Becoming a faster athlete is so much more than simply training more or training harder.
I’m constantly looking for ways my athletes can go faster without resorting to some of the dodgy supplementation practices endorsed by many “ergogenic experts.”
What follows is a list of just a few of those that I have found to work over the years. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, after all, I’d like you to read the whole post without getting bored.
1. Watch your sport on television, Youtube etc.
Don’t just half-watch it though. Allow yourself to get involved.
Look for signs that competitors are going to make moves, notice opportunities as they arise (whether they’re taken or not), look for the best line in a corner, around a turn marker or around a buoy and allow yourself to feel as though you too are there and performing that technique. Sounds weird right?
Studies show that if you have experience in a sport and you watch it with an active, involved mind, your brain actually practises the technical and tactical aspects of the sport as you see them.
Don’t neglect the power of your mind to help you become a faster athlete. Lots of people struggle to sit quietly and visualise themselves competing, but few of us struggle to watch the sports we like on the channel of our choice.
2. Have a goal for every workout
If you don’t have something specific that you want to get from your training session, you’ll simply default to what you’re good at doing. Alternatively, you’ll find yourself chasing every Strava segment en route, trying to stay with or catch someone else or simply cruising along mindlessly.
This doesn’t have to be an intensity or distance goal. It could be something as simple as taking every corner as smoothly as possible, maintaining a slightly higher cadence/stride rate or even just practising being able to eat or drink while on the move. Some of these technique pieces will make you a faster athlete without any need for more fitness.
3. Take the time to review your workout immediately afterwards
Keeping a training diary and writing about your workout soon afterwards will help you to notice patterns of things you’re good at as well as those you need to improve. You’ll notice whether you always do the same type of training, what you default to when the going gets tough, how much you need to eat and drink and an almost endless list.
Done well, you’ll have action points for the next time you do a similar workout. Over time, this will make you into a faster athlete.
Nowadays, most athletes and coaches seem to feel that the most valuable stuff in an athlete’s diary are the power and heart rate files and they make an analysis of these key. Performance data is important, don’t get me wrong, but your honest reflections on your training are far more valuable. Your diary is your best way (and a good coach’s best way) to learn about you, your training and your racing.
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”
― Lao Tzu
4. Revisit and reimagine your workout (and race) nutrition
I never get bored of saying that nutrition is 90% of the game.
Part of reviewing your workouts honestly will help you to figure out what works for you on the nutrition front. There are very few athletes for whom the sports nutrition company recommendations actually work. If you struggle to perform well when using gels, bars, energy drinks etc, you are not alone. In fact, I’d suggest that you’re part of the majority and should stop trying to force your body to get used to ingesting all that expensive artificial rubbish.
Try some whole food options while training. Experiment with unusual combinations and some stuff that you wouldn’t expect to have work.
If I were to tell you that it’s possible to ride 5 hours at the same speed as when carb-fuelled with just a few bottles of water, would you think I was nuts? Don’t start with 5 hours, but give it a go. There are some other things you need to do to make this an every session reality (keep an eye on future posts), but it is more than possible.
5. Make the most of your training by mirroring your target event
To put it simply, if your event is hilly, you need to train on hills. If you’re doing a sea swim, swim in the sea. Cyclists doing circuit races should perform lots of high-intensity accelerations out of corners. Marathon runners should run long. If it’s going to be hot, you need to train in the heat. If your run is on the tarmac (asphalt), you need to train on that surface.
Simply put, if you're going to become a faster athlete, your training needs to be fairly specific, especially in the run-up to your event.
6. Make sure you include other physiological aspects of your sport
Seemingly contradictory to the previous point is this one. To be a faster athlete, you must spend some time working on being a well-rounded athlete in your sport.
Just one example: Ironman athletes are usually good at riding one strong pace for a long time. Unfortunately many find themselves fighting a running battle with the draft-cheats and in trying to surge to get away, they destroy their own race by making demands on their body for which they have not prepared.
You see, they have not trained to make big changes in power output for short periods of time and just two or three of these leave them in trouble. The answer is to have done a bit more of the stuff that a cycling road racer would do, including some change of pace work. You simply don’t want to do something in racing that you haven’t done in training - you’ve heard it with regard to nutrition, it’s no different when it comes to pacing.
There you go, just six tips, but they're 6 tips that will make you into a faster athlete by doing more than simply adding training time. There are surely lots more tips and if you’d like to share your favourites, please add them in the comments below.