7 Ways To Train Smarter, Not Harder

Broaden your horizons and train smarter, not harder.

Mark Carroll |

Broaden your horizons and train smarter, not harder. By Mark Carroll


‘Train smart, not hard’ has become a common catchphrase in athletic circles – but how do you do it? Well, training smart is about scrutinising your training and broadening your scope. Here are a few methods to make your training smarter and more effective – and boost your performance.


Look at the year ahead, and be specific about your goals and when you want to reach them. They need to be realistic, but hard enough to stretch you. Set your goals around improving your weaknesses; first by identifying them – for example, endurance, speed endurance, strength, body weight, time management – and then by incorporating training and lifestyle adjustments to improve these areas.

Broaden Your Horizons

Find experts to learn from – but not just cycling experts. Sometimes the method for strengthening your cycling weaknesses doesn’t fall within the expertise of a cycling coach. However, you may find answers from a cross-country skiing coach, a sprint coach, a physiology professor or a track and field coach. With greater knowledge, you can assess the worth of your current training plan and your training sessions, and the effect they will have on you.

Ask Questions

Never just follow a training plan wholesale, or you risk derailing your entire goal. How you perform in training depends on you
buying into it. If your training plan doesn’t make sense, then you need to question it and find answers. Once it makes sense, you’ll find that the quality of your training will be greatly improved because of your commitment.

NB! Training must make sense in terms of how it fits into your lifestyle, your current level of fitness, and your goals.

Focus On Quality

Life commitments dictate how many hours you can train each week. We all want to improve our cycling ability, but not everyone has the same amount of time per week to dedicate to training. As available training hours shrink, quality becomes ever more important.
If you have 12 hours a week, there’s considerably more leeway for taking rest days, shuffling around your interval days, and fitting in longer rides. With six hours a week, there’s less flexibility. But that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your training goals. A well-designed six-hour week can easily trump a poorly designed and executed 12-hour week.

Listen To Your Body

If you’re fatigued, you won’t perform a workout the way it should be done, and hence won’t get the maximum benefit from it. So if you feel tired, then take a rest day. You won’t lose fitness – and in fact, a day off will have you back performing high-quality, productive sessions faster than trying to ‘push through’ fatigue. This may go against the mantra of ‘consistency breeds success’, but in this case it’s more important that the quality of the sessions are consistent, rather than the regularity. Consistent high-quality sessions mean you’re getting the maximum value out of your training, which in turn will lead to maximum performance benefits on race day.

Treat Each Interval Like Your Only Interval

Sometimes a training session can look daunting, but that may be because you’re trying to absorb everything at once. The only interval that counts is the one coming up, whether it’s a six-second sprint or a three-minute interval. Focus only on that, execute it well, and then focus on the next. Psychologically, looking at a session just one interval at a time will make it easier.

Have Fun

With knowledge, commitment, and a goal, training becomes a lot more fun. However, never be tied to a programme – there will be many times when going out to cycle for the fun of it will be more valuable than following the plan

Always remember that training smart is about learning, understanding, monitoring and planning. It also means that you have to be prepared to make changes all the time. These methods can help you to improve your training quality and performance, which ultimately will make your cycling more enjoyable.

When we think about fatigue we usually attribute it to overtraining. But exercise is
not the only thing that can cause fatigue – there’s sleep quantity, sleep quality, diet, alcohol, hydration, and work stress. It’s important to take these factors into account when taking a rest day. If these are the reasons for your tiredness and are not addressed, rest days will be futile – you’ll simply end up adding to your fatigue.

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