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Tue 23rd Oct 2018
Training - the power of habit
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Saturday 28th November 2015

Tags  Consistency  |  Habit  |  Habit Training

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Are you struggling to meet your weekly training goals? Aiming for consistency but ending up with an unstructured mess week by week, full of peaks and troughs?

Tri247 Editor John Levison considers looks at the power of habit in improving your own approach to training.

Achieve Consistency - make it a HABIT

Habit: "an acquired behaviour pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary"

If you want to improve, whatever your approach / methodology / philosophy is to training, the single most frequent message I've heard from top athletes and coaches over many years is - be consistent.

Alistair Brownlee, Olympic Champion:

"I wish there was a secret... I wish I could go home tomorrow, do a session and be flying in three weeks time but it doesn't work like that unfortunately. It's just consistency day in, day out and enjoying what you are doing."

Brett Sutton, coach to Nicola Spirig, Daniela Ryf and many more:

"Training doesn't have to be hard, but it does have to be consistent - and it's being consistent that makes it hard..."

Joel Filliol, coach to Mario Mola, Richard Murray, Helle Frederiksen and more:

"Repetition is your friend. Variety is for the weak minded, and interferes with the learning process. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition." (from this great article on swimming).

Getting the habit

In a typical weeks training there are certain sessions that are 'easy' to complete, in the sense of consistency. You swim on a Monday and Wednesday night. Why? Because that's when the triathlon club sessions are. You ride 'long' on a Sunday because a) you like riding anyway, and b) that's when your 'group' meet up etc. Those elements are a great start to building the spine of your standard training week and go part way to an overall consistency goal.

I suspect, like me, you have a few of those in your typical schedule - but what about the 'other' stuff? That, in my experience, is where consistency can fall away and where applying habit can get you back on track.

In recent months I've found that this concept of habit has really helped my own training. I may not be particularly fast, but given where I was four years ago, that I'm now training (consistently...), six or seven days per week, every week, means I've made some significant progress and am still enjoying the process of doing so and a key part of that is through developing habit.

I'll explain it with a practical example. I do a fair proportion of my training with my wife. We are close enough in speeds that this works quite well for us across the disciplines and we enjoy training together. Like the example above, we have a few days of the week that we don't have to think about, with some set (tough!) group swim sessions, regular long run etc. While the individual sessions may not be easy, completing them is, simply because we know we'll be training with our regular group at time X in location Y and group motivation or personal enjoyment takes care of the rest.

What we've been able to address is recent months is significantly improving our overall training frequency/volume by building upon that and creating our own habit training. With a long (and early start) commute and a stressful job, by Friday evening my wife is more than ready for the weekend and I'm hardly feeling like going out and doing VO2 Max intervals on a Friday evening either! At 5pm, when it is cold, dark, wet and the sofa (and a glass of wine) is calling, to be honest, training motivation is pretty low. However, what we have found is that if we DO train, we both feel a lot better and it is a great end to the week. Plus, the sofa is still there at 7pm. It can be a win-win... but has taken a few weeks to make that a habit through repetition.

For us in this example, Friday evening it is not a time to be scheduling in 'hard work', or indeed anything that needs too much in the way of mental thinking, especially with some hard sessions coming up on Saturday and Sunday. So, we've got into the habit (that word), of doing a short swim, perhaps 2km in total, and then going and doing a steady treadmill run in the gym upstairs straight afterwards. This ticks a lot of positive boxes for us:

  • Additional swim frequency is always a good thing
  • By keeping the reps short (typically 50's / 100's), we can keep a little bit of quality and avoid 'plodding'. It's never a feeling good session... but it always feels good to have done it!
  • It's a lot easier / time efficient to combine two sessions in one pool/gym visit
  • Surprisingly, the run always tends to feel ok
  • Both the swim and run sessions fit into the overall objectives of our training weeks. Individually, they are not long, hard or epic sessions, but they all contribute towards aerobic development, feel for the water, frequency etc.

Overall, we have never yet done this and thought, "I wish I'd stayed at home". It is always a positive end to the week - a great habit we've created.

The take home

For us, the keys have been:

  • Set a realistic target. If you know you are going to be shattered on a particular evening for example, don't try to make "20min FTP test" your new 'habit'
  • Initially, 'just do it'. You'll be surprised how quickly you remove your own barriers and turn habit into a positive.
  • Have a goal. If you are trying to embed a positive process, arriving at poolside with a "what shall we do?" attitude won't help.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Train with a friend/partner for extra motivation. It may help get you out of the door.

Good luck in finding the right habits that work for your own training goals.


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