Completing this look at what I consider the top 10 training mistakes of athletes is taking much longer than expected. Travel the past two weekends and holiday activities are taking their toll on my time available for writing. My trip to the wind tunnel in Ft. Collins, Colo. last weekend was especially enlightening. I can’t wait to write about what I learned. I’ve also been promising for some time now to comment on how to improve your fat-burning capacity to improve aerobic fitness. I’m delaying that post due to a small study (actually, very small with an n=1) which is upsetting my applecart. I’m going to hold back on that topic until I have more data to talk about.
Now back to the top 10 mistakes of endurance athletes. Here are what I consider the top three.
#3 mistake: Not enough Base—start Build period too early.
Correction: Develop endurance, force and skills before race intensity.
Comments: Athletes typically can’t wait to get to the truly hard training with “intervals ‘til you puke,” hard group rides and all of the other high intensity workouts we love. But these are best saved until the Build period (if done at all) starting about 11-12 weeks before the first A-priority race. Until then it’s best to develop the three Ss: skills, strength and stamina. And they are best worked on in that order. If you have poor sport movement skills there is no reason to be doing hills or long workouts. They will only make your skills worse. Once skills are coming along well it’s time to build strength (traditional weights, functional exercises, force reps, and/or other). And finally fully develop your aerobic endurance after the first two Ss are well-established. All of this will probably take in the neighborhood of eight to 16 weeks depending on your physical starting points for each of the above. Only then should the race-specific training begin.
#2 mistake: Too many hard days. Not enough easy days.
Correction: To go hard you must rest before.
Comments: I’ve found that athletes don’t like to rest. I can give them the hardest possible workout and they will excitedly salivate in anticipation. But schedule an easy day or, heaven forbid, a day off and I’ll have to justify it. All too many make their easy days moderately hard which means they come into the next scheduled hard workout just the slightest bit tired and so it also becomes moderately hard. All training migrates to the middle of the sliding intensity scale. This is the road to poor performance. The closer you get to the race the easier the easy days must be so that the hard days can be truly hard.
#1 mistake: Poor ability to pace properly.
Correction: Learn to negative split workouts, intervals and races.
Comments: This is the most difficult skill there is to teach endurance athletes regardless of the sport because it’s based primarily on emotion. We’re excited at the start of the race and so go out much too fast for far too long. Even most athletes who have intentionally planned their race pacing tend to start at much too high an intensity. (This applies only to steady-state endurance events such as time trials, triathlons, running races, centuries, etc.) There seems to be a belief that they can “bank” time by going faster and more intensely than the average goal pace, speed or power early on. This actually has just the opposite effect. Lactate production increases (if the intensity is near or above the anaerobic threshold) which gives off hydrogen ions putting the working muscles into an acidic environment. Muscles don’t operate well like that and so you are eventually forced to slow down to shed the acidity. This loss of time due to the slow down has been shown to be greater than the time gained early on. Even if you start at faster than goal pace, speed or power yet well below the anaerobic threshold there is still a price to be paid with a rapid decrease in glycogen stores and perhaps other causes of early fatigue due to poor muscle recruitment. The fastest times of those I’ve coached have almost all been accomplished by negatively splitting the intensity of the event with the second half only slightly more intense than the first half. (This also true of most running world records.) This is a hard skill to learn. The starting place is learning to negative split workouts, especially the race-like sessions. I’ve written quite a bit on this topic here. To find more go to my blog home page and on the right side of the page enter a search for “pacing.”
Next week I hope to write about the recent wind tunnel trip.