If you’re reading this, there’s a very good chance that you’ve pushed yourself athletically at some point in your life. Quite likely, this could describe you very recently. During that pursuit of athletic progression, you’ve probably had some great days, some good days, and some downright crappy days. Rest assured, this is quite normal and expected. However, the distribution of these days should be considered.
When Olympic athlete Alexi Pappas was preparing for the Rio Olympics and experiencing a difficult period of training, her coach told her:
“When you're chasing a big goal, you're supposed to feel good a third of the time, okay a third of the time, and crappy a third of the time...and if the ratio is roughly in that range, then you're doing fine.”
It might seem a bit pretentious to compare yourself to an Olympic athlete, but goals are goals and pushing yourself to your own personal limits can be comparable.
We must be careful what training advice we take from professional athletes and their coaches, however this is invaluable wisdom. If you’re probing the edge of your limits, expect to periodically feel less than awesome. Likewise, if you always feel incredible and can easily crush every workout, perhaps you’re leaving a little on the table. On flip side, if you’re usually beat down and regularly feeling like you got kicked in the teeth, I would say that’s a pretty good indicator that it’s time to dial it down quite a bit.
There are so many reasons why an athlete can have a bad day. I heard a coach recount a story of speaking with an athlete after a rough workout . The athlete was trying hard to pinpoint what the issue was. This is indeed important reflection, but sometimes the answer really is “it was just a bad day.” The coach asked the athlete if they ever had a bad day at work. They replied, “of course!” Just like we can all unfortunately experience those “bad” days of our lives, we can expect the same during training. We all just need to be mindful and make sure we’re have as many decent and incredible days as those days when we are feeling sub-par.
Please understand that I’m not talking about if you’re injured or sick or toeing the line of pushing too hard. Examples of this could be identified as non-functional over reaching, or worse). This bottom third are those days when you’re feeling “off”, tired, maybe a little unmotivated, or just don’t feel good on your bike. Experience will help you distinguish between the bad bad days and the not so bad bad days. When in doubt, it’s best to be conservative and rest. A qualified coach can help you to learn which is which and assist in making informed decisions on how to proceed.
Here are a couple of quick reads as well as a video with Alexi:
Rule of Thirds Connor Swenson
Rule of Thirds in People Matters
Alexi Pappas Video
So keeping pushing the edges while weaving in those easy days as well as full rest. Give yourself permission to have those bad days and be OK with them. Don't let those bad days or workouts bring you down. Take the good with the bad, along with the middle. The rule of thirds is a good one!
Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.