Archive for February, 2019

Identifying Expressed Vs. Engaged Values

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More and more athletes are recognizing the importance of integrating sport psychology skills into their training. Sport psychology skills include thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors related to how to approach all aspects of athletic life. Skills can be broken down further into understanding the general foundational beliefs athletes hold both in and out of sport, how athletes mentally and emotionally manage the nuances of sport (for endurance athletes the critical variables here include managing discomfort and shifting perception of effort), how athletes engage in competitive environments, and how athletes approach recovery.

Many believe the only psychological skills that matter in endurance performance are mental toughness and grit, and subsequently ignore many of the underlying foundational skills. This is a disservice to athletes in the long run as these psychological variables interact with and influence outcomes. Therefore, they need to be understood and improved on a daily basis.

Each day’s training offers an opportunity to increase awareness and hone sports psychology skills. In order to help build a solid set of psychological skills that will guide athletes to their peak performance, you have to start by establishing foundational principles and work towards the top. As with all training, the best place to start is with goals and values.

Setting value-inspired goals

The start of any season should begin by breaking down the calendar and determining a set of goals for the year. Many coaches and athletes begin the year with this conversation. From determining mileage and training hours to planning consistent long runs and recovery days to plotting focused PR attempts and finding opportunities to break through perceived limits, the tone for the year is established in these early conversations.

Goals and goal setting have been discussed ad nauseum in countless books and hundreds of posts, articles, and podcasts available. Those ideas, although important, bear not repeating here. Rather, I’d like to offer a new take on an old framework by focusing on expressed and engaged values.

Values, in essence, are your standards for behavior. Expressed values are what we say we value; they are the statements and outward expressions of the behaviors we say matter, or the engagement style we claim to employ in certain aspects of our lives. Athletes are great at expressing all kinds of values as it relates to how they approach training. Examples may include:

“I work hard.” “I always complete my training in full.” “I never leave my training logs with yellow or red boxes.” “I am mentally tough.”

Engaged values, on the other hand, are the behaviors we actually demonstrate through the course of training. You can look back through an athlete’s training log and deduce engaged values based on how they showed up and completed assigned workouts. There can be contradictions between what we say we value and what we actually do in training.

For example, athletes may say they value working hard and completing training in full, but in reality, they often cut training and regularly don’t finish workouts (a 20-mile planned long run is stopped at 18 miles because they “just didn’t have it today”). Athletes may say they value mental toughness, but when workout paces need to be pushed into the red zone they give themselves permission to back down. Cutting workouts short or slowing an assigned pace might indicate that an athlete has a strong engaged value of comfort, and signal a discrepancy between their engaged values and their expressed values (in this case, mental toughness).

How do you reconcile expressed and engaged values?

Identifying this potential dissonance is a key conversation in the coach-athlete relationship. This all begins by making sure you are on the same page at the beginning of a training cycle. Be sure the athlete takes time to reflect on their expressed values for the upcoming season while considering tangible goals, targets, metrics, and races while establishing their training plan.

Don’t get me wrong. Goal setting is also an important conversation while getting started, but it is equally important to take a moment to consider how athletes plan to approach the work it will take to reach those goals. Ensuring athletes are engaging with their plan as effectively as possible on a daily basis puts them in the best possible position to improve as the season unfolds.

Here’s an easy process to get started. Challenge your athletes to list expressed values by writing each value down in a clear, concise statement, such as:

“I value working hard.” “I value finishing workouts in full.” “I value engaging in mental toughness when it’s needed.” “I value finishing threshold workouts.” “I value doing the little things that make me better like foam rolling, strength training, managing stress, getting proper sleep.”

Keep this list readily available for the duration of training. This initial list can then become a blueprint for monitoring values through the course of training.

When training begins, both athlete and coach have a template to compare the expressed and the engaged values. Within a relatively short amount of time, workouts will begin to indicate if there is alignment between the expressed and the engaged or if there is lack of harmony.

