THE POWER OF CONSISTENCY
As we move into a new season, athletes and coaches alike will have big goals for the year. Completing longer distances, achieving PR’s, getting on podiums and even qualifying for national and international competition. The plan to achieve those goals will look different for every athlete. But the thing that will be the same for every athlete will be the need for consistent and increasing application of load.
Improved fitness & skill come as a result of regular application of stress (exercise), followed by sufficient recovery (rest, hydration, nutrition, soft tissue release, etc.), and the body and mind’s subsequent adaptation to be better able to handle that stress in the future.
Not enough stress over time means no adaptation. Too much stress/not enough recovery over time results in injury or illness. In sport we refer to this as the supercompensation cycle, and it is the basis for all intentional endurance training.
The supercompensation cycle depends on a certain level of consistency over a period of weeks, months and even years to achieve improved overall and sport-specific fitness due to the need to incrementally increase applied stress as the cycle progresses. When an athlete misses a period of training, or has a period of decreased training, this results in involution, which is a regression in fitness. When involution occurs, the athlete essentially has to start back at a lower level of applied stress and rebuild. If this happens frequently over time, it will be impossible in many cases for the athlete to make progress past a certain point.
The idea of consistency is not exciting for many people. It doesn’t promise instant results. It doesn’t look exciting in photos. It looks a great deal like work and discipline and at times doing the same unexciting things over and over again. But for athletes who are serious about their goals, it is non-negotiable.
How do we maintain consistency? This is the question coaches and athletes should be asking themselves as they move into their structured training blocks. Following are some key components of consistent training, and ways to make sure you give yourself the best chance to achieve your goals in the coming season.
Don’t get sick, don’t get injured
Some years ago Craig Alexander (2 x IRONMAN World Champion) visited us at Playtri, and during conservation mentioned that when he was racing professionally the number one goal for his training cycles was “don’t get sick, don’t get injured.” Since then, this has become a bit of a catch phrase among Playtri coaches and athletes because it is a key component of consistency. This tends to be especially challenging for athletes who are new to sport, because they have not yet learned:
The importance of recovery protocol – sleep, nutrition, hydration, soft-tissue release, cryotherapy, stretching – for getting the full benefits of a workout and being physically and mentally prepared for the next training session.
That the stress of every day life outside of training impacts their bodies and their ability to complete and benefit training sessions.
How to listen to their bodies and make on-the-spot decisions about skipping or adjusting sessions based on pain, fatigue, etc. that could prevent longer breaks in consistency by avoiding overuse injuries or illness.
I always encourage athletes to stop and give themselves a quite moment to assess the pros and cons of pushing through a session if their bodies aren’t responding the way they expected. This doesn’t mean skipping a session because you’re a little tired, or a little slower than usual (sometimes these are the most important sessions!) It does mean knowing when the pain, fatigue, or other discomfort that you’re experiencing is not productive, and when to reach out to your coach if you are unsure about whether or not a workout will put you past a line that you can’t come back from quickly.
A dynamic training plan that works for you
Every athlete comes to the table with different goals, different strengths and different limiters. One athlete may be new to cycling. Another may be afraid of open water. Another may only have five hours a week to train. Each one of these athetes will need a different plan to get to their goals, even if they all have the exact same end goal. Trying to apply a plan that worked for a different athlete with the same goal could mean:
Missed training sessions
Ultimately failure to reach the goal
This is why coaches often express frustration with what is commonly referred to as “pre-fab” training plans because we know the weaknesses of those plans. The bigger the goal, the more crucial an individualized and dynamic plan becomes.
Individualized meets the athlete where they are at, and:
Maintains and takes advantage of strengths
Ensures a realistic path to the goal
Works with the athlete’s schedule
Dynamic means the plan is being assessed and adjusted as the athlete progresses towards the goal. Humans are not machines, and the possibility of an athlete completing every workout in a pre-written, long-term training plan exactly as written is extremely low (unless the plan is not challenging for the athlete). Injury is a common result of athletes trying to “push through” sessions prescribed in pre-fab plans. This means there must be room for adjustment to ensure the athlete stays on track for the goal, while staying healthy and consistent.
Be realistic in your commitments
For most of us, life doesn’t allow us to train for a full IRONMAN every year. Life doesn’t allow us to train 20 hours a week every season to qualify for a world championship. The demands of everyday life typically vary from year to year due to family and work commitments, as well as other opportunities and obstacles that may arise. Before setting a goal, sit with your coach and discuss what the training commitment will look like to achieve that goal. If you can’t see yourself achieving the necessary training in the context of your day-to-day commitments (and staying physically and mentally healthy), consider pursuing a different goal, or spend time looking at ways you can adjust those commitments to accommodate the goal prior to making a final decision.
Non-negotiable day-to-day commitments include sleep (at least 7 hours a night), opportunities to eat and hydrate properly, and some amount of unscheduled personal time. These personal commitments allow athletes to adapt to training, and stay the course to their goals – attempting to remove these opportunities to accommodate training rarely results in success.
Mental and emotional support
Finally, an oft-overlooked component of successful and consistent training is a sufficient mental and emotional support structure. I know – we’re all tough triathletes and we can handle anything! But good support makes discipline and objective decision making easier. This will look different for every athlete – however, some good steps to take regardless of your needs and situation include:
Taking time to talk to any individuals that may be impacted by your commitments for the season, and ensuring they understand the commitment, and support you pursuing it.
Evaluating your response to similar training commitments in the past – if it was negative, do you have systems in place to promote a better response this time around?
Making sure the commitment will still allow time for self-care on a daily basis.
Evaluating the commitment and identifying any potential mental/emotional obstacles you will be facing, and ensuring you have a plan for how to overcome those challenges (unexpected obstacles will always occur, but the more you can prepare for known obstacles, the less overwhelming the process will be as a whole)
If you’re not sure where to start when planning your season, I hope you’ll visit us at www.playtri.com/coaching and schedule a free phone consult to discuss your background and goals, and determine if Playtri has a program that is a good fit for you. I wish you good luck and better consistency this season!
Coach Morgan Hoffman is the Head Coach of Playtri and a USA Triathlon Level II ITU/Short Course Certified Coach. She is part of the USA Triathlon Coaching Certification Team and a USA Triathlon High Performance Team coach. You can reach Morgan with questions at email@example.com.