Five Key Tips to Improve your Training

By Neil Cooper

When talking to runners and cyclists, I often hear same types of complaints:

  • Why can’t I get any faster?
  • Why do I keep getting injured?
  • I seem to have plateaued and I'm not getting any better.
  • I have lost my mojo and lack motivation.
  • And the most common one is... I wish I had more time to train!

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Here are my five tips to freshen up your training, improve your performance and prevent those frustrating injuries.

  • Are you training or exercising? I would argue that many people exercise; they have a bit of time so go out for a run or go for a bike ride. This will certainly help maintain your fitness, but it won’t necessarily improve your speed, strength or endurance. Exercising will keep you fit, whereas training is where you do something with a specific aim. A hill session will improve your strength, a speed interval session will improve your speed or a long, steady, slow session will improve your endurance. Every session should be geared towards a specific outcome. This way, you will improve performance and can spend less time training. As an example, an athlete training for an Ironman had followed a volume-based training plan for the same race previously, but when he changed to a smart plan he improved his time by two hours. This is despite reducing the amount of time he trained by 30%!
  • Are you doing enough strength training? As we get older, we lose strength at an alarming rate. If you are over 35, you are getting weaker by up to 8% a year. However, this can be reversed by adding strength training to your programme. This can be gym-based, doing specific sessions such as hill sessions, or even doing some strength training while watching the television. You don’t need any equipment, just a program of exercises to maintain and increase your strength. Not only will this make you a better athlete, but it will also reduce the chances of injury. You will look more toned as well, so there are lots of reasons to embrace strength training.

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  • Do you have reduced flexibility? Some people are lucky in that they maintain their flexibility as they get older, but for others, the ability to touch their toes with a straight leg is a distant memory. If you have a restricted range of movement, you are severely reducing your performance and increasing the risk of injury. Try adding some stretching after your training, or going to classes such as Yoga or Pilates. Sports massage is also very effective at preventing injury and increasing flexibility.
  • Are you training at the right intensity? In any training plan, there are sessions to be done hard and others to be done easily. Both types of session are vital to make improvements. However, many people become single-paced and they do their hard sessions too easy and their easy sessions too hard. When doing an easy session, you should be able to hold a decent conversation without being too out of breath. When doing a hard session, you should be out of breath and only able to utter the odd word (usually your thoughts on the coach who set the session, in my experience).

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  • Are you resting enough? For any training plan, rest and recovery are absolutely vital. Professional elite athletes pay an enormous amount of attention to rest. Their rest times are total rest, which means not going to work or running after their families. For most of us this isn’t possible, but having at least one non-training day a week and focusing on getting plenty of sleep is possible. The adaption process takes place during rest. This is where your body absorbs the training and turns it into improved fitness and performance. Therefore rest is excellent training!

If you consider these points during your training, I am sure you will make big improvements and the added variety will freshen up your routine.

Originally published 15/04/19

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