If you, as the coach, or the athlete are noticing that workouts are not being finished, excuses are being made, or the athlete is not pushing into areas of discomfort when needed, this discrepancy between the engaged and expressed should become a critical discussion point. After a few weeks of training it is important to look back at the training log and state what their engaged values have been. This cycle can then repeat itself as often as needed throughout the training plan, either to make tweaks to the training plan itself or to reconcile differences in the values themselves.

Getting the most out of your athletes requires a tremendous amount of consistency and discipline. Ensuring the training is aligned with expressed values is a key way to monitor progress to ensure you are maximizing their training, and getting the most out of training is critical if you’re looking to get the most out of your athletes in competitive situations.

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CoachCast: Efficient Coaching with Tim Ballintine

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It takes more than athletic experience and luck to build a full-time coaching business. Advancing your business to the next level requires dedication to your athletes, organization, developing a niche, and effective sales techniques. Have you spent enough time working on the tools that will help you build your business?

Dave sat down with Coach Tim Ballintine to discuss how he organizes his business, personal life, and training to maximize his effectiveness. Learn about some of the mistakes to avoid as you start your business and how Tim makes every athlete a priority.



Koa SportsTim Ballintine InstagramKoa Sports Podcast

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CoachCast: The Science of Recovery with Christie Aschwanden

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Without proper recovery, training alone might not get your athletes to their goals. At the same time, how much of what we know about recovery is actually based on unscientific assumptions? You might be surprised at how much we don’t know about recovery.

Dave Schell sat down Christie Aschwanden, author and lead science writer for FiveThirtyEight, to discuss her new book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery. They discussed topics like inflammation, sleep, and even New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to get to the bottom of our sometimes unscientific approach to recovery.



Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery by Christie AschwandenChristie Aschwanden TwitterFiveThirtyEight articlesEndure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson

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Off-Season Training: When It’s Time to Ditch the Trainer

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The trainer is an incredibly valuable tool for winter and year-round training. This is especially true for cyclists and triathletes in colder, snowy climates or those who need structured workouts to reach specific fitness goals. While this can be necessary in the big scheme of things, there are times when you should get off the trainer to boost your fitness and abilities.

But, when and how should an athlete leave the trainer behind to get a mental break from the monotony?

Let’s take a look at three most impactful ways to get off the trainer, and how to do them right.

1. Ride outside on sunny, warmer days

I’ve promoted a simple rule since 2008 with all of my athletes: if you have a sunny, warm day in winter, you can and should get outside for a longer ride.

The winter is the one time during the year I recommend that, when the weather allows, an athlete break from their structured training plan to get a mental reprieve from training. For some athletes this means taking a half day off at the office, leaving work around lunchtime, possibly bundling up, and heading out for a nice three- to four-hour endurance or tempo ride.

I sometimes find myself using the phrase: “screw your training plan ride!” This allows your athletes a chance to restore their mental energy, something that can be lost in today’s world of structured training.

Be careful not to take this to the extreme though. Up to three days of riding like this within a seven-day period of good weather is the max I recommend. All other workouts should follow their structured training program.

Also, on a warm winter day, it might be tempting to ride harder than you should. Make sure you don’t push it so hard outside that you have to take a recovery week afterward. Most rides should end with an Intensity Factor (IF) of roughly 0.60-0.75, depending on your level of fitness. TSS will be dependent upon your fitness level, but for the average IRONMAN 70.3 triathlete or “Cat 3” road racer in the U.S., aim for TSS between 150-225 for each ride.

2. Add strength training

Of course, strength training must be added in the winter, and as discussed in my last article about using the trainer, cutting your total ride time in favor of focused rides is one of the top things athletes should be doing. This allows plenty of time to get in the necessary strength work to help athletes get stronger and move better.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a gym! A single kettlebell (8kg for beginners, 12kg for intermediates) and a yoga mat is more than enough to start a solid strength training program.

