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Make Your Training Purposeful and Productive

By Meghan Newcomer

As athletes, our time is precious and limited; therefore it is important that training be purposeful, productive and enjoyable.

swimmingThe difference between training and simply going for a swim, ride or jog is the purpose behind the activity. Purposeful training means that each training session has a premeditated intention. For instance, a workout may be designed to build endurance, develop power, generate speed, cope with extreme temperatures, sight under difficult conditions or refine your nutrition plan. Be mindful of the purpose of your session. Ensure that your purpose aligns with your short- and long-term goals.

Training is productive when you carry out your purpose of the workout. Too much or too little volume or intensity actually negates productivity. For example, if you are slated to complete an easy three mile recovery jog and instead you run nine miles with high exertion, in the long run (no pun intended) you actually did not have a productive session.      

Enjoyment is experienced in different ways for different athletes and can be reached through multiple mechanisms. There are bound to be elements of training that are less desirable, but recognize that training doesn’t always have to be fun to be enjoyable. It is exhilarating to mastering a difficult skill or pushing your comfort zone by going faster or longer. Impress yourself by your dedication and determination in training sessions.     

If the following emotions are overriding the feeling of enjoyment, please address the situation:

Boredom: Swimming, cycling and running are three complex sports. It could take a lifetime to master one, let alone combining all three. As such, athletes — beginners to pros — should never be bored. There is always room for improvement in technique and form. If you find your mind wandering, bring your attention back to the purpose of the session.

Dread: If you find yourself dreading training sessions, please take a moment to examine why this occurring. Approaching a session with the mindset “I just want to get this over with” will likely to lead to an unproductive session. When the going gets rough, remind yourself of your larger goals and the purpose of your session and shift your mindset from dread to appreciation.  

Frustration: Frustration can manifest itself in several different ways. Athletes can be frustrated with themselves when they do not perform as they planned. If your goal was to run six half-mile repeats at 3-minute pace and you do not hit this mark, you may be displeased. Missing the mark every once in a while can make you eager to try again. However, if you are completing every session feeling frustrated with yourself, please take time to examine why. Once you have diagnosed the problem, you can craft a solution. For example, reflect on your recent nutrition, sleep and relaxation practices.  If you are improperly fueled, exhausted or stressed, it will be difficult to perform as planned. Adjust these elements or readjust your performance expectations.

Frustration can also occur with others around you. Coaches, training partners and training groups should enhance the training experience- they should not detract from it. Set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with people who bring out the best in you as an athlete and as a person. Furthermore, be supportive of your fellow athletes. Often, if you communicate your needs, others will accommodate you. For example, if you are swimming with a group and you feel fantastic, ask if you can lead the lane that day. Alternatively, if you are exhausted, don’t hesitate to let a fellow athlete go before you. Not taking the initiative to lead when you should or refusing to let someone go before you when necessary induces frustration which will detract from everyone’s experience.     

Weather can foil training plans, too. It is terribly frustrating when you’re all geared up for a fantastic workout and Mother Nature disrupts your intention. When this happens, get creative and be flexible. Often it is still possible to develop a purposeful and productive session. For example, if you planned on doing an outdoor brick session and there are icy roads, then go to a local spin class and run on the treadmill afterwards.

I recommend doing a mental check before each workout to ensure you know the purpose of the session and are mentally and physically prepared to execute the plan. Actively engage in each training session so you are not just going through the motions or undertaking activities that may not propel you towards your goal. There are many things we are required to do in life, but participating in triathlons is a choice and a privilege — enjoy it!

Meghan Newcomer is a USA Triathlon Level II certified coach. She is an athletic consultant for individuals and organizations and currently lives in New York, N.Y. 

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.