The Importance of a (Flexible) Training Plan

“If I’m not a serious athlete, do I need a training plan?”

This question has been posed to me multiple times in various forms. The shortest possible answer is, yes.

First of all, “serious” is often a stand-in for “competitive,” and whether we consider ourselves to be competitive athletes or not, at some point we’ve probably considered following a training plan. Often, folks who are training for a race want to follow a plan in the weeks or months leading up to the event. But in many cases, once the race is over we return to our training without much structure.

A “training plan” often conjures up images of rigidity and rules, in the best case providing daily structure and in the worst causing guilt when you miss a workout. Many athletes have mixed feelings about the training plan, because we like the idea of the guidance and accountability that comes with a training plan, but don’t want to lose the flexibility and fun of training.

Yet all too often, we hit obstacles. We get injured. We over-train and become fatigued. We lack motivation. We’re never sure if we’re training enough.

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Working on my summer strength plan.

The truth is that no matter what your goal is, having a plan is one of the most effective tools in helping you achieve that goal (and I mean beyond athletic goals too!) Within the athletic realm, keep in mind that a goal does not have to refer to a specific race or time, nor to weekly mileage, or weight loss, or the myriad other measurable results we may see in our sports. Our goal may be as simple as I run to stay fit and active as I age. An athlete with this goal would have a very different training plan from an athlete trying to run a PR in the mile. Training plans reflect the workouts that match the athlete’s goals, and perhaps most importantly, the training plan helps ensure the athlete’s training is consistent.

 

So take a minute to think. Why do you like your endurance sport? Why do you run, ski, bike? Why do you love to escape to the mountains? If you race, think about your most recent race goal. Did you achieve it? How often do you feel too tired to train, but hate taking days off? How often do you know you should train, but lack that authentic motivation? Still not convinced you need a training plan? Try this quiz:Masters Quiz

Training every day, always trying to go faster, and breaking Strava records are attempts we make at feeling like our training has a purpose. At best, we like measurable results, and at worst, we live in fear that we’re not training enough, or that we’ll never be in shape. This leads us into all sorts of bad habits. (Hint: If you answered mostly B’s above, you might not realize that you are leaving a huge amount of athletic potential untapped! If you answered mostly C’s, you probably already know you have some habits that are hurting more than helping.)

A training plan helps us look at the big picture, see patterns in our training and lifestyle, and choose a pattern of training that we will be able to maintain for the long term.

Okay, got it. A training plan sounds good. But what about the flexibility part?

Nobody wants their training to become just another obligation, another thing on the To-Do list. Yet a training plan provides the accountability we need to make sure we not only stick to our goals, but pursue them in a smart way that fits comfortably with the rest of your lifestyle.

What if you could choose from a selection of workouts that are designed with your goal in mind, and schedule them whenever you want?

What if you could change your training plan, guilt free and confidently, knowing your decisions are leading you in the direction of your goal?

When I first designed my own flexible training plan, I was in the middle of a two month

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Capitol Reef National Park

roadtrip, living out of a car. (Want to see some of my trail running recommendations from the American Southwest?) Flexibility was nonnegotiable!

I designed a plan in which specific workouts were assigned to each week, but not to a day. At the beginning of each week, I made a rough outline of when I thought I would do each workout, based on my other scheduling commitments that week. As the week progressed, I could change the plan as needed. Guilt free. See an example of this type of plan in action here.

You can implement your own flexible training plan, starting this season! In 3 steps:

1) Choose a time-frame. If you’re training for an event, you will have a natural end to the first part of your training plan. If you are interested in a long term plan, choose a time-frame that seems manageable to start with. I like to write my plan for three months at a time.
2) Make a list of workouts you already do regularly, and decide whether they suit your goals. Retain the ones that do, adding new workouts if needed with the help of a coach or teammates.
3) Schedule so that each week gets a similar array of workouts. There are many ways to organize a training schedule, and if you have a coach he or she can help you design workouts and time them for maximum benefit. If you’re flying solo, a good rule of thumb would be to have one or two long distance workouts a week, and one or two intensity sessions per week. (Two for advanced athletes, one for beginner/intermediates.) The remaining days are either off, easy, medium distance, or cross training if you are training for one sport. Using this framework, the training plan starts to fill itself in.

templateYou can use this free template to write a rough outline of your week’s training. Then with training plan in hand, you have the flexibility each week to move workouts around to fit the rest of your schedule. You can also use this template to write your training log (notes on the workout after you have completed it.)

 

You’ll want to follow a couple guidelines to make sure your training load is balanced:

1) Don’t do intensity and a long distance workout on consecutive days.
2) Give yourself at least 1 day off per week for most athletes.
3) Keep next week in mind. If next week has a couple hard intensity sessions, do this week’s intensity earlier in the week, etc.

These steps constitute a short crash course in designing and implementing your own flexible training plan. If you get stuck on any of the steps, send me a question. If you write yourself a training plan and would like some feedback on it, that’s what I’m here for. And of course, if you want me to design your training plan, or help you follow through with your plan, you know what to do…

The resources in this post (like my favorite Southwest trail runs, training plan example, and plan template) are also available on my Products and Freebies page along with many other resources. Check them out and if there is a resource you’d like to see that isn’t there, please let me know!

 

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