April 5, 2018

Why You Should Learn From (Not Copy) Other Athletes

While it’s tempting to compare yourself to others – especially those faster or more accomplished than you – it’s not always useful or beneficial. Here’s why.

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“But that is what [insert athlete name here] is doing.”

It’s something I hear from the athletes I coach and from the athletes I don’t.

It seems everyone is comparing themselves to others and looking for the next hack that will take their performance to the next level.

If only it were that simple.

While it’s tempting to compare yourself to others – especially those faster or more accomplished than you – it’s not always useful or beneficial.

We Are All Different

When you look at a good athlete doing a specific session, wearing certain gear, eating in a certain way or doing any other thing in their preparation, you are not seeing the full picture.

Often there are a whole host of circumstances that have led that athlete to that session, gear and food and you are viewing their preparation through a filter that is limiting your view.

Rather than blindly copying an athlete, a more productive idea is to try and learn from them.

Ask yourself this question: WHY is [insert athlete name here] doing what they do?

When you understand the WHY behind a particular approach, only then can you begin to assess whether this particular workout, strengthening session or recovery practice may be worth exploring or beneficial for you.

Why The WHY Is So Important

When you peel away the filter, you’ll begin to see all of the things contributing to the choices made by [insert athlete name here].

While this is not an exhaustive list, some of the common things that influence an athlete’s choice in preparation are below.


At the highest level, we all have a unique genetic recipe that determines our athletic potential.

All other things being equal, the athlete’s who are more gifted in the genetics department will have an advantage so trying to chase or copy them is of limited value.


When you look at an athlete training, you won’t always know what their goals are and what they’re trying to achieve.

Are they training to be better, to improve health or lose weight?

If performance is the goal, what distance are they training for and when is their race?

Each of these factors will change your approach to preparation.

If you see a good athlete doing a hard interval session it’s easy to believe that could be useful for you. If you’re training for a marathon and they’re preparing for a 5k, that specific session may not be useful for you at all right now.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.


We all have a story.

We’ve grown up playing different sports, had different injuries and illnesses. We have different circumstances, come from different environments and with different resources.

All of these factors need to be considered when deciding on goals, how to train, eat and recover…

A person who has been training consistently for years will have a far better ability to tolerate training and will, therefore, be able to handle more mileage and more intensity without breaking down.

Trying to copy the volume or sessions of someone who has more experience and has been training for years longer than you is an injury waiting to happen.

Current Fitness

When you see an athlete running fast, it’s easy to assume that they’re working hard and you should too.

The trouble with this thinking is that pace does not reflect effort.

An athlete who is well trained and better conditioned than you will often be able to train at a much faster pace than you while still at an easy effort.

To get the best of yourself, you need to train at a pace that is appropriate for your current fitness level at ALL times.

Commitments & Recovery

Each of you have different commitments, different circumstances and different resources.

These factors all affect your ability to recover and benefit from training.

If you’re comparing your training with someone who works part-time, has no kids and gets 9 hours of sleep each night against your 50 hour workweek, 3 kids and 7 hours of sleep, it’s likely you’re going to have a hard time matching them and will begin to break down.

Training Tolerance
Training tolerance is the result of all above points combined. Some athletes are able to handle more, some less.

Regardless, your goal should be to find your optimal balance of training and life stress.

Performance is found in that balance.

In Closing

While it is easy to copy what others are doing, it is rarely valuable in the long run.

Instead, look a little deeper and try to learn WHY the athlete is doing what they do. It’s telling.

When you learn the WHY, you remove the filter and can begin to look at things with a little more objectivity.

Learn, don’t copy!

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.