Whether you are a swimmer, cyclist, runner or triathlete, training is a fundamental part of your daily routine and its importance and benefits cannot be underestimated. It enables you to; build up muscle tone, improve your overall strength, endurance, flexibility and agility, enhance your skill, and develop confidence, motivation and drive. Regular training helps to reduce the risk of injuries and enables your body to become more resilient to the increasing demands it is put under, as well as benefiting concentration and mental health.
Therefore, it is absolutely crucial to get it right and train the very best you can. Here are a few concepts and ideas to think about:
Recognise your weaknesses
Unfortunately, a common mistake made by many athletes is to base their training plan around their existing strengths. Humans will naturally spend a disproportionate amount of time working on their strengths/assets and following the path of least resistance because it feels like the most efficient and effective use of their time. However, training only your strengths is, in fact, the least effective approach to becoming a superior athlete.
So, be honest about your weaknesses; nobody’s perfect, we all have them! Making excuses about why you are struggling gets you nowhere. Don’t waste time justifying why you may not be good at something. In order to avoid frustrations in the long run, the first thing you need to do to cure your weakness is to actually admit to having one, because there comes a point when that weakness becomes more obvious and will take longer to improve and be eliminated.
Great ways of helping you identify what you need to work on and what is holding you back are to: record your training, make notes of any difficulties you’ve experienced or thoughts you have on pre/post training, and on events/competitions you have taken part in, to establish what aspects let you down. For example, do you have poor endurance? Is your maximum strength and explosive power not what it could be? So, remember to constantly examine your technique, training and performance. Analysis, analysis, analysis……
When building a training plan, the most important concept to bear in mind is balance. Addressing your weaknesses should be a significant part of your regular training whilst continuing to work on your current strengths. Balancing your strengths and weaknesses is the key to establishing activities which will boost your performance most efficiently. And let’s face it, sometimes you just have to spend more time and work that bit harder to iron out those weaknesses. But if you want something badly enough, you will go that extra mile!
It’s always worth exploring new possibilities when you are struggling with something and your goal is to improve. More is not always the answer. Sometimes it’s best to replace an existing exercise with a new substitute one which may be better geared to helping you progress. Knowledge is crucial for everything in life, so seeking help and advice about what you are doing wrong or what could be done differently, will allow you to make more progress.
It can be a blow to an athlete’s confidence to have to confront areas of their training that focus on their failings and limitations. Trying to improve a weakness can be frustrating if you don’t get immediate results. You may not know the best way to succeed and start to doubt yourself, but one thing’s for sure, it won’t happen if you don’t believe in yourself! You need patience, dedication and confidence to realise that, with time, you WILL improve and succeed and turn your weaknesses into strengths!
Train in a group or with a training partner
Sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself or find time to do the training you know you really ought to be doing. It’s human nature to make excuses for something that is just for your benefit and you can get into the vicious circle of putting others before yourself and skip training.
However, there is now a plethora of research-based evidence which supports training in a group or with a partner. Group training has become more and more popular over the years as people are starting to realise that it can have huge benefits and make a significant impact on health. Some of the many advantages it has are considered here:
- Accountability: If you sign up for a course, chances are you will make good friends who can almost feel like family. So, if you don’t turn up one week, they will be concerned for your well-being and want to know why you weren’t there. You really don’t want to be telling them you couldn’t get off the sofa! By being accountable to a group, you won’t want to let them down. Why not use this to your advantage and make it force you to turn up and train more consistently.
- Motivation: There is no doubt that motivation is one of the most advantageous aspects of training with others. In fact, studies have shown that people will gravitate to exercise behaviours of those around them.1 So, if you are training alongside a very fit person, you will automatically raise your game to be more like them. Your competitive side will come into play as you put in more effort to keep up! In a group setting, encouragement and positive vibes from the coach and other participants will keep you going and spur you on to train harder. The benefits of each exercise will be explained to you, so not only are you learning, but you also have more reason to complete the workout. Your coach will be watching for signs of fatigue and will be able to push you to your limits whilst ensuring your safety.
- Challenge: Time spent training with others challenges you to work beyond your perceived limitations and push past your solo threshold of either intensity or duration of exercise. Your workouts will probably go up a level because according to the Köhler effect, no one wants to be the weakest in the group! Therefore, you will push yourself harder. A study set out to examine this effect and found that those who exercised with a more capable partner were able to increase the time they held a plank for, by 24 percent.2
- Structure: When training alone, you may not have the knowledge or skill to plan a properly structured workout. At a class with a certified instructor, the planning is done for you and you will be taken safely through a warm-up, progressive intensity exercise and finally a cool-down. This form of training reduces the risk of injury as the instructor will check your form, positioning and technique which stops you getting sloppy!
- Social: Group exercise gets you out of the house and gives you the opportunity to make new friends and meet people with a similar lifestyle to you. Maybe you crave adult conversation if you spend the day with your children! Problems you may have can often be solved by talking to others after the class.
- Diversification: Exercising with others allows for variety and diversity to be incorporated, whether it be trying something completely new or carrying out assisted exercises where you need a partner to help you.
- Endorphins: Perhaps most importantly, why not benefit from the enhanced endorphins you produce from all the smiling and laughing you will be doing when you exercise with a great bunch of people! Because, at the end of the day, we all want to have fun!
“Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.” Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, wrestler turned actor, recognizes the indisputable power of working consistently to achieve greatness!
