April 19, 2021

Pushing Past a Performance Plateau

What is a performance plateau? How can your prevent yourself from getting stuck in one? Join coaches John Mayfield and Elizabeth James as they discuss how to determine if you are plateauing, and if you are, what to do about it. Examine possible causes for a plateau in swimming, biking, or running performance and listen in as the coaches provide self-reflection prompts to help you identify areas to address in your training progress.

TriDot Podcast .082 Pushing Past a Performance Plateau Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let’s improve together. Andrew Harley:  Welcome to the show folks!  Hey, would LOVE for you to take a sec and leave a rating and a review of the podcast on the Apple Podcast App.  Thanks in advance.  Hugs and kisses from us to you. Alright…have you had a few weeks, a few months, a stretch of the year maybe where you are working hard and just not seeing the gains in your training?  Today we are talking about pushing past a performance plateau.  So listen in... it’s gonna get spicy! Joining us for this conversation is Pro Triathlete and Coach Elizabeth James.Elizabeth is a USAT Level II and Ironman U Certified Coach who quickly rose through the triathlon ranks using TriDot--from a beginner to top age-grouper to a professional triathlete.She is a Kona and Boston Marathon Qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014. Elizabeth, how are you today? Elizabeth James:  I have had my share of morning caffeine and I am ready to go!  Let's do it! Andrew:   Next up is Coach John Mayfield.  John is a USAT Level II and Ironman U certified Coach who  leads TriDot’s athlete services, ambassador, and coaching programs.  He has coached hundreds of athletes ranging from 1st timers to Kona Qualifiers and professional triathletes.  John has been using TriDot since 2010 and coaching with TriDot since 2012.   Hey there John! John Mayfield:  I too have had my caffeine and I’ve had my caffeine via some fresh ground coffee beans by Andrew Harley.  So this is gonna be good! Andrew:  That’s how we roll in the Harley house John!  We do our coffee right.  I’m bougie about coffee. John:   I can confirm that. Andrew:  Well, I'm Andrew the Average Triathlete, Voice of the People, coffee fanatic, and Captain of the Middle of the Pack. As always we'll roll through our warm up question, settle in for our pushing past a performance plateau main set topic, and then wind things down with our cool down. Lots of good stuff, let's get to it! Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving. Andrew:  Triathletes spend a fair amount of time in their home pain cave or workout room and everyone enjoys a good pain cave picture to get ideas for ways to upgrade their own home setup.  Elizabeth, John, what is a unique feature in your pain cave that other athletes might find useful in their own?  Pro Triathlete Elizabeth James, let’s go to you first on this one. Elizabeth:  Alrighty!  Well this would be, not so much help during a training session itself, but various household items like cleaning supplies are an essential thing in our home gym.  So we’ve got our Swiffer Mop to clean off the treadmill and the floor underneath the bike trainer.  We’ve got a few tubs of Clorox Wipes in there for the treadmill screen.  Kleenex for during a session as snot rockets are not allowed indoors, and then some air freshener as well.  So that’s definitely a full stockpile to make sure we keep things fresh as possible in our home gym. Andrew:  You’re going real practical on this one telling us cleaning supplies and Kleenex.  Not the sexy items to have in the pain cave, but essential nonetheless. Elizabeth:  Yes!  Keep you going from session to session.  But I will say we also have a wall of mirrors in front of the treadmill and the trainer and we’ve got Expo Markers there for goals, motivational quotes; so kind of a dual purpose with the mirrors both as the opportunity to kind of check form and then for some motivational purposes too.  So we’ll throw that in there as well. Andrew:  Coach John Mayfield, what are some unique things about your pain cave that other athletes can kind of take into their own? John:  Absolutely nothing!  Mine is super old school.  Mine is set up in the garage.  I’ve got my smart trainer, my TV which most people have. Andrew:  A real meat and potatoes kind of guy. John:  I would love to have it, but my house with three kids and all and working from home, there’s just not the space indoors.  So I get to head out to my garage.  But I will say I have three dogs and one of them actually joins me on the majority of my sessions out there in the garage. Andrew:  You don’t say? John:  So Maggie, my cocker spaniel, she comes out and she sits on the treadmill which is set up right next to my bike trainer.  I guess that’s my one kind of unique thing that I have out in my pain cave is Maggie, my BFF comes and she’ll lay on the treadmill as I’m sweating it out on my trainer. Andrew:  I have seen some other athletes post pictures of their pets whether they are on their treadmill or on an indoor bike trainer or doing some stretching, rolling out kind of stuff.  I have seen people post pictures of their pets getting involved in the action.  I wonder John, what do you think Maggie thinks you’re doing when Maggie just sees you on your bike for hours at a time just spinning your legs? John:  I have no idea! Andrew:  What do you think a dog’s perspective of that activity is?What is my human doing? John:  Yeah, no clue.  I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time. Elizabeth:  Well see, I’m liking this because what is missing from my pain cave is that dog.  So I can hint to Charles like hey…my pain cave doesn’t have a dog to help cheer me on. We need to fix this. Andrew:  Yeah a lot of those long workouts, you know, to have that buddy right there cheering you on, distracting you perhaps by doing something cute while you’re in pain on hour number two of a training ride. John: Certainly no one else in my family is going to go out there and sit with me and keep me company so I appreciate Maggie being there for me. Andrew:   As John crosses the finish line at that next Ironman his first shout out will be to Maggie the dog. John:  I have a picture of Maggie on my base bar. Andrew:  So for me, we have one of those little Alexa Dots where you can kind of talk to it and ask it what the weather is and all those kind of things.  So I’ll play Spotify through the Alexa Dot instead of my phone and that way if I’m on the treadmill or on the trainer or just on the ground doing some stretching or foam rolling I don’t have to fiddle with my phone or fiddle with a computer to change songs or to change playlists.  I can just tell Alexa to go to the next song or turn up the volume when I’m dying and need some extra encouragement.  So that has actually been kind of cool to have that there. We’re going to throw this question out on social media.  Curious to hear from you guys.  I know there’s a lot of sweet home pain cave setups in the TriDot Podcast audience and we would love to see some pictures of what your setup is, what you’re doing, where you’re doing all these indoor workouts, and how are you getting ready for your races.  Go to the I Am TriDot Facebook Group and find the post asking you, what is unique about your pain cave? Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1… GARMIN:  Our main set today is brought to you by our friends at Garmin.  In the fitness and multi-sport market, Garmin products are the gold standard.  Known for their compelling design, superior quality, and best value.  As a triathlete, Garmin can be and should be your very best friend.  