“Do as I say, not as I do.” How often are health and fitness experts who don’t always follow their own advice forced to speak these dreaded words? Ryan McKelley is not afraid to admit that he once found himself in this awkward position. Although his primary job is as a psychologist and professor in Onalaska, Wisconsin, Ryan, who is 44 years old and married with two children, held a side gig as a personal trainer, in which role he often warned clients against pushing too hard, too often. But as a competitive cyclist, shown below on quite a different bike than normal, Ryan did just that. “My training problem over the years is that I get pretty self-competitive and have had a few overtraining injuries in the weeks leading up to road races,” he confesses.
It took a pandemic to break this pattern. When the world shut down, Ryan decided to give triathlon a try, and he chose an Olympic-distance 80/20 plan to start with. Although the race he targeted got cancelled, Ryan went ahead with a solo time trial and achieved a time that would have placed him on the podium based on the results of the prior year’s event. “I was blown away,” he says. “I was injury-free and feel the fittest I’ve been since high school. Some of that came from making sure I was getting enough sleep and good nutrition, but the bulk of it came from a research-supported training plan plus the extra strength training add-on. I had my VO2max assessed via a treadmill test in our university’s exercise lab after the program and it put me at ‘Excellent’ for an 18-year-old on the chart.”
As you might imagine, Ryan is now a strong advocate for the 80/20 method. “I think it is especially helpful for athletes that get caught in overtraining from too much volume at high intensity,” he explains. “It keeps the training interesting while also balancing the high-intensity and longer-duration workouts. The additional sport-specific strength training programs are icing on the cake.”