Matt Dixon is a professional triathlete and lead coach / co-founder of purplepatch Fitness, an organization that provides professional coaching and training of runners and athletes of all levels.
Many who follow purplepatch and our coaching results immediately think of the success of our professional athletes when considering our methodology. As natural as this is, after all, they grab the headlines, I am equally proud of the accomplishments and performance of our amateur athletes and enthusiasts. Whether in search of age group victories, aiming to finish an IRONMAN 70.3 for the first time, or a journey from chronic fatigue to finishing a marathon, all of our athletes identify with the word performance. Their own performance is defined by many factors, but the common thread is that all athletes are aiming to improve. We should all be in search of our own improved performance. With this, what does performance really mean, in an endurance sports perspective, and what is the best framework for athletes of all levels to constantly improve? This puzzle is what is at the heart of any smart coaching and training approach, so let’s investigate.
We live in a time when health, fitness and endurance performance doesn’t lack information on every aspect of performance development. Whether it is training methodology, nutrition, hydration, recovery, strength or equipment, we are bombarded with a blizzard of words on every subject. Despite this, I consistently find that athletes of all levels end up being confused within any subject, and have an even more challenging time weaving the subjects together to understand an overall integrated approach. It seems that each subject lives a mutually exclusive existence, making the overall recipe convoluted, and athletes and coaches alike missing so many of the fundamentally basic, but critical, performance drivers.
To begin to define a driving light of a framework to yield performance, we must first define what our goal and mission if training is. I would suggest that the underlying reason that we train is to:
Arrive at our races ready to perform well.
Basic, yes, but it is the reason we train. Many suggest we train to get fit, or improve strength, but competing athletes train to perform on race day. With this, our mission in developing a specific training plan is to:
Maximize training load while yielding positive adaptations.
Get that? Positive adaptations. This is the same for the pro as it is for the amateur. The aim is to maximize training load while achieving positive adaptations. Ultimately, it all comes down to one word; stress.
Training is a stress, in the same way that we have to manage many other stresses in our life, whether it is work stress, travel stress, financial worry, lack of sleep, poor nutrition or a host of other physical and emotional stressors. The training stress is the specific stress that should yield positive performance gains, but will only do so if our recipe is correct. To cement the point, and a key differentiators between professional endurance athletes and us amateurs, is that our goals are the same, but our path to success is likely very different. For a professional athlete, athletic performance is absolutely central in life. Our aim is to compress typical life stressors, such as normal work, family and relationships, travel and other factors, so that we can maximize training load (stress). In addition, factors such as fueling, nutrition and sleep are factors that should never be compromised for the professional athlete. Life is, in effect, very simple (perhaps boring!) in pursuit of excellence.
For an amateur athlete, our puzzle is different. We must integrate training into our existing life commitments (stressors). Most of us work, some with travel associated with it, many have families, and I hope that you have somewhat of a social life. I hope that our aim is to maintain this big life, but be able to successfully integrate our specific training stress into this life. If successful, your sport should not be a drain on life, but a route to make your life bigger.
All of this sounds nice, but I am well aware that most athletes really want to know the magic path to success. Those training for a 10K want to know the best intervals to execute, marathon runners hope to find out the number of miles to hit each week, and IRONMAN athletes aim to load as many hours within each week to ensure they are fit enough to pass the great endurance test. Unfortunately, the intervals, hours and miles are all irrelevant without the proper perspective for the route to ongoing performance. Interestingly, it typically comes down to some very simple concepts. Let’s dive in.
Your route to performance.
Before we dive into the training details, it is critical to realize a key component to my coaching mindset. No matter level, goals or experience of athlete, when I consider endurance training programs, my mind always goes well beyond the specific endurance training for that sport. When I consider a training ‘plan’, I always view it as a more holistic view of a path to performance. As an educational tool, we always talk about an athlete’s pillars of performance. These pillars include the actual endurance training, the athletes nutrition (including fueling, hydration and daily eating), strength and conditioning, and approach to recovery. It is a total approach to help the athlete set their lens on what ‘training’ is. It is more than intervals and miles, instead we view sleep, recovery, nutrition and many over elements as a part of the program. We never discuss or view a single area without consideration of the overall program and other integrated elements. This simple lens helps with the challenge and confusion so many hold with the blizzard of information of each area.
With us setting the lens on performance and training, let’s breakdown the four main components to successful ongoing performance improvements. The magic four are:
- Consistency: creating a sustainable training program that allows adaptations, without dominating life or creating illness, deep fatigue or injury.
- Progression: The plan progresses in load and focus to allow readiness for your best performances at your key events.
- Specificity: You are training for the demands of your goals, or areas that will yield the optimal return.
- Patience: Embrace the journey and realize that a few weeks or months won’t yield optimal performance. It takes time.
These are the key elements to your success. Your ability to develop a consistent training approach, that is progressive in nature, specific to your needs, and the demands of your event(s), and the athlete haven’t the patience to stay the course and realize that performance doesn’t truly arrive in just a few weeks. It is why we always talk about ‘the journey’, and never aim to help athletes with short-term fixes in their performance evolution.
In part II, I will dig down a level and breakdown some of the consideration and components of each of these elements to performance. No quick-fixes here, embrace the journey, it is what makes the pursuit of performance so rewarding.
Best of luck as you move into the new year and chase your own performance evolution.
About Matt Dixon
Professional Triathlete, Coach an Co-founder of purplepatch Fitness
Matt has a Master’s degree in clinical and exercise physiology combined with his experience as an elite swimmer and professional triathlete form the backbone of his coaching philosophy, the purplepatch pillars of performance, a much broader and adaptive view of the path to peak performance than conventional endurance sports coaching. He is a highly sought after resource in the fitness and endurance community, writing and contributing to multiple publications such as Triathlete Magazine, Lava Magazine, Outside Magazine and Triathlete Europe.
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