Stop for a minute to think about the training you're doing this week, and compare it with last week. Compare that with last month, and then last year. Do you see a distinct difference in the training you did then, and the training you're doing now? Check your training log for the past few years, and look at the differences in training. Are there any differences?
Many athletes find themselves doing the same training over and over, week after week, season after season. Whatever weekly group workout they can find, they might do simply for the sake of routine. Or they do it for the fact that it worked once to help create better fitness, so they think it will always continue to work.
The body must be considered a learning machine, much like the mind. If you repeated the eighth grade over and over again, your mind would never have progressed. Similarly, repeating the same workouts doesn't progress the body's ability to learn and adapt to physical stress.
If the body feels it is not progressing, it can actually begin regressing fitness, which many athletes have experienced. This is manifested in struggling to match a level of performance which was as recent as a few weeks prior, despite no change in consistency of training.
Progressive athletes are the ones who are attempting to do new training, not just getting new products and doing new races. Being progressive is a consistent process and approach to training; it requires athletes to vary their training stress in order to avoid performance plateaus. Progressive athletes try to recognize their weaknesses and train to improve them, constantly trying to make progress.
6 Ways to Avoid a Training Plateau
Here are some tips for becoming a more progressive athlete:
- Once you have chosen your key race for the season, make sure your training prepares for you that. For example, if you're training for a 5K, doing two-hour, slow, easy long runs all year will not help as much as 400-meter repeats, kilometer repeats, etc. Conversely, if training for longer distance, doing anaerobic training all season long doesn't make much sense either.
- If you're training for a longer-distance event, start your season off with a shorter, more intense training focus. Then, as the season progresses, back off on the training intensity to match the specific race intensity, add more volume, and make your race-specific intervals longer.
- Try to recognize performance plateaus earlier in your training. If it's been a few weeks of no improvement, perhaps it's time to consider changing your training sessions sooner rather than later.
- Ask yourself, "What are my weaknesses as an athlete?" Then ask yourself what it would take to improve them. Choose one or two which can be given your attention, and build your training around those until significant progress is made.
- Search for new training groups in your area, and see what they are doing. If it is a coached group, chances are they already vary their training stresses throughout the season and are a great place to start.
- Don't try to accomplish too much at one time. Trying to do speed work, aerobic endurance, strength training, anaerobic training and muscular endurance all in the same week is too much. Focus on one or two of these until you've reached a plateau, then switch to another, depending on your goals.
Being a progressive athlete requires work and effort on the part of the individual—not just during training sessions, but planning them as well. However, varying your training stress can make training much more fun and fulfilling.
Keep thinking about how you can progress as an athlete, and you'll soon be at a new level. Best of luck!
Jim Vance is a USAT Level 2 and Elite Coach for TrainingBible Coaching, and a professional triathlete. Questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow his writings and training advice at his coaching blog, CoachVance.blogspot.com.