Monday, August 5, 2013

Stuck in a training rut? Change things up

The body is great at adapting.

Take thermoregulation for example and how it feels during those first couple weeks of summer. The first couple days are the worst, especially since Washington, DC can have some killer heat and humidity. After a short walk to the Metro for work in the morning I have beads of sweat running down my face. Ditto for the commute home. I get inside the apartment building after a 10 minute walk and I feel like I can ring out my shirt.

But, then what happens? After a couple weeks, the body adapts. It becomes more efficient at cooling. Thankfully, I'm a bit less sweaty after that walk to the Metro. Same thing happens in the winter time only in reverse.

These same concepts can be applied to training, whether running, cycling, swimming, weight lifting, or whatever it is. After a couple weeks of doing similar workouts, your body begins to adapt to the point where you don't experience the same degree of training effect you once did.

This is essentially where the concept of periodization comes from. The basic concept is that you only go a few weeks doing similar training protocols before changing things up.

Ok, that's fairly straightforward, but what about the broader picture?

I'm certainly a creature of habit. I love my routine and sticking to it. At times though it's more a mental crutch than a helpful aid.

Just after the NJ State Triathlon - where I didn't perform the way I wanted to - I felt it was time to change things up. For a few months I was more or less following a similar training skeleton - swim five times a week in the AM; alternate bike and run days in the PM during the week; do longer bike and run workouts on the weekends (possibly with a brick or two); and use Monday as a recovery day, usually with a little yoga.

Well, I threw that out. After taking a solid three days of rest after NJ, it was time for something new. I not only changed things up with training structure, I made a few modifications with my diet as well (more on that in a future post).

And the small changes combined with a little bit of rest has been extremely refreshing. Some of my best sessions have come in the past week, simply after throwing my body a little something different. The biggest refresher has been mental. Where I live in Washington, DC there is only a handful of places to train. Riding the same old routes and running the same roads can be comforting (especially for me since I thrive off of routine), but can easily lead to training plateaus.

A week ago I rode about 50 miles with a couple buddies and I felt like I could easily do another 50 or 100 by the end. The riding was a great combination of flats and hill repeats, but just riding something different was good enough. Then, a few days later I was down in Roanoke, Virginia and a buddy and I did some cycling along the Blue Ridge Parkway. A few thousand feet of climbing was certainly challenging, but the combination of the new environment, the peacefulness, and the different training terrain had me feeling great. Looking back on it, those were some of the best, most enjoyable rides I've done in a while. And the most important thing, afterwards, my mind was refreshed, my legs felt strong, and I felt inspired.

Just the way I want to be feeling heading into another race...

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