More time…

More time to train?

More time to fill?

For many of us it’s normally hard to find as much time to train as we would like. We can find a few hours spread through the week: maybe before work in the morning, maybe at lunchtime, maybe a few evenings during the week and possibly a couple of hours for a longer session at the weekend. We think how much better it would be, how much better WE would be, if we could train without the time constraints imposed by work and family.

This surreal coronavirus situation is truly a nightmare for most and creates a very different environment in which to live and train. Instead of a routine with regular slots for training, and perhaps group sessions to do in them, there is suddenly no structure at all. There might be things to do of course: WFH doesn’t mean no work, looking after children doesn’t mean leave them at home and go for a bike ride, and there are the house and garden to look after, but you might just find yourself with a lot more potential training time.

So how could you go about making use of it? …On your own.

One of the key things that I do as a coach is to help people differentiate between exercising to keep fit and training to perform better.

If you’re exercising to keep fit the challenge is to use as much energy as you can to give your cardio-vascular system a good workout. If your time is limited, either because you have to do other things or because you prefer to do other things, the amount of energy that you have is not a limiting factor.

If you’re training for performance you might think that time is the limiter, because there doesn’t seem to be enough time to do all of the sessions that you would like to, but the limiter is really energy. If you have more than 2 or 3 hours a week to train you can’t spend it all training flat out, and if you’re in double figures you can’t even do it all hard because you can’t metabolise enough glycogen.

Training for performance means consciously distributing your energy across your training sessions.  And the more time that you have to train the more carefully you have to distribute your energy.

What do I mean by performance? In the first instance, perhaps, going faster. After all, races are won by the people who go the fastest, not by the people who keep going for the longest. But performance isn’t just about winning – and it isn’t just about racing or competition either (even when there are races to compete in). Going faster is often a big reward itself. And so is doing something skills-based better – maybe going faster with less discomfort, maybe working harder for longer with less discomfort, maybe also enjoying the doing rather than simply doing to feel virtuous afterwards. So many people say that they do their exercise so that they can enjoy a meal or a drink afterwards? How much better would it be if the exercise were more fun to do than having the meal?  Who needs a fairground ride or video game when they can ride fast along a country lane, or better still, a mountain road? And that daily run doesn’t feel like a chore if running is a skill that you’ve mastered.

So what’s the point of this article?

We’re all living with very disrupted lifestyles and training environments. And we might be doing so for many weeks or even months. Those goals and objectives that were motivating us a few weeks ago probably don’t make a lot of sense any more. If you were planning to hit peak fitness for events in the next few weeks do you still want to do that?

If you have more time to train it doesn’t necessarily mean that you also have more energy. Simply doing more of the exercise or training that you normally enjoy might have the opposite effect from what you want. It might mean that you end up training less because you’re too tired, it might injure you or it might make you bored. Significantly at this time being low on energy also makes you vulnerable to illness.

To take advantage of more training time you need to understand something of how your body works, particularly how you store the food that you eat and how you convert it into energy. As a starting point here is an item I wrote on training intensity back in, er, 2004.

And to really take advantage, to really up your performance for the longer term, you could spend your extra training time understanding, improving and then refining your technique.

It’s a shame that the swimming pools are now closed, but if you are a runner, a cyclist or a triathlete there’s still plenty of long-term performance improvement to be gained from working on conditioning and technique – even under the Coronavirus lockdown.


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