11/18/14

Athletes: 4 mistakes that you keep making


You were born to make mistakes. No one is perfect. Some of your greatest achievements will grow out of the mistakes that you made in your past. 

As an athlete, I like to think of mistakes as learning opportunities. There are no bad decisions but instead opportunities to adjust, learn and to improve.

When Karel raced his first IM in Lake Placid in 2013, he told me he made a few rookie mistakes. He grabbed his wrong transition bag from the hanging rack of bag as he was entering the T2 changing tent so he had to run back to the rack to exchange his goggles and wetsuit for his run shoes and visor.
On the bike, he took a swig of his gel flask and put the flask upside down in his tri top pocket...opened. A few miles later, his leg felt incredibly sticky with every pedal stroke. It wasn't until he reached back for his flask that he noticed that his entire flask emptied out in his tri pocket and essentially onto the side of his body. 
Now I wouldn't call this rookie mistakes as I feel even a veteran athlete is vulnerable to these mistakes but as athletes we must be able to reflect on races to learn from them to hopefully prevent the same mistake happening more than once. 

Thankfully, Karel has made it a habit to repeat in his head as to what color bag to grab before entering the changing tent in an Ironman and he always remembers to tightly close his gel flask and put it in his pocket right side up. 

If there is one thing that I have learned in endurance racing over the past 8 years it's that there is always something new to learn on race day. 

As athletes, we know that race day comes with a variety of uncontrollables so when it comes to focusing on how we prepare our bodies for race day, we want to direct a lot of energy to how we train for races. Unfortunately, for many athletes, the season starts with a high level of motivation and energy as well as good intentions so on paper, you look perfect. But I find that for many athletes, it takes a few seasons to learn some valuable lessons as to how to train smarter, reduce risk for injury and to keep the body in good health. 

As an athlete, the best investment you can make on your future success as an athlete is to be able to identify your own weaknesses. If you find it easy to put blame on yourself for making the same mistakes over and over but do not hold yourself accountable to making the necessary changes, you are not learning anything from your mistakes. 

As you know, life passes by very quickly when you are in the peak of your season and it's very hard to fill in the gaps when you did not do what you should have done when it needed to be done. Far too often I hear athletes saying the following statements when they recognize their weaknesses and this usually happens when an athlete gets injured or a few weeks out from a key race. 

"I need to stretch more."
"I need to do more strength training."
"I need to eat better."
"I should have recovered better."

As we enter a New Year, you have the opportunity to start a new season of making good habits AND sticking with them. Admit that you did not stretch enough last season, you stopped strength training after a few months, your healthy eating habits got pushed aside when your training volume increased and you pushed too hard on your easy days which caused you to feel tired on the days when you were expected to perform hard. 

It's ok to admit that you made some mistakes but I am here to make sure that you do not make those same  mistakes again in 2015. 


So here are your lessons learned for 2015:
1) Stretching Make stretching part of your daily routine. This includes dynamic warm-ups before all workouts, foam rolling/trigger point therapy to identify "hot" spots and active stretching to loosen-out the body post workout and in the evenings before bed. You can find 5 minutes a few times during the day to make stretching happen. 

2) Strength training
All athletes should follow a periodized strength training routine that addresses functional strength exercises that will transfer fitness gains in your sport. There must be a smooth progression of how you incorporate strength training in your routine as you do not want to risk injury as you try to prevent injury.
In the Trimarni 8-week transition plan, I have your first 8 weeks of foundation strength all laid out for you with corresponding swim,bike, run workouts as well. This is an easy way to not only help you build good foundation strength before you start incorporating more dynamic/complex, intense strength exercises into your strength routine but it is also a no-excuse way to kick-start your strength training routine. If anything, you can at least tell yourself that in 2015 you followed a well-designed strength training routine for 2 months which may be longer than you lasted last year. 

