Perhaps you want to be one of Austin’s next 10 Fittest after reading this issue. Maybe you’re a newer athlete wanting to get to the next level, or you could be ready to try qualifying for a top-notch race like Boston or Kona. Whatever the reasons, most athletes are constantly searching for a way to get a fitness boost. In my experience, there are several key ways athletes take themselves to the next level. There is, without a doubt, a physical component to progression, but what sets apart those who made significant gains and elites are their mental approaches and perspectives. Below, I’ve outlined several of these key aspects to progression. It may be too much to take these all on at once, but if you pick a couple and focus on incorporating those ideas into your regime, you will quickly find yourself working towards that next level of fitness.
Sense of Purpose – The first and foremost aspect of taking yourself to the next level is to have a strong sense of purpose towards what you want to achieve. This sets the stage for every other pathway to progression. You must see that goal, conduct yourself and make decisions as if you’re on your way to accomplishment. You must use that sense of purpose in how you manage your training, races and the decisions you make. Without this perspective, you may find it difficult to achieve the results you seek.
Focus – The most important thing is to make the most important thing the most important thing. Every great athlete has the ability to hone in and execute on the most important objective in front of him or her. This can be very challenging. Life presents us with plenty of good and bad distractions. The athlete who is going to take himself or herself to the next level of fitness will find a way to block out those sidetracking items.
Consistency – One of the most important ways to realize fitness gains is to achieve consistency in your training. Constant yo-yoing of training and not training is one of the biggest hurtles to progression. Work, personal lives and injuries will always present challenges to your ability to train and recover day in and day out, but those who find ways to manage those interfering factors will reap the benefits of repeatability over time. There’s no magic, those who can continue to train over time without interruption will continue to progress.
Details – As an athlete, there’s a fine line between getting too wrapped up in the little things and maintaining a healthy view of the big picture. If you want to take yourself to the next level, you always have to give attention to the details surrounding your training, preparation, equipment, technique and events. As you advance, time and speed gains are more difficult to achieve, but often times there are gains to be made in the details. Technique improvements, biomechanical fine-tuning and equipment changes are all areas where you can find incremental gains. You may be surprised with the results when the details are added up over time.
Recovery – In my experience, the most overlooked aspect of training is the recovery. Most athletes don’t take it seriously enough. When I started racing triathlons as my career, my coach told me that outside of my training sessions, I should be the most boring person I know. His point was that in order to truly progress, I needed to recover as hard as I train. The basic tenants of exercise physiology are surprisingly simple: create an overload and then recover. We spend a great deal of time and effort on creating overload in our workouts, but to realize the gains, equal attention should be given to recover properly. If you are looking to make that next level, you have to make your hard harder and your easy easier.
Preparation – To achieve the next level of fitness and success in racing, athletes must give specific attention to the proper preparation for their events. It’s easy to fall into step with a pattern of workouts or a training routine you enjoy, but that may only take you part of the way. You must take a cold, hard look at the event you’ve chosen and really ask yourself what needs to be done to make that achievement. Will the same track sessions, long run or group ride get you where you need to go? Or do you need specific sessions to prepare? Casual marathoners are very comfortable doing the weekend group long runs and a few 800s on the track during the week, but not many are willing to do the long hard tempo runs necessary to condition the body to sustain strong paces for long periods of time. This is the type of preparation needed to get to that next level of fitness. It’s not to say that you should to go out and just do a lot of random hard miles, rather you need to look specifically at the preparation you need to achieve that end goal.
Diet and Weight – There is a lot of focus and coverage in sports media about diets. The truth is that in endurance sports, the diet is a means to one of the most important pieces of the fitness puzzle: power to weight ratio. Another simple tenant of taking yourself to the next fitness level is to get your power up and your weight down. It is so simple but of the utmost importance. Every single elite athlete knows this and makes weight management a primary focus in his or her regime. This is the easiest way to get faster and fitter, but seems to be the most challenging to the average athlete. Casual athletes often will spend time, money and effort on every other aspect of training, but will not make the effort to lose the pounds. Runners, cyclists and triathletes will all benefit from an increase in their power to weight ratios. If you’ve hit a plateau in the power side of that equation, you’ll see an immediate boost if you change the weight side of the equation. Unless you’re already very lean, you can probably stand to lose 5 to15 pounds. It’s free speed — all you have to do is exercise a little eating discipline! As long as you don’t get too lean to the point where you start losing power, attention to getting to a healthy and light race weight will give you great benefits.