Go Like a Pro


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I have been following professional triathlon for a while and am amazed by the performances of elite athletes.  Is there anything that we recreational athletes can learn from them?

Just about very one of my amateur athletes asks me this at some point. The short answer is a resounding, “YES!” But what exactly can you learn from the pros, who dedicate themselves to this demanding sport and not much else? You certainly don’t want to mimic their intensive training or single-minded focus—that’s a quick route to injury and burnout. Instead, you want to study the prinicpals successful pros follow in their approach to training. Ultimately, amateurs and pros are after the same thing: to improve performance—even if the relative speeds are different. In both cases, it’s a journey.

The start of the Barcelona Triathlon, Image Courtesy of Shutterstock. Photographer: sportgraphic

The professional: The tactic of the pro athlete is to maximize training load (stress) while maintaining a positive state of adaptation. The only real limiting factor for the pro athlete is his or her ability to absorb training load. Success arrives out of consistent and effective training, so we aim to create a recipe that minimizes other life stressors (non-training) so we can maximize sport-specific training stress.

The amateur: While you still want to maximize performance, you do so in an arena that includes plenty of other life stresses. These include work, family, travel, social commitments, and a lot more. Stress is a funny thing. Different forms of stress accumulate and impact our hormonal system in similar ways, whether the cause is lack of sleep, poor nutrition, or having a deadline to meet at work. This means that you have to be willing to develop an approach to training that takes into account all of your life stresses. 

For both pros and amateurs, there are key personality characteristics and skill-sets that define the most successful athletes (and people for that matter!). If you can take a honest look in the mirror and think about your approach to both training and lifestyle management, you will begin to see some of your strengths as well as some of your characteristics that need improvment. The magic characteristics are:

1. Patience: Recognizing that performance and achievement take time. This is a journey with small progressions that allow for the big gains.

2. Planning: The most successful athletes adopt a formal plan for their journey and frequently assess their progress.

3. Balance: This is best described as minimizing emotional peaks and valleys. Patience requires the ability to balance out successes and failures, and the understanding that the training journey will not always be upward and glorious.

4. Focus: With planning comes direction, and the most successful athletes are those who can follow their plan without getting sidetracked. You need to know what to focus on, and then follow through with execution.

5. Adaptability: Most plans will evolve as you make progress (or don’t). If you’re making ongoing honest assessments, you will be able to adapt and be resilient to the emotional challenges that come with change.

6. Passion: Successful athletes always approach training with passion. Without passion, rewards seldom follow.

7. Humility: You must truly acknowledge that you need help from others and seek it out, especially when trying to address your weaknesses. 

8. Process: Outcomes are dreams—the process is the route to the dream. If you can stay process-orientated, all the way to the finish line, the outcome is sure to be better.

9. Recovery:  Top athletes always balance out their hard training or life commitments with enough downtime and recovery to keep them consistent.  Once you are consistent, performance evolves. 

10. Remembering the goal: So many athletes fail to create a North Star to navigate training and life. Without a clear goal, there can be none of the above!

You can read this list and keep it close to your heart. If you want to succeed in endurance sports, embrace these principles, which guide many top pros, and always work on evolving them. The best thing? The same prinicpals apply to the rest of your life and work. The most successful people and athletes have a lot in common!

Matt Dixon

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