Common Training Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

 By Coach Maria Simone

Training mistakes: we’ve all made them. Sometimes we re-make them. Other times, we may not know we are making them. 

In all cases, minding what I like to call the “1% details” ensures we make the most out of our hard work. After all, all of these 1% details will add up to 100% of your potential reached! 

In this article, we review some of most common training mistakes that we see athletes make as well as tips for how to avoid them so you get 100% out of your training time and effort. Through each of these tips, I include links for more information. I’m assuming some of these will speak to you more than others, so the links provide a way for you to get more information and to have a dialogue with your coach or spend some time in self-reflection.

We’ll cover common mistakes with: 

  • Fueling & Hydration
  • Doing the right work
  • Self & Body Awareness
  • Social Comparison
  • Time Management
  • Fueling and Hydration

Typical training mistakes we see in this category include: 

  •  inadequately fueling or hydrating workouts, which may include either not taking in any calories or hydration at all or not taking in enough
  • Missing the window for post-workout recovery refueling 

Taking in adequate calories and hydration during your workouts is vital to both performance and recovery. It’s worth noting that breakfast isn’t fueling for your workout. Breakfast is necessary to break-the-fast of not eating all night, and as such it’s part of your daily nutrition – not your workout fueling. 

Additionally, the gut must be trained to process calories and hydration. If you don’t train regularly with your planned event-day fueling and hydration, the body won’t be able to process it well. You know what that means? A gut bomb of some sort… Don’t let the bomb go off. Train with your fueling and hydration strategy! 

The first 30 minutes after a workout are crucial for replenishing your glycogen stores, and taking in protein to support muscle repair. For men, this should be a liquid recovery drink or smoothie with a 4:1 or 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. Women will do better with a 3:1 or 2:1 carb to protein ratio. 

For tips on fueling and hydration, please review: 

We often see the phrase to “do the work” – which is good advice – but you want to make sure you are doing the right work. Right effort includes (but is not limited to) the following: 

Intensity discipline refers to how well you stick to the prescribed targets for your workout – working either too hard or too easy means you are not meeting the objective of the workout. And, while you are still putting in work, it’s not necessarily the type of work that will lead to optimal improvements. A caveat here is if you are having trouble hitting targets for a few workouts in a row. In that case, it may mean that you need to take recovery. Always talk to your coach about how you are feeling! 

A related point is volume discipline. Simply put: more is not better. So, do what your coach or your training plan advises. If you don’t understand the plan – ask her/him what the rationale is, and where the plan is heading. Please please please do not add training to what is prescribed. Too often, this leads to injury, burn out, and overtraining. 

It’s important to get out of your comfort zone in training so you can learn how to manage the sensations that come with that. Racing to your best effort will surely push you outside of your comfort zone. If you take the time to find your edge in training, you’ll know how to self-soothe on race day. What mantras work? How can you regulate your breathing? How will you know if/when you need calories, hydration, electrolytes? All of those are answers we find in training. 

We are all guilty of losing focus – it’s pretty normal and to be expected. However if we can refocus ourselves on the intention and spirit of the workout we are doing, we will reap the most benefits from it. So, when you are doing drill work – do it with your whole mind. When you get fatigued, run through a form checklist to keep your movement purposeful. Don’t just tick boxes – make every moment count. 

  • Self-awareness

Self-awareness is one of the most important skills that an athlete can develop. This self-awareness includes a host of mental and physical qualities, abilities, and sensations. For this article, I just want to focus on a few key elements of self and body awareness: 

  • rating of perceived exertion
  • Proprioception
  • decision making in-workout or during racing
  • body talk 

It’s important to note that each of these can be focused on as skill development by focusing on them intentionally in training (back to point #2: do the right work with intention). 

RPE

Rating of Perceived Exertion or RPE is your subjective measure of how hard you are working. On TrainingPeaks, it is measured on a scale of 1 to 10. But, you don’t need to be able to assign numbers in order to be able to use RPE. For example, you may rate RPE as easy, aerobic/steady, tempo, hard, very hard, #PukeZone. The labels are not as important as understanding the feel of different efforts and what you can sustain for certain durations. 

Interestingly, in studies of RPE, athletes with a developed sense of self and body awareness are able to accurately match their RPE to the number-based metrics. It’s important to be able to develop your feelings of RPE for a few reasons: 

  • Your technology may not work on race day – and if it doesn’t, you need a reliable Plan B
  • Even if your technology does work on any given day the numbers may not feel “right” – so that means you may need to go easier than planned (perhaps it’s really hot?), or maybe you feel amazeballs and you an push the edge a bit more. Either way, RPE is an important cross-check on the metrics. 
  • In day to day training, RPE can offer more insight into how the metrics feel. For example, if you are working at a certain heart rate, pace or power, and after a time, those numbers feel easy, then maybe it is time to re-assess the threshold and intensity targets. Alternatively, if your RPE feels off for a few day in a row (relative to the numbers), that’s often an important sign that the body needs rest. 