Share this video playlist with your athletes to add a 30-minute strength routine to their workout after using the trainer. Emphasize moving swiftly from each exercise to the next, and follow the order given below. The order of these movements is incredibly important as this workout is designed to help move better and open up tight areas right after firing important muscle groups.

Dynamic warmup

Complete 1-4 and return to 2-4 for a second round.

Foam rolling exercises: 1×30 seconds each sideLacrosse ball glute medius: 2×30 seconds each sideOne arm lat stretch with deep breathing: 2×5 deep breaths each sideSofa stretch: 2×30 seconds each side

Strength workout

Start with A1, then immediately move to A2. Take a short rest, then repeat both exercises until you complete all prescribed sets. Then, move on to B1 and B2 in the same fashion.

A1. Bird-dogs: 2×3-5 sets each side concentrating on techniqueA2. McGill Crunches: 2×5 sets holding each repetition for 5 seconds

B1. Side-lying straight leg lifts: 2×8-12 sets each side concentrating on techniqueB2. Double kettlebell hover deadlifts: 3×5-8 sets holding each for two seconds at the bottom

C1. Kettlebell eastern goblet squats: 2×8-12 setsC2. One arm kettlebell rows: 2×6-8 each arm keeping abs braced and shoulder blade held back and down

D1. Max effort front planks: 3×3 rounds bracing everything for 5 seconds, relaxing on the ground for 3 secondsD2. Foam roller with stretch: 3×30 secondsD3. Lunge reach twist: 3×30 seconds

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Interested learning about building strength training plans?

Take author Menachem Brodie’s online course Strength Training for Cycling Success or Strength Training for Triathlon Successto understand more!

3. Cross-train to build fitness and stay mentally fresh

This is a roadblock that a lot of athletes and coaches encounter, as they instead think “HTFU” or “just push through” will get them to their goals.

Yes, there are definitely days and times where we need to push through, but it should not become an every-other-workout occurrence. I heard this often from my powerlifting coaches in high school and college: “We want fives, sixes, and sevens for 90 percent of our workouts. Another nine percent will be eights and nines, with competition as a ten.”

This means that most days workouts should not leave you mentally or physically drained and should have a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) of five, six or seven. You shouldn’t be so tired from your last workout sessions that you are dreading the next day’s workout.

This is where so many endurance athletes go wrong in the winter. They keep exhausting themselves on the trainer convinced that somewhere a competitor is going harder. In fact, it’s not how hard you can go day in and day out that will get you to higher performance, it’s your ability to recover day after day while being consistent with training.

So, go on a hike, take your mountain bike for a ride in the snow, go for a swim, try rock climbing, or go climb stairs. It’s just important to do something that gets you physically moving and helps you build fitness. That is truly the key to having a stellar winter base period and being able to enter race season in a fresher mental state, a highly overlooked part to top performance.

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The Whole Picture: An Introduction to Total Load

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This is Part 1 of a five-part series on total load, the cumulative training and life stress an athlete experiences while training.

What is total load, anyway?

Simply put, “total load” is a way to think about all of the stress that athletes encounter in their lives, both positive and negative. In addition to an athlete’s workout, other factors such as sleep, diet, and mental stress impact a body’s ability to train, recover, and perform. Many athletes don’t realize that factors such as work stress and travel can really impact their ability to train and perform well. 

We will explore the factors that comprise total load in a five-part series, starting with this introduction. A deep dive into the major components of total load will follow:

Total Load Overview: Why does it matter? What are the key components? Physical Stress: Training, endurance, high-intensity workouts, strength and conditioning stressMental Stress: Workplace, emotional, travel and jet lag stressSleep and Diet: The two primary recovery enablersActive Recovery: Speeding up recovery using light workouts, yoga, and Pilates

Why does total load matter?

