So Derek, how does one find themselves out-of-balance?
I generally see individuals getting a little bit out of balance around the 4-5 month mark. The reason for this is because over the first 3-4 months, improvements in fitness are easy to come by. You can make improvements by adding more volume, frequency, or intensity. However, once you start getting to that 4-5 month mark, the individual starts to become aware of a certain amount they have improved and now see it as necessary to continually hit high workout loads in order to either maintain or keep increasing their fitness levels.
How does one keep balance but still improve?
I don't want to give away all my secrets, but I will offer you one piece of advice. Instead of looking at training on a day-to-day basis in which you must hit "x" number of reps or distance, start thinking in terms of weekly goals. I find what this does is it gives the athlete some freedom in how they meet these goals. Now instead of the athlete viewing workouts on everyday that they must hit in order to stay on track, it gives them a sense of power in how they work around their own personal schedules. For example, this athlete with a weekly goal now may be able to go out golfing all day Friday instead of riding or running because they know that they have a group ride on Saturday that will easily make up for both days. At the end of the week this athlete still has gotten in the same amount of work, but they have adjusted their days accordingly to either rest when they wanted to rest, or workout when they wanted to workout.
What do you see a key contributor to becoming out of balance?
Even though I am a coach, I am still an athlete who is inspiring to achieve strong results as well. I know when I get out of balance it is because I start to become a slave to technology and numbers. Talking with several other athletes, they tend to share the same feelings. You are working hard those first few months after your off-season and are seeing constant progression in terms of power or TSS (Training Stress Score). You almost get addicted to these numbers as they are an indication of your fitness and you love being able to track them. However, there comes a day when you don't want to go ride for whatever reason. Maybe its raining, maybe you don't have the motivation to go train. Regardless, that day shows up as a decrease in fitness and you start to press a bit as you don't want to lose the gains you've already made. Another day of rain is in the forecast and now you get stressed out because you aren't going to be able to hit the numbers you need to. This is why in my opinion sometimes you need some freedom weeks from technology.
So, should you use technology in your training then?
Absolutely! Technology is the best means for tracking data and fitness over time. There is so much you can get from analyzing heart rate or power files that would be lost from week-to-week and year-to-year. With that being said, you don't need to become a slave to numbers. Yes, there are times when structure is needed to maximize your results, but that isn't 12 months out of the year. Sometimes it is needed to take a "freedom" week from power or heart rate and get back to riding a bike just because its a fantastic thing to do!
Its easy to become out of balance in today's training world with numbers surrounding every workout. Use these numbers for what they are, but when things become to stressful, its perfectly fine and actually needed that you step away for a couple days in order to collect yourself. At the end of the day, endurance athletics is about the ability to consistently workout and improve your fitness over time. Whatever you find as the best method to stay on the bike or running trail is the method you should follow. My only suggestion to you is that every now and then you should switch things up in order to stay fresh both physically and mentally. Make sure you have balance in your life. Without balance, you are only prolonging the period until you return to your original state of fitness that you found yourself in, to begin with.