May 13, 2020

Making Gains In Endurance Sports

5 things you can do to improve your fitness and performance

When you're training for a big goal in endurance sports, some parts of the process are obvious: staying committed to your workouts, sacrificing free time for training, suffering to take your fitness to the next level, etc. But there are some equally important elements that are much less obvious, and ignoring them can slow you down and hold you back.

We spoke to Spartan racing champion and SportTracks coach Ian Hosek from Hosek Performance Engineering to learn more about the less obvious aspects of training and racing that can potentially be stumbling blocks...

1) Little workouts have huge importance

Endurance sports athletes typically enjoy a challenge, but it's the less challenging workouts that can make all the difference. "Big workouts are fun, exciting, and make you want to do them, little strength or mobility sessions that help prevent injury and promote proper mechanics aren't," says Coach Hosek. This isn't just a problem for beginners, either. Regarding advanced endurance athletes, Coach Hosek says, "They have no problems putting in the work or grinding themselves to dust, there is a time and place for that, but they often push too hard and dig themselves into a hole that can take a long time to crawl out of."

A photograph of Coach Ian Hosek on an endurance trail run at elevation

If the only workouts on your calendar are runs, swims, rides or basic strength and core training, consider it a red flag. "Most endurance runners and cyclists have weak hips because they spend so much time in the sagittal plane. Weak or immobile hips can lead to a ton of various injuries which can be avoided with a couple 20 - 30 min sessions a week of targeted mobility and strength," says Coach Hosek. "Many times athletes won't do the needed work until they run into one of these injuries. Taking the time to implement these small but important sessions into the program before injuries start to appear will allow athletes to train more consistently and feel better while doing it."

2) Inaccurate zones = wrong intensities

Zone-based training allows you to strategically target specific muscle groups and energy systems to both strengthen your base fitness and to boost your speed. But if your workouts are built on bad data, it can all be for naught. "Heart-rate data can be an amazing resource for athletes but only if it is utilized properly and the data is relevant to the athlete," says Coach Hosek. "The most common error of heart-rate data I see is that athletes are working with zones and numbers that don't actually correlate to their individual physiological metrics."

But even if you use accurate heart-rate zone testing, you may not be in the clear, "If your max heart-rate is calculated correctly, training zones based off max heart-rate still have a large drawback and don't take into account where an athlete's individual anaerobic threshold is," says Coach Hosek. "This value varies a significant amount. Generic equations fall short here and taking the time to find your individual zones based off anaerobic threshold will go a long ways to helping take that next step towards next level training."

3) Don't accept serial injuries as part of the sport

"The biggest training mistakes I see by more advanced endurance athletes is not listening to their bodies," says Coach Hosek. Endurance sports are as much about ritual and repetition as they are about triumph and perseverance. Unfortunately, injury is often accepted as part of the repetition, and many athletes lose enormous amounts of time rehabilitating when they could be staying healthy and reaching new heights. This is often done while training as an individual athlete without outside help.

"The best solution for this is communication with your coach and letting them know what is going on," says Coach Hosek. "Sometimes it may be purposeful to put you in a functionally overreached state, but many times they want you feeling good and ready for each workout. By having an open direct line of communication you can avoid overtraining syndrome, injury, and/or illness and tap your potential faster and with greater effect."

4) Look on the bright side of life

The challenges presented in endurance sports are serious business, but it can be greatly beneficial to smile and seek moments of joy. "Having a positive attitude towards training is one of the most important aspects to succeed," says Coach Hosek. "If you don't enjoy the process or find the grind monotonous, you will most likely burn out quickly and training will become a constant chore instead of a passion."

A photograph of endurance sports coach Ian Hosek running up a mountain trail

Photos by S2 Photography

"Making sure to stay excited about the majority of sessions (sometimes days are just a grind and suck) will pay off huge down the road. The work will feel easier, you will recover faster, and being happy is way more fun than hating life." This is the case for general training, but race day can be a different story, "I have found there is one constant among all successful race strategies, it is that the strategy allows the athlete to love the race and execute their plan because they are in a mentally comfortable place. That means a lot of different things for different people, but finding a method that allows the you to find your 'happy place' will set you up with the greatest chance for success."

5) It's not just about going longer

There's a tendency in endurance sports to gravitate toward longer and longer distances, but you may want to re-examine why you choose a certain type of race. "For me, finding the race type and distance that match my goals is a constantly evolving activity. Since my goals change from year to year the races I target shift as well. When I build my goals I like to find challenges that will push me but also get me excited to pursue them. They help light and keep my fire stoked so I have something to focus on and work towards during training."

So, how should you approach race selection? "Take some extra time when examining and creating your personal goals for the year. Work through different ideas and see how they make you feel. It should be a fun process that gets you motivated to go out and train smart and hard to achieve them. If you are fairly new to the endurance world and aren't sure what fills you with joy, try new things! Don't be scared of failure but still do everything in your power to set yourself up for success. The race or event you love the most may be something you have never done before."

If you'd like to explore the possibility of finding an online coach, visit your Coach Search page. The coaches that are geographically closest to you will automatically be displayed. You can click on their cards to learn more about them, or you can type in the name of a specific coach you're looking for.

A circular photograph of endurance sports Coach Ian HosekIan Hosek is an OCR racing champion and the head coach at Hosek Performance Engineering. Contact him today for consulting or for help in reaching your goals, and follow him on Instagram for his fun and educational posts!
Article written by Sam Mallery, Director of Marketing, Zone Five Software Inc.


Great article! Ian's a great coach!


This article is gold! Ian is certainly a superb coach that knows his craft.