The new ethos of marginal gains pushes amateur and elite competitors to optimize the volume and intensity of their training in pursuit of maximum performance. When combined with psychological and non-sport stresses, maladaptation is increasingly likely.

The concept of total load has been around for a long time, but significant progress on the subject has been made in recent years. In early 2016, the International Olympic Committee organized a group of experts to examine a growing body of evidence indicating athletes with poorly managed total loads suffered from higher rates of injury and illness compared to competitors. In this context, “poorly managed” indicates training loads that were both too low and too high, in addition to rapid changes in total load.

That study led to a two-part statement on identifying and managing total load published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The authors concluded that it was important to monitor and measure the following factors to better understand total load:

Internal and external loadConsistency of training load over timePsychological stressTravelIllness

Only when considering all of these factors can athletes and coaches achieve a comprehensive picture of total load. In addition, monitoring and managing total load over time has been shown to have the biggest impact on improving performance while reducing illness. The infographic below summarizes key findings from research by the Australian Institute of Sport.

njury and illness: success infographic

What is external and internal load?

External load describes the physical work performed during training and workouts. External load measures include traditional training metrics such as power, speed, distance, duration, and frequency. Research has demonstrated that some newer external load measures such as Acute:Chronic training load ratio (of which TSB is an example), and GPS-derived metrics (acceleration, high-speed running used in team sports) predict injury more effectively compared to traditional ones.

Internal load refers to the body’s stress response to the external load. Examples might include an increase in hormones such as cortisol or physical damage to muscle fibers. The range of internal load measures is less obvious, but includes rating of perceived exertion, Training Stress Score (TSS), psychological scales, hormone measures (salivary cortisol, c-reactive protein), blood lactate, and heart rate measures (resting HR, HR Recovery, and Heart Rate Variability or HRV).

New research

The General Adaptation Syndrome model, which suggests that a given level of training load will produce a repeatable adaptation in each athlete, has been used for around 90 years to predict an athlete’s response to training. However, in his 2017 thought-provoking paper, Dr. John Kiely addressed the relationship between total load and the body’s response that suggested otherwise.

Kiely argues that the old General Adaptation Syndrome model is far too simplistic, as neither our body’s homeostasis nor our stress response remain constant. In fact, they vary with life experiences, bio-rhythms, and many other factors. This is where holistic measures, such as Heart Rate Variability (HRV), can be useful as they can better reflect the total internal load as perceived by the body, rather than just the amount and intensity of training.

Non-training Stress

For all but the most cosseted professional athletes, training is not the biggest source of stress on the body. Factors such as mental stress, frequent travel, inconsistent diet, and sleep loss represent more significant sources of stress for many athletes with busy lives.

In a recent interview with a coach of high school and college-age athletes, we observed that mental stress from work assignments and social pressures frequently led to poor diet and sleep. As a result, those factors further compounded the imbalance between total load and recovery.

Spent the morning with a national track athlete and Olympian medalist. More or less 90% of the session was related to life stress. It is often a hidden contributing force in the injury history of athletes.

— Eugene Oppelt (@eugene_oppelt) January 17, 2019

It is important to consider all of the sources of stress when coaching to prevent such an imbalance, but it can be difficult to identify when life begins to fall out of balance. One way we can determine the key stress influences for an individual is to track an all-inclusive stress measure, such as HRV, while recording stress, fatigue, sleep, diet, and other markers on a daily basis. Observing trends in this comprehensive data then allows for refinement and adjustment of lifestyle.

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Interested in learning more about heart rate variability?

Take Simon Wegerif’s online course Introduction to Heart Rate Variability to understand the basics of HRV and how you can use it to measure total load.

Remember that it’s not just training that stresses the body, it’s total load that matters! It is always important to consider external and internal loads, not just the training itself, because the body’s specific response is highly individual and even varies over time.

The next article in this five-part series will take a closer look at how physical stress and training contributes to total load.

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