Dr. Don’s 10 Truths For Training

Over my years of training, I’ve read a lot about training, done a lot of training, and seen how many people train. The following are not scientifically grounded but represent a distillation, of sorts, of how I think about training.

  1. Every Body and Everybody Is Different. The sequencing of the human genome ushered in a new concept that was presumed but never fully confirmed: Our genetic makeup, combined with our environmental factors (nutrition, exercise, stress) make each of us unique. Therefore, when it comes to training and doing endurance sports, keep that in mind. One size does not fit all. One person’s training plan will not be suitable for another. One coach’s approach to training and racing may not be compatible for a wide range of people. Further, our bodies uniquely adapt to and recover from the stress of training in different ways and at different rates.

 

  1. Know thy body. Since our bodies are different, it’s important to know your Your body will change as it trains and races. It’s paramount to understand those changes, understand your limits, understand how to wisely approach those limits, and understand when you’ve exceeded those limits. Constantly check in with your body before, during and after a workout. Is that knee pain getting a little worse on this ride? Is it only acting up on hills? That hamstring was a bit fussy at the beginning of this run but now it’s settled down as I’ve warmed up. My shoulder seems to stay stiff for an hour or more after my swim workout. For some, keeping a journal may help, especially if you need to check in with a coach or see a medical professional.

 

  1. More art than science. The impact of technology on fitness and endurance sports has been incredible. Sophisticated materials have produce ultra-light bikes and shoes. Sensors, mobile devices, and web-based tools have given us the ability to measure a wide range of biometric variables. This has inevitably led some people to think because we can measure it, we can use it effectively for training. If it were only so simple. Training is an art, a dance really, between stressing the body in certain ways, allowing it to recover, and putting all of that in the context of the many other of life’s priorities.

 

  1. Know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em. Kenny Rogers had it right. Whether you’re gambling or working out, you need to know when to cut your losses. This is one of the hardest things for an intense, goal-driven athlete to learn. One part of you is saying “no pain, no gain” and the other part of you is saying “this hurts and is pointless”. If you can assess this more objectively, then it can be easier to know when to fold ‘em. For example, you may be in set two of three sets of four hill repeats. By the end of second set, you’re toast. If your time do a hill repeat drops off dramatically, then it might be time to fold ‘em. Pushing through to the end probably won’t add that much fitness and may end in over-stress or injury.

 

  1. Recovery, recovery, recovery. This is another hard lesson to learn. As committed athletes driven to achieve, it’s hard to back off or to know when to back off. The body needs recovery time to overcome the stress of training and racing. If the body is not given enough recovery, it never has a chance to rebound and become stronger. Recovery is even more important for the older endurance athlete; older muscles, tendons, and ligaments take more time to heal compared to a younger version.

 

  1. Planning is important, flexibility is part of reality. Creating a training plan over many months for a big event or race is essential preparation. Executing the plan often bumps up against reality: Business travel, illness, sick kids, spousal plans and so on. Flexibility is required. Here discernment is essential. Be it from an experienced coach or your own knowledge and experience, some of the workouts for a week can be considered key workouts and the others more nice to do but not essential. With this knowledge, the Monday tempo run that you missed can be done on Wednesday without too much disruption in the plan. It is often best to trim out some of the workouts than try to make up workouts and overdo it.

 

  1. Consistency is the key. Related to the previous point, too much flexibility can lead to inconsistent training. It is only through a series of consistent workouts will gains in fitness be achieved. There may be a tendency to make up for missed training by gong extra long or extra hard after missing a number workouts. If time is limited, it would be much better to get in a short workout and be more consistent than not.

 

  1. Find your training rhythm. One way to be consistent is to develop a training rhythm. We are all creatures of habit and constructing a training plan around a repeating (weekly) pattern can help with consistency. For example, for people with family commitments, Sunday may be the family day, which means a recovery day. Monday may allow for a morning plus evening workout, a two-a-day, Tuesday recovery, Wed/Thu short workouts (one of them intense), Friday recovery, and Saturday a long workout. Rinse and repeat. This way, you can plan the rest of your life around this pattern.

 

  1. Avoid the middle ground. In most training plans, workouts typically focus on one of the fitness zones (1-5 or 6).  In general they fall into two buckets: long, slow, low-intensity workouts (Zones 1-3) and short-fast high intensity workouts (Zones 4 and 5). The general consensus among coaches is that most people don’t train at a low enough intensity for the low intensity workouts and don’t train at high-enough an intensity for the high intensity workouts. The result is a significant amount of training in the middle ground.

 

  1. Don’t use a workout as a measure of fitness gains or losses. This is the trap I fall into most often. I’ll finish a workout and don’t meet a target (slow lap times in the pool, can’t hold a certain power during an interval) and interpret that as an indication that my fitness is not improving. The fallacy of this interpretation is not accounting for any fatigue that’s accumulated from previous workouts. By the same token, crushing a workout may not be an indication of significant fitness gains. The only real way to measure fitness gains (or losses) is through regular fitness testing over the course of the season or cumulative race results season over season.

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