, then reassess how you spend your time. Why not record your TV show and catch upon the weekend? Sleep is such an important part of recovery and therefore performance, it should be high on the priority list (well above Facebook stalking!)

7.Go slow to go fast.

Far too many athletes are training at too high intensity on easy sessions, and not high enough intensity on hard sessions. If you really want to improve, then ensure you listen to your coach and follow your program and go easy when it says to. Not only does this allow your
body to adapt and grow, it helps build the foundation so you can go hard when you ask your body to. The method that we use successfully is the MAF Heart Rate Method. There is loads of information on this method online if you want to learn more.

8.Listen to your body.

Not every day will be a great training day. Some days you head out for a hard interval session and your body just doesn’t want to respond. You’ re unable to hit the times you know you can, your legs feel heavy and your body is generally fatigued. This is the time you need to listen to your body and understand whether it is best to continue with the session, or change it to a recovery session instead. If the purpose of the session was to build top end speed, and you aren’t hitting the times, then maybe that’ s the perfect time to switch to a recovery session. You still get training adaption, but you are allowing your body to recover so it doesn’t’ t transfer into the next session and the one after that. Remember our bodies aren’t machines. Athletes who tap into their intuition and understand their bodies will ultimately become better athletes as they manage a more consistent training base. Successful athlete’s don’ t just train for the sake of training, every session has a purpose –even when that purpose may change for the greater good of the overall training plan.

9.Stay focused & leave your ego at the door.

When you are in a session and training, ensure you are focused on the task at hand. Think about what you are doing and have a goal for the session. It’ s easy to let the mind wonder onto how much work you have to do for the day, or what you are going to have for dinner. I also see athletes lose focus in a way that they start focusing on what others are doing.A good example of this is when an athlete heads out for an easy run or ride, but is then passed by another runner/cyclist, ego gets in the way, they loose focus of the purpose of their session (easy recovery) and they start ‘ racing’ someone else. Most of us are guilty of this. So know the purpose of the session and stay focused on it, and leave your ego at the door.

10.Control the controllable’s.

Don’ t get caught up in things that you can’ t control –such as your competitors, the weather, course change, training partners etc. These will only cause you to loose sight of what you set out to achieve. Don’ t loose sleep or stress over what you can’ t control. That’ s one of the biggest mistakes athletes can make. If you can’ t control it–then you are wasting energy thinking about it. So stay focused on what you can control (such as your own goals), accept the uncontrollable’ s and simply move around them.

Part of my coaching philosophy is to ensure athletes have complete balance in their training. Getting the most out of athletes to improve their performance doesn’t necessarily mean training more. It means working on the little things that can provide big gains over time-mostly because the athlete will be healthier, be less susceptible to injuries and maintain a more consistent training plan and program. Add these steps into your daily/weekly routine and you will find yourself well on the way to becoming a better athlete without any additional training.

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

How to execute the perfect race plan

We all want to execute the perfect race. Heck we all plan to! But there are times when our race plans just don’t go to plan. When this happens, the athlete looks directly at the Coach ‘what went wrong?‘ Most of the time we can delve into the race, or review the lead in, and understand where it didn’t quite go right. Interrupted preparation, over raced, pacing off, nutrition not quite right – whatever the reasoning, it is important for athletes (and coaches) to understand, learn and implement changes into their next race/event. If you aren’t learning, you are not improving.

But still, the expectation is always there – we all want to execute the perfect race, we don’t want ‘trial and error’ or to ‘try again next race’. We all want to nail it from the outset. So the question is, how do we do it?

I share with you my tips that allowed my athlete Brett Sands to execute a perfect Half Marathon and secure a 4th place in his age group in his first stand alone Half Marathon.

Coach Sarah:

The key to perfecting a half marathon (or any long course race for that matter) is pacing. You have probably heard this before and it may not be anything new. But HOW to determine your race pace so you can pace correctly is what I’ll delve into as many don’t actually know how to work this out.  We ask all our athletes leading into their race what their race time/pace expectations are. It can sometimes be interesting on how athletes actually come up with their race pace goal: “I’d like to break 1:45 for my half marathon” an athlete may say, yet when you look at their training and their data, the numbers may not add up. They have simply guessed what they would like to achieve. It might ‘sound’ good and they might ‘want’ to break 1:45, but if the numbers aren’t there, then it can be a receipe for disaster. Race pace expectations need to match reality – or at least in the realm of reality. Of course we all aim to achieve PB’s, but the key to executing a race is knowing your race pace and sticking to it.  And this is where numbers (ie science) comes into play. Not just guess work.

