Everyone loves to have those breakthrough moments in training: the new PB, the +10 watt FTP test, the KOM on the local climb. But… if every day is a new training breakthrough, that’s actually not necessarily a good thing. It’s sexy, it’s exciting… and it’s a good way to end up injured and not hitting your actual big scary goal. I am fond of the line, “It’s not a party if it happens every day.” Now, those familiar with the music of the 2000s may guess (correctly) that the morose music of the Postal Service is perhaps not as relevant to your training breakthroughs… but let me see if I can turn this introduction around. Many training programs, websites, and devices emphasize ‘personal bests’ or ‘breakthroughs’. These are always fun to get but if our training is determined by beating our past self or planned in a fashion that pushes us past our ‘limits’ daily our training is potentially unsustainable.
You may feel inspired to push harder for a while, but where does it end? Will that same notification or medal on your workout be meaningful tomorrow? A common error in training is to just go as hard as you can every day. This works … for a little while. But you will get tired, sore, beat up, and ultimately, this way of training will stop working. (Our past podcast guest, strength training expert Dan John suggests that you have about 6 weeks until you fizzle out.)
If you have been hitting your max heart rate, or your fastest paces, or getting peak powers and/or ‘breakthroughs’ in your Data Analysis Software, you’re going to need to be ready for when you can’t anymore. An even better idea is to plan out training that lets you spend time at easy paces some days (no breakthroughs) and pushes you to spend more time near thresholds/bests on other days. I think about this as a practice of ‘putting our hand in the fire’
It is time to stop testing in training.
It is a common trap in Crossfit-styled workouts to always try and get a personal best or to ‘race’ every day. Cyclists and runners have Strava and similar programs that are always comparing and ‘testing’. This hard training daily is perhaps the most cliche training error … and it is easy to make! It’s fun to have those PBs, to get the kudos on Strava.
You may have heard Stephen Seiler on the podcast talking about ‘polarized training’ and also the myth of “no pain, no gain” but admittedly, it can be harder to put his advice into practice because it feels darn good to constantly be told you’re hitting your max heart rate, or “breaking through.”
So, how do we take action to feel like we’re moving training forward, but not setting ourselves up for injury, burnout, or a plateau? What I suggest is thinking about a breakthrough in a block of training, rather than a daily PR/breakthrough. What are you going to practice this block? What type of intervals, races, rides do you like? What are you not so good at that you’d like to improve?
Not sure what to focus on? Book a call to discuss your training and your goals specifically!
Once you’ve decided where to place your focus, focus on accumulating time practicing that interval set or technical skill, ideally in a relevant race scenario. If you’re a mountain biker, get on the trails. Hilly gravel grinder coming up? Yup, get to some hills. Try to do this specific training twice a week, and put these sessions after very easy or completely off days. On the other days that are not off-the-bike, ride easy. Easy is conversational. Easy is sustainable. On most days easy is ‘unremarkable.’
This is a good thing.
Try it for a month and see how your next test goes—we’re betting you’ll have a bigger breakthrough. The idea with this type of training is that it is not overly risky. Instead, it is sustainable and it is repeatable. (Read more on risk in training here.)