Not too long ago, my wife and I came across a classic movie, Housesitter. Ironically, the movie made me think about triathlon. In short, the two main characters (Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn) find themselves telling lie after lie. In a series of self-inflicted and ever-changing circumstances, they have to cover old lies by coming up with new lies "on the spot."
What does this have to do with endurance sports:
This is a skill that every endurance athlete should learn: Improvisation.
Why is Improvisation Important?
I'm not advocating you develop a talent for lying. I'm talking about developing the skill to adapt to your evolving circumstances when it comes to training. You should be able to change your planned workouts before or during the session to avoid overexerting, adapt to environmental conditions, and/or avoiding potential injury.
The overlying principle of effective training is to make every training session count. To make every session count, you want to have 100% (or as close as possible) to give for each session. How do you accomplish this when your work schedule, child care needs, injury/illness status, weather patterns, etc. are so unpredictable and fluid? Just suck it up? Do you skip a workout and double up the next day? Shorten a session? The underlying principle of improvisation is to determine which workouts can be skipped, modified, or hammered so you don't sacrifice the overlying objective.
A Simple Example
Athlete A comes off a rest day feeling great and ready to follow the plan. So, Athlete A goes out, works at a high intensity, and crushes the training session. The next day, Athlete A's still feeling yesterday's awesomeness and can't hit the training paces prescribed. By day 3, the legs are even more fried and he's just going through the motions and the rest of the week is equally as tough.
In this simple example, Athlete A gave 100% on day 1 but because of the unbridled effort, sabotaged the rest of the week. What could have been done to avoid this? Don't go so hard on Day 1... or back off a little on day 2 to save up for day 3...or rest on the third day to avoid killing the rest of the week...?????
A Systematic Approach to Improvisation
There are countless scenarios when improvisation would be necessary. As such, developing an absolute system is nearly impossible. Here are the items you should consider when trying to determine if you should change things up:
If you liked the above information, please share with your buddies on facebook or other social media.
Additional comments about Improvisation
There are 3 kinds of athletes:
The Machine athlete will get a plan from his/her coach and follow every bit of it. Is that such a bad thing? Of course not. However, a coach doesn't know exactly how the athlete really feels. The coach reads the log, looks at the data, and formulates an idea of what's happening physiologically. A coach who has trained for similar events, may have a good estimate of how the athlete feels. But in the end, you are the only one who really knows. That's not a criticism of coaches but more an opportunity to point out the responsibility of the athlete which is to use your intimate knowledge of how you feel and modify your training when needed.
Opposite to the Machine athlete, this athlete looks for any excuse to change things up. Sometimes, the changes are justified but more often then not, they are attempts to avoid tough challenges.
This is the athlete that follows a plan closely, pushes on the days when challenge is inevitable, backs off on the days when they've realized their limits, rearranges their schedules to still get the most out of their training and rests on scheduled training days when he/she knows their body needs it. This isn't a slacker athlete, but a smart one. Be this guy!
Scott Flynn, owner, coach and triathlete of 10+ years with Threshold Multisport Coaching, holds a MS in Exercise Science and multiple nationally recognized fitness certifications (CES, CSCS). For more about Threshold coaching packages click here.