Before Brett’s race we reviewed his recent training history and data, looking at his threshold paces and efforts along with his MAF Heart Rate and pace, and we were able to formulate a plan based on numbers and data – not just by plucking a figure out of the air that sounded good.

Leading into the event, Brett raced the 10km event at Run Melbourne, with the following data:
Time: 38:32
Ave Pace: 3:50min/km
Ave HR: 168
Max HR: 175

This race was 12 weeks out from the Half Marathon, and even though he wasn’t targeting the Half as a key race, we still use his training data to calculate his threshold paces and heart rates for training over the coming weeks/months and use them to build through his training.

Between that race and the Half Marathon, Brett completed specific sessions to simulate his race pace and continue to develop his threshold. An example of a specific endurance run including tempo pacing he completed 4 weeks out from his race:

Focus: Pacing / tempo. Form to be held throughout
20min MAF/easy aerobic
15min at half mara pace/effort (4:00min/km)
5min float ~10sec slower than half mara pace
10min at 10km pace (3:50min/km)
5min float ~10sec slower than half mara pace
5min 5km pace (3:40min/km)
15-20min easy aerobic / cool down

For the main set (40min) of this session, Brett nailed it to a tee, and his averages for the 40min were:
Ave pace: 4:01min/km
Ave HR: 152bpm
Max HR: 168bpm

Compare this to his 10km race, the numbers are pretty much spot on what I was expecting, and again provides me with further data to calculate his Half Marathon Race Pace Goal.

Sessions like this are not only physiological, but also psychological – being able to develop the ability to pace and know what each pace/effort feels like without having to look at a watch. Learning to run to feel is crucial for athletes and something that everyone should work on. If an athlete can learn how it is ‘supposed’ to feel at a given pace, then it is a lot easier to know if you are running too fast or too slow during a race, and you can make adjustments. Brett is extremely good at knowing and understanding the purpose of the session and understanding his pacing and zones and this benefits him immensely in a race.

From an energy-use perspective, athletes should generally be running slightly below their lactate threshold pace for a half marathon. Running faster than your threshold (generally your 5km or 10km race pace) can create a situation where your aerobic system is unable to remove the waste products that are generated by anaerobic energy production – which in return causes muscle fatigue, and your body (ie pace) to slow down. So athletes should know their threshold pace (and heart rate) and run slightly below so as not to ‘blow up’ in the back half of their race.

So with the data collected and calculated above (and a number of other sessions to go off), we calculated his Half Marathon Race Pace at 4:00min/km (remembering his threshold for 10km was 3:50min/km).


Want to know exactly how Brett’s race ended up? Find out below: 

Q: What race plan did you have leading into the race? 
Brett: Coach Sarah and I discussed my race plan and we agreed that my plan would be to go out at a pace of 4min/km from the outset and be comfortable and relaxed from the start. We discussed the weather conditions which we checked a couple of days in advance so we could factor that in too. Knowing it was going to be a windy day, the plan was to find a group of runners with a similar pace and hang with them and work together in the winds. That was a key part of our strategy, as our worst case scenario would be battling the wind by myself in no-mans-land.  A good warm-up was also a key factor in my race preparation and timing that to the start of the race.

Q: How did the race pan out to the plan that you went in with? 
Brett: It went perfectly to plan with only a couple of small adjustments as I went. I planned on settling into a group and work together in the head winds and that’s exactly what I did and that’s what made my race. I ran a little quicker at the start due to the massive tail wind for the first 5km, but I knew this was potentially going to happen and planned for it. I checked my heart rate and it was at my predicted race pace HR, and I felt comfortable so I knew I was tracking well. Going out that little bit faster (but maintaining my effort level/HR) I knew I would then have the time up my sleeve when we turned into the headwind and the pace would drop slightly. The key here though was that I was continually monitoring and assessing, running to what I knew of my body based on my training and that helps immensely to not over race.

Q: How satisfied are you with your race? 
Brett: I’m ecstatic and super stoked. Not just with the result, but that we had a race plan and tactics and I stuck to it. I hit my dream time and I can’t wipe the smile off my face!

