Know the Essence of your Workout

January 8, 2017

Jim Hallberg


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There are countless personality types in the world (From Type A to a Nurturer to an Introvert and so on). Those types, or traits, are quite often expressed in training. I pose this challenging question to you: is your personality type interfering with your progress?I never considered myself a Type A person, but over the years I have started to identify with this description more readily. I’ve also come to consider that it might not be making me faster, better or stronger. And this is not just a conclusion of my training and racing, but of my mental game as well.

It is important, in all aspects of training to be disciplined and find a good routine that you can stick to, but do you know when to stop? I have to be honest, waking up to get to the pool for a 6 am Masters workout, 3-4 times a week, year in and year out, can be a bit …. rough mentally. Sure, you have breaks from swimming, occasionally, right? Right? You have periodization of volume and intensity in all your training, correct? You should have the same focus for your mental aspects of training as well.

Just like any muscle, the mental focus it takes to stay on task with your training can get fatigued. And it might not be your body that needs a break, but it could be your mind that needs a break from the structure of your training. It’s your mind as much as your fitness that can give you stellar workouts or blah ones, and it’s important that you pay attention to the this aspect of the sport so that you can have the capacity to accept the good ones or shrug off the less than stellar ones.

Bringing all of that together: if you are able to recognize your personality type, and understand how that influences your mind and how that influences your training, then you are a little closer to creating balance in this sport.

One strategy that I have used to help me ease up on the Type A aspect of my personality and achieve a more rounded workout is to identify the essence of my workouts before I head out the door. For example:

winter-runnerLets say you have a 60 minute run scheduled, along with a warm up and drills, plus a few accelerations with recoveries. Maybe they are hill repeats, or track intervals, or tempo runs. And let’s say you are striving for a particular pace or zone.

Now, here are the challenges (and based on your personality type you will respond differently). You got it done in 50 minutes, not in 60, or you only had time for a 40 minute workout. Yikes, you didn’t do the workout as prescribed! What do you do? Do you throw in junk miles to get to your full 60 minute? Do you skip the workout because you can’t get a perfect 60 minutes and have to cut it 10 minutes short? The answer to both is a resounding “No!”

Let me ask you, what is the essence of this workout?

Relax. Check in with your plan. Is it endurance? Tempo? Speed? Strength? Call out the essence of the workout and if you’re short on time, maybe you shorten a few intervals, or maybe you cut the last two out. Did you actually get a good quality workout in even if you had to shorten the load? Why, yes, you still did!

If you accomplished the essence of the workout, don’t add junk miles at the end because you have the time. Just move on with your day. If you started to fall off, and I mean really struggle, then your workout should be done. Did you still have a good workout? Yes! With the quality you put in, you stimulated the physiology needed for that day. Quality over quantity!

You have the discipline to train, but do you have the discipline to know when enough is enough? This is the point about the personality traits.

There are countless times early in the season, every year, I have to get out of the water before the end of my workout because my form is crummy. I feel horrible, my breathing, my gut, and or my mind are not in it when it needs to be. Yes, it sucks, it can be frustrating, but I am not going to slop around in the water when I clearly need to practice good mechanics and might even benefit from a bit of recovery, sleep and hydration. When you feel great, take advantage of it, and hit those paces and power. When you don’t feel so great, or are short on time, relax, do what you can for that day and move on. Unless this is a key session your coach needs you to achieve for your end goal, it’s most likely best NOT to waffle through a bad workout.

If you need a little more assurance that it’s ok to walk away from a workout, the periodization strategy for your training affords you the time to get quality workouts in. For example, early in the season, you might observe power, or pace for certain intervals. But it’s not the end all. Don’t try to match your summer pace and efforts when you are in your winter or spring season. You should approach this time of year with the essence of the work out – get a few pick ups in, go a bit by feel, especially if efforts are too short that heart rate might not be applicable.

Just get used to getting some efforts in, even if your short on time. As your fitness improves, and you move closer and closer to a bigger focused race, you can start being a bit more concise with pace, power, and hitting the lap split times you are hoping to hit. If you drop off the pace a bit in the early season, that’s fine. Listen to your body, and remember to relax! You’ll have plenty more opportunities to have some really good workouts. Don’t force it too soon. In the 8 weeks before a race, you might need to buckle down a bit. As intensity rises, paces and efforts become a bit more focused, and since you’ve been building, your mental discipline needs to kick in by this point. Don’t waste the mental exhaustion of hitting the exact paces and efforts when your months away from racing.

I must say, power is amazing, but it is only a tool. It is one number on the dashboard of the Ferrari. It does not define you. It might indicate that it is a tough day out there, or that your fitness is getting better, but listen to all the systems. Listen to your body, relax your mind, be aware of heart rate, and be aware of power. Many pro‚Äôs use power and/or heart rate for training, and many pro‚Äôs do not! This is so because if there numbers are low, it can negatively effect the workout. For many athletes, if they train without it, they have a lot more enjoyment out of the workout. Did they still get the essence of the workout? You bet! Many do not race with data. They simple go by feel. Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Kienle, Chrissy Wellington, Tim O'Donnell and many more. They do not race Ironman with power or heart rate.  If power turns your game into anguish and despair, then ditch it.

This is about fun! I guarantee you‚Äôll race faster when your having fun out there. And based on your personality traits, perhaps you can better balance that technical feedback with the emotional feedback of a workout.  I am willing to bet that the essence of racing and training, when all said and done, is feeling good, feeling strong, and this feeling is fun!


Jim Hallberg believes that every one of us has the capacity to improve our efficiency, get stronger and run, bike or swim faster. Sure, it takes time, dedication and discipline but it’s possible. Working with an experienced coach can make sure that your efforts are targeted in the right areas to make sure you reach those goals!

Coach Jim Hallberg notices that some athletes spend too much time focusing solely on their strengths or just on their weaknesses. As a coach, he believes you should work on both. Your strengths can give you a competitive edge in one or more of the disciplines but spend an inordinate amount of time on them and you can forgo progress in other areas. Not enough time and you’ll see them diminish. Same with your weaknesses.  Coach Jim works with you to build a plan to balance the two and make you the best overall athlete you can be!

Coach Jim is a 5X USA Triathlon National Champion, a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach and USA Cycling Level II Certified Coach.

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