How many times have you looked at a workout, read through it, and thought to yourself, “Oh there is no way I am doing X-Y-Z within this workout??”
I bet that this has happened to each of you at least once in your time as an athlete. You’ve looked at a workout, seen something in it that you don’t like, and then you’ve made a decision not to do it because you don’t like it and/or don’t see the value in it.
When athletes who I am working with make this choice and make note of it in their Final Surge Post-Workout Notes, I always ask why. More than 90% of the time, their dislike of the skill/set/repetition in question is rooted in a lack of proficiency (though, admittedly, it usually takes me telling them this, since most athletes don’t like to quickly own up to the fact that they are not good at something).
As humans, we like to do the things that we feel that we can do well. We do not like to do things that make us feel clumsy or inept in our own eyes, and we certainly don’t like that when we might feel that the eyes of others are upon us. In endurance sports, it is VERY easy to fall into the trap of only doing the things that we like to do or that make us feel good. But this is, in fact, a trap; in order to make progress from where we currently are, we need to work on the things that we are not as good at while balancing maintaining our strengths.
The more time that one spends in sport, the “higher” on the ladder that one climbs in terms of ability and fitness, the more that one realizes that “practicing” is a cornerstone of all goals. The very best athletes in the world are CONSTANTLY practicing. Take a look at Major League Baseball: athletes in the MLB play a minimum of 162 games per year (more if they make the Post-Season). Despite playing 162 games and having loads of experience, they practice every.single.day. All players are required to come early to games so they can participate in batting practice, which includes fielding practice. All pitchers must warm-up in the bullpen before they go into the game. In the off-season, these players don’t stop or take a break; they are working on conditioning and skills, and then in the Spring, they spend months at Spring Training - yep, you guessed it - PRACTICING. This same premise is present in ALL professional sports. While there are certainly very important differences between age-groupers and professional athletes, there are very significant approaches that do translate over from the professional world into ours, and this is one of them.
Length of time and experience in sport does not mean that you outgrow the need for practice or skills reinforcement. Rather, the opposite is true. You grow into needing these fundamentals MORE; do not make the mistake of fooling yourself into thinking that you do not need to practice. This is especially true in endurance sports where we race goal races relatively infrequently. If MLB Players who “race” 162 days per year need to practice every day, then those of us who plan for 2-6 goal races per year CERTAINLY need to practice every day. If we do not, we are only adversely impacting ourselves for those limited opportunities we have to shine and reach out goals. Sure, you could “cheat” things and “get by” by avoiding the things that challenge you most, but doing that won’t enable you to reach your fullest potential for success.
If you avoid doing the things you dislike, you will limit your growth as an athlete. If you only focus on one area and “skate by” in the rest, you will limit your growth as an athlete. If you write off drills, warm-ups, skills practice, mental skills training/preparation, or the harder parts of workouts as not applicable to you, then you will limit your growth as an athlete.
In order to grow as an athlete, you need to “practice exercise.” This means that you need to include work on ALL things related to your sport of choice, not just cherry-pick the elements that you prefer or like best. The next time you are tempted to skip something because you “don’t like it,” reconsider that and think of it as an opportunity to lay down a more solid foundation for yourself so you can reach your future goals.
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.