I have a bone to pick with lots of training programs out there. They are way too consistent. I’m not arguing with consistent training (i.e. getting out there day after day to put in quality work), but I am arguing with a consistent structure week after week. A lot of the formulas are too repetitive, which I think short-changes the athlete. When I’m asked to make an assessment of a training history and it looks something like…
- Tuesday tempo run
- Thursday intervals
- Saturday LSD run
- 2 other easy days
Let me say this: What I am calling a “typical” program can produce results, and more times than not, people can use these programs to meet a specific goal time. But as a coach, I want to see the best possible training improvement in the athlete, not just the attainment of a desired goal time. This is the major flaw: The “typical” program trains an athlete to run a specific time, whereas I want to train the athlete to reach their maximum genetic potential. It’s a nuanced statement, but an important one.
So, what’s the secret sauce? Variability. Our bodies are very good at adaptation, but even better at economy. The more times we do a particular thing (i.e. run a particular “workout” approach), the more our body adapts to that particular stimulus and becomes able to perform with relative efficiency. In other words, there is a diminishing return or net training effect in repeated trials of the same training stimulus. The best way to get the biggest training effect, then, is to avoid the opportunity for “over-efficiency,” or to regularly challenge ourselves with varied training.
If you agree, then you might be worried things just got too complicated. Don’t be. Here are a bunch of variables you can easily tweak from one day to the next to keep challenging your body:
- Pace: Add short sprints/pickups, run a race, or run extra slow. Try a progressive pace run. You get it…sky’s the limit.
- Distance: Add some mileage to your normal route a couple of days a week.
- Terrain: Always run a flat loop? Attack some hills. Run on a treadmill a lot? Get out on a rolling trail.
- Time of day: Always run in the afternoon? Try the morning.
- Fueling: Always take 1 gel every 45 minutes and carry water on your long runs? Try a non-fueled long run at a very easy pace. Or, try a non-fueled morning run before breakfast for a change.
Keep challenging yourself in new ways, and you might be surprised at how much you improve…maybe beyond where you ever thought you’d be.