If you’ve decided to take advantage of warm and sunny weather by getting outside and getting in shape, good for you.
And if you’ve decided to sign up for some sort of race to do so — a triathlon, a 10K, a mud-and-obstacle run, or something else fun — even better.
Training for a competition is an excellent way to stay motivated.
But especially if it’s your first time preparing for a physical challenge you’re going to have to work your way up to, there are going to be a few surprises along the way.
Tech Insider spoke with Dan Arnett, a professional triathlon coach, to see what surprises people might encounter while training for a race. While we spoke about triathlon specifically, these answers apply to just about any serious training program.
1. « You do not need a coach, » says Arnett.
If you’ve just signed up for a competitive event, especially something like a triathlon, you may ask yourself if you need a professional coach to get you going.
But Arnett says you really don’t need to pay a professional if you’re just getting started. What you need instead is a good training plan — and you can usually find one for free online.
Save your money and focus on having fun and finishing your first couple of races. If you want to get real serious after that, look into a coach.
2. You’ll gain weight.
With daily (or almost-daily) workouts, those extra pounds should just melt off, right?
Not exactly. Arnett says most people, men especially, put on some weight initially. This happens quickly too, within the first two to four weeks.
Your body adds muscle mass at the start, which makes you weigh more, even if you lose that extra flab around the waist. If you’ve got significant weight to lose it should start to come off eventually, but don’t look for an immediate decrease on the scale, especially if you haven’t also altered your diet.
Focus on how your clothes fit instead, says Arnett.
3. You can’t actually eat whatever you want — sorry.
It’s easy to view the fact that you’re burning a few hundred more calories a day as a license to indulge in all the cheeseburgers and ice cream you want.
But most of us can’t eat whatever we want all the time even if we are working out. We usually are getting basically enough calories anyway. (Those training for an ultra race like an Ironman may actually need some additional calories, but they still need to eat healthy — and the person getting started with training isn’t starting at that level or even close to it.)
« People expect to be able to change their diet » and eat more, says Arnett. But for most people, there’s no need to suddenly start carbo-loading. Go ahead and enjoy the occasional cheeseburger or ice cream — but keep it occasional.
4. Some of the greatest benefits of your training program might be related to mental health.
You may have decided it was time to get in shape because you wanted to feel better physically, but that’s far from the only way that a training program improves someone’s life.
Research shows that exercise can reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep and cognitive function, and improve self esteem.
« Once they get that workout done, people say they feel so much more productive during the day, » says Arnett. What’s more, the sleep perks and mental health boost provide excellent motivation to keep up with your workouts — all a wonderful cycle, once you get into it.
5. Sometimes, it’s better to skip your workout.
You don’t want to miss a workout, especially when you are getting ready for something big. Arnett recommends putting your training schedule into your calendar so it’s just like a work meeting that you’d never miss.
But — just like with work — there are legitimate reasons that you might need a day off.
If your family needs your attention, they come first, says Arnett.
You also don’t want to hurt yourself, so watch those overuse injuries. If you’ve been « ramping up, doing too much, and not listening to your body, » you may find that you hit a point where you need a day off, even if it’s not your scheduled rest day.
Do your body a favor: Take that break.