There are many opinions, when we talk about training. Some people go out, just to run; without asking big questions or particular goals. And some people, if they don’t have a schedule to follow and a race to conquer, don’t even think to go out.
In my opinion there isn’t a single point of view and I think everything is partially right and, at the same time, debatable. At the end of the day – as we always say – it’s right for each person to experience sports in their own way.
I think that to fully enjoy the journey, it is right to chart a course. And I, being the good nerd, try to do that by using all the technological helps that are in my possession.
First of all, we know ourselves
To continue the metaphor of the journey, the starting point is definitely knowing ourselves. Especially, what are our characteristics and our limitations. This will help us understand where we can improve and what training loads we can sustain.
The importance of the heart
Now we are really talking about our heart pump because there we find the best way to understand the intensity of the effort. In particular which is our aerobic zone and which is our anaerobic zone.
The valuation of our heart zones can be done at different levels and with different tools. The easiest and most approximate is a simple mathematical calculation in which, starting from our Maximum Heart Rate (HRmax) and Minimum Heart Rate (HRmin), we extrapolate the result.
The second way is the lactate test. After a 20-minute warm-up at a very relaxed speed on a treadmill (or on rollers on a bike), having a heart rate monitor, increase speed in 4-minute intervals. At the end of each interval, your coach will take a small blood sample from your earlobe to detect the amount of lactic acid in your blood and, at the end of the test, will define precisely what your threshold values are.
The third way is to use a Cardio-GPS that has the anaerobic threshold calculation program inside. I use the Garmin Forerunner 945 which has this feature. Just press “Start,” and he guides you through the different stages of exercise and – at the end – automatically updates your thresholds relative to heart rate with the new data.
The FTP test
As you can think, we are not talking about transferring files from one server to another but, in this case, the acronym FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power. But don’t worry: I don’t want to go into too much boring details, although I won’t deny that I would like to. ;)
This value is already known to triathletes and cyclists as power meters for biking are quite common while, for running, values can be calculated through specific formulas (physical sensors exist but are not yet as widespread).
FTP, explained easily, is the maximum power output (measured in watts) we can sustain in an hour of exercise without substantial lactate accumulation. And thus in the aerobic zone.
As you can imagine, the goal of every athlete, even the most poor one like me, is to improve FTP value. Because it means going stronger with sustainable effort.
We evaluate the objectives
After having defined the starting point, we have to decide where we want to go. And we must do it with an awareness of our means and our time.
Starting from the couch and expecting to train to win the Olympic marathon isn’t correct.
The best thing to do is always to set main goals and approach milestones. Please be careful: I’m not saying that our goal should always be a race, but everyone’s goal is to improve and experience what we’re doing better, right?
Always proceeding gradually is the most effective tool even against injury.
It’s understandable to start from scratch dreaming of running a 100-kilometer race or crossing the finish line of a full distance triathlon hearing “you are an ironman!” However, it’s equally legitimate and proper to put in 10K races, half marathons, marathons; or Olympic triathlons or IM70.3s.
What is different is to express our potential more and more, that “1% better” that I many times talk about. Basically – continuing the travel metaphor – it is like wandering without a destination but trying to appreciate the view.
It’s not so easy! The beauty of this lifestyle is that you can do things without rushing. Lingering without necessarily experiencing the nightmare of “Day X” in which you have to be at your peak.
In this case of moments of verification are, like optimism, the “meaning of life”. You can run on the same course and see your improvements, or appreciate that in your daily life you feel more energetic, you tire less, you are more fit.
So it’s time to move on to the next topic.
Structuring the training plan
After having decided what your goal is for example running 10 km, it’s time to prepare your training plan by organizing it into time cycles.
My “uncle” advice is to take, again, a humility bath and be followed from a coach. In addition to seeing and evaluating yourself objectively and creating training that suits your characteristics, it will also help you stay focused on your goal. Believe me, this aspect is far from minor.
But whether you decide to have a coach follow you or opt for a “do-it-yourself” solution, your training program will always be structured in three main moments: preparation, basic training, and building specifically for the goal you need to achieve.
In this first phase we work mainly on physical fitness. It’s the time of training that makes you take a running start to be able to tackle the hardest jobs that will follow.
You will mostly tackle aerobic-type activities, without excessive exertion; while the functional training sessions you will do will be geared toward getting you in the right physical shape for the workouts of the next phases.
You will not need to do your sport every time, you can also engage in hiking, biking, swimming, yoga, gym. But always with one goal in mind: yours.
Now is the time to focus on the sport we enjoy doing, whether it’s running, triathlon or curling, it doesn’t matter. It’s the longest part of the training plan and – as Joe Friel recommends – it is best to divide it into three parts of about three to four weeks each.
In the first part, we will focus only on endurance and technique, with increasingly long workouts at low intensity and quality work to begin to improve both technique and speed (and thus effort efficiency).
Then, in the second part, we will add specific strength work for the goal we are training and continue to work on endurance by stretching distances, again at the aerobic threshold.
The third part is the final phase of this long journey and involves beginning muscular endurance work, also introducing lactate threshold exercise training. On the other hand, one also has to start struggling a bit more, right!
Now the real work is done. In this phase we are going to work on a similar type of effort to what we will face in the race. We will continue to train endurance but with a focus on sessions devoted to strength, technique and speed. In a word: quality.
So off we go with repeats, hill repeats, tempo runs and anything else that will allow us to tackle the race to the best of our ability.
This last phase lasts for about 12 weeks and should be followed by the two weeks before the competition in which we are only going to maintain the achieved form without adding any load. The period that, commonly, we call discharge, for short.
Okay, but will you do a summary for me please? ;)
All right, I will try to be more concise. Bear with me, sometimes I get carried away.
When you prepare for a workout, imagine it as a crescendo in which you start slow, build good fitness and start working on endurance. Then you focus on the sport(s) you are preparing for, lengthening endurance sessions and introducing strength work. And then get to the top with the hardest, most goal-specific workouts you want to achieve.
The meaning is the same but, come on, summary is not always the best thing when it comes to training.
Is a generic training program okay?
It depends. The generic training program is fine if you have a simple goal or if you know yourself well enough to use it as a guideline. Let’s say that all the programs you find, including ours, are comparable to maps that show you the way to the destination you want to reach.
Structuring the individual training
Individual training it must always always always always (did I already say “always”?) be divided into three main moments.
Warming up: this is the initial phase that is essential to put your body in the condition to train in the most efficient way.
Training: it is the central part where you “build.” Speed, endurance, efficiency, technique, it all depends on what you’re going to put in here.
Defatigue: many people overlook it, but it is the first part of recovery, especially after anaerobic workouts. This is the time when you begin to actively eliminate waste metabolites, which, the sooner they are gone, the sooner you can get back to training to the best of your ability.
Two other useful tools
As I already wrote, I use Garmin and I can give you advice on two tools very useful: the Training Load Focus and the HRV Stress Score.
In the first case, the Training Load Focus provides guidance on how balanced your training is between aerobic and anaerobic activity and suggests what is the right distribution of different types of training for you.
The HRV Stress Score is an analysis tool that shows to you how is your condition and recommends what type of training is right for you on that day. Measured in the morning, you will know whether you can handle a tough workout or whether it will be better to engage in a relaxing stretching session (extremely important, always).
It isn’t easy to prepare a training plan, and there’s no one like another, there is only the right one for you. What is important is always to try to approach planning with full awareness of our limitations and the goals we want to achieve.
But, if you have read this far, you have already done a great exercise in endurance. ;)
(Main image: kues on DepositPhotos)