Consistency is one of the key aspects of training for any discipline, no matter what level you are. Those who have trained regularly throughout their lives, are still able to perform well into their 40s, 50, and beyond! Consistently following a well-designed training regime with a good mix of stress and recovery, specific to your needs, and adaptable/adjustable, will lead to optimal results. Stay strong, fit, healthy and at the top of your game!
Consistency applies to frequency and format of workouts. Greatest improvements in performance are seen by those who have a balanced approach to their training by correctly and consistently sticking to a workout format even if it’s only twice a week. Sometimes it’s wise to cut down on volume to concentrate on quality and progression. Scheduling your training sessions to fit into your daily routine, like you would your work appointments, is crucial to ensure that you follow them consistently. That way, they don’t get disrupted or overlooked! Athletes who train in the mornings tend to train more consistently, because fewer things are likely to have cropped up which cause a distraction or mean that you miss your training.
What happens to your body if you skip several training days in a row is that your health benefits start to dwindle as initially, you miss out on the positive effects of having an increased metabolism. Your aerobic capacity (a measure of the ability of the heart and lungs to get oxygen to the muscles) will then start to decline. However, if you continue to cut exercise, this will eventually affect your endurance, motivation and can increase the risk of injury. Many research studies have shown that one of the main reasons people stay motivated to exercise regularly and consistently is because of the exhilaration, happiness, fitness and sense of achievement that they get when they complete a workout. Understandably, they want to repeat the experience the next day and feed off the positive vibes. That sensation is dampened if the periods between exercise are longer.3 Evidence also supports the fact that there is a higher risk of getting injured with a longer layoff between exercising, particularly in specialist sports where good technique is paramount. A study of circus performers found that there were fewer injuries with a two day rest break compared with a three day rest break.4 Don’t fall into the spiraling trap of missing your training. Find a way to incorporate exercise routines into your schedule on a regular basis for consistency.
Training with an instructor, who can tailor a plan to fit your needs, is an efficient use of your allotted time for exercise. By planning several weeks in advance, each session will have a purpose meaning you will consistently move forward and make progress far more efficiently than if a plan is just aimlessly thrown together.
Consistency benefits your physical and mental health. Sporadic bursts of strenuous exercise put a strain on your body and can leave it feeling sore and achy. Optimally, you should aim to gradually increase cardiovascular strength, flexibility and overall muscle strength, which can be achieved with consistent training. Following a consistent workout plan can also improve mental health by reducing stress and releasing endorphins which enhance your mood leaving you feeling refreshed and relaxed.
Regular exercise plays a significant role in increasing energy levels and reducing fatigue. In a review carried out by the University of Georgia, 90% of the studies showed that sedentary people who completed a regular exercise programme, reported lower levels of fatigue compared with groups that did not exercise.5
A consistent training regime may take a little while to establish and develop. But let’s be honest, we are creatures of habit. Persevere with it and before you know it, it will become part of your daily routine. The more you do it, the more likely you are to stick to it. Commit, commit, commit!
Don’t do too much, too quickly
When you’re all fired up and raring to go with your new exercise programme, it’s very tempting to go at it full pelt; but beware the hidden dangers! Doing too much, too quickly is one of the most common causes of overuse injuries, which can then result in setbacks in your training, a long delay before you can exercise again and leave you feeling frustrated and demoralized.
So, whether you are a beginner to exercise, or recovering from injury, it’s wise to ease into your training by gradually increasing the intensity of the exercise. Build back up slowly and don’t try to pick up where you left off. The human body can continuously adapt to the stresses put on it as a result of an increase in activity and with every workout, it will become stronger because the muscles and bones will increase in mass and density as they heal and repair themselves. This adaptation and adjustment of your body takes time however, and if you progress too quickly with your training and don’t allow your body recovery time in between workouts, it will start to fail putting you at a risk of developing overuse injuries such as muscle strains, stress fractures, tendonitis and tennis elbow. A good guideline to avoid this from occurring is to use the 10% rule as a gauge. This states that you should not increase your weekly activity by more than 10%. This includes intensity, distance, weight lifted and duration of the session. This increase should probably be more like 5% if you are completely new to exercise.
Be smart, take it steady, stay robust and have fun!
- Thomas G. Plante, Meghan Madden, Sonia Mann, Grace Lee, Allison Hardesty, Nick Gable, Allison Terry and Greg Kaplow Department of Psychology, Alumni Science Hall, Room 203, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA 95053-0333 (2010) Effects of Perceived Fitness Level of Exercise Partner on Intensity of Exertion Journal of Social Sciences 6 (1): 50-54, 2010 ISSN 1549-3652 © 2010 Science Publications
- Feltz, Deborah L., Kerr, Norbert L., Irwin, Brandon C. (2011) Buddy up: The Köhler Effect applied to health games. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 33 (4). pp. 506-526.
- Rhodes RE1, Dickau L. (2013) Moderators of the intention-behaviour relationship in the physical activity domain: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2013 Mar;47(4):215-25
- Orlando C1, Levitan EB, Mittleman MA, Steele RJ, Shrier I. (2011) The effect of rest days on injury rates. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011 Dec;21(6):e64-71.
- University of Georgia (November 8, 2006) Regular Exercise Plays A Consistent And Significant Role In Reducing Fatigue. Science Daily (2006)