Find your inspiration Inspired athletes always perform better.
Whether you’re extremely fit or just starting out, inspiration is what pushes your performance to the next level. This is why I tell my coaches our first job is to inspire athletes. When it comes down to it, I’ll put my money on the inspired athlete with less fitness over the extremely fit athlete who is just going through the motions.
Stress then rest
A significant amount of stress is required to cause a training stimulus, and then an athlete has to take adequate rest in order for the body to respond to the stress with positive adaptations. Many athletes get stuck in the middle, with training that is not stressful enough coupled with too little rest. This happens in life outside of sport as well. You work hard, but not hard enough to really get ahead. You take vacations or try to enjoy the weekend, but you don’t really disconnect enough for those periods to be adequately restful.
We have been told multitasking is a good thing, but often it just means being busy with things that don’t matter. When it comes to training, go out and do the work that matters, do it at intensities that are sufficient to cause meaningful adaptation, and then go home. You have to make it more on/of than kind of hard and kind of restful. At home, at work, and at play, when you’re on, you have to be on and engaged. When you’re off, be off.
Love what you’re doing as much as you love the outcome
Whether they are good or bad, outcomes only come around every once in a while. You might have 3-4 big goals in a year. Olympians spend four year (now five with Tokyo rescheduled for 2021) working toward one outcome. In contrast, the training process is part of every day. The best athletes are those who love the process of training, because they get to do something they love every day.
The same is true in career and life. The best employees I’ve ever had are those who genuinely enjoy what they do day-in-and-day-out. That doesn’t mean they never have frustrating days, but it means their relationship with their job and the company is not merely transactional: I work X hours, I get Y dollars. The most successful parents I know love the mundane activities and everyday occurrences in their children’s lives, rather than trudging through the day-to-day routine in an effort to produce successful adults.
Take pride in your work
Many athletes are self-deprecating about their own training and performance. They downplay the effort and commitment they’ve devoted to training because there are other athletes who are doing more and performing better. I understand not wanting to be boastful, but there are times when you have to give yourself credit for something because no one else will. There will always be someone faster and stronger than you, but don’t let their performance level diminish the pride you have in your accomplishments and the work you’ve done.
Surround yourself with positive, motivated people
The people we spend time with have a lot of influence over our thoughts, feelings, and decisions. Optimism is contagious, but so is pessimism. When you surround yourself with positive and motivated people, they help lift you up when you need it and you have the same effect on them when they need it. In contrast, negative people, those who don’t believe in themselves or blame everyone else for their failing, and those who criticize or laugh at your goals and training, will eventually drag you down to their level. Stay with the people who lift you up and disconnect from the people who only drag you down.
During the pandemic, isolation has been a big problem for athletes, students, workers, and seniors (and many others, probably). Even if you can’t physically surround yourself with positive influences, it is important to maintain connections with people who can lift you up and inspire you to be better. Call your friends. Skype/Facetime with your relatives. Talk with your coach.
Remove barriers to performance
A lot of people try to take half-measures when it comes to things that are hurting their performance. They’ll cut back on beer, but not eliminate it. They’ll stop eating ice cream, as much… They’ll get a trainer to ride indoors, but never set it up. They’ll set an early-morning alarm and always hit snooze. Instead of reducing the barriers to performance, you have to remove them.
Having trouble sticking to a nutrition program? Remove the foods you don’t want to eat from your house entirely. Can’t find enough time to ride outdoors? Get a smart trainer and put it somewhere you can keep it set up all the time. Can’t get out of bed for early-morning workouts? Get a training buddy so having to be there on time helps with motivation. If you can’t physically meet your training buddy because of the pandemic, meeting for online group rides can work, or just setting up an accountability check-in before you each do your own workout.
Can’t escape work emails when you’re at home? Turn off your phone or put it away when you get home. I have seen many athletes derail their training by getting pulled back into work tasks during the time they set aside for training or family. Be protective of your time and mental bandwidth.
Keep it simple
Your biggest fitness gains come from your fundamental aerobic training, but people sometimes cut back on the fundamentals to spend time chasing ‘marginal gains’. Over the long term, I’d say the fundamentals get you 90% of the way to your maximum potential, and all the other activities combine for the other 10%. Don’t forego substantial gains in basic aerobic fitness from endurance rides, aerobic and lactate threshold interval workouts, and speed work to chase a marginal gain from improving your left-right pedal balance. There’s a time for optimizing pedal balance, but if pursuing a 1% gain means foregoing a 5% gain you could have made from sticking to the fundamentals, then you would have been better off keeping it simple.