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The Importance of Good, Basic Habits
PurplePatch Fitness coach, Matt Dixon, discusses how critical good habits are to athlete success.

By Matt Dixon, coach and founder of PurplePatch Fitness

Our goal, as amateur athletes, is to adapt and evolve. However, in this complex sport I consistently notice how overwhelming it is for athletes to improve performance. There is simply so much to think about that athletes get drowned with all the positive improvements they feel they need to make. Instead of overwhelming yourself with trying to alter everything, you will be better served by placing your focus on truly nailing the fundamentals, and then establishing one or two key habits. Making one change is the catalyst to much bigger change.

By way of an example, a couple of years ago I placed a heavy focus on my athletes to do two things. First, get the basics right.

My thoughts on the basics :

  • Follow the workouts (i.e., be ready for key sessions, and make the low-stress sessions very easy).
  • Refuel after every workout. Period.
  • Establish quality sleep habits.
  • Focus on skills/posture/form when the workout calls for it.
  • Place a priority on functional strength workouts.

All sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? The second request was to select a key habit to establish.

A sample of habit goals were :

  • To always maintain clean and functioning equipment.
  • To have a complete breakfast every morning.
  • To increase and prioritize sleep.
  • To ensure the easy training sessions truly are easy.

You would be absolutely correct in thinking that each of these should be automatic for a professional athlete. Each athlete was already successful, but there were weaknesses.

Let’s look at a couple of the athletes:

The athlete with the dirty bike : She suffered the most bike mechanicals, but also tended to be late to workouts. We cemented bike cleaning as an ‘Every Saturday’ event. It became something that could not be missed. The result? The athlete became interested in her equipment. The structure also established different behaviors. Warm ups started on time, renewed focus around planning, and race mechanicals disappeared. She realized that dirty equipment created stress in an area that could be easily avoided. Now, she has control over nearly all the areas she can control. This has left more physical and emotional capacity to pour into areas that truly do make the performance improvements.

The athlete who skipped breakfast : Also had trouble with fatigue and body composition, and had frequent training interruptions with sickness. The simple action of making breakfast a mainstay of daily life left this athlete with a single emotion. Control. Breakfast ensured refueling from the morning workout, facilitated recovery, opened the door for healthy food choices later in the day, and aided energy balance and readiness for afternoon training. The result? Greater training consistency, a positive relationship with food and, yes, body composition improvements. I also saw this athlete become happy. The passion increased, and the door of opportunity opened for her.

Yes, this sport is complex. You will always be challenged to improve across many areas, but before you drown in confusion, you may well be served by ensuring you get the basics down, and then look to establish one or two key habits that you can change or create. That might just be a catalyst to many other improvements.

Photo by Jay Prashun, Lava Magazine

A PowerTap / purplepatch athlete who places plenty of focus on habit creation is Sarah Piampiano, pictured above. Her story is inspiring and fundamental to her success as a professional triathlete, so I highly encourage you to visit Sarah Piampiano’s website www.thehabitproject.net. Plenty to learn from in there!

Matt Dixon is one of the leading endurance coaches in the world. He brings a unique background of professional coaching experience, elite athletics and education to lead the purplepatch team. He is a highly sought after resource in the endurance community, writing and contributing to multiple publications such as Triathlete Magazine, Lava Magazine, Outside Magazine and Triathlete Europe. His Master's degree in clinical and exercise physiology, as well as his experience as an elite swimmer and professional triathlete, form the backbone of his coaching philosophy, but it is his incredible ability to lead, educate and develop all levels of athletes to their potential with his excellent communication style that makes him such a sought after resource. You can follow him on the purplepatch blog, Facebook or @purplepatch on Twitter.