They offer best-in-class GPS watches that can track your every swim, bike, and run with ease.When you are out on the bike, Garmin’s Vector Power Pedals can measure those all-important watts while their Edge cycling computers conveniently display all your data in real time as you ride.You can also bring Garmin into your pain cave with their Tacx indoor trainers and accessories.  I tell everyone who will listen that my Tacx FLUX Indoor Smart Trainer is the best investment I have made in my own triathlon training.  The best part is Garmin is fully integrated with TriDot.  So your Garmin Connect and Garmin health data seamlessly streams to TriDot and your training is continually optimized.  So head to garmin.com and check out all the cool tech they have to offer. Andrew:  There are moments in training when we can tangibly tell we are getting better, faster, stronger in our swim, bike, and/or run.  Those are great moments!  And always serve to validate that we are on the right track as athletes.But what if we go through a slump, or a lull, or a period of time where we seem to have stalled in our progress?Today I’m going to ask our coaches all about handling the plateaus in our performance. Elizabeth, John, let’s start just really by outlining what we consider a performance plateau to be.  What is a performance plateau? John:  It can be difficult to define what a plateau is or how to know that you are in one as opposed to maybe it’s just an expected time in your training where either you’re not making gains at the same rate you were previously.  There are a lot of things that we’re going to discuss about what is truly a plateau and what it may not be.  So it can be difficult sometimes to know whether you are actually in a plateau or not.  Oftentimes we look at race results from one race to another maybe within a season or season-to-season.  Are those race results not getting any better?  It could be more like a month-to-month where we’re looking at our assessments to see if we’re making those expected gains.  Are we stalled, plateaued in there, or going backwards sort of a thing.  And then sometimes it’s just a feel of training.  Sometimes you just feel like your training isn’t going well.  What you were able to do previously maybe you can’t do or what you did before is more difficult to do now.  So it’s really one of those things that is kind of hard to truly pinpoint.  We don’t have metrics that we look at objectively to say someone is in a plateau just because there is so much potentially that goes into it.  So sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what that plateau is, but I think oftentimes an athlete will know when they are there.  They will definitely have that perception that they’re in that plateau and so we are going to discuss that quite a bit too.  What is a plateau and what isn’t and what are the things that we should expect when in training and to know when we’ve plateaued versus a time where it’s just what’s expected. Andrew: As the weeks, months, and seasons go by in our training...there will always be ebbs and flows to the rate at which we improve in a sport...how can we differentiate between actually being in a plateau versus being suspicious that we are plateauing, but we might actually be on the right track? Elizabeth:  Yeah, this is a great question.  As John had just mentioned, oftentimes this is very subjective that athletes may FEEL like they are in a plateau, but there’s reason or some things that we can look at to see that they truly aren’t.  For example, I think back to the summer where I moved from Nebraska to Texas.  At the time I was a pretty new TriDot athlete.  I was preparing for Ironman Wisconsin.  In that spring I was really happy with the progress that I was making, especially with my run.  I was running faster 5K times, was getting really excited about my first Ironman event and then I moved to Texas and running in Texas was hard.  It was so hot and I was getting really worried that I wasn’t able to sustain the same paces that I could just a few months earlier.While some athletes may not be changing locations as drastically like that, they are still experiencing changes in weather from season to season.  So we need to look at more than just that raw 5K time.  Thankfully with EnviroNorm we can.  When your assessment results are normalized we can make that true apples-.to-apples comparison and looking at that I could see yeah, my raw 5K time in Texas was maybe a little bit slower, but when we normalize those assessment results I was still making progress.  So running slower in warmer temperatures wouldn’t necessarily be a plateau.There’s more that we need to look into there. Andrew:  Yeah.  I think my personal best 5K time environment normalized happened in like May in Texas.It wasn’t my best 5K effort raw time, but it was only 30 seconds maybe off of my wintertime PR.  But when you environment normalize it all of a sudden it’s like, oh that time actually looks way better than that 30 seconds faster in the winter. Elizabeth:  Yeah, you’re like this is my best 5K.  Just maybe not raw time. John: So that’s the important part of it is looking at the big picture, not just the time.  But what is the time telling you.  When you qualify it with the environment that it was done in now you can actually see what that is telling you.  So there’s more to it than just that raw time and in this context it’s important to look at that to where as the year begins to warm maybe your 5K doesn’t improve at the same rate or maybe it stalls, but again when we look at it in the context of environment normalization it may be like you said, indicative of gains to where your fastest time may not be your best performance. Andrew: Yeah, that’s a great way to put it! John:  Your best performance could be a little bit slower on the clock than what you were doing previously and the truth is it’s just easier to run in cool weather.  So we need to qualify that.  Another important thing is having reasonable expectations.  This is, I would say, more pertinent to those that are relatively new to the sport, especially brand new, but not necessarily exclusively.  When we get into the sport; when we first start swimming, cycling, and running for the first time, just by doing we’re going to see big gains.  There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that is fairly easy to harvest and so the athlete that comes into the sport really without a whole lot of necessarily great training- you can go out and just swim, bike, and run you’re going to get faster.You’re going to improve your race results simply by learning.  It’s kind of that on the job training.  Your first couple of races you learn a lot of lessons real quick and you’re able to make those fixes to where you’re not making the same mistakes, you’re making gains in your training.  But at some point that low-hanging fruit is going to begin to stall out.  So it’s about having a reasonable expectation of what your rate of gain should be.  For an athlete that has been in the sport for a number of years, has raced numerous times and kind of harvested all that low-hanging fruit you need to have a reasonable expectation of what your gains are going to be.  Something that I think of is the Olympic Athletes.  They train for years for hundredths of seconds and that is their reasonable expectation in their gains. Andrew: They’re not going to have a five second gain. John:  Right!  So an average triathlete would be real happy gaining 5 seconds per 100 in their swim threshold where that’s not even on the realm of possibility for an Olympic Athlete.They’re going for hundredths of seconds.Same thing with your 100 meter dash guys.  They’re not looking to shave a second or two; it’s hundredths of seconds.  That’s the difference between a gold medal and no medal is that and they work for years for those hundredths of a second.  