6 Ways you are Shooting Yourself in the Foot as an Athlete

You don’t have to make a living or even win races to be considered an athlete. You really don’t even have to enter events to be an athlete! As athletes we must avoid doing things that actually work against our interest. We can look to the pros to learn how they get to the top of their fields and incorporate some of their methods into our training too. Here are the top ways we can and do set ourselves up to fail as athletes.

Training while injured

The intended sub-text of training while injured is that you love your sport so much you just can’t bear to take any time away from it. The reality though is the more you train on an injury, the longer it will take you away from your sport. Training while injured is the very definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face as an athlete. Sure you might get this run in or even all your runs this week but you are just prolonging your injury and the inevitable time off in the long run.

Occasional injuries are unfortunately part of being an athlete. Runners for example can expect an injury for every 1000 km run. Your first injury as an athlete is a different and deeply anxious experience. After your first injury you’ll develop a calm understanding that time off = healing. 

At the first sign of injury scale way back on your training and if you are fully injured take some time off. Training while injured is about the dumbest thing you can do as an athlete.

Not enough sleep

I’ve written before about the science of sleep for athletes and my own struggles with sleep. When you are training and busy it’s easy to see sleep as a pot of time from which you can steal. That’s a really bad idea in the short, medium and long term.

Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves and do the behind the scenes work like growing muscles and repairing damage. It should also come as no surprise that training athletes require more sleep than those that are inactive. Always remember that most elite professional athletes schedule naps into their days.

Most people will find they are able to sleep more in heavy training though that’s not my typical experience. At the very least make sure you are getting at least as much sleep in training as when you are not. That means early training runs need to be off set with earlier bedtimes. 

If you can sleep more than that then you should make time for it. You will be less likely to get injured and perform better on race day too.

Not making you a priority

We all have a lot of balls in the air these days. I’m hard pressed to think of someone that doesn’t have stuff going on at work, with their home, with their partner, with their family, with their finances and some other life stuff too. Plus we all have to fit in car repairs, feeding ourselves, getting that promotion and the odd home renovation into that besides. It’s literally nuts! I don’t even have kids and if I had another one of me I could keep her busy too!

Here’s a good way to frame this for yourself. There are 168 hours in a week. Lets say you sleep 7 hours a day so that leaves you with 119 hours a week. Start a list of the hours you commit to other things. Maybe 45 hours a week working, 10 preparing food, 8 cleaning, 21 caring for children and 5 hours on your partner and family. Seriously sit and write all of it down.

Sure you might find that you have a few hours not accounted for but is it any wonder you feel stretched as thin as you do? In 119 hours you deserve three or four for yourself! Tell yourself those hours are just as important as any others on the list. Just like you always make it a priority to get the laundry done make it a priority to take the time to train.  

Not investing in your sport

I have been accused of being cheap especially when it comes to myself. I’m not even going to say that is wrong either. I’ve also been legitimately strapped for cash for long periods of time as anyone in grad school has. So I get it. I also advocate that being fit doesn’t have to cost a whole lot but it will cost something.

Being a cyclist doesn’t mean you have to spend on soul cycle in the off-season or own a peloton it does mean you have to have a bike that works well. The point is don’t scrimp on the necessities like replacing worn out shoes, staying hydrated or putting up with a tired playlist. 

Put a few bucks in the budget every month, it doesn’t have to be a lot, to devote to fitness. It could be keeping your gear in good shape, seeing a physiotherapist to learn some exercises or a cheap gym membership for cross-training. It’s true that every race might not be in your budget but a few each season should be!

Saying yes when you mean no

This is hard to explain and might be more of a concept than anything else. It might also apply in just as many ways as there are athletes out there. It could be that you cave to other people’s desires while negleting your own. It can be taking an extra shift at work when you really do need to catch up on training or sleep. It can also mean putting your training off until the last possible moment in the day rather than getting it done at the right time. 

It is okay to say no. No to your boss, no to your partner and no to your kids every once and a while. We can feel immense pressure and even a little bit of guilt about taking time to train or just enjoy our time exercising even though that shouldn’t be the case. If you don’t take the shift, do the laundry or make lunches someone else will just have to figure it out and that’s okay. 

We can also get roped into things we don’t want to do by our fitness friends. It’s okay to say you’re going to skip a race this year, sleep through run club this week or drop out due to injury even if you were going to drive.

Whatever situation you find yourself in no is in fact a complete sentence and just going for a run doesn’t require a single word.

Never pushing yourself

There is absolutely nothing wrong with running a 5k three times a week at a comfortable pace around your neighborhood but you’ll never grow as an athlete doing just that. For the last 10 years I’ve kept pushing the distances I’ve run every second year or so. When I was a young sprite of 25 a 10k run was a big deal that only happened once or twice a year. At 40 even after months away from running I can get up and run a 10k whenever I feel like it. 

Even if increasing your speed or running races isn’t your thing as a dedicated regular athlete it’s still a good idea to push yourself every once in a while. That could mean extending the length of some of your workouts, going for more intensity when you are feeling great or pushing further up that big hill without taking a walk break. All those little things don’t require much work or planning but it will push your endurance, VO2 max and overall levels of health just a little higher compared to not giving yourself a little push.

You can also utilize races to force yourself to train harder, go further and train more often than you otherwise would have. I’m personally a big proponent of using endurance events to push myself but there are other options. You can create your own challenge for a certain date but find a way to push yourself every now and then.

We all know that if we want to excel in something that is important to us like work or family we need to work to create ideal conditions. The same conditions have to be in place for us to excel as athletes as well. We might not always be able to create the same perfect training environment that the pros do but at least we can avoid shooting ourselves in the foot from the start. 

What is the number one thing you do that really limits your success as an athlete? How do you work to fix that problem in your training? Leave it in the comments below!

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