Posted On:
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: Layer In vs. Layer On

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A close-up photo of a chocolate layer cake.  The cake itself is the ever-familiar chocolate brown color, and the frosting layers in between the cake layers are light colors, making the layers in the cake very distinct.

Another seven turns of our planet, and Coach Tip Tuesday comes round again. :)

As I talked about a few weeks ago, the beginning of a calendar year is a common time for athletes to either start up coaching with me or to “officially” start specifically training for a goal that they've set for themselves in that same calendar year.  And as such, this is also a time when I end up talking a lot about the tip I’m about to share with all of you this week:

Layer in, don’t layer on.

No, I’m not talking about putting on a puffy coat or adding another scarf to your daily ensemble.  I’m talking about how to mindfully and wisely incorporate training into your life, whether you’re just starting to follow a more structured training plan or whether you’ve been following one for years.

We all are always evolving as people.  This means that we are always evolving as athletes.  And then that also means that our goals and dreams evolve with us as we navigate our life paths.  So it stands to reason that what we are actually doing in our daily and fitness lives needs to evolve along with all of the other pieces of us that are evolving.

When an athlete tells me that they’ve set a particular goal for themselves, I have a conversation with the athlete about how we are going to proceed forward toward accomplishing that goal.  As I’m sure you can imagine, one of the questions I am asked most is, “What will the plan for this look like?”

And so then I’ll answer this question.  But often, the answer I provide generates some hesitancy and some push back.  Why?  Because I advise layering in the training required for an athlete’s current goal, not layering it on.

Basically, my advice is not to just add the training that it will take to accomplish the goal “on top” of what the athlete is already doing movement/training/activity-wise. In almost all circumstances, this means that I will advise scaling current activities to a level where we can “add in” the components necessary to accomplish the goal. Yes, I know. THE HORROR! I advise athletes to cut back. To do less. Yes, indeed, I do. I recommend scaling back what they are currently doing to accommodate what they need to be doing to accomplish the goals that they’ve set for themselves.

As anyone who I’ve coached can tell you, I say the following ad nauseum: “I’d rather that you do 10% less than you can do and feel great than do 1% more than you can and have issues.”  What I’m really saying is just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  I mean, really.  What is so bad about feeling great?

So when you are considering a goal, really, truly evaluate what it is going to take to accomplish that goal.  “Saying yes” to a new goal may very well mean that you have to say no to something else.  This might seem scary at first, and you may not want to do it when you first consider it.  But think about this, and you’ll likely come to the realization that this is a good strategy to keep you healthy and happy over the long-haul on your athletic journey.

You want to add things into the mix (kind of like baking a cake), not layer them on top of what you’ve been doing.  Layer them on top, and just like deep dish pizza, you will be structurally unsound, collapse, and be difficult to manage.  (This New York gal just doesn’t understand you folks out there in Chicago ;) ).  Your body will almost certainly lack durability, rebel against you, and start to break down in the form of niggles, injuries, or mental burnout.  As hard as it is to admit, we cannot do all the things we want to in a given day or even in a given training cycle.  Life is a zero-based budget.  We need to pave the way for success at reaching our goals, and this often means that we need to modify what we are doing so we can build to where we want to go.

Here are some things that athletes often need to consider modifying to adhere to this “layering in” approach:

  • Reducing the distance or duration of workouts that they have been doing (Runners who take on triathlon-based goals: I’m looking at you.)
  • Reducing the frequency of a particular type of workout (CrossFit athletes who set endurance-based goals: I’m looking at you.)
  • Adding more sleep into their routine to support their training (People who think that shortchanging sleep helps us accomplish more: I’m looking at you.)

I could make this list much longer (and I could add in so.many. different types of athletes and situations to it), but I think you get the jist.  In order to get somewhere you’ve never been, you almost always have to do something different than what you’ve always done.  Now, I’m not saying that you need to permanently revise your entire life or workout routine.  But you very well may need to revise it for a season (or even a year or two - it depends on the goal you’ve set) so you can give yourself the highest probability of smashing your goal.

Layer in, don’t layer on.  You can thank me later. :)


Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at

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