Even pertinent to our sport, the guys that are contenders for the world championship, they’re not looking to shave 10 or 20 minutes off their marathon time. Andrew:  They maybe don’t have that much. John:  Right.  That’s not a reasonable expectation for them.  They’re looking to shave minutes to seconds.  So, where are you on that spectrum?  Where are you in that?  You need to have a reasonable expectation.  You can’t always say “well over the last year I gained an average of 5 watts per month.”  That’s fantastic if that happened in your first year, but at some point that rate of improvement is going to taper off to a certain extent.  So it’s all about having reasonable expectations.  As we mentioned before; you may still be making great gains that are very appropriate for your experience level, your time in the sport, but it could feel like a bit of a plateau.  Because we always want to continue to make those meteoric gains.But at some point that’s just not reality unfortunately. Andrew:  We would all love a 7 dot bump every single time we assess, but it’s not realistic, right? John:  Exactly. Elizabeth:  Well and I think having reasonable expectations also plays into your current training phase.  If we go back to the podcast episode that we did about the power-stamina paradox, I mean your training phase is specifically focused on building power or building stamina.Certainly there is some crossover there and I mean you can listen to the whole episode on that paradox.  But like in Ironman training you wouldn’t expect to see a major increase in your 5K time. You’re not working on that 5K pace.  You’re not working on the threshold as much as you are building the stamina for that full distance even.  If your 5K time is remaining constant as you’re building stamina for the full, then that’s great.  That’s not a plateau.  Your training focus at that time is preparing you for the 140.6 miles that you are going to do, maybe not necessarily your 5K PR. Andrew:  Yeah, I think even just this past Sunday at the time we’re recording this podcast I’m working toward Ironman Texas hoping it happens this year, and I had a MAV shuttle workout.  It was those three sets of seven 20 second sprints and man, after my weekend long ride, that 3-½ hour stamina ride on the weekend on Saturday, Sunday went in to the track for MAV shuttles and I was probably 20 seconds slower on all of my sprints than I normally would be on that workout because of that stamina ride the day before.  I had the gas for the hour and ten minute run workout, but I did not have that high end speed to really sprint quite as hard as I normally do.  So that is just a concrete example of exactly what you are saying Elizabeth. Elizabeth:  Uh-huh. John:  We mentioned that when we did the revisiting of the power-stamina paradox where you don’t train for your 100 meter dash and your marathon at the same time.  The athletes that specialize in the marathon don’t also specialize or compete in the 100 meter dash and there’s a reason for that and it’s that specificity.  It’s that focus.  I think oftentimes you could say I’m looking at my 5K assessment when I’m really training for Ironman with a focus in building stamina and have that perceived plateau, or vice versa.  If now you’ve switched over back into a development phase or you’re focusing on a short course race you say, “Man, my stamina has really declined.”  It’s like well that’s okay because you don’t necessarily need that stamina when you’re in that development phase or racing short course.So again it needs to be appropriate for the phase that you’re doing.  What is your focus and make sure that the metrics that you are evaluating are appropriate for that.  Then it also needs to be appropriate for somewhat of the season.  We’re not always in peak form.  That’s somewhat of an art and something we really focus on achieving as race day approaches.  That’s when you need to be at your absolute best.  So that’s why our training phases are structured in the way that they are.That’s why we taper into races, and that’s how we show up on race day with the ability to race at our absolute best.That peak of fitness can only be maintained for a certain period of time and unfortunately it’s not a real long time.For most athletes, it's just a couple weeks at best.  So that’s when we would see a bit of a fluctuation.  Instead of getting super hyper focused on that, it’s look at things over a larger period of time.  What are the overall trends saying?  Instead of looking at maybe just this month and last month or this week and last week, look at larger trends.  What is it over the last several months, over the year, over the last several years?So it’s kind of like your 401K or your stock portfolio.  As much as we would like for that to be perpetually increasing, constantly up and over, that’s just not the reality of it.  And we don’t panic every time our 401K takes a little dip and sell off everything. Andrew:  That’s just why I don’t even look at mine John.  I just let it do its thing and I just forget it even exists. John:  And sometimes that’s a smart thing.  Because yeah, again we want to see that constantly improving in value, increasing in value.  We definitely don’t like to see when it decreases, but any seasoned investor or knowledgeable investor knows that that is just part of the game and training is largely like that as well.  What we want to see over time are trends that are improving in fitness, but part of having those trends are going to be those ebbs and flows that we mentioned.  So if you think you may be in a plateau, take a step back and say is this truly a plateau or am I in just kind of a season where my training is different, my body is responding differently, and if it’s an extended period of time, yeah you may be in a plateau.  But you may just be kind of in a season where you’re not making the gains at the same rate.  I experienced this late last year where the year 2020 being odd with race cancellations and rescheduling… Andrew:  Was it John?  Was it an odd year? John:  It was a little bit.  So I started training for the 70.3 Texas which is in April so I started training for a long course race early in the season.  Of course it was cancelled.  I then started training for Lubbock in June which was cancelled.  And it wasn’t too long after that that I started ramping up for a 70.3 in September and then I had another in December.  So I kind of had throughout the year, in that the September race and the December race were not part of my original plan, but I had this fitness that I had gained through the first half of the season I wanted to use.So for me to perpetually train for 70.3 long course triathlon all year became tough.  I think I probably peaked somewhere in August.  I wish I could have raced in August because that’s where I feel like I was at my best.  And again, it goes back to what even Elizabeth said with it’s a feeling.  I feel like I was at my strongest and then I raced in September and then it was kind of just a season of recovery and taper all the way into that race in December.  The race in December was fantastic, but I really wish I could have experienced it in August because again it was not really feasible for me to maintain that peak all the way from August through December.  So there is that natural ebb and flow of it.  Again, that’s why it’s important to take a step back and look at the overall trends.  I know the year as a whole was fantastic for me, not just looking at maybe the last quarter of the year where my body was kind of like, it’s kind of enough of this. Let’s take a step back and recover which I did and now I’m kind of in that process of building back. Elizabeth:  One of those things we keep kind of talking about are these assessments and looking at those overall trends from them and using those month-to-month assessments as a way to kind of gauge our progress which is an absolutely amazing thing to be able to do.  