Continually beating yourself up in your training is a surefire way to go backwards, not forwards, in training. Instead, try a "No Threat" training approach.
I was teaching on a coaching course the other day and as usually happens, one of the learners wanted to talk about more than simply cycling technique. Over lunch we got to talking about the 32 years that I’ve been doing endurance sports and how I do things differently knowing what I now know.
The crux of the conversation was around interval training and I think I left him a little puzzled when I said (a) that I would do less volume, (b) that I would do more intervals & (c) that I would never push those intervals to a point where I couldn’t make the power output target.
“What?” he said, “You wouldn’t even really push on the last one to get it all out?"
A Different Approach
No I wouldn’t. I believe in doing enough, but always trying to stay in my comfort zone, edging out how big that comfort zone is. This is massively different to most of what you hear, but if you're brave enough to walk away from the mainstream, surprisingly effective too.
I’ve come to grasp over the last few years that those intervals where you fail, effectively where your CNS shuts down your ability to perform, are not making you faster. At best, they’re creating the dreaded plateau effect.
I’ve long been a fan of Tim Noakes’ “Central Governor” theory. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s time to get his weighty tome: “The Lore of Running”. From the day I first read it, I've thought there was something in the theory, but it took much longer for me to figure out how to apply this in the real world.
Here’s my 2015 take on how this applies to the intervals Justyn & I were discussing. I call it the "No Threat" approach.
As much as you’d like to believe that you’re simply muscle & bone controlled by your very strong conscious mind, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Your conscious mind doesn’t stand a chance against your Central Nervous System.
The problem with workouts that take you to exhaustion, failure etc is that they create a threat response in your CNS. Your CNS has among its functions a responsibility to make sure you don’t injure or worse, kill yourself.
Fooling Your CNS
Getting past the protective mechanism of your CNS is much like a very nervous parent looking after a toddler.
If my 10-month old daughter wants to play with the TV, I’ll see her move in that direction & tell her very clearly’ “NO!”. She’s clever though and has figured out that if she stands there and makes small incremental movements towards the TV, I might not notice. At the very least, she's going to get her hand closer to the TV. At best (in her mind), I won’t notice and she’ll be able to touch it & even push it over.
Your CNS is pretty similar. You can simply charge at your goal speed, power output or whatever, elicit a threat response & then find it hard to make gains beyond a certain point, because for some unknown reason the brakes are now on.
Or you can get cute, edge towards it, never give your CNS reason to believe that you’re about to do something stupid and find that you continue to make gains far beyond what you envisaged. That's the "No Threat" approach to training.
In reality, you have far more performance capacity than you're ever going to be able to access. The trick is to fool your brain in letting you use more of it by convincing it that there is no threat of death or serious injury if it lets you do that little more.
It's not necessary to work out to exhaustion. By implementing the "No Threat" approach to training you'll get better results by slowly expanding your comfort zone instead of attempting to bludgeon your way out of it.
Your Central Nervous System will do all it can to protect you from harm, so you need to keep it calm as you slowly increase your capacity.