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Is Training Making You Insane?

Switch up your workout routine to keep things fresh.

Switch up your workout routine to keep things fresh.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. If this were a legal definition, many athletes might end up spending time in a padded room.

How many of you reading this have been doing the same training, over and over again, year after year, expecting to get better results? Have the results really gotten any better?

For many self-coached athletes, the term periodization carries no meaning. Periodization is the process of varying your training based upon specific time intervals, to maximize gains in physical performance. In layman’s terms, it means to start with general race preparation and move to specific race preparation, as you approach your A-priority event. But despite the success that can be seen from a well-periodized training plan, many self-coached athletes do not change their training in any real capacity during the year.

The new season is here, and this is the perfect time to sit down and figure out a periodization plan for the year. The key is first taking inventory of what happened last season. Without assessing your past training, and utilizing that information to make training decisions this season, you could be destined to repeat the same mistakes, results, and/or injuries.

How was your training going right before your best and worst performances? Did you have any performances that really stood out? What do you think contributed to those? How did these performances compare with seasons past? If you’ve kept a training log, you can easily find the answers to these questions with a little review. (If you don’t use a training log, now you see the value of using one for the future.)

RELATED: Old Training Vs. New Training

Once you’ve identified the things you’ve done, you can begin to assess where you made your mistakes or what you need to adjust in your training in order to periodize the training stresses better, and make the next big performance jump. Ask yourself these questions:

– Is there a difference between the workouts I perform in the early part of the year and those I conduct in the middle and latter parts? How do these workouts differ?

– Do I tend to see my best performances early, in the middle, or late in the season? Why might this be?

– Do I conduct a base period of aerobic training?

– Is base training all I ever do?

– Do I ever train my nervous system to maintain and develop turnover?

– Do I utilize the weight room as an area to improve performance?

– Have I spent enough time working on my weaknesses to see an improvement in them?

– Have I spent enough time maximizing my strengths?

– During the competitive phase of my season, do my main workouts of the week mimic the race demands?

Many athletes fear the answers to these questions, and won’t bother asking them. Other athletes feel they just haven’t done the same thing enough times to allow it to show different results.

Most take the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, not realizing the body will plateau physiologically without change or modification of the training stress placed on it over time. This means if athletes don’t change something in their training at some point, normally after 6-10 weeks, there will be a plateau in performance, and perhaps even a decline.

Still others simply fear change. Athletes can get very comfortable with their weekly group workouts or routines — such as spin classes, masters swims, local group rides and runs. Many athletes hold to the notion that these group workouts are the only ways to improve performance, and missing them can mean a loss of fitness. But logic and science show us differently. This is extremely common among self-coached athletes, who tend to bow to the peer pressure of performance now versus later.

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So what kind of changes should you consider if you want to improve, but are reluctant to change too much? The answer all depends on you and how much you vary your training stresses currently. Sometimes a simple adjustment in focus can be all that’s needed, relative to your strengths and weaknesses. Spending a few weeks with workouts geared more toward your weakness can generally bring about better results than repeating those same old workouts you’ve been doing. Of course, this may not be enough change to make a long-term difference, but planting seeds of change is the first step in improving performance.

The best change would be to embrace periodization fully, either by working with a qualified coach or by following a pre-devised training plan made by one. Why wait until you’ve finally gotten to the point of insanity, wanting better results from the same old training?

If you’re a self-coached athlete, take a step back now and look at your training objectively. With the beginning of the season upon us, now is the time to fix all those training mistakes before they happen!


About The Author:

Jim Vance is an a USA Triathlon Level 2 Certified Coach, former elite triathlete and a two-time Amateur World Champion in ITU and XTERRA. Visit his website at