One of the things that I’ve kind of discussed with some of my athletes is if they’re going month to month and they’re like “Gosh, my assessments just aren’t getting better!”  Let’s really dive in and look at your assessment execution.  This kind of goes back to some of those reasonable expectations and the gains that athletes will see as a beginner and then as they continue to be more seasoned in their triathlon career.  Initially, yeah, just going out and training a little bit more you’re going to see a big jump in your 5K.  You’re going to see a big jump when you do your 20 minute power test on the bike.But over time, those gains just from doing the training get smaller and smaller and then we need to consider things like our assessment execution.  Are you going out way too hard on your 5K at first because you’re super excited and then dying at the end? Andrew:  Adrenaline! Elizabeth:  Yeah, exactly.  It’s like man your first mile was on fire and then you are just barely hanging on. Andrew:  I want to get it over with! Elizabeth: Right! And so there may be some opportunities to really display the fitness you’ve built with better assessment execution.  So that is something that really needs to be considered as well.  You may not be in a plateau.  You may have the fitness to run a faster 5K, but the way that you’re executing that assessment just is preventing you from really seeing that progress. Andrew:  So armed with all that information- that was a lot of great stuff from both of you about just how to kind of distinguish whether we have plateaued or might just be kind of in a false flat on the verge of a breakthrough.How long would a plateau need to be; how long would an athlete need to kind of feel stuck before they should consider it a problem?  John, what are some of the signs an athlete should look for before getting concerned, maybe reaching out to a coach for help breaking through? John:  That’s where it becomes a little difficult.  I think it’s going to be an individualized response kind of based on everything that we’ve said.  We talked about assessments quite a bit there, but I think that is our best indication.That’s one of the reasons that we do prescribe assessments on a regular and ongoing basis is to benchmark progress and as we mentioned, things like execution come in to play, but those do tell us a good bit and they provide that objective information like we discussed with your 5K example and Elizabeth’s running in Nebraska versus running in Texas.  We’re able to normalize for things like environments and see.  Again, what is the reasonable expectation for an athlete?Are you making the gains that are appropriate for your training phase and your time in the sport?  I would say two or three months, if things aren’t progressing like they should take that step back and look at the overall trends.Don’t panic!  I think that’s always important...never to panic, but to look at it objectively and see and we are going to discuss some other things as well that can contribute some questions to ask.  I would say somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three months for most athletes especially in the development phase or early on.  Moreso in a training phase we would want to see some movement and maybe it’s not in all three disciplines, but maybe it’s in at least one or two we are going to see some gains.  Again, your strengths are going to have slower improvements.  Those weaknesses you are going to expect to see hopefully a more steady improvement in those because there is some of that low-hanging fruit that we mentioned.  So it’s a little bit different for every athlete.  It’s kind of hard to nail down, but I would say two, three, four months.We don’t want to stay stagnant for too long.  We don’t want to over react or panic if month-to-month things don’t go fantastic, but two, three, four months we should start to see a little bit of that upward trend coming back. Andrew:  When an athlete is legitimately stuck in a rut...it’s not a perceived plateau, it’s an actual plateau... What are some of the reasons they might find themselves stuck there? Elizabeth:  I really think that some self-reflection can go a long way here.While not always the case, I think a lot of athletes in a plateau could acknowledge some of the reasons why they may be there.  Are you consistently training?  Are you doing the RIGHT training RIGHT?  What are your TrainX scores?  Use TrainX as a reflection tool not only for those daily sessions, but looking at your weekly, four-week, eight-week averages.  If you’re not consistently training are you still expecting to see those gains for work that you’re really not doing?  Are you doing the right training?  The durations and intensities prescribed for you are going to be one way to make sure that you aren’t finding yourself in that rut or if you’re there kind of reflecting on why.  Is your run not getting better because you just don’t want to run?  You’re skipping a lot of those sessions.  Are you following the prescribed run workouts?  I would really encourage athletes if you feel like you’re in a plateau, let’s do some self reflection first and see if there’s some big, overarching reason why you may be there. John:  As Elizabeth mentioned, doing the right training right is a HUGE aspect of this.  It’s two fold there.  You have to have the right training and then you have to execute it properly.  We can kind of look at training as a recipe with the end product being race results.  If your recipe sucks, your end product is going to suck.  Kind of going back to what I said initially, a new athlete coming to the sport can pretty much just go out and do any swimming, cycling, and running and they are going to see some improvements.  But really once we get past that low-hanging fruit what you do becomes critically important both in terms of making gains, avoiding injury, maximizing your potential.  So what you do in training becomes critically important and that’s where we point to TriDot and look to TriDot for optimized, individualized training so we know that is critical.  That is the right training is when you have training that is created specifically for each individual athlete and not based on theory or philosophy or guesswork, but truly optimized training.  So that’s doing the right training.  Then you have to do it right and as Elizabeth mentioned things like your TrainX scores that provide that objective feedback as to how well you executed the intent of the session.  A quote that comes to mind is Henry Ford’s quote; “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”  You can’t continue just doing the same thing and expect a different result.  If you are in a performance plateau, 1- are you doing the right training?  Are you doing truly individualized, optimized training.Then if so, are you doing it right?And that’s where we can look to objective feedback items like your TrainX scores. Andrew:  And to that point, any time when I reflect on my own TriDot career; training with TriDot.  Any time that I have either regressed in one of the sports or multiple, or any time I have kind of stalled in my progress and had the same dot for a couple times in my assessments, it’s been because we’ve had some stuff going on in our personal lives, family lives, and haven’t been training as consistently or it’s been at a time where maybe in the run I was dealing with a foot problem or a knee problem and I was just backing off the run for a little bit.  When I look back at the training whether it was for injury reason or scheduling reason, I wasn’t executing the sessions correctly and I wasn’t executing enough of the sessions when I look back.  