Training Optimization - Part 1: Early Season

By Kevin Sprouse

It is that time of year when athletes of all abilities have been perusing the race calendars, picking their target events, and planning the the training that will hopefully get them to their races in tip-top shape.  Setting out that training plan is no easy task though, so many have consulted online resources or hired a coach to help them along the way.  Planning to peak at just the right time is not simple, even under the best of conditions, but there are things you can do to set yourself up for success.  Whether a novice athlete or a seasoned pro, these principles hold true for everyone.

Perhaps the most common reason for the failure of an athlete’s training plan is that the athlete (or coach) fails to take into consideration where they are starting.  Granted, this is no easy task.  As athletes, we are not good at this (myself included!).  Objective measures are much better at providing this information.  A training plan which is too aggressive will lead to illness or injury.  A body which is not primed for increased training load will surely falter.

What can be done to properly assess your starting condition, allow you to address deficiency, and ensure your best shot at healthy, optimized performance?  You stand to devote hundreds of hours to training this year, don’t let that all fall apart because you didn’t do something simple at the outset!

Here’s a list of things that I recommend all active individuals assess at the beginning of their season.  This is not exhaustive, but it does address the main topics.  I’ll order them from most basic and essential to those which are perhaps a bit less requisite.  (In my next post, we’ll discuss some metrics to monitor throughout the season, some of which are dependent on having a good baseline established here.)

Blood Tests - I see this all too often, unfortunately.  An athlete starts into their training, goes strong for a month or two, then starts to fall apart.  They are fatigued, getting sick, or have recurrent nagging injuries.  Unknowingly, they started to stress their body when they were not in optimal health to begin with.  A low iron or Vitamin D level.  Deficient magnesium stores.  Anemia.  Inflammation.  All of these things are easily detectable and often easily corrected.  This is why professional athletes assess these variables with blood work before starting any big block of training, and they’ll often follow them regularly throughout the year.  If your engine is not well tuned, your chances of adequate performance are slim.  A simple blood test can help you address many issues before they are ever problematic.

Strength and Movement Assessment - Every season should start with a basic assessment of an athlete’s strength, stability, mobility, and movement patterns.  As you start to increase your training, you are adding load to these movement patters.  If they are dysfunctional or suboptimal to start with, the added load will surely lead to inefficiency and injury.  A simple movement screen and an individualized plan of corrective exercises can serve to set you up for success.

Physiologic Testing - Many think that VO2max and lactate testing are the purview of Olympic and professional athletes.  However, without knowing an objective measure of your current fitness, it is very difficult to assemble a reasonable plan for improving it.  Physiologic testing can, and should, be undertaken by anyone who is interested in improving their health and performance.  In fact, the American Heart Association recently suggested that this information is so critical to one’s health that it should be considered a basic vital sign…as basic as blood pressure or weight.  According to the AHA, every patient in America should be having this evaluated, in one way or another, by their doctor.  If it’s that important for the general public, surely it’s role in an active population is even greater!

Dietary / Nutrition Consultation - One of the most common stumbling blocks for athletes is their nutrition.  Understanding general concepts of appropriate fueling and day-to-day nutrition is crucial for any active person.  Whether your goal is elite competition or losing a few pounds, you can be quickly derailed by an inappropriate diet.

Body Composition Testing - In many sports, athletes are limited by their “power to weight ratio”.  This is true for cyclists, runners, and even CrossFit athletes and gymnasts.  Carrying excess weight impedes health and performance.  A measurement of one’s body composition (lean v. fat mass) is simple to complete, and it can be an invaluable guide for training and nutrition.  Likewise, it is a metric which is easily followed for both guidance and motivation.


Of course, you can get very deep into an assessment protocol, but it is probably unwarranted for most.  Some early season assessment is a MUST for anyone wishing to engage in a healthy, goal-oriented training program.

If you want to see how you might explore some of this, call us to set up a FREE consultation with Dr. Kevin Sprouse.  With numerous options in each of these categories, we can construct a package that works for your goals and budget.  Don’t be that athlete that spends hundreds of hours training, hundreds of dollars on equipment, and never bothers to check the engine under the hood!