Stagnation During Training? How to Go Beyond Your Plateau

Professional Triathlete's , Training Tips Add comments

By: Brice Winkler

We've almost reached July, and with respect to the triathlon racing season, things may be just heating up for you, things may be in full swing already, or perhaps things may be slowing down. When the middle of the year comes along, I always like to write down in my log what goals I have achieved and what goals I still would like to achieve. Furthermore, I take a step back and try to bring a new approach to my training because I always seem to encounter some form of stagnation during my workouts. The middle of the year calls for novelty. For instance, at the beginning of each season, I make big leaps and bounds in my swimming. My technique gets sharpened and honed, my feel for the water improves tremendously, and week after week, my times per 100yd/meter steadily decrease. However, once I hit June and July, I begin to plateau. I've exhausted all my tricks, and I seemingly swim like a metronome. That is, I hit the same swim times no matter what. As I heard in the gym this morning from an older gentleman after weighing himself, “Well, I never seem to gain weight or lose weight. I'm just staying the same. Very odd.” For me, I would say “ Well, this hundred time just isn't coming down. Maybe I have hit my plateau. Will I get any faster?” This is what I'm referring to as stagnation in training. How do we eliminate it? Of course, stagnation can come in a variety of forms. You may have hit a plateau in your cycling or running. What I hope to provide is some general advice that can help jump up and above your plateau and avoid this dreaded stagnation.

Okay, the first thing I do when I encounter my own issues is grab a pen and paper and draft up a whole bunch of plans. What kind of plans? With respect to swimming, I write down what I know is staying stagnant (let's say my 100m time), and I brainstorm on how I can change that. Maybe try using more pull gear during my swim workouts to develop more strength? Shorter sets with more speed work added? Maybe a small diet change prior to my swim workouts? Do I substitute out a pool swim for an open water swim in Lake Sonoma? Ideas like that. The key is to be willing to experiment and figure out if your plans work or not. Otherwise, you will most certainly remain stagnant. The next thing I do is look at my overall weekly training schedule. Have I become sucked into a grind? What if I cycled on Tuesday instead of Monday, and what if I added my speed work session to a day where I swam as well? Even the slightest change in your weekly routine can give you some mental freedom and save you from saying to yourself “Oh, I guess it's Wednesday, and I have to go for a ride.” One of my ex-English professors emphasized how important it was not to get married to the things that one wrote. That is, people become extremely attached to their thesis statements and how they have structured certain body
paragraphs. They believe that because they wrote the sentence in a certain way that that is the best way the sentence can be written. However, this may not be true. In fact, it probably isn't true.

In the same way, triathletes have a very difficult time breaking out of their routines. Hey, I have a very hard time breaking out of a proven weekly routine; however, if it's starting to become stale, then I know a little bit of change is on the horizon. I have to warn you that changing things up does not always result in positive change. I've tried new things that made me slower, that made me feel ill, that made me never want to change my tried and true routine ever again. But you have to be flexible and willing to experiment to know what works and what doesn't. If there is a great restaurant up the street that you've eaten at for years and have always been impressed by, and then a new restaurant opens up nearby, what do you do? Do you continue to eat where you've always eaten or do you take a risk and try out the new place. The old restaurant will always be there, and you know what you're getting, but what if this new place simply rocks your socks off? I think you know what I'm advocating here.

I have the utmost confidence that if you are experiencing any sort of stagnation in your training that you will be able to overcome it. Write up a plan and see if it works. Always remember to be flexible, flexible, flexible. Best of luck with everything you do. :-)

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