There’s always been a tangible reason.  So as you talk about doing the right training right and kind of self reflecting on the training you have been doing, a lot of times I think an athlete is going to be able to look back at the training and realize “Oh, I have been maybe missing some stuff” or I have been not able to execute perfectly because of a different external reason and sometimes that can lead to us thinking that we have plateaued.  When we self-assess, like you said Elizabeth, we are going to realize some of those things. John:  When we come back to doing the right training right, a lot of that comes back to oftentimes athletes will train too little or they train too much.I think people tend to be polarized in this in what they have a tendency to do.  For some it’s a lack of consistency.  Y’all have heard me say it a hundred times that perfection is not required, but consistency is key.  So you have to be consistent in your training.  Again, not perfect, but consistency is I would argue the greatest indicator of success and ongoing gains and avoiding plateaus.  Doing the right training consistently.  Again, not perfect, but consistently training.  I think a different side of the same coin is oftentimes triathletes in our type-A triathlete mentality feel like they have to push through; fight, fight, fight with everything we’ve got and train too much.Ongoing gains is very much a balancing act of applying a specific amount of training stress to the body, but then allowing the body to recover from that training so that those adaptations can be made.That’s where plateau is avoided.Plateau is avoided by making gains.Making gains is the result of again measured training stress with appropriate recovery so that the body can adapt and then make those gains.  If you are missing either side of that variable this is where you’re going to plateau or this is where we’re not going to see gains.  So if you’re not applying an appropriate amount of training stress to your body you can’t expect to make gains.  Or at the same time, if you’re applying too much training stress to your body, not recovering, and not allowing your body to make those adaptations, you’re not going to expect to make gains there as well and that can lead to a plateau.  So it’s somewhat of a balancing act and again going back to the right training with TriDot.This is where we have the training stress profile that is specific to each individual athlete that’s going to determine their exact amount of training stress.  How much aerobic threshold, muscular, neural stress in each session, each week, each mesocycle that is appropriate for them and then how much recovery is necessary.  This is also where we get into PhysiogenomiX where we’re looking at an athlete’s injury predisposition, their recovery rate, those types of things that we are able to extract from their genetic code and then we can use that, leverage that, in training to where we can have that exact right mix that is so hard to nail down.When you’re training on guess work or theory, it’s very difficult.  It’s practically impossible to know exactly how much training stress is appropriate then how much recovery is required for that training stress to become adaptation. Andrew:  We often have athletes post about adding their PhysiogenomiX; uploading their genome file to find that out about themselves, and I always take a lot of solace, John and Elizabeth, whenever an athlete makes a comment about “Yeah, I did my PhysiogenomiX and I found out I have a high injury disposition and a slow recovery rate.  Man, it really sucks!”  I always take solace in those posts so thank you to all our listeners who have done that and posted that because that’s me and I’m glad I’m not alone.  I’m glad I’m not the only easily injured athlete that chose this stupid sport.  So thanks to all of you for consoling me in that. John:  Just kind of a side note on that.  Oftentimes people will say, “Oh, well I have a low aerobic potential.”It’s like, well that’s in your genetics.We all wish we had high aerobic potential, but now that we know that we can tailor the training appropriately.We can’t necessarily change our genetics. Andrew:  It doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful triathlete. John:  Absolutely not!  But it also changes the way you need to train with that.  Same thing with your slow recovery rate and your high injury predisposition.  It’s critical to train with that knowledge.  If you don’t have that knowledge chances are you’re going to train in such a way that’s going to end up getting you injured or under recovered.So again, that’s going to lead to those plateaus.  So if you’re not having an appropriate amount of recovery then that’s when we’re going to have those plateaus.  Because again, we go back to that formula of balancing the training stress with recovery leading to adaptation to where if that component is we know for you specifically, you may need- you not may need, you DO need additional recovery time from that training stress in order to see those gains; those adaptations, that non-plateau.  So, yeah, that’s huge where PhysiogenomiX comes in and really can help even further refine the training to prevent the plateau. Andrew:  Can we add t-shirts to the TriDot store that says “injury risk” on the shirt?  We care too much and we train too hard to get stuck in one spot without improving.John, Elizabeth, how can we prevent ourselves from getting stuck in a performance plateau? John:  So we’ve mentioned a few critical things; the consistency, the recovery, doing the right training right.  I think one important thing to be aware of and somewhat of a natural response is avoiding the “if some is good, more is better” mentality.  I think a lot of times when athletes, especially type-A driven triathletes, begin to perceive they are in that plateau, the natural response is well, I’m just going to do more.  I’m going to train longer, I’m going to train harder, I’m going to fight and push.  That is just kind of who we are.  It seems to be in our triathlete DNA, but that often may even be what led to the plateau.Especially if you’re doing too much training and not recovering, the last thing you want to do is more.  More volume, more intensity.  Again it’s about maintaining that balance.  So that;s one thing.  Take a step back and evaluate what the problem is.  Don’t just try to push through, do more, and go at it that way. Andrew:  Can we agree though, John, that when it comes to the phrase “if some is good, more is better” that that is true of coffee even though it’s not true of training? John:  I think like most things it’s true to a certain extent.  I’ve had days where I’ve had too much. Andrew:  Disagree John!  I’ve never had a day with too much coffee. John:   Alright. Elizabeth:  Bringing us back from coffee to training here… Andrew:  Thank you Elizabeth. Elizabeth:  Yeah, keep us on track.  Gosh, the emphasis of allowing for recovery and not just doing more, more, more is so important.  We already touched on how our body needs to recover to make those adaptations in training for better performance and here, sleep is so important.  Sleep allows your body to adapt and recover and the lack of it will absolutely impact performance. Andrew:  Yeah. Elizabeth:  Earlier in this episode we talked a little bit too about expectations and I remember talking with Coach Brady Hoover last year when he and his wife had their baby and he knew at that time it was not the time for him to be making gains in his training.  He recognized that he was going to be sleep deprived and whether the sleep deprivation comes from an extending family, your lifestyle habits, stress, illness; the lack of recovery can create that plateau.  If possible this is something that an athlete can look at and adjust to really help them achieve those greater results.  