Time: 1:24:43
Ave pace: 4:01min/km.
Placing: 4th ! M45-49
No peaks, no troughs. A solid all round performance and a well executed race plan.
So – instead of just ‘plucking’ a race pace out of thin air in the lead up to your next race, review your numbers and data (doing this with your coach will help you understand better) around 12 weeks out, 8 weeks out and 2-4 weeks out so you can see where your pacing sits, your zone lie and a true indication of what you should calculate as your half marathon race pace. This can be scaled for any distance and calculations can be done for the swim and bike also as you lead into the triathlon season. So good luck – and here’s to executing your next perfect race plan!
Don’t know what your threshold zones are? Don’t know how to review your training data and numbers to maximise your performance?  Contact me find out how having personalised approach can help you achieve your optimal performance. 

This article was originally created and seen on www.holisticendurance.com.au 

Finding the right Coach for you

Searching for a new Coach can be a daunting experience; whether you are new to the sport of triathlon, or a seasoned triathlete. Many triathletes look for a Coach for structure and accountability that will ultimately lead them to performance gains, others are simply looking for guidance and support, to learn more about their chosen sport. No matter your reason, a Coach is an investment, so the decision on a Coach should be well thought out to ensure you find the right Coach for YOU, to ensure your performance, health and ultimately enjoyment of the support all go hand in hand.

The Coach’s Role
The role of a Coach can be varied based on what it is you are looking for and trying to achieve, along with your training history/past experience. When an athlete first starts out in triathlon, the Coachs role may be more focused on guiding, educating and supporting the athlete through the learning and developing phase to help develop the basic training fundamentals, principles and methods for training and developing a strong, robust and healthy body to undertake training load. As an athlete develops, the Coaches role would shift to ensure the athlete is continuing to practice and develop certain skills/technique, along with improving their knowledge, awareness and understanding of the program itself and the key fundamentals. It is important that a Coach continues to educate athletes through this phase to avoid over reaching/over training and burn out. As an athlete then continues to progress, a solid understanding of exercise physiology, the functions of workload, training fundamentals, principles and methods must be applied. And this is where a Coach should have up-to-date education and/or research in the areas of physiology, anatomy, nutrition and even sports psychology.This coupled with real life experience, lays the foundations for a quality Coach and a Coach that can develop an athlete from the ground up to reaching their optimal performance.

Finding the right Coach for you

Now that you have a better understanding of the role of a Coach, its time to establish what you are looking for in a Coach. This is where most athletes don’t know where to begin, I have listed 10 questions you can ask yourself before you go in the search of a new Coach. This will ensure you are clear on what you are looking for.

1. Why do you want a Coach?

Sounds like a simple question, but many don’t actually know WHY. So start by making a list on why you feel you want a Coach. This may change once you go through this process, and may also change as you continue your journey in the sport, but make a start and then come back and revisit i tat the end. Ask yourself the following questions: -Are you someone who needs the support of someone for motivation and goal setting? -Are you someone who needs structure, routine and a periodised program to follow?-Are you someone who is returning from injury or wants to avoid minimise the risk of injury?-Do you want to learn more about the sport from experts in their field? -Do you want to develop technique and skills specific to the sport? -Do you want to maximise your time spent training through purposeful and specific sessions/program? -Do you want help to decipher all the noise that is in the triathlon world? Remember it is an investment and you will be trusting your training to someone else, so its a decision you want to get right.

2. What is your budget?

A Coach is an investment, start your search with a budget in mind. However we often find athletes underestimate the value and cost in coaching, so as you proceed through your search, you may find that you will modify your original budget OR your expectations on the level of coaching service you can afford.The cost a Coach will generally depend on a combination of the coaches history/experience/successes and the type of service they offer. A highly successful proven coach, providing an individualised specific program will often charge more that of a new coach offering the same service, or a highly regarded coach providing less of a coaching service. So this is where it is important to determine what you are looking for in a coach and how that fits in with your budget.

3. What experience does the Coach have?

Do some research on the experience of the Coach. How many years have they been involved in the sport? How many years have they been coaching? What type of athletes do they coach? What coaching successes have they
achieved? What is their expertise? A Coach that has vast and proven experience at successfully coaching athletes has a bigger knowledge base to draw upon than someone who has only coached a small handful of people, so take this into consideration. Also remember – just because someone achieves a high level of personal success in the sport, doesn’t mean they automatically make a great coach or could be the right fit for you.