Proprioception

Proprioception refers to your understanding and feel of where your body is in space, how it is moving, and the positioning of the various “parts”. This is particularly helpful for swim technique, bike handling, run form, and working on uneven or undulating terrain. 

You can improve your proprioception through drill work, functional strength and mobility (especially single-sided and balance work that allows the left and right sides to work independently), and making observations about your movement patterns as you do them. If you notice something is off, take the time to insert some drills or exercises that will help you learn the movement. 

There is also evidence that suggests watching the movement can help you to mimic it. So, watching videos of the skill or movement you want to emulate prior to doing can help you achieve that movement pattern. 

Decision Making

If I coach you, you have very likely heard or read: “Focus on the spirit of the workout.” On any given day, you may not be able to execute the workout precisely as written. Perhaps this is because there are hills, stop lights, rain, heat, and any other host of factors that present obstacles. When this happen, it is important to work on your decision making abilities to meet the intention and spirit of the workout. But, this isn’t just about training. On race day, there will be a myriad of moments where you are going to have decide what the best course of action is. Think through not only your movement, but also your strategy for executing. Be intentional when you decide effort, cadence, gearing, tangents for turns, etc. Learn to trust yourself to make the good choices. 

Body Talk

More often than I would like, I hear about little body tweaks athletes are experiencing after they’ve become an issue. When I speak with athletes about this, I hear a few different variations of reasons why they ignore the signals their body gives: 

  • “I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you’d give me recovery.”
  • “I didn’t think it was a big deal.” 
  • “I figured I could just train through it.”

Nope. Nope. And, nope. 

Now, not every niggle means you have to halt in your tracks. But the things your body says to you must be heeded. Make sure to report to your coach, or in your log if you are self-coached, when you feel things or hear your body saying things. This way, you have a record of when things started, if they are getting better or worse, or just lingering around. This reporting will also give you an idea of how to manage the symptoms and get to the root cause. 

  • You Do You

You have to train like YOU, you aren’t your friend or the members of your team. You aren’t Lionel Sanders, Courtney Dauwalter, Meb Keflezighi, or Lucy Charles (or insert your favorite pro here). 

We are each an N of 1. Your history, your goals, your race calendar belong to you, and require specific choices relative to who you are in terms of frequency, duration, intensity, overall volume, and recovery. Your training should be responsive to the details that will allow you to achieve your potential, your best performance, your HEALTHIEST self.

Too often, athletes find themselves down a spiral of negative self-talk due to social comparisons with what other athletes are doing. (Many of you have heard my Strava rant. If you haven’t, you don’t want to get me started on it. 😂😂😂) It’s great to be inspired and to learn from what others do. But, if that turns into self-judgment and ridicule because you aren’t doing what Susie TriClub or Jimmy UltraRun is doing, then you are not supporting your growth. You are inhibiting it. 

We have no idea what the backstory is about Susie or Jimmy. And it’s worth mentioning that social media is a highlight reel. Don’t compare your “down” moments to others dressed up moments. If it isn’t serving you, then you need to pass on it. 

Our training is about us. Honor yourself by sticking true to what brings you happiness, and celebrating your growth. Don’t let social comparison be the thief of your joy. Be proud of yourself, your commitment to your goals, and your achievements. 

  • Time management

We spend a significant amount of time training, and it’s hard to balance it all with the regular “stuff” of life. So, time management is a key part of our success as athletes. 

  • Review your training schedule each week on Saturday or Sunday. Plan out your week so you know when you can train. 
  • If you are a coached athlete, give your coach advance notice about your schedule so they can craft your schedule to FIT your life, not fight it. I can’t express how helpful it is to get advance notice when you know plans will restrict aspects of training. There is no such thing as too far in advance for notice. Let us know! 
  • Coach Lindsay wrote a piece with time hacks for parents – no doubt you’ll find it helpful!

Achieving our big dreams requires a massive amount of hard work, discipline, and sacrifice. It requires a focus on the day-to-day details – seemingly insignificant, but they are not. Each 1% detail adds up to achieving 100% of your dream. I hope this article helps you avoid some of the common mistakes most of us make – or at least gives you some tips for doing your best to avoid them.

Common Training Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
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