Having an effective training plan is very important, but if you are reinforcing bad habits or technique with your training you are working against yourself. Technique, form, and skill are often overlooked facets of training. Athletes should spend a portion of each season perfecting their form, just as they work on strength, endurance, and speed.
Proper technique not only makes you more efficient and faster, it can prevent overuse injuries. Endurance athletes repeat motions thousands of times in a single work out. Improper leg tracking on your bike or a bad foot strike at best wastes energy, but could lead to a visit with the orthopedist. Here are some guidelines for perfecting your form and technique
Seek instruction. You can not work on better form if you do not know what it is. A cycling or running coach can video your stride or spin and give you exact feedback on what you need to work on. Books and video tapes are helpful, but they do not have a discerning eye and can not give you the specific instruction you may need. Most coaches charge an hourly fee for one to one instruction.
Get Feedback. Visual feedback is the best. If you own a video camera set it up on a tri-pod to record your form. Playing it back in slow motion allows you to break down each portion of your stride or spin. A mirror in front of the treadmill or trainer is another inexpensive way to give your self feedback.
Conscious then unconscious. The process of reinforcing proper form is to consciously repeat a proper motion until it becomes automatic and unconscious. This process takes thousands of repetitions, and you must regularly focus on and check your technique and form.
Work on only 2-3 aspects of technique per session. If you try to adjust too many things at once it is difficult to focus on performing them all correctly. Take just a few aspects of your stride, stroke, or spin and work on perfecting them.
Slow then fast. Take a motion or even part of a motion and perform it very slowly and correctly. Gradually bring up the speed of the motion until you are at your race pace. If at any point you perform it incorrectly, slow down again and repeat until you have it.
Work in base. As intensity increases it becomes harder to concentrate on form. If proper form is not unconscious at this point, it will be much harder to learn. The long slow base work outs are great for working on form. This is not to say you should only work on technique in base. You should work on technique and use drills year round. Base is simply the best time to perfect your form so that you carry good technique into the season, and it adds variety to your base work outs.
Get the right equipment. If you are running in the wrong shoe for your stride mechanics, or you are improperly fit on your bike, it will make it more difficult to have good form. Make sure you have the right equipment and that it is adjusted correctly.
Learning and using proper technique is “free speed.” Often you can lower your energy usage and increase your speed without greater exertion. In fact, your exertion level may go down and your speed or power up. Proper technique is no less applicable to an amateur athlete than it is to a pro. In fact, amateurs can usually benefit the most from technique instruction.