The six most common athlete misconceptions

In my experience, there are a few common misconceptions many athletes have.

1. Miles = Speed. Going farther doesn't necessarily mean getting faster. If you put in a lot of weekly miles, but lack any specific training, you're really only (over) training your endurance.

If you want to run, bike or swim fast, you must run, bike or swim fast. This means interval training for strength, power, aerobic capacity and lactate threshold training. I tend to be conservative with my athletes' training miles. I don't want them doing one more mile than necessary.

If your goal is to build endurance, it's not necessary to go more than 10-15 percent over race distance. Only a portion of your training should be dedicated to building and maintaining endurance. The rest should be shorter, more specific workouts that address your specific limiters.

2. A month off is good for you. Take a month off and you'll spend the next eight or more weeks getting back to your previous fitness level. This means spending a large part of the season training to rebuild fitness instead of building. Fitness falls off very quickly. A transition or maintenance phase is far preferable to time off. You can reduce training volume by as much as 80 percent and still maintain fitness, as long as you're training at the right intensity.

Transition phases last four to six weeks and are an informal training period. It's a great time to cross train or do other activities. The main focus is rest and recovery while seeking to maintain fitness. More than one week off isn't a good thing unless required.

3. I made it through my workout; therefore I ate and drank enough. There's a big difference between what's optimal and what you can get by on. I often see athletes gravitate towards the latter. Dehydration raises heart rate and lowers endurance. Glycogen depletion leaves you with little energy for high intensity work. Not eating or drinking enough degrades your performance.

You may be able to complete the workout, but you could have pushed harder, gone faster and accomplished more if you had followed a good fueling and hydration plan. The longer the training session, the more important this becomes.

4. I swear this made me faster. Some dietary supplements do work; most don't. Just because a pro endorses a particular product doesn't mean it'll work for you. Don't forget that pros get paid to promote these products and, therefore, they may have little objectivity.

Supplements are an easy sell and have little regulation. All a manufacturer needs is a claim, a good marketing campaign, and an endorsement and they'll sell just about anything. The supplements that do work usually have some sort of blind clinical studies behind them. Look for objective sources of information and be careful what you put in your body. Remember, there are no free lunches.

5. (Insert name here) does it, therefore I should too. If you were to scrutinize five top athletes, you'd probably find five different ways they got there. Training is a mixture of art and science.

A good training plan addresses the athlete specifically and no two athletes are alike. Of course there are principles that should be a part of every training plan, but you shouldn't try to copy another (successful) athlete's training plan -- it's like trying to run in their shoes. Recovery, limiters, fitness levels, goals and objectives, and experience are all individual factors that should be addressed in your plan. If we all tried to train like Lance, most of us would be dead.

6. Close enough is good enough. Training requires precision. For example, the difference between a good aerobic capacity workout and a non-productive one can be a few heartbeats and seconds. In order for adaptation to occur, the body has to have a new stress level placed on it. This means breaking new ground.

If you apply the same level of stress, or less, you won't get faster. The closer you are to your goal race, and as workout intensity goes up, the more important this becomes. Athletes are often surprised when I tell them their workout didn't accomplish much because they were either slightly below or above where they should've been. They may have worked hard and felt fatigued, but they lacked that last little push to take them to the next level.

So there you have it. Put these misconceptions behind you and you'll be well on your way to training more efficiently and effectively.

Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt has coached athletes for CTS (Carmichael Training Systems), and has been certified by Joe Friel's Ultrafit Association. Visit for more information or e-mail him at

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