How do I define smart training? I define it as consisting of three critical components: 1) self-knowledge; 2) clear and realistic goals; and 3) making every training minute count. Let’s take a look at each of these components:
Clear and realistic goals
The very first thing I ask athletes is to tell me their goals. Without goals, training loses focus and it becomes very easy to lose motivation, especially during the long winter. Your goals can be as simple as wanting to lose weight or as ambitious as turning pro in two years. Your long-term goals must stretch you to your limits yet be realistic given your abilities, training history, and time commitment. If the goals are set too high, then you’re not going to commit to them because you know deep down that they aren’t realistic. Goals should also be very specific so that you have a clearly defined target. These goals can be race goals (e.g., top 3 at District RR Champs) or performance goals (e.g., attain a lactate threshold of 350 W by July 8, 2003). Having these goals also allow you to work backwards to develop a systematic training plan.
The second thing I ask athletes is to walk me through their training diaries. We discussed the critical role of self-knowledge a couple of articles ago when we went through some of the important information that can be found within your training diary. Make a resolution to maintain a training diary beginning this year. My personal favourite is the (Crosstrak training diary) software, but I don’t really care whether it is software, a custom spreadsheet, tables, or even just writing in a blank logbook. The important thing is that you log your training and that you can interpret it. Some of the important things you should consider logging besides your workouts include sleep and dietary pattern and quality, along with mental state and periodic recording of your resting heart rate and weight. Also, it is very useful to log both your intended and actual workouts so that you can check for ideal versus realistic training patterns.
Making every minute count
The worse thing I hate to see is an athlete stepping out the door with no rationale for their workout that day. If you do that, then you’re an addict and not an athlete. This applies equally whether you are a professional whose sole job is to train or if you are a busy professional who has to shoehorn cycling in between work and family commitments. From the above two parts, you should know exactly what your strengths and limiters are, and also what you are aiming towards this season. You must now set up a plan that is custom-tailored for yourself, based on your own physiology and your targets. Too many of us keep training our strengths and neglect our limiters. For example, if most of your races are crits and you keep getting dropped in them, why are you spending all your time riding big mountains?
The off-season is terrific because all things are possible and we all win every race on our schedule. Now is the time to make a concrete plan towards making those dreams a reality. I’ll be writing in future articles about specific components of a well-designed training plan. Give me an email if there are any specific training questions you want me to address in 2003, and have a great holidays!
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. His company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.