The Monday Syndrome
“Why are you so excited on Monday at 7:30 in the morning? What is wrong with you?” my boss at the physical therapy clinic asked me on one occasion. I could not quite give him a good answer. I was very excited about a new week of hard training. I was ready to jump right into it and work my butt off after Sunday’s rest day. Maybe not every athlete suffers with what I call “The Monday syndrome”, but I would guess that most athletes who really want to excel at their sport, to some degree, do get excited about each new week of training.
The summer I trained for the World University Games, most of the time I trained alone. One week coach had sent me what appeared to be – an easy Monday training session. I felt frustrated as my desire was to jump right into the week and crush Monday. I felt like I needed a killer workout to feel good because I had plenty of energy saved up. I decided to take the coach’s written training plan and add a few things to turn it into two training sessions plus the weight room. I finished both sessions with a big smile on my face with a satisfied inner desire of conquering. Tuesday’s lactate running workout felt miserable. Wednesday’s discus session was sluggish. Thursday in the long jump training I had to be careful with my tight adductor. Friday, I hurt my shoulder in the javelin due to lack of focus, and Saturday’s moderate intensity tempo running workout turned out to be more unplanned suffering again. Luckily, I got through the week without any big injuries, but it did remind me that draining myself on Monday was not a sustainable way to train. I probably would have had much more focus and clarity, if I had distributed my energy more evenly throughout the week.
It’s a trap of instant gratification. To some degree, elite athletes are good because they are crazy, some are almost addicted to hard effort work. Often an athlete feels that the need to execute is too strong not to quench it right of way. However, it requires being intentional by holding off from a tough workout now to gain benefit in the future. That probably is one of the main factors of success in any field of life.
This idea is also not my idea. I borrowed it from Cal Diez and Ben Peterson’s co-authored book “Triphasic Training: a systematic approach to elite speed and explosive strength performance”. (Dietz, Cal, and Ben Peterson, 2012) Cal Diez, Head Strength and Conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota, calls it “undulation model”. He simply explains how pushing training volume further down the week allows for more quality high-intensity training sessions in the first part of the week. This simple idea solved his own dilemma on how to program his triphasic training model. Cal also proposes another good common-sense point that coaches often masterfully miss. Weekends are there to train hard, not to train easy. Especially, for the athletes whose lives are full of other stressors throughout the weekdays, such as school, work, presentations, meetings etc. Saturdays are often the best days to hammer the body with lots of high-volume stress, and body will recover just fine given that Sunday is an off-day. On top of it, Saturdays are often also competition days. Why not program the body to have lots of stress on Saturdays? Unfortunately, it is not possible if you have hammered your body hard on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday already.
You may be thinking, “I don’t agree because I’ve seen great athletes who train hard every day of the week and don’t get hurt.” Yes, there probably are athletes who apply the exact opposite approach of training hard the first three days and then easing off the rest of the week. There have been Olympic champions who don’t even think of any of these things at all, they just execute (maybe). Do you think Usain Bolt cared less about “The Monday syndrome”? I don’t know, it would be interesting to find out. If he did not, maybe he could have benefited from this concept. This is what I and others have observed, experienced and that simply makes a lot of sense. I am simply inviting you to try walking away from Monday straight into Tuesday with enough capacity to recover so that the rest of the week is productive and add to the cumulative training effect and not steal from it.
Being a decathlete, I understand that it’s tough to program a weekly training and avoid overall fatigue towards the end of the week. For a decathlete, there are just too many events for it not to happen. To some degree, an athlete will wear out towards the end of the week no matter what. That’s expected and normal. Perhaps for your training model, there are a few aspects but not everything where you can incorporate this principle. It’s a simple and very powerful principle. I invite you to find out how it can fit your own training model.
A word of caution: It does not mean that you cannot train hard during the first part of the week, it just means that the training volume is moderate instead of high to be able to keep some freshness in the Central Nervous System and the muscles for the rest of the week.
Lesson: Be careful as a coach to program hard, high intensity and volume training sessions on the first day of the week. Leave those for the second part of the week. As an athlete, be aware that after Monday there will be five or six more days to bring focus, intensity, and motivation to practice. Leave some energy in the tank.
*It is a shortened chapter from my soon-to-be-released book. It will be a track and field training wisdom book, filled with personal stories, training/coaching observations, sports performance research, and downright pragmatic common-sense. Each month until the release date, I will post one shortened chapter of the book.
Estimated book release: June 2019 (Amazon Kindle)
Provisional title: Track and Field – Beyond Technique Training (How to beat genetic limitations by changing the mindset?)