Throughout certain parts of an annual training cycle, coaches and athletes need to strike balance between highly structured programming (pre-competition and competition cycles) and more unstructured fitness fun.
Following intense competition seasons, after long layoffs from training (vacations, personal issues, etc), emphasis should be placed upon getting back into the groove of things, increasing general fitness, and restoring one’s positive relationship with training, fitness, and consistent training.
A shot of the entire gang after a fun-filled fitness WOD, captured by Martin Romero.
Too often athletes become mentally burnt out, stale, and even unmotivated following prolonged periods of intense training in higher stress environments (such as during competition seasons). While all athletes at higher levels will experience this (as it is a necessary piece for advancement), many of them can benefit from taking a few weeks or months to diversify their fitness to allow for adaptation, mental recovery, and the re-establishment of a healthy relationship with training. It is important to note that these periods can range from a few weeks to a few months, however coaches and athletes should program them the farthest away from formal competition so that high specificity and intensity can be trained leading up to a meet andor competitive event.
Why Should You Have Fun During Training
While I do believe that all athletes will go through times when training is more or less NOT fun (which is necessary at times to drive adaptation), having fun throughout the process of training is key to longevity, consistency, and even maximal performance. When an athlete has a positive relationship with training they are more motivated to go through the tougher days, train more frequently and consistently, and even place more emphasis on recovery so that they can do more of what they love to do.
In general, I feel that all athletes, regardless of sport, can take advantage of the five tips below during times farthest away from formal competition to:
- Increase their positive relationship with training and fitness
- Restore their muscular, hormonal, and neurological systems from the increased training stressor of high level competition/travel/life
- Increase their general fitness (endurance, movement, aerobic and anaerobic capacity) and drive long-term optimal performance
1. Train with Other Athletes
One easy way to increase general fitness and enhance one’s relationship with going to the gym on a regular basis is to start training with other athletes with similar goals. By training with athletes who share the similar goals, you are able to have increased accountability, social interaction (we all know that we often find ourselves talking to ourselves/the weights), and daily variations throughout our training
This is what happens when you get a bodybuilder/weightlifter, functional fitness athlete, and lover of all things fitness together…
Additionally, by training with others, we are able to establish a sense of support and healthy competition, which can do wonders for those athletes who often train alone. By training with other athletes who share similar goals (yet sometimes having battles with less-similar goals can help you diversify your fitness) you can increase your general fitness levels and establish a stronger support network for later stages of more intense and structured programming.
2. Take Some Time Off from Your Regular Programming
While this doesn’t necessarily mean a weightlifter should stop snatching, cleaning, and jerking on a regular basis, spicing your training sessions up with variations, mixed sets and repetitions, and even changing the tempos of your sessions can do wonders for your focus, motivation, and overall training experience. For most power and strength athletes, we often find ourselves performing the same exercises over and over again. By taking the time to go off your regular programming so that you can add in more variations and training styles (that still serve a purpose to your goals) you can address movement issues, increase aerobic fitness (if structured well), and even find a deeper motivation and inspiration for your hard work in the gym.
3. Do Other Fitness Activities
Take your fitness outdoors and get some fresh air…
Although you may associate yourself as a powerlifter, weightlifter, functional fitness athlete, runner, etc. I urge you to take some time to do other fitness activities that parallel your goals. Weightlifters can diversify their training by adding more bodybuilding splits or accommodating resistance training while functional fitness athletes could devote some additional time to more formal weightlifting technique drills. By doing other fitness activities during certain times of their year you allow yourself to stimulate new fitness growth, expand your knowledge and technique on aspects that you may be lacking, and have some more spontaneity in your training.
4. Do More of What You Love
While this is usually not an issue for people (often I find doing what you love can be a crutch, as many people never address their weaknesses..aka, what they don’t love to do), during times where you are looking for motivation to overcome a hard and stressful training phase/season/event, structuring things that you love within your routine will leave you motivated and inspired to train hard. If you are a weightlifter who loves doing bicep curls, program them in after your weightlifting sessions. If you feel like going for a jog while traveling Europe, go for it. By adding small doses of more movements and activities that you love into a well-thought out training program (that includes things you don’t love but need) you can find better balance in your training and fitness.
5. Seek Out Fun Training Opportunities
The exact exchange that occurs when it’s finally time to throw-down!
Open yourself up to local events, fun competitions, and/or weekly throw-downs with other athletes at your gym. By adding these fun activities/events into your training calendar, you give yourself a purpose for your training and hard work. That said, I do urge coaches and athletes to be smart in selecting such activities/events to ensure that an athlete is ready, as jumping into any event blinding can do more harm than good, undermining the intent of taking some time to perform less formalized programming (could result in injury, de-training, conflicting training adaptations).
Coaches and athletes should determine the best phases (often the farthest away from formal competitions cycles) to increase varied fitness activities into one’s training program. However, during these times, a percentage of training time needs to still be dedicated to an athlete’s primary sport and goals, as taking time completely off to do other things could negatively impact one’s long-term performance in their primary sport.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.