Friday, 4 May 2012

What is performance and how to increase it?

The other day I spent quite some time thinking about what are the ingredients of high performance and how to manipulate them to become a faster athlete.
I identified six components (see below) which I think contribute most to performance and which can be easily altered just by my own will, determination and organization, e.g. they are for free and only require me to:

  1. Actively dissect my past training
  2. Make appropriate changes to increase performance
  3. Test them and re-evaluate their effects
  4. Repeat the procedure

The following list shows these six components:

  1. Speed
  2. Skill (Technique)
  3. Strength
  4. Stamina
  5. Endurance
  6. Recovery time

This list is ordered in my own personal way and reflects my focus. Things at the top need improvement, things at the bottom are pretty much under control and only need to be maintained.

The big question is however, how do I know what needs to be changed in my training regime, so that it would result in increased performance?

Well, here we are: The million-dollar question :)

I think there is no single answer. The answer depends on the character of the person who is devoting his or her time to it. If someone likes and needs detail and sophisticated methods, simple and uniform interval workouts probably won’t convince that person to devote their time and effort to it. For that person, in order to get a similar physiological response, this training session would need adjustments to meet his or her own needs. Ultimately, we have to believe in what we are doing since the muscles don’t really mind whether workouts are simple or sophisticated; I rather think we must sell the whole training package to ourselves and discuss with our inner voice whether to accept or reject it – whether we want to devote our time and effort to it or not. In other words, some training plans work better with some people and not as good with others. It’s like finding the perfect pair of running shoes. You have to try and experiment!

Coming back to the question above: In order to figure out what I needed to change, I decided to do all the things I usually neglected or didn’t like to do (see list above). That included speed and skill/technique for the most part. I would have always preferred a longer endurance session to an eyeball-popping interval session, and this year I will opt for the intervals (trying to keep my eyeballs in though!). The main idea is to first increase my general speed and economy on short intervals (1-1:30 min), in which I hope to increase my base speed, and then transfer this new level of speed into distance. I think that at my current training level just trying to run faster over long endurance intervals won’t make me significantly faster.

Please comment and let me know what you think and how you would try to improve your performance!

Thanks for reading!


  1. I agree with your general point but I think it's also important to recognize that there are very specific demands associated with racing Ironman at a high level. The biggest thing about a race that lasts 9+ hours is that it is 9+ hours long and your body has to have the capacity to perform a high level of energy-expenditure for the duration. The duration is the biggest contributor to the speed of the ironman marathon, you need to have the energy to run fast.

    The specific requirements of certain competitions is a big reason that we are seeing diversification amongst professional triathletes between short course and long-course. This is a diversification that track-athletics saw decades ago. If you want to perform at the highest levels in the 200m or 400m you do different things than if you want to perform at the highest levels in the 10 000m or marathon. To out-perform your competition in a specific event it is important to 1) be a high performer on an 'absolute' scale and 2) be a better 'relative' performer at the right thing.

    The long endurance intervals completed last year made you an exceptional at 2), it could be the case that focus on speed/skill will make you better at 1) but be careful not to give away some of the competitive advantage that you earned by ignoring 2).

    1. Thanks for you comment Josh!

      I agree with you, being a 'relative' performer at the right thing, and also training the "capacity to perform at a high level of energy-expenditure for the duration" is certainly key to become a good age-grouper in Ironman.

      Now, based on your opinion (and since you know me very well), what would your recommendation be to get me 20 min faster than my PR at IM Cozumel?


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