Coach’s Note by Lance Watson

Practice Habits of Champion Athletes

Coach’s Note by Lance Watson

Practice Habits of Champion Athletes

Over the past decade I’ve had the good fortune to coach many top professional athletes in triathlon. Olympians, gold medalists and Ironman champions share a common thread: a single minded focus to leave no stone unturned in a pursuit of excellence.

When working with these athletes, the coach’s role is, amongst other things, to prepare the long term plan and keep a bird’s eye view on the progress of the athlete all the while helping them develop great practice habits. Successful athletes learn to become partners in their planning, and focusing on their primary role which is mastering how they tackle the daily tasks required to be great.

Champion athletes have a well-considered plan, create winning practice habits, and prepare training routes to maximize race simulations. I will consider these 3 points below:

Creating a Plan for Success:

Training for a championship event starts with working backwards from your goal event. When training Ironman Champion athletes I would breaking each training block into 3 week portions, or training mesocyles, providing an energy system emphasis and theme for each mesocycle. While the demands of the course and developmental needs of each individual dictate the specifics of the weekly program, age group athletes can benefit from taking a similar general approach to start, beginning with a basic outline that also includes some specific goals within each mesocycle. When age group athletes sign up for Ironman, it tends to be their personal “championship” event in the sense that it is the focal point of their season.

Practice Habits of Champions:

Pre-practice mental habits. Champions decide on their attitude; create process and outcome goals; understand the purpose of the practice and the main set; and visualize efficient movement prior to arriving at practice.

In practice attitude: Sometimes fun, always focused, champions are on task for drills, intervals and for the recovery portions, where they mentally prepare for the next interval. They control self talk to boost self esteem. They capitalize on the good days and put the bad days in perspective. They make time for post practice debrief and learning.

Logistics: Champion athletes organize their equipment and become systematic about equipment preparation for practice. They create time lines to practice, arrive early as a habit, and create some time after practice as buffer in case things go longer, so key sets or cool down isn’t cut short. They log their workouts, tracking performance to see patterns

Body preparation and maintenance:  Proper stretching, time for an easy warm up and proper cool down, to flush lactic acid from muscles and facilitate recovery. Champions time their massage on the night before recovery day, rather than during their recovery day. They time their nutrition with pre – workout meal finishing at least 2hrs prior for moderate to high intensity sessions, and post session nutrition including carbs within 30’ of finish, and carbs + protein within 2hrs of finishing training.


Simulation in training is an important piece of the puzzle in maximizing your success. Look at the specific demands of the course you are preparing for. Pull up the course profile from the race website and anticipate where and when the climbs will happen, and what kind of grade they will be at. Are there multiple hills back to back, or are there hills followed by flat sections or long descents? Try and simulate the demands of the course in training. This does not mean to ride the entire course each week! Rather, dissect the course and practice parts of it regularly, either on similar terrain at home, or by planning a trainer session with strength (over geared) sections and rhythm sections (flat cadence sections at 85-95 rpm) placed appropriately through the workout. Flat sections should be done in your aerobars. The position your body is in while riding in aerobars is different than it is when riding on normal handlebars, which means that you will be straining your muscles in a different way.  In order for your muscles to get efficient and adapt to this position, you need to train in that position. What is the average temperature and climate? Turn up the heat and run a humidifier - it takes 5 consecutive days of heat training to start to see adaptation. Practice training at race start time and following your specific race nutrition regime. Success is in the details.

LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 28 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Contact Lance to share your goals, race faster, or master the Ironman distance. Find more great training tips by visiting us on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


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