The training habits that endurance athletes should avoid

By Chris Knight | 5 Minute Read

Do you have any bad habits that you're looking to eradicate from your training routine? You're not alone as we spoke to five pro triathletes - Emma Pallant, Emma Jeffcoat, Ruth Astle, Mike Vulanich and Dimity-Lee Duke - to hear how their approach to training has changed over the years. 

It's interesting to see how much emphasis each athlete puts on recovery and the importance of sleep... 

 

Thanks for joining us! Let's begin by looking back at the bad habits you might have had in your training routine earlier in your career - what were they and what did you do to change them?

Australian elite triathlete and two-time ITU World Cup winner, Emma Jeffcoat: 

I was always of the mind-set that more is better.

Now after being pro for five years and having more experience behind me, I realise that this is NOT the case. Trying to squeeze more training in can increase your risk of injury or illness and means you're not able to hit those quality sessions when you’re meant to.

I listened to a great recovery podcast and one thing that stuck with me was “the only training you're benefiting from is the training you’re recovering from”

So, now I stick to my coach's training program and don’t add any extra 'secret' sessions.

 

Emma Jeffcoat lying in an ice bathSource: Emma Jeffcoat Instagram ©

 

Emma Pallant, the two-time World Duathlon champion and multiple IRONMAN 70.3 winner:

I came from a running background and had a lot of bad habits...

One of the worst was when I went out on the bike and saw people eating during training. I thought "these guys are so greedy; can't they just wait until after our session?"

Four hours in I quickly found out why they were eating on the bike. I learned from my mistakes...

 

Pro triathlete and repeat IM 70.3 Ohio winner, Mike Vulanich:

I'd mismanage my day so workouts ended too late. This throws off eating and sleeping for the evening which impacts the next day. It's a self-feeding cycle if you let it.

Now, I plan my days on my calendar, every minute spoken for, even driving to workouts or making food.

 

​Paramedic-turned-pro triathlete and winner of Subic 5150, Dimity-Lee Duke:

Not eating enough during heavy training loads as I felt I wasn't hungry after some sessions. ​I sought help from a nutritionist and that helped focus the timing of my nutrition.

 

Since turning pro, what are the two or three things you do in training that you wouldn't recommend to age-group or recreational athletes out there?

Ruth Astle, who was the top age-grouper at the 2019 IM World Championships before turning pro:

Training volume - it's very easy to look at what other people are doing and think more is always better, but different things work for different people. 

Occasionally going a bit harder than you should. As a pro, you probably have a better chance to recover properly, whereas if you're working full-time then you're more likely to put yourself in a hole.

 

Ruth Astle Instagram
Source: Ruth Astle Instagram ©

 

Emma J: I wouldn't recommend doing more than two sessions a day.

Keep it to one session in the morning and one in the evening after work. Maybe use a Saturday to potentially fit in three sessions, but make sure Sunday has a recovery focus.

I wouldn’t sacrifice the fun in your life for training all the time. It’s a hobby for a reason - because you love the sport and the challenge - so make sure you keep the balance between training and the things you enjoy. I think you’ll find you last a lot longer in the sport.

I would recommend taking 'Nanna naps' in the day if you can, especially if you can’t get a full eight hours at night.

I find a 30-45 minute nap is just what I need in the early afternoon. It helps recovery and refreshes me for afternoon training.

I used to do this when I was at university - I would have an hour break for lunch and go eat my lunch then take a 30-40 min nap in my car or under a tree in the park!

 

Emma P: I wouldn't recommend all of the travel.

I have some weeks where I race back-to-back on different continents, and the changes in times, the missing sleep, can leave me feeling run down.

I love to have my routine - to be at home, sleep in my bed and get the recovery I need from hard training and racing.

I've also raced when I've been ill or injured to try and cover the cost of travelling to the race. I certainly wouldn't recommend that.

 

Emma Pallant winning Challenge Cape TownSource: Dave Welensky ©

 

Mike: Don’t look at the hours a pro trains and think that’s the goal for you.

Be realistic with the amount of time you have to train AND eat and recover.

One of the mistakes I made as a working age-grouper was to look at a pro athlete's week on Strava and see 25 hours, so I'd think, “the only way I’m going to get better is to force over 20 hours into my week". 

It’s a sure path to burnout.

 

What’s the best change you’ve made to your training routine since you first turned pro?

Ruth: Going from about 5 hours sleep a night to 8-9 hours sleep - the difference in how I feel is amazing!

 

Emma J: Treating my training program as a professional routine and not skipping out on the small stuff outside of training, like recovery. 

I make sure I do my pre-hab exercises. So, I do stretching work during an evening. I'll also ensure I’m well hydrated and fuelled before and after sessions, so I'm not just rushing off to get the next 'job' done. I'll also target 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

 

Emma P: I'm terrible at sleeping in the day but I do try to have at least 30 minutes of rest somewhere, even if it's sat at a laptop doing my work with my feet up, so I'm just having that low heart rate, resting time.

 

Mike: Actually recover. When I first went pro, I felt guilty if I wasn’t 'working', since I’d been in a job my whole adult life.

But the mind takes as much energy as anything and if you’re not giving yourself real downtime to recover from the increased load, you’re not going to be your best.

 

Mike Vulanich running across a bridgeSource: Mike Vulanich Instagram ©

 

Dimity: Understanding the reasons behind sessions and the importance of training hard and easy at certain times.

 

And finally, do you still have any bad habits that you’re working to remove from your training plan?

Emma J: I’m continually working at getting myself to bed earlier. I’m naturally an early bird and love being up early. But I’m trying to get better at getting to bed earlier, so that I still get eight hours sleep.

 

Emma P: I would say that I still don't get as much sleep as I would like. We wake up early to swim and I need to get better at going to bed earlier, but often if I get stuck into a project in the evening or I'm talking to an athlete who I coach, then I end up going to bed a bit later than I should. Sleep is key.

 

Ruth: I'm still a bit guilty of trying to fit extra in, especially now I have more time!

  

Dimity: ​Not being confident in my ability. 

 

Dimity-Lee Duke running
Source: Dimity-Lee Duke Instagram ©

 

Thanks folks, it's been great to get an insight into how professionals approach training and there's definitely a few things we'll be taking into our own routines (namely more sleep!). 

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