4. What is their Coaching Philosophy?

Research what their Coaching Philosophy is, and understand whether this philosophy sits well with you. Be open and honest, and ask questions. There is no single coaching formula that works for everybody, but you do need to have buy into the coaching philosophy of your Coach.This may also require additional research if you don’t know what different coaching philosophies look like. And if you ask the question, and they cannot answer, then I would rethink whether that Coach is the right coach for you.

5. What Coaching principles/methods do they coach by?

Again, there is no one right way to program and there is certainly more than one way to achieve the same result, but understanding what the Coaching principles, methods and program foundations of your Coach are will allow you to understand how your program will work and gauge whether it will be the right method for you. But ensure the program / coaching has your needs met and work around your life, including a balanced approach to achieving your goals and to ensure your longevity in the sport.

6. The Coaching Relationship A Coach/athlete relationship is extremely important

You want to be able to gel with your Coach so you can put your trust in them, and they can gain the most from you. Think about the relationship you want to have with your Coach and determine what is important to you on their style and qualities. Do you want a Coach that provides tough love/is a hard task master? Someone approachable and open? Do you want constant support? What communication style works for you? What kind of personality do you work well with?Make a list on what is important to you and make sure your Coach ticks these boxes.

7. How much contact do you want with your coach?

This is a big one, as different coaches offer different contact levels. This could be either face to face / group sessions, communication through email/phone/skype. It could be daily, weekly, monthly. The feedback you receive from a coach is just as important as the feedback you provide to your coach. So understand what amount of communication/contact you want with your coach as this will dictate the type of coaching/program you ultimately choose.

8. Do you want to be part of a Club/Squad/ Group Training?

Group sessions are a great way for athletes to receive instruction from coaches, meet new people, learn the fundamentals of triathlon training and push themselves in a group environment. Often athletes will follow the same or similar training program at sessions, with a coach guiding them through the session. Coaches may offer technique advice, modify the plan to meet the athletes individual needs, or at times it is up to the athlete to understand what is right for them and make their own modifications. If you are looking at group training, ensure you ask questions around coach/athlete ratios, what coaching is provided at the sessions, times and locations, what feedback is given and any additional costs involved to ensure you know what to expect. This often is a great way for athletes to start out in the sport, but often as athletes develop they opt to move to a more individualised coaching/program model. Oran athlete on an individualised program may opt into certain sessions (ie swim sessions) for coach/technique feedback in certain areas.

9. Do you want an individualised specific program designed for you?

There is a big difference in the offer of an individualised/personalised specific program versus group training. An individual program is tailored to your personal needs and will therefor include heart rate, duration and pace parameters suitable to your goals and current fitness level. It considers your strengths and weaknesses – therefore varying the type and frequency of these sessions (ie You wont find 2-3 x Swim, Bike, Run per week, all year round). It includes constant communication and feedback between coach and athlete and would include discussions about how you feel, your mental state, stress levels, your recovery techniques and current nutrition / sleep habits. You will expect to pay more for this type of coaching service compared to group training sessions. So if you are looking at an individual specific program, ensure your definition is the same as the Coaches. A fully individualised plan will be more expensive than a plan slightly modified template program, or a program given at group training sessions.

10. What are the Coaches expectations of you as an athlete?
It is important to understand what expectations your coach has of you. This can be things like: Type and amount of communication/feedback, protocols around injury/illness, time frames around notifying of events/races, adherence to training program etc. So ask your potential coach – what do they expect of you as an athlete, this will ensure that you are on the both page up front.

Here are some further questions to ask your potential Coach:

  • What is their Coaching specialty/expertise What are their qualifications/education?
  • What TYPE of program will be delivered? (ie individualised, template, group sessions)
  • How do they deliver the program? How do they facilitate communication / feedback?
  • What can you expect from them as a Coach?
  • What education do they provide their athletes for continual improvement?
  • What practitioners (if any) do they work closely with their athletes?

Once you have done your homework, get in contact with a few coaches that tick the boxes for you,and remember to keep in mind what commitment you want to make – both in time and money, and what you hope to get out of it.

Don’t be afraid to ask (more!) questions about how they will help you achieve your goals–no matter what your goals are. They are YOUR goals, so you must be happy with your decision. Happy Coach hunting!

Words by Coach Sarah and previously published in Australian Triathlete Magazine