Focused practice and endurance sports; the uncoached athlete

When it comes to endurance sports like running, cycling, and swimming where the athlete is targeting longer distance or time based efforts the question is whether the approach to training is optimal when starting out or when trying to improve performance.

Except for those who have the benefit of having taken up a sport early in life in a formal setting like school, a league, a club, most of us haven’t had a lot of formal training or instruction in any given sport. Even those who do participate in formal settings often don’t have the benefit of good training or instruction. You go out and do. This bias towards doing is problematic in all sports but especially so where there is a low bar for high repetition in the sport. If you go out for a 5 mile run you repeat your motion in the thousands of times. Many training plans focus on building up mileage and speed over time with some call outs to form being more or less present. This structure works well for those who either through intuition or early instruction are already disposed towards better form. It also works if the athlete doesn’t have concerns about their own best performance. For everyone else, it is suboptimal and reinforces habits that will have to be unlearned or lived with.

My hypothesis is that we would be better off with much less emphasis initially on distance or speed and a lot more on perfecting form. I think one of the things this could look like is very short distance sets; immediately stopping when focus is lost or when form breaks. This is hard because everything in these sports is geared towards keeping going. It is also hard because often the original reason for starting is the ease with which you can just go out and do these things. The last hard part is knowing when your form is good and when it isn’t. This piece strikes me as being the most susceptible to a technical hack.

There are, depending on the sport, any number of instructional/training materials with more published daily and yet I don’t seem to have come across much that puts form based limits on progression in the training. This could be attributable to the hard parts mentioned above and if so, those hard parts seem like a good problem space to work on.


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