At the most basic level, performance gains occur when the body adapts favorable to a training stressor.
Strength training, plyometrics, intervals, easy efforts, tempo or long workouts....there are many ways to stress the body.
You may be awesome at squeezing in or completing your workouts but don't forget that an overly stressed body when NOT training does not handle training stress very well.
Every training stimulus that you place on your body should be sport specific. This makes sense, right? You wouldn't sign-up for tennis lessons hoping to be a better swimmer?
With every week of training, there should be smooth progression. The training should not be rushed and steps shouldn't be skipped.
If you were not able to get in your 2 scheduled runs during the week, what makes you think that your body can handle a long run on the weekend? If you are not performing specific heavy gear, high cadence or high intensity intervals on the bike, what makes you think that your body can handle a 5 hour ride on the hills?
Workouts should be progressively increased overtime, with your current fitness level and any other limiters or restrictions taken into consideration. You or your training plan should never let you feel as if you should be doing more as it's through varying intensities and duration, with the right amount of recovery, that your body can positively adapt.
One hard or long workout every now and then will not make your season but if not timed appropriately in your development, it could set you back with an injury or illness.
As for endurance athletes, the ability to sustain a given effort for an extended period of time is dependent on how you train your body. Every time you train, you are (hopefully) improving the metabolic energy demands of your body. Specific to long workouts, it is imperative that you progress slowly so that you can train your body to supply sufficient delivery of oxygen to active muscle fibers and adequate fuel to support oxygen consumption within the cell for specific durations.
Yes, you can "get through" a long workout but are you turning into a great exerciser or are you actually training to change the physiology of the body?
As it relates to the sport of triathlon, there is a lot going on within every single workout in your training plan....burning calories is not the primary goal of training for an event.
You are redesigning your body's physiology so that you can improve maximal oxygen consumption, lactate threshold and economy, among many other physiological adaptations for three sports that you will eventually put together in a swim, bike, run sequence on race day.
Having an understanding of the physiology of the body during exercise is important when designing or following a training plan. When coaches, nutrition experts and athletes get stuck on one specific training ideology or fueling strategy and are resistant to change, the individuality of training is lost.
And when critical training applications are rushed or skipped, this can be concerning to the human body when training for an event as the body is overly stressed when training and performance adaptations for race day are not well accomplished in training.
I can't tell you how many athletes I have seen become burnt out, injured or sick when training for an event from having a training plan that didn't make sense for the athlete's life or fitness level. There are also athletes who get too consumed with following a training plan that relationships are disrupted, proper sleep is an afterthought and training volume or intensity can not be matched with healthy eating and fueling because there is simply not enough time in the day to fit everything in.
And I wouldn't be surprised if more than half of the athletes who arrive to an endurance triathlon event have failed to master a smart fueling and hydrating plan in training to be used on race day.
With so many different fitness levels of athletes, it's very important to consider your personal development in your sport to ensure longevity as an athlete but also to maintain a high enjoyment for training.
Considering that one of the main goals of endurance training is to teach the body to become a more effective energy provider, don't expect quick results.
To improve performance, regardless of your fitness level or experience, the most optimal training plan is the one that you can safely follow with great consistency, without compromising health.
Listen up athletes - Illness, injury, burnout and other health issues are not "normal" when training for an endurance event. Sure, endurance training is hard on the body but health issues can often be avoided.
Certainly, the more ambitious the individual or the newer the athlete, the body is going to be stressed a bit more in an effort to make the necessary physiological improvements to match race day goals.
I can't say it enough but if you want to maximize your performance and keep your body in good health, it's very important to have a smart approach to training, eating and fueling.
If you want to train smarter, answer the following questions to determine if a change needs to be made in your diet, training regime or lifestyle.
If something isn't working in your quest to be a better athlete, discuss with your coach or a professional who can help.
1) How many hours do you have each day of the week and weekend, without life being negatively affected?
Factor in time to warm-up, cool down, change, commute to/from work, spend time with family, sleep, prepare food, eat, run errands, clean, pay bills, relax and fuel.
2) What have you been neglecting in life or in your training regime which can help you adapt better to training stress?
The key to being an efficient athlete is to find the best way to improve performance with the least amount of training stress. Dynamic warm-ups, proper pre and post workout fueling and hydrating, fueling during long (75+ min workouts), strength training, interval training, meditation, mental strength skills, mobility work, sleep, stress management and meal planning are some of the many ways that you can improve your workouts without having to train any harder.
On a personal level, is your training plan ideal for your life, fitness level and goals? Are you making the necessary investments to be consistent with training? Are you committed to the work that you need to do to prepare yourself for your upcoming event? Are you trying to get by on your own or do you need help from a professional to help you in your journey?
4) How can you change/improve your daily eating, fueling and hydration regime to better adapt to training stress? The best physiological outcome that you can gain from training is an improvement in fitness. The easiest way to make the necessary improvements is to be consistent. You should be extremely focused on what you eat before, during and after your workouts to ensure that your body is adapting well to the training stimulus so you can continue to repeat the effort, day after day, workout after workout with minimal setbacks.
5) Are your current lifestyle habits, training plan, eating habits or thoughts on training, eating or life working for you?
If no, why can't you change or why won't you change?
In my experience as a coach and sport RD, it's very easy to get stuck on one way of eating, fueling and training.
Remember that the best strategy for you may not be what everyone else is doing.
Don't let life or your season slip by and one day you find yourself looking back, wishing you would have done something different or made a change when you knew you needed to change.
Change is hard and it's scary.
If you can't make a change alone, reach out to a professional who can help.