That recovery is just key. Andrew:  I think many times when an athlete is experiencing a plateau, it’s probably just in one or two of the sports and not necessarily all three.  So let’s kind of march through the three disciplines here and talk about what might individually cause an athlete to stall in their progress in a single discipline.  In the swim, what might cause a plateau in swim improvement? Elizabeth:  Okay.  Here.Technique!  Poor technique really has a finite limit in terms of the swim and where there are opportunities for improvement.  There is only so much of the swim that is fitness and that’s actually very little in comparison to how much is based on technique.  So athletes should spend time becoming more efficient moving through the water as opposed to just trying to fight it. John:  That’s right.  The focus of swimming and the opportunity for gains on the swim is really, for the vast majority of athletes, is becoming more efficient in moving through the water as opposed to just overpowering the water and trying to move through it quicker.So definitely technique.  Part of that technique is drills.  Drills are an important part of that, developing that technique, becoming efficient, moving through the water, but something that’s critical in that is doing the right drills.  That’s part of doing the right training right.  Oftentimes an athlete will just randomly select some drills. They’ll get some videos off of YouTube, they’ll go to the pool, and do those drills.But, one, those drills need to be executed properly and two, perhaps even more important is the drill needs to be appropriate for the athlete.  Not all drills are appropriate for all athletes.  An example that I use often is those that over glide, those that have a dead spot at the front of their stroke.  They don’t need to be doing the catchup drill.  If they’re doing the catchup drill for that athlete that’s going to be reinforcing a negative behavior.  It’s going to be counterproductive for that athlete to do that drill.  So the drill needs to be appropriate for the athlete.  It needs to address a weakness or build upon a strength.  So it’s important to know what you need to become more efficient; know what drills or kind of work on that and then do that drill properly. Andrew: Yeah, I think this is... just examining myself… the one part of the sport where I could probably...I’m not in a plateau on my swim, my swim is getting a few seconds better each and every assessment, but I’m just about to a point where like Elizabeth said, I’ve come about as far as I can come just by improving fitness.  It’s going to take getting some coach’s eyes on me and saying “Okay Andrew (who knows nothing about the swim), here’s what you need to work on next in terms of technique” before I’m going to see some bigger gains again.  And I’m aware of that. John:  And don’t sell yourself short.  You know the swim, but oftentimes it is difficult to self-evaluate and that’s where even the best swimmers can benefit from either videoing themselves or getting a second set of eyes to see what those issues are.  Because sometimes it’s very difficult to perceive what you are doing, or you may think you are doing something and you’re not.  So, yeah, that’s a good point. Andrew:  Then even knowing it...I mean because to your point, I can look at somebody and definitely tell something is going on.  In my own swim form I can tell there’s a few things going on.  But it’s like, okay in these three things that I know I’m not doing as well as I could be, which one do I target first?  You know, which one am I going to fix first?There’s benefit...Anyway, getting a little off topic, but I know that’s the next thing for me to evaluate before I’m going to see any large gains again in the swim improvement.  Great, great thing to point out. Elizabeth:  I think for other athletes that are feeling that they are struggling in the swim or maybe feeling like they are at that plateau, I recommend that they go back and listen to Episode.02.  This was a great episode where we covered those barriers to swim improvement, and we basically cover this question in a whole episode.  So there’s lots of good information there that they could dig into a little bit more. Andrew:  What might hold an athlete back from seeing that FTP climb up higher on the bike? Elizabeth:  The bike is much less technical than swimming and in this discipline fitness will help you make some pretty big gains here.  So working on building power primarily through the threshold work, and that’s going to be prescribed in your training, is really going to help see that increase in FTP.  Gosh, you know, we’ve mentioned these things several times throughout the episode and not to keep harping on it, but it really does come back to that power-stamina paradox and working on increasing that threshold by doing the right training right.  Beyond that with the training itself, another thing that we can consider here is equipment.Is it time to invest in a power meter?I saw a major increase in my cycling performance when I began training with power.  It’s just so much more precise than using heart rate for interval training.  So if an athlete is training on the bike by heart rate, one thing that we could think about is making that power meter purchase. John:  So that’s one of those investments that...oftentimes we make investments on the bike it’s in aerodynamics, wheels, helmets, those sort of things that make you faster...but that’s a great thing about a power meter.It’s not going to make you faster as soon as you bolt it onto your bike, but it’s really an investment in yourself.As Elizabeth mentioned, you're training… Andrew:  So it’s a long term speed investment? John:  Yeah!  It’s going to make your training more efficient.  Your training is going to be better.  You’re immediately going to see that in your TrainX scores.  So as we mentioned, that marker or metric to judge the quality of your training execution being that TrainX score, and it’s not all about that the TrainX score and we talk about not getting fixated on that, but it’s still a very good, powerful metric that’s going to show you how well you executed your training.  Not to say that you can’t execute high quality training based solely on heart rate, or you have to have the power meter, but it really is a very beneficial investment.  And even then thinking about what is your protocol both in your training and in your assessment.  So we’ve talked about using the assessments as the benchmark to see am I plateaued, especially in the bike as we do these 20 minute power tests, we do the 15 mile time trials, there’s room there for execution to play into it.  So do you have a thought out plan headed into your assessment.  And that’s true for swim, bike, and run.  Just like you would on race day.  You go into race day with a pacing plan and then you execute according to that plan.It’s important to have that for your assessments as well.  Oftentimes your execution is only as good as your plan.  So is it the fault of the plan?  Did you not have the right plan headed in?  Was it not a reasonable plan?  Did you overshoot and blow up 15 out of 20 minutes into the power test, or did you get through your 20 minute power test and not feel like you were going to collapse?  Because that’s kind of a marker of a well executed 20-minute power test is you can’t do that for 21 minutes.  So it’s all about that as we’ve mentioned prior too.  There’s a certain amount of learning that goes into that.  The more you do it the better you’re going to become at it.  But yeah, are you executing your training properly?  Are you executing your assessments?  Are you getting true, good benchmarks?  