It's not all about blood and sweat
I read countless articles and see many, many posts by coaches on social media talking about training methods, the best way to increase FTP, how to squeeze out marginal gains, the best nutrition etc etc. But one thing that I very rarely see or read about, apart from a few coaches, is stuff talking about the other side of training, the stuff that goes on away from the pool, running track or on the bike. We can talk all day about how doing certain types of training will boost your FTP or how running to the correct intensity and at the right frequency will increase your run speed, but in mine and other top coaches opinions it's the things we do in our everyday lives that will also have a big impact on our training, race results and longevity in the sport.
On one of the High Performing Coach forums that I'm on, there was a recent discussion about sweet spot. Not sweet spot as in the narrow band of intensity when cycling or running etc, but the sweet spot of our everyday lives and how maintaining this equilibrium can have a big impact on our training and lives in general. Looking at the diagram above it's clear to see how there are certain aspects that we need to get right in order to maintain the sweet spot. Although there are only three aspects listed there you could also add enjoyment, recovery, stress reduction, etc.
What do you do to maintain your equilibrium?
Firstly, what you're doing has to be enjoyable, it's no good having to force yourself to go out and train daily if your heart isn't in it. If you do that, sooner or later it will become a chore and you'll end up falling out with the sport altogether. So keep your targets realistic and remember it's ok to fail, as long as you learn from the mistakes, or what you could have done better.
Away from the training however, it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Eat the right foods and don't have too many binge days; maintain a healthy balanced diet and you'll not go far wrong. There's no need to throw yourself into "fad" diets.
- Ensure you're getting enough sleep; for a lot of athletes we work full time and so have to juggle our training around in order to get the sessions in. For many people, the first thing they'll sacrifice in order to get the sessions in, will be sleep. If you're going to get up early in the morning, go to bed earlier, never ever underestimate the importance of sleep.
- Limit day to day stress; almost everyone has a certain amount of stress in their daily lives, whether it's work, family or other concerns. When we're exposed to chronic stress our bodies produce a lot more cortisol and although a natural steroid hormone and essential to your body functioning properly, long term high levels of cortisol in the body can have big knock on effects to many areas of your physiology. Reducing stress is a good way of helping regulate cortisol production and ensuring you stay healthy.
- Enjoy doing things away from the sport; go for days out with family and friends, spend time relaxing and allowing your body to recovery from the rigors of training. There are 11 systems in the body, systems like the endocrine system, the nervous system, the musculoskeletal system, the immune system etc etc and it's important to allow these systems to recover. Just because you don't feel fatigued, don't think that this means that your body is compromised in some way.
- Find the right balance; as I said earlier, most of us work full time and a lot of us have families as well, so finding a balance between the training, family and work times is important. Focus on what's really important and fit in your training around that.
- Be aware of mental health; many of us will suffer from some sort of mental health illness at some part in our lives, so it's important to recognise this and seek help. Whether that's professional help or just speaking to friends, family or a confidante it's extremely important to talk about things that are bothering you.
- Enjoy what you're doing; although structure is a key component in getting the most out of our training and races, it's important to enjoy what you're doing and sometimes the best way of doing this is just going out and doing something you enjoy, just ride, just run or just swim. Enjoy the freedom and doing something you love.
- Use mindfulness and reflection techniques; in much the same way as a pressure cooker works or when a child is naughty and are sent to the "naughty step", it's important that we do things to help ourselves destress or reflect on things. This might be doing a bit of yoga, or sitting quietly and reflecting, contemplating and focusing on relaxing and letting your mind and body relax.
If you fail to take care of yourself away from the training, things will eventually catch up with you. You might not really notice it, or may only notice it when it's too late, but in order to get the very best out of yourself, it's vital to look after yourself in many more ways than just hitting the sessions on your plan. In order to be the very best you can be, whether that's in terms of as a person or as an athlete it's vital to look at every aspect of your life and lifestyle. Care for others, care for yourself and look after the things that are important.
Structure can be really helpful
As mentioned above, there probably aren't any of us that are full time athletes and we're all juggling work, family, training and racing to some extent. It's therefore important to strike the right balance between all these different aspects of your life. Although some people can do this without outside help, for others having an objective set of eyes to look at how your training plan is structured and how it allows you to train and recover effectively around family and work can be priceless. Whether you choose to employ a coach or not, it's essential to sit down and look at how you're going to structure your training and recovery, doing the right amount of sessions for you, at the right intensity and not doing too much hard stuff that will compromise you.
Many of us have heard the phrase "no pain, no gain", but I think this should actually be "pain, no gain" because doing too much of the hard stuff will guarantee a slippery slope to injury or illness. By doing the correct sort of training and at the right intensity, it will help minimise the risk of becoming overtrained and injured and/or ill.