How to Adjust (and Not Adjust!) your Triathlon Training: the CBCG Coaches' Best Practices

by Amy VanTassel

Pop quiz: can you spot the workout adjustment below that was a good idea?

  1. “I missed a run earlier in the week, so I ran twice the distance today.”
  2. “I didn’t know if I could hit those watts, so I mashed my intervals as uphill repeats.”
  3. “I felt so thrashed after work and felt a sore throat coming on, so I skipped my run and went straight home to dinner with my family.”
  4. “I wasn’t making my sendoff in the pool, so I just got out early.”
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Adjustments to training schedules are inevitable. As coaches and athletes develop their relationships and communication, ideally an athlete should feel increasingly empowered to make judgment calls as life’s inevitabilities happen. Still, even the most experienced athlete questions how to adapt when a workout isn’t going as planned, or can’t happen at all, so we asked our CBCG coaches for their sage insight on what makes for both wise and obtuse decisions on the fly. Here’s what they had to say:

 CBCG Coach Donna Phelan

CBCG Coach Donna Phelan

What is your worst example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that was a horrible idea?

“Changing an easy taper run of 30 minutes into an hour long run with intervals! Yes, one of my athletes did this not too long ago; doubting your fitness race week and trying to cram at the last minute is never a good thing!”

What is your best example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that exhibited smart adaptation based on conditions?

“The best example is an athlete stopping a workout early because they feel a niggle coming on. Better to cut one workout short rather than to be on the sidelines for the next couple of weeks with an injury.”

What’s your worst example of a weekly adjustment in schedule?

“That would have to be an athlete doing a run interval workout one day, and then moving their long run from two days later to the next day—just not enough time for the running system to recover and be ready for a hard stimulus again."

How about your best example of a weekly adjustment in schedule?

“Feeling a cold coming on and taking a rest day to let their immune system recover."

 CBCG Coach Ivan Dominguez

CBCG Coach Ivan Dominguez

What is your worst example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that was a horrible idea?

“I haven’t get any of those yet, but I’m sure few of my athletes would love to add some crazy stuff to their training plans.”

What’s your worst example of a weekly adjustment in schedule?

“Not training for few days for whatever reason, then attempting to make up for it all over the weekend, trying to do what they were supposed to do few days ago. Basically cramming in a week of training, or close to it, in just two days.”

 CBCG Coach Molly Balfe

CBCG Coach Molly Balfe

What is your worst example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that was a horrible idea?

“An athlete saying ‘I felt good, so I pushed harder than I was supposed to.’ This is especially troublesome with long runs, which are often used to build volume. When unintended intensity is added on top of that, athletes are significantly more fatigued, which can get in the way of upcoming workouts (or even contribute to injury).”

What is your best example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that exhibited smart adaptation based on conditions?

“The best adjustments I’ve seen happen when athletes let go of their pace expectations and work with their current conditions. This is already a really hot summer, so I’ve seen athletes make smart calls like slowing down their repeat paces for longer intervals on a hot track. Your run pace is really impacted by heat and your body takes some time to acclimate to it. Cut yourself a little slack when conditions are extreme (and HYDRATE).”

 CBCG Coach Chris Boudreaux

CBCG Coach Chris Boudreaux

What do you never want your athletes to do when adjusting workouts?

“Big thing for me: putting back-to-back hard same-sport workouts right next to each other. Like missing a Wednesday or Thursday tempo run, then going Friday tempo run/Saturday brick session/Sunday long hard run...just never do that.”

How about the worst bike workout adjustments you’ve seen?

 “Going way above the watts ‘because you could.’ Not every workout is a test of your max ability for that session. Ironman and half-iron races are a lot about that uncomfortable pace - neither all out nor easy - and you need to feel that in training. Additionally, there may be other reasons a workout keeps you from going all-out, like other key sessions coming up. I usually give a range, so you can have freedom to be on the higher or lower end, but ideally not much more. So if an athlete feels a workout is too easy, I’d way prefer she or he should send me a message and ask the purpose, and never just blast it ‘because you could.’”

 CBCG Coach Chris Bagg with CBCG athlete Matt Feldmar

CBCG Coach Chris Bagg with CBCG athlete Matt Feldmar

And finally CBCG Coach Chris Bagg chimes in with some universal words of wisdom on how to adapt when a workout isn’t going as planned, or can’t happen at all:

"What we're after, at CBCG, is that you develop mastery of your sport. Mastery doesn't mean performance—it means understanding the sport, and how to alter your behavior when things don't go as planned. Being able to make sensible adjustments on the fly results in more consistent training over time, which leads to more consistent race results. As consistency improves, you'll see your results improve, too, as you build a pyramid of strong performances. So how do you get there? Well, the secret is understanding that your training plan is not the Ten Commandments (or Code of Hammurabi, or whichever literally carved-in-stone set of precepts is your particular jam). Slavishly sticking to a training plan, despite being sick/injured/depressed, is the mark of an athlete who wants his/her race to be a paint by the numbers experience: if I do everything, then I can't fail! This is, sadly, not true. It's actually the athlete who can adjust who will have better results over time. The athlete who just does everything, or plays catchup, usually can't deal with it during a race when the plan goes out the window, since there isn't any catching up available during competition." 

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So, we should all remember that every athlete has to make judgment calls as workouts aren’t going as planned, or if life gets in the way of a perfect weekly schedule. Perhaps the above sage advice from our expert coaches will prep you better for your next adjustment, and if you recognize yourself in one of the above examples, give your coach a virtual hug today.