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The Right Way to Train

BY Gear Fisher

We believe there is a right way to train. Or said another way, we believe there is a right way to go about training.

When I think about my athletic goals, my mind starts to naturally imagine what it’s going to take to actually make them come true. I start picturing the many training hours, schedule adjustments, early mornings and family concessions necessary for whatever I’m contemplating. No matter if that’s a cycling event, running event or skiing trip, I start sizing up what the roadmap to getting there will be. Like most others, I gauge the level of the training effort required to decide if the goal is achievable.

At TrainingPeaks, we’ve focused on building solutions to help people achieve their athletic dreams. That’s always been our mission from day one. As we were working on our new website that we launched last month, we wanted to convey to our visitors what matters most when you’re thinking about achieving your goals. We realized there was not one golden tip, or one secret workout, or one magical piece of equipment that we needed to tell people about; but that we can distill the art and science of athletic success down to a specific process.

No big goal is met simply. Big goals require a journey, and how to achieve them is the core principle of why we created TrainingPeaks. This would be the one key idea that we wanted to put on our home page.

We believe there is a right way to train. Or said another way, we believe there is a right way to go about training. And our products enable that journey.

The “Virtuous Cycle”

Now, as I make that potentially loaded statement, I have to clarify. We welcome and support any training methodology. Five zones, 7 zones, 3 zones, no zones, power meters, heart rate, RPE, intensity etc., there are many ways to practice the tactical approach. We really don’t care since we’re a platform for coaches and athletes like Photoshop is to an artist.  I’m talking about the strategic approach. The higher level of formulating a mindset toward achievement. On that level, we have a clear belief and guiding set of principles, based on the notion of deliberate practice.

The concept of deliberate practice has been discussed extensively as of late, not the least by authors including Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers and Daniel Coyle in the book The Talent Code. A good explanation can be found here, but in short the idea of deliberate practice is that, as opposed to innate talent, “expert performance” is a result of highly structured and goal-oriented practice.

There are four essential components of deliberate practice, and based on these four components we also believe there is a 4-step process that embodies the right way to train:

  1. Set a specific goal
  2. Get expert instruction
  3. Perform structured training
  4. Get immediate feedback

These four steps are really a loop, meant to be repeated as a cycle until mastery is achieved.  The interesting thing is that most people skip a step in the loop. You might be a great planner but never record or analyze your workouts to get your immediate feedback. Or maybe you train religiously but just do what feels right without a plan, so you’re lacking the expert instruction as well as the structured practice.

You need all four components to execute deliberate practice, and you can look at them on a micro or macro level.

On a micro level:

  1. Set a specific goal: 2-hour ride with 3 intervals at 250 watts
  2. Get expert instruction: Your coach designed the workout as part of an overall plan
  3. Perform structured training: Use a training device to monitor your efforts in real time
  4. Get immediate feedback: Upload the results and inspect your interval efforts

As you repeat the loop on a micro level, you’ll build confidence, understand the importance of how smaller blocks of effort lead to performance gains, and you’ll become fitter and more efficient in your execution.

On a macro level:

  1. Set a specific goal: Ironman Florida in 13:00 hours
  2. Get expert instruction: Hire an experienced coach
  3. Perform structured training: Make every workout have a purpose
  4. Get immediate feedback: Review weekly performance data compared to plan

Your first time through this macro loop might mean you finish strong and hit your time goal.  The next time through this loop might result in a P.R., and after many loops, you might even reach the podium. That is, the more and the longer you follow the process, the better you’ll become. After years of deliberate practice, you could achieve mastery as you define it: whether that’s a finishing time you never thought was possible, or making it onto the podium for your age group.

How TrainingPeaks Enables Deliberate Practice

From our perspective, your specific goal is already some sort of endurance event. 98% of TrainingPeaks users are already training for an event, so that should be no surprise. It’s never too early to get expert instruction from an experienced coach (we can help you find one), using a training plan, or even reading our blog and gathering your own information from mentors, around the web, and from books on the subject. Structured training means every workout has a purpose.  Every step, pedal and stroke is being performed with the confidence it’s the right thing to do and performed the right way. You’re not “just riding” or “just running” every day; you do efforts that are hard enough to force physical adaptations, and you take easy days for recovery so you can repeat your critical workouts. Immediate feedback lets you know how you’re doing, especially compared to your plan. Immediate feedback can involve you or your coach analyzing your intervals in TrainingPeaks afterwards, or seeing your progress over time using the Dashboard charts.

We’ve built and continue to build features that cover each of the axes on the cycle of deliberate practice, and helps you through the loop. That’s what we’re working on, and what our focus is at TrainingPeaks. We’ve seen the process work thousands of times and with the best athletes in the world–Tour de France teams, IRONMAN champions, and Olympians–which is why we believe in it so strongly.

As you prepare for your 2014 season as an athlete, make sure you have all of the components to training “the right way” to achieve your goal. And always remember that we are here to help you have the highest likelihood of success possible. I wish you the best of luck on your athletic journey.


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About Gear Fisher

Gear Fisher is the CEO and co-founder of TrainingPeaks. He uploaded his first power file in 2001 and continues to drive innovation for all endurance athletes and coaches. He is also the proud owner of a high performance bamboo mountain bike and can be found along the trails of the Front Range. Follow him on Twitter’@gearfisher.