Successful age-group, elite or professional athletes and those who seek or crave endurance training carry specific traits and characteristics that are found in highly ambitious individuals.
If this speaks loudly to you, ironically, the same traits that help you stay dedicated, committed, consistent and goal-focused in your sport may also help you function at a high capacity in life, with your career, relationships and family.
As every endurance athlete and coach understands, there is a specific type of training stress that needs to be applied on the body to encourage physiological changes to improve athletic performance.
As a coach with a background in exercise physiology, I can't stress how important it is to place repeated stress on the body in the form of specific workout frequency, intensity and duration at the appropriate times and phases throughout the season in order to ensure smooth progression throughout the season.
However, a careful approach must be applied as every athlete handles training stress differently and this isn't specific to an athlete's fitness level (ex. newbie vs. veteran). Many top, elite or professional athletes prescribe to a training and eating plan that works for their body and individual goals.
It can be blatantly obvious or unbeknownst to the athlete that he/she is not adapting well to training. Sometimes, a plan or approach is risky before initiation whereas other times, it takes several weeks or months of repeated stress for an athlete to exhibit signs or symptoms that the lifestyle he/she is living or the training regime (or a combination of both) is causing too much stress on the body.
For the committed, dedicated, goal-focused, hard working, mentally tough and determined athlete, change is extremely (did I say extremely, I meant VERY extremely) hard, especially when you fear losing your identity as an athlete, which you feel also "makes you" who you are as a human being.
We all know how great it feels to have a great workout and even better, how awesome it feels to be consistent with training. But when/if you find yourself exhausted, injured, unhealthy, depressed, isolated and continuing down a path of diminishing returns, it's time for a serious conversation with yourself (or your coach) to determine a smarter training regime that will provide you with favorable results in fitness and health.
The following list describes some of the habits that may post a threat to your health and athletic development. The more risks that you take, the greater chance that you may experience a point of diminishing returns.
-Getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, inconsistent sleeping schedule or restless sleeping
-Starting a workout within 20 minutes of waking and not properly warming up before a workout
-Not fueling or hydrating around most workouts
-Not fueling or hydrating during longer workouts
-Knowing that you are not eating enough
-Knowing that you are eating too much
-Struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food, the body and/or exercise
-Constantly feeling rushed - going from one thing to the next
-Never feeling caught-up in life
-Never feeling like you can follow (or keep up) with your workout load/training plan
-Feeling like life is passing by too quick yet you can never slow down
-Obsessing about total miles completed, never feeling like you are doing enough
-Barely getting by during workouts (especially long or intense workouts)
-Constantly metric driven
-No/little strength training
-No/little mobility work
-No/little time to food prep and/or to eat on a schedule
-Unhealthy eating habits
-Obsessive eating habits
-Not flexible, strict to specific paces/watts to hold for most workouts
-Working out no matter how you feel (sleep deprived, sick, injured, etc.)
-Exhausted during the day, struggle to fall asleep at night
-Rewarding good, intense or long workouts with normally "off-limit" food (or restricting specific foods around "bad" workouts)
-Overly stressed from work/life
-Bringing work/life stress to a workout
-Constantly skipping workouts, little structure or frequency for training
-Not following a plan, haphazard training
-Squeezing in too many workouts (or training hours) in one day
-No/little understanding how to fuel and hydrate before/during/after long workouts (or ignore practical advice)
Sadly, many athletes won't admit or come forth when there is a problem (like the ones mentioned below) because athletes may feel it shows a sign of weakness, failure or giving up.
Something isn't working for you
-Chronically fatigued, exhausted or tired
-Constant achy or sore muscles
-Chronic sickness or upper respiratory infections
-Sever mood disturbances (anxiety, depression, irritability)
-Loss of appetite
-Unintentional weight loss or gain
-You are showing signs/symptoms of an eating disorder in order to control weight or to improve performance
-Stress fractures, tendon or ligament injuries
-Cardiovascular issues - heart racing or altered normal heart rate during rest and exercise
-Loss of energy, speed, stamina or power during workouts
-Constipation, bloody stools, diarrhea, vomiting around workouts (or during the day)
-Loss of motivation/ambition
-Decrease/loss of sex drive
-Exhausted during the day, trouble falling asleep or sleeping well at night
-Your body can not match your drive/passion
-Loss of excitement for social activities
-You've made an extreme change in life with your job, family or friends and have become a "different" person in order to train more/harder
-You feel unhealthy or constantly run-down
-You've lost your joy, passion and love for training and/or racing
-You always feel injured
-You feel isolated
Despite the body yelling at you to stop, get help and make a change, you ignore the signs and symptoms and try to get by.
Trying to get by
-Loading up on caffeine and/or energy drinks to get through the day
-Using diet drinks, laxatives or pills to curb cravings or to lose weight
-Overexercising or pushing hard, intentionally, to try get fitter, faster
-Reaching for sugar for pick-me ups throughout the day
-Relying on sleep aids to try to sleep at night
-Excessively (more than 3 times a month) using NSAID's or other anti-inflammatory medications to heal aching muscles/joints
-Using alcohol or other drugs/medications to get through life (or to relax)
In part III of this blog post series, I will talk about how you can make changes to train smarter in order to train harder without compromising your health.