So if we’re using assessments to benchmark our plateau or lack thereof, are those assessments really telling us, are they really indicative of your fitness, or can they be improved.  Not necessarily through gains in fitness, but improving the execution of the assessment. Elizabeth:  So another thing as I’ve been kind of reflecting on my bike training here, I know that I already mentioned the power meter as kind of a big jump in my cycling performance, but the other thing that really helped me was incorporating some strength training.  There got to be a point a couple; I would say about a year or so into my triathlon start, where I just really didn’t have the physical strength to hold any more power on the bike.  So I really needed to incorporate some strength training and really build up those lower leg muscles to ensure that I could push a little bit harder on the bike.So there are things outside of the cycling training too.  Certainly those threshold intervals are going to help you build strength, but is there an opportunity outside of the bike training to make yourself stronger and really see some of those gains as well? John:  That’s a great point.  I think a lot of times the athletes that are naturally predisposed to excelling on the bike, having those high bike dots, are those that generally do have some of that infrastructure there. Andrew:  The muscle mass is there already. John:  That’s critical for those that perhaps are plateauing on the bike and not seeing that.  They’re doing the training, they’re out there doing those hard threshold intervals, and they’re recovering from them.  Really focusing on those large muscle groups, that’s really what powers the bike are the glutes, the quads, the hamstrings, building those up off the bike, doing the strength training for that really can help supplement the increase in power.Also the endurance, so doing strength training that is focused on muscular endurance, the higher rep sets, as well as reduce the injury risk.  So, yeah, that’s a great addition and it’s a critical addition to the time on the bike. Andrew:  What would you say to an athlete struggling to make gains on their run? John:   It’s something I mentioned before.  Oftentimes the athletes will have that natural predisposition to do more and I think that’s a very common response to “I’m plateauing on the run.I see these elite athletes running 100+ miles per week so that natural inclination-” Andrew:  Clearly that’s the answer! John:  Yeah!  If some is good, more is better.  I’m going to go out and I’m going to run more miles.  So oftentimes that can either perpetuate an existing issue or create new ones.  We know that the run is quite traumatic on the body.  We are limited in how many miles we can safely run at a time, in a week, in a month.  So that’s an important thing to consider.  Most often it’s not a need for additional miles.  In some cases it may be.  You know, we talked about those that are not training consistently.  You can’t expect to make gains in the run if you’re not running consistently.  Again, when we see those, be careful not to fall into that kind of natural response.It’s not crazy to think that, but often times that may not be it and often times if you go out and develop lower leg injuries because you ran too much, you’re not going to be plateaued, you’re going to be declining because you’re not even able to do what you’ve been doing previously. Elizabeth:  You know, we’ve touched on technique for the swim and the bike, so let’s talk about it here for the run as well.  Technique on the run doesn’t hold athletes back as much as it does on the swim, but proper technique could lead to big breakthroughs.  Are you doing the run drills?  They’re prescribed in your workout session for a reason.  These drills are going to reinforce proper form and kind of going back to more miles and possibility for injury, if poor technique is causing injury this could be the root cause of the problem on the run.There’s a couple of things to consider there too in terms of technique.  Is your solution just focusing on that, not necessarily more miles? John:  We naturally know how to run.  We know how to walk, we know how to run from an early age.  We’ve been doing it our whole lives to one extent or another and that’s why it’s different than the swim.  We don’t naturally swim.  A lot of us had swim lessons as a kid, but it was more so so we didn’t drown and so we could safely play and so we could get from one side of the pool to another.Very few of us were taught to swim for a mile or two, so that’s somewhat of a new thing and many athletes that come to the sport don’t have a swim background.  Some do, and those excel in the swim; but for the rest of us, we have the adult onset swimming which is a bit of a challenge. Andrew: Uh-huh! Elizabeth:  Yep.  Those are the t-shirts we need Andrew! John:  I suffer from adult onset swimming… Andrew:  I can wear all the t-shirts like that.  I’m a part of all those mediocre triathlete clubs. John:  We mentioned before, you’re going to pretty quickly max out your poor form on the swimming.  To a certain extent you can get away longer on the run with those issues.  At a certain point that can definitely lead to plateau as well where you’ve kind of maxed out your ability, or it may be that injury predisposition to where without fixing a technique issue you’re going to lead to that chronic injury or chronic issue that keeps popping up.  So that’s where addressing, as Elizabeth mentioned, doing the drills to fix those issues or maybe having someone take a look at your gait.  Is there something that you need to fix there?  Again, we’ve said it over and over.  It’s doing the right training, but doing the right training right. Andrew: So triathlon, obviously it’s a complicated sport.  A lot more goes into our fitness and success beyond just the swim, bike, and run training.  What are some of the other things that can play a factor in whether we are improving or plateauing? Elizabeth:  Gosh, this is a great question! Andrew:  Thank you! Elizabeth:  Because yeah, there really is more.  We talk all the time about nutrition being a fourth discipline and that is true here as well.  Like, improper fueling; whether that’s day-to-day nutrition that needs to be improved, whether that’s fueling before a session, during a session to make sure you have enough energy to complete the session, fueling afterwards to recover...I mean nutrition can play a big part and maybe that’s something that an athlete can look at if they feel like they’re in a plateau. Andrew:  Yeah, I’m glad you brought this up.  When you were talking earlier Elizabeth about on the bike training adding a power meter really helped you dial in the training and push through a breakthrough in your bike training.  For me, really just the last few months I’ve seen bigger gains in my bike training than ever before and the one thing I changed was my nutrition.  We did a podcast with Dr. Austin, right here on the TriDot Podcast.  We had one podcast in particular where we talked about tracking your nutrition and finding out what you’re actually taking in and I joked about it on that podcast, but I found out I was eating way too many carbs and not enough fats and proteins.  So I started tweaking my diet.  I started having more protein throughout the day.  I started, just like Dr. Austin said on that podcast, every three hours having some sort of snack with protein in it, upping the protein intake, getting it to an appropriate level for me, and by golly!  That’s the only thing I’ve really changed and the bike gains...it’s not a substantial difference.  I’m not holding 20 watt bumps every single month, but the gains are more, they’re greater, they’re more consistent, and I’m at a higher bike dot than I’ve ever been before and that’s the only thing I’ve really changed.  