Written by: Brandon Bahlawan

Most athletes are in the thick of their training for early season races, while others are getting started on their journey for their mid-year competitions. As training progresses, athletes can sometimes become robotic and only focus on what is on the schedule that day or the numbers they are to target in a specific workout. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are great! Today’s athlete is able to measure almost everything imaginable during a training session. This allows the athlete and or coach to look at data and measure gains over time or even look at how much an athlete lost while recovering from an injury. It highlights weaknesses to improve on and strengths to further develop to put the athlete in the best position to succeed on race day. It will allow you to compare an effort, training session, or race against previous efforts. All of these are great and are an important part of a training. However, becoming 100% dependent on these things can cause many problems, i.e. injury, burnout, or loss of interest. Training plans (programmed by a coach or purchased online) are meant to be a guide to help you achieve your goals, they should be dynamic and not set in stone. Unless you are a professional athlete and your only job is to train and race then you will need to be flexible and adjust based on the demands the rest of your life throws at you. It is important to remember that while we all want to work hard in order to achieve the best results; this is a hobby and is supposed to be fun. I want to give three examples I encountered recently with athletes that are examples of robotic behavior:

  1.     I was out on a training ride with an athlete who had 4 x 20 min efforts in a specific power range with some lower power recovery efforts in between. My ride was at a steady power so when the athlete hit her intervals she would ride ahead of me and we would regroup during the recovery. During the hard intervals I noticed the athlete looked down to check power numbers on her Garmin device every 3-5 seconds! The idea of a prescribed range whether its power on the bike or pacing on a run is to operate within that range for most of the effort. There will be dips and spikes but as long as you do not stay outside of the range for extended periods of time you will be achieving the goal set forth in the session.  If this athlete were to do this during a race while wearing an aero helmet they would be breaking aero and creating additional drag very frequently. Another issue is if the athlete looks down and is below the range they will have the tendency to “surge” to bring the numbers into range. Accumulating several of these surges over a 56 or 112 mile bike course on race day and this athlete is going to kill their run legs and pay for it later. The moral of the story is to learn what the numbers feel like so that you aren’t so dependent on the electronics and have to check them constantly, not to mention what happens if they fail completely on race day. You can practice by covering the screen on one of your non-key workouts then going back and analyzing the data after it is uploaded to see how you did.
  2.      An athlete who travels frequently for work text me asking to swap a swim workout for that day with the run that was scheduled the following day. Since I always get his schedule prior to programming his week I asked if there was a scheduling conflict with the run the next day. He replied “No. I’m just tired. I might try and go swim later tonight if it can’t be moved.” In this case the workouts could not be swapped due to the intensity of the run. I told the athlete to listen to their body, take the day off, and get some rest so he could be ready to run the next day. He replied telling me he would rest but felt as if he was letting me down if he did not do what I had written for him on that day. Here is where being robotic to the training plan can lead to big trouble. As coaches we build plans to put athletes in the best position to excel but sometimes life throws you a curveball and you should be prepared to adjust. Don’t just do a workout because it is scheduled and put yourself in a bad place for the next 3-4 training sessions because you pushed when you needed to rest.
  3.      Athlete posted on his Facebook page about a recent trainer ride and some of his friends commented inviting him to a group ride the next day. He informed them that he had a run and could not go. Of course being fellow triathletes they resorted to peer pressure and typical tactics telling him he could do his run after the group ride. The athlete then replied with “I wish I could but I pay a coach so I’m sticking to the plan. No going rouge for me.” Training can sometimes be very lonely and mixing in a social aspect can revive you if you are feeling drained by getting out there and having fun with some like-minded friends. Maybe the group ride is easy for you or maybe it pushes you, either way altering your schedule from time to time will not jeopardize your training. So don’t be scared to “go rogue” as long as it is within reason. If you have a coach a quick discussion with him or her can make you feel better about joining your friends, if not use the common sense approach based on your current situation.


Training plans and numbers are great. They help keep you in check and on track to achieve success. The important thing to remember is that they are there as a guide/reference and you do not have to hit every single workout exactly as written. In fact it is not realistic to think you will get through a 4-6 month training cycle without adjusting on the fly. You should not be scared to go off plan from time to time in the name of recovery, unexpected changes in your daily schedule, or just to have some fun with friends. Remember you are playing the long game and consistency is what will ensure your success on race day. So don’t be consumed by the numbers and what is written on the training calendar for that day but challenge yourself as an athlete to understand why you are doing specific things during the different points of your training so that when something comes up you can make an educated decision on if and how to adjust.