3) Healthy eating
What's eating better? Perhaps you define it differently than my definition but the bottom line is that you likely have a few key areas that you'd like to focus on that you feel are preventing you from reaching your health, performance and/or body composition goals. This doesn't mean you need to be extreme, restrictive or obsessive about eating in order to "eat better." But perhaps you need to make more time for meal planning and cooking. Maybe you find yourself overeating in the evenings because of poor eating choices throughout the day. Maybe you aren't spending enough time understanding your sport nutrition before, during and after workouts. Maybe you are just trying to get more fruits and veggies into your diet or eat more real food. Whatever eating better means to you, focus on making only a few small changes at a time or else you are destined for failure as you can't expect to change everything all at once and keep those new habits for the next 10-12 months.
If I can give you one tip it would be to recognize that your eating habits will change throughout the season accordance to your training plan. Be mindful of how an increased training load will affect your cravings, appetite and macronutrient distribution. Don't let this scare you if you feel like you don't know how to eat in a periodized training plan. My tip for you is to not start the year eating a plant-strong diet made of real food and then find yourself skipping meals, eating ice cream for dinner and passing on your pre-workout snacks when your training load increases. Put a great amount of energy on your daily diet and fueling regime throughout all phases of your training plan to get the most out of every workout. 

4) Recover harder
Athletes are notorious for making easy days too hard and hard days too easy. You must understand the purpose of rest days for they have a place in every athletes' training plan. Whether you choose to take them or not is certainly up to you but I highly encourage you to take advantage of your intentional rest days before you find yourself taking too many unintentional rest days with a tired, burnout or injured body.  Your goal as an athlete is to adapt to training stress. Yes, you may look like a really great exerciser but more so, you want to be a really great athlete. And really great athletes rest their bodies hard. 
Athletes strive for improvements in fitness and this is often the reason why athletes are scared to take a day off. Or even worse, an athlete makes the excuse "it's my recovery day" so the alarm goes off at 5am for an easy swim bike or run. Hello...when did sleep stop being a form of recovery??
As a suggestion, I often find that my age group athletes do really well with a day off (or at least a morning off from working out) later in the week as the season progresses (around 4-6 weeks out from taper) whereas Monday off or a true active recovery day (following waking up rested) is best applied in the beginning part of the season when athletes are more fresh and motivated to start a training plan but also slowly adapting to training stress so that continued stress as the week progresses is very important mentally and physically. Because the entire point of training is to place intentional stress on the body AND adapt to it, there is certainly going to be more to balance as the season progresses so there really isn't a time in your plan when rest isn't allowed. My suggestion is to take advantage of all of your rest days and active recovery days when they come and this includes taking care of yourself emotionally, nutritionally and spiritually when you aren't training on those days. Pay attention to red flags that your body needs a rest day or a change in the routine to ensure that you are training hard but recoverying harder. 


 You know the mistakes that you made last year and perhaps one or more of the mistakes listed above are on your list. So should you once again go into next season being more focused, disciplined and serious? 

I believe that part of the reason why athletes make these mistakes is because they are so performance focused. There is such great passion to all things related to training that the athlete starts the season with very high expectations as to what he/she can focus on to be a better athlete but then life happens and it seems like all of a sudden, there is less time to get everything done. So training takes priority and everything else that can help make you a better athlete gets pushed aside. 

Remember that your season success relies on your consistency with training. Rather than spending all of your energy on training harder or training longer and getting in the workouts, focus on training smarter. Believe me when I tell you that your sleep, recovery tactics, fueling, daily diet and stretching/strength training routine unlocks great performances. These mistakes that you keep making are possibly the keys that you have been forgetting to make a high priority in your daily training routine. 

I'm sure there are other mistakes that we  have all made that are not on this list but I find that season after season, I hear athletes making these same four mistakes over and over as the season progresses. 

Everyone makes mistakes. That's life. But the key is acknowledging that with a little more effort in 2015, you may find yourself preventing these mistakes from happening and setting yourself up for a great season of training and racing


Did you stretch yet today? :)