So I’m glad you brought up nutrition because athletes really can look at what are you doing day in and day out?  Are you eating the right things to fuel your body for the training?Are you putting quality things in your body?  Do you need to be tracking that?  Could you benefit from that or are you already doing that right and maybe you’re just entering sessions under fueled and you didn’t have a snack before the session? Great, great point Elizabeth! Elizabeth:  And congratulations Andrew! Andrew:  Still working on it.  Yeah, still working on those gains, eating that protein.  Yep. Elizabeth:  That’s awesome!  Yeah, no, that's great.  We’ll have to make sure we let Dr. Austin know too. Andrew:  Yep.  Quest Protein Chips every single day at 3:00 in the afternoon and you know, a little protein drink before I go to bed at night, and yeah, I think it’s made a difference. Elizabeth:  Well, that’s awesome!  You know, beyond the nutrition I was thinking of a couple other things too, you know all of our experts that we’ve had on the podcast.  I know that Dr. B.J. Leeper was talking also about that performance pyramid and just how movement is the bottom of that base and it’s the foundation.  So looking at injury, muscle imbalance, our mobility...you know, you can’t perform well if you’re not moving well.  So beyond swim, bike, and run let’s look at how are we moving?  Are there some muscle imbalances that we need to address?  Going back and looking at things like strength training and that can cover a broad area.  I’m sure we’ll get him to talk about that a little bit more.  That would be another thing that an athlete could take a look at.Then finally, things with health.So we’ve talked about sleep.  I know we’ve had a previous podcast on stress, but things like illness or hormonal imbalance.  That can also be a factor.  If all of these other things are lining up and “gosh, I’m doing the right training right, I’m properly fueled, I’ve listened to Dr. Austin, I’m following her recommendations.”  Is there something else that we need to take a look at?  So a couple other things to think about. John:  And those are huge!  So much goes into performance gains and a lot of it does come back to training.  That’s the majority of it is the training that you do.We’ve harped on that already, but the conditions have to be right.  Your body has to be able to absorb the training, make these adaptations, and it’s more than just applying the stress and recovering from it.  Your body has to be in that right state of homeostasis where it's healthy, you’re at a reasonable or acceptable level of stress, you’re getting good sleep, you don’t have any abnormal hormone issues...so all those things can lead to plateaus as well.  Basically you have to be healthy and if you’re not healthy your body’s not going to be in that state where it’s going to be making performance gains.  It kind of goes back to, as I mentioned earlier, having that recipe.  You can put the recipe together.  You can follow the recipe perfectly.  It can be a great recipe, but then you put it in the oven for the wrong amount of time or at the wrong temperature and the recipe that you executed perfectly isn’t going to turn out right just because again those conditions weren’t right.  A lot of it has to do with that as well. Andrew:  John, the Great British Baking Show is a huge hit in the Harley household, so that reference speaks to me- the baking.  It’s a science.  Right?Baking is a science, not an art.You’ve got to have the right ingredients, you have to have the exact amount of those ingredients.  You can’t just do a pinch of this and a dash of that or you’re going to throw the formulas off; you’re going to throw the recipe off. John:  There’s a common saying in weight loss that I think applies here as well.“You can’t out exercise a bad diet.”So you can’t exercise all day and expect to lose weight if you’re still eating McDonalds three meals a day and to a certain extent you can’t out exercise or out train poor health.  So if your body is not in a healthy state where it can absorb and make these adaptations, make these fitness gains then all that training is going to be for naught.  So instead of focusing on the training you need to focus on getting healthy and getting to that place where you can now apply training stress and recovery and make those adaptations. Andrew:  Final question for our main set today.  Is there a point where “that’s just as good as you can get?  Work harder, but you aren’t going to get any faster?” Elizabeth:  This is very rarely the case.  I mean, John mentioned earlier those Olympians that train years and years for hundredths of seconds.  They’re still training.  They’re still getting better. Andrew:  They’re better than we are and are still getting better.  Yeah, good point. John:  I think the answer is no.  We don’t reach a point where we’re not going to get any better.  I think it changes with time and with age as we get older.Obviously things change there.But, no.  You can always get better.  Going back to one of the first things we said was having reasonable expectations.  Yeah, I don’t necessarily want to live in a world where we’ve peaked and can’t get any better so I think that’s all of us.  We all have those ambitions to improve and do better and see those perpetual gains and I really do feel like it’s out there and I think the science supports it. Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down. Andrew:  We try our very best to keep this show at a nice, tidy one hour tops and occasionally we get really into the topic and go a few minutes long and today is one of those days.  So I’m going to keep our cool down short and sweet and just give a quick shameless plug for our YouTube Channel.  Go find us on YouTube; our account is TriDot Triathlon Training.  Right now there are a few videos there explaining TriDot technology.  All of the swim, bike, and run drills prescribed in TriDot training are on there for you to learn from and visually see how each drill ought to be done.And, we are working behind the scenes to get all of our podcast episodes up there as well for you folks that are just a bit more visual.  But even beyond that, we are super excited to announce that YouTube will be the next frontier for TriDot in terms of helping athletes learn and improve in the sport.We have been planning and have some content in the works and starting in the very, very near future you can expect to see our podcast episodes, athlete stories, gear reviews from coaches, and most importantly TriDot coaches on camera teaching you everything they can about swim, bike, and run.  You know, we talk about swim form, we talk about run form, and bike maintenance, etcetera here on the podcast, but there are a lot of things that we think will be a lot more helpful to you if we can show you on camera instead of just talking about it into a microphone.  So head to YouTube and go ahead and subscribe to TriDot Triathlon Training and be on the lookout for a few videos on there each week starting really, really soon. Andrew:  Well, that’s it for today folks!  A big thanks to Coach John Mayfield and Pro Triathlete Elizabeth James for helping us push past a performance plateau.  Enjoying the podcast?  Have any questions or topics you want to hear us talk about?  Head to TriDot.com/podcast to let us know what you’re thinking.  We’ll do it all again soon!  Until then, happy training! Outro:  Thanks for joining us. Make sure to subscribe and share the TriDot podcast with your triathlon crew. For more great tri content and community, connect with us on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Ready to optimize your training? Head to TriDot.com and start your free trial today! TriDot – the obvious and automatic choice for triathlon training.
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