Making smarter choices next season starts by knowing the difference

By Kaye Lopez | Photo by Paul Bence/Unsplash

I received Matt Dixon’s book entitled “The Well-Built Triathlete” as a random gift from a friend last year. Although I’ve managed to browse through its first few pages months ago, it found its way back to my book pile along with many others that I have yet to read.

While I was re-reading the author’s preface, he mentioned that in order to move forward on the road to performance, it is important to make a distinction between training and exercising. According to Dixon, “exercising, or working out, is an activity” while “training is a highly structured pursuit of a goal.”

Fitness enthusiasts may be motivated to exercise for various reasons such as improving health, managing weight, and forming support groups and lasting bonds. Athletes train to prepare their bodies with the ultimate goal of becoming better at their sport.

Most athletes take time out from rigorous training during the off-season and simply stay fit by doing non-specific cross-training workouts. As a former-national-athlete-turned-coach, much of my physical activity during the year would fall under the exercise category since I do most of the training sessions at my students’ pace. Ironically, I get more actual training done during their off-season, which is when I have more time to train for myself. Both have a time and place throughout the year if you are looking to see significant improvements come race day.

According to Dixon, “exercising, or working out, is an activity” while “training is a highly structured pursuit of a goal”

But too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Training too hard without adequate rest and proper nutrition leads to chronic fatigue and diminished returns in performance. Likewise, avoiding sessions that push you out of your comfort zone will lead to a performance plateau and inability to reach your full potential as an athlete.

When you’re ready to begin your next racing season, start by asking yourself why you signed up for your target race in the first place. Do you exercise to stay fit and feel good or train to improve? If the latter option sounds more like you, then a smart and effective training plan that gives equal importance to endurance, recovery, nutrition, and functional strength is the way to go. I’ll save the more in-depth explanation for a future article. For now, suffice it to say that balancing these four key ingredients might just turn out to be your secret recipe for success.