Sunday, January 31, 2016

Understanding and Making the Commitment to be Consistent

This is a great time of year to reflect on understanding what a commitment to qualifying for a world championship really entails. In the past three months we have had three world championships take place and many of us are winding down and taking a much needed rest from the season. This is the perfect time to think back on the season and start looking at how to improve for next year.

As I think about what it takes to qualify for any world championships there are many thoughts that come to mind. You need to have a base or volume of training. You need to do technique, threshold, tempo, strength and race simulation type work. You need to know and understand your race day nutrition inside and out. You need to have your body team in place in case any annoying issues come up along the way. With all of that there is one more component needed to qualify for a world championship and that is:
you need to be consistent in your training.

Many talented athletes will miss a worlds spot due to one simple factor: their training was not consistent for a long enough period of time. A coach once told me that for every four days you take off it takes one to two days to get where you were before the time off. Why do I believe this? My actions have had that result. When I fall into that pattern it is like every day is my first day back at the discipline. One of my favorite learning moment reflections was a conversation I had with my masters swim coach one triathlon season.

Me: Tim, my swimming seems to be off this year. I am not sure why, is it cause I am older?
Tim: No, how much are you swimming?
Me: It seems like the same as I always do, three to five times a week.
Tim: Tell me, in the last month how many times have you swam?
Me: Well, once last week -- that was because the kids were sick. Two times the week before -- Chris’ schedule was tough -- three times the week before that and oh… only once the week before that.
Tim: That is seven swims in a month. You are swimming about one-and-a-half to two times a week.

You can only imagine the “ah-ha” moment I had. I then went home and looked through my log book to see if I was accurate in my tallying my swims. I realized that even though I was logging my workouts I was only looking at week to week. I had several excuses why I could not swim so it was easily justified and I did have that one week of three swims which seemed not too long ago, so in the end I thought I was swimming consistently.

When we are younger (less than 37) we can kind of get away with it -- if we are talented. If you’re over 40, there’s no way, even if you are talented. Consistency is one of the biggest factors for success and meeting one's goals. I spoke to two coaches about consistency and here is what they said:

Tim Edmonds - Stanford Masters Swim Coach: “For consistency in swimming you need three swims a week minimum. For improvement you need 18 swims in 30 days never missing more than one day at a time.”

Dan Smith - SportVelo Cycling and Triathlon Coach: “Muscle memory is the most important part for improvement. You want to get yourself to a point where cycling feels fluid, hips can be quiet, pedal stroke smooth and core is engaged. That comes from being on your bike a minimum of three times a week focusing on 90+ cadence for flats and 70+ cadence for climbs.”

As a coach myself, consistency is probably one of the topics I discuss the most with my athletes. For every athlete from my collegiate triathlete balancing his/her studies to the working professional, the balance of training and life is the most challenging. Here are three points I make with all my athletes when trying to get consistent:

  1. Look at working out in blocks of time not number of workouts. If an athlete has a 60-90 minute block of time to work out I may schedule a swim/run or bike/ run or strength/run for time efficiency. There are endless combinations you can do to create consistency in each discipline. Stacking workouts will allow the athlete to get at more hand hits on the water, foot strikes running and pedal strokes cycling.

  2. Make yourself accountable. Find a workout buddy to meet. Make an appointment in your calendar for yourself. When your appointment with yourself gets challenged ask, “How important is the challenge?” and then say, “I have an appointment at X-time, can we meet at another time?” Nine times out ot 10 your appointment challenger will say sure.

  3. Prevent getting overwhelmed. Don’t think about how long the workout will take or what you have to do after you workout. That will only paralyze you and prevent you from going out. You must focus on the now and the task at hand. The saying “I will do it tomorrow” is one of the most self sabotaging statements one can make. All that will do is lead you down a rabbit hole of not working out for days on end. Once you find your anxiety rising as the workout time is getting closer that is when you must be at your strongest and get out the door. Attack that demon head on and get out the door! The key to remember is -- even if the workout is half the time then you planned, it is better than no time at all and the funny thing is, once you are going, the time constraint becomes minimal.

What you will find is that once you create the consistency you will amaze yourself how all of a sudden you can fit more into your schedule. This happens due to the fact that now you have more hand hits, foot strikes and pedal strokes happening every workout, you won’t feel like you’re starting over from scratch with each session, allowing you to be empowered and see yourself improve which in the end keeps you committed to the task at hand.


Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at AffinityMultisport.com.
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