Have you ever wondered what distinguishes good from top performance? We can all give a few reasons, such as genetics, good environment, good team, best equipment, etc. And we are right about that. At least partially. But there is one more thing that makes the real difference. The daily routine. If we cannot do one day right, how can we expect to develop and improve over time? So today we will be looking at the smallest block in an athlete’s life. One day.
We know that training can only be effective if we plan it – at least to some extent. And as our performance improves, we will have to invest more work for smaller gains. More planning means more sacrifice. And we start by organising our day. An elite athlete who has an entire team around him to help him train and eat is focused on getting the training session he has planned. But when you have an eight-hour job with family, the day can easily collapse.
This means that you have to control a lot of the variables, and if one of them goes wrong, your day usually ends with a missed or failed training session. Maybe you skipped a meal or stayed too long at the office. And here we present the solution – the daily routine. In my opinion, this is an ultimate tool to optimise the training process and achieve top performance.
If you go to bed at similar times, if you wake up at similar times, if you know when you will exercise each day, when your meals will be, so that you have enough fuel for the exercise. Over time, this will bring enormous rewards. On the other hand, if you improvise from one day to the next, you will miss that meal and be crushed during the training. If you stay at the office a little longer, you will come home late and miss another training session. And since this often happens in the long run, you will probably reach this plateau in performance.
We have probably all been in a situation where we sat at work and thought: “How should I structure today’s session” or “When should I exercise today?” This results in a lot of wasted energy and time instead of doing something more productive. When your day is organised and planned, you should know exactly what, when, and how we are going to do your day. And this is probably the biggest difference between the best and the average athlete.
Having a routine eliminates all the distraction that could lead to ineffective and failed training sessions. And not just that, having a routine helps you pinpoint the exact problem for the failed training. “I missed that 8 am breakfast before going out training”. If we have the whole day messed up we can just guess what went wrong.
I know a lot would argue here about genetics and equipment etc. Once again this has an impact but far less than the commitment of the athlete.
And we know that not all can have everything planned out almost like PROs but with a bit of effort, it can make a lot of difference. In the next section, we are going to look at a few life variables that in my opinion have the biggest impact on performance in the end.
Here we won’t even touch the topic of sleep duration and getting enough quality sleep (8h of daily sleep is one of the best performance enhancers). Hereby, I would like to point out bedtime and wake time. Going to sleep and waking up at the same or at least similar time is the first step into getting your day organised. Having a healthy sleep routine will help you find the best time for training. If you are waking one day at 5 am and one day at 10 am your 11 am training will probably feel different. And not just that. Waking at 10 am one day means you will probably be less tired in the evening and will have trouble falling asleep which mean you will either have short sleep or just stay up late and wake up even later. And that leads up to a never-ending cycle. Just an example of how an athletes bedtime and wake time has shifted for ~2.5h from 00:30 ->9:00 to around 03:00 -> 11:00 in the last week.
This athlete has pretty hectic working hours, however, that midnight bedtime did work for him. The problem is once he extended work until 1 am or 2 am. Then he sleeps in to get ~8 hours of sleep meaning that he wakes up later in the morning and has trouble falling asleep at night and goes to bed even later and the next day we have even later wake up time.
Knowing when in the day and what type of training you are doing, eliminates a lot of guessing from the equation. If you know your training schedule is every day from 6 pm to 8 pm, you are anticipating it. You know when you have to come home, you know when you have to have your meal so you are properly fueled and you can mentally prepare for it. If you have one training in the morning after you just woke up and the next one somewhere random in the middle of the day you will probably have more problems getting used to it. By knowing when you will be training you can build other aspects of life around that. You can easily plan family time, friends and other activities.
We can kick that training if we just do it at an unusual time. But if we miss a meal or two and come to the hard training empty it is probably game over. This is where having a routine with training lets say you train every day at the same time, you know you have to have a meal a couple of hours before that otherwise you will struggle. So having lunch at 4 pm will always work great for the training you have later that day.
Routine allows you to have control over your day. It helps you not screwing up each day and it keeps you on track. It allows you to be consistent with sleep, training and food which allows you slow and constant progression. Everyone can do a hard week of training, but if a week is all you can do you will probably not reach peak performance.
I amazes me how different athletes commit to training. We have the ones that have each day planned to the second:
- 6:00 Wake up
- 6:15 brakfast
- 6:30 work
- 10:00 snack
- 13:00 lunch at work (fuel for the ride)
- 15:30 training
- 18:30 snack
- 20:00 dinner and family time
- 22:00 sleep
This was one example of an amateur athlete. A pretty good athlete with world championship title. Day in day out. For years. And then on the other hand we have equally talented athlete whose day goes something like that:
- 7:00 Wake up
- 7:18 still in bed thinking if he should jump on the bike before work
- 8:15 breakfast
- 8:22 “Nahh I will go after work”
- 9:00 Work
- 12:00 lunch
- 17:30 training, “jeeez I haven’t eaten in hours”
- 17:40 I ate too much, need some time for the food to settle
- 18:30 It’s getting a bit late for training now. Will be with family today and go on the bike tomorrow before work
- 20:30 dinner
- 21:15 movie
- 23:45 sleep
- NEXT DAY
- 7:52 wake up
- 8:10 breakfast
- 8:25 won’t make it to training now
- 9:00 Work
And that repeats in bunch of different ways with a lot of improvising from day to day.
I know it’s hard to have planned every second of your day. And you are right. We have different jobs, some have a family some do not. Some are willing to put more time and effort into training some more in fun, leisure and friends. And every day is a bit different and that is why having some sort of a routine that with time develops into habit. And once we have that it will be much easier staying consistent with sleep, training, nutrition and every other variable in our life.