GB and England athlete Louise Damen reflects on the importance of change and breaking your routine

This summer I took a trip to the much loved town of Font Romeu. Like most athletes who venture to this little place in the French Pyrenees, I went in search of skinny air and all of the physiological benefits this brings.

However, for me, what was just as beneficial, if not more, than any physiological adaptation from the altitude was the psychological boost of changing my environment. Training in different places (with the added bonus of stunning scenery) was really motivating and was just the tonic that I needed.

Variance the missing variable

It got me thinking; Tedium or Variance is arguably the most under-valued principle of training. We tend to fixate on the other principles- Specificity, Progression, Overload and Reversibility. We often agonise over the minutiae of sessions, hitting specific paces, ensuring that sessions are progressive and fear reversibility, however, how much thought do we actually give to varying training?

The problem is that runners, (like most human beings), are often creatures of habit. We are driven by routine and if we dip into a bit of psychology, then the Ego part of our brain will always want to return to what is familiar. It’s why (without thinking), we often park in the same parking space or always use the same locker at the gym for example (I hope I’m not the only one here?!). The same goes for training. We often end up running the same routes or following the same pattern of training because there’s some comfort in familiarity.

Louise Damen finished 7th in the 2014 Commonwealth Games Marathon. Credit: Christian Clement

The dangers of monotony

In his blog,, American coach, Steve Magness tells us that research has found that one of the variables linked to overtraining is monotony. By simply doing the same type of training or training in the same places regularly leads to an increased likelihood of over-training. The reason that lack of variation leads to staleness is that monotony creates a lack of mental and physical stimulus from which to adapt to.

So, here’s the thing that many of us overlook – often what we need to do to maintain or improve performance isn’t to add more volume or to increase the intensity of sessions, it’s simply to vary or change our environment. It’s not uncommon to see a positive jump in performance when an athlete changes an aspect of their training or training environment – whether it’s the structure of their training, their coach, training group, training venue or even going to altitude and this probably isn’t a coincidence.

It’s well known that physically the body responds to a change in training stimulus, however, if I’ve learnt one thing this year, it’s that it’s not all about the physical. The importance and impact of the psycho-social aspect of training is massive too.

Switch it up

I’m not suggesting for one moment that you should or need to need to make any drastic changes to your training environment, however making some small and subtle changes could be more beneficial than you think. It may not always be practical but here are some ways that you can switch things up:

• Try a new training venue or run some different routes every once in a while. Training somewhere different can be both mentally and physically stimulating and always seems to make the time go quicker!

• Change your company. I’m not suggesting sacking off your usual running buddies but every so often mix it up and try to run with somebody different. If you do a lot of training solo then can you find a group to join for some sessions? It’s definitely no secret that training with company can be a game-changer. Not only does it make tough sessions more enjoyable, the positive peer pressure can push you to hit splits that would be difficult to do solo.

• Add some variation to your training programme. Why not introduce something different from the norm – hills, fartlek, gym work, cross training?

Don’t get too familiar with the familiar. Keep your body and your mind guessing!

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