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Organising your training week

When you are first starting out on a fitness, or running programme, establishing a “training habit” and building base fitness is key. Typically someone just starting (or returning from long term injury) would train three times a week and avoid doing so on consecutive days. With seven days in the week this presents no really logistical problem. 

However moving on, you will seek to train on more days, and this can cause a scheduling problem. This post looks at a few ideas that can help you overcome this and organise your training week if you are a self-coached athlete and responsible for building your own plan.

Changing the rules

The first “rule” that you need to reconsider is that you can train on consecutive days, but being mindful of the preceding or following session. And particularly how your body responds to different sessions. As you start to develop (and the point at which you are at if this post is relevant to you), then you should be able to train on consecutive days and eventually potentially twice on one day.

You may find that after a high intensity interval session your body feels better for having done a short easy run the following day. Or a T paced run the day before your long slow run might work for you. This is going to be down to you as an individual. Some careful trial and error will be called for.

The second “rule” to rethink is that the week has seven training slots. Actually it has fourteen from now on. This creates a wealth of opportunities for building additional training volume, but also working around the non-athletic aspects of your life.

Intensity & Purpose

Next, think about the type of training sessions that you want to use and what purpose (in broad terms) do you want them to serve. Some pointers here would be; is every session a run session? Do you sometimes include strength & conditioning? Can you (do you) include other sports such as cycling / swimming, or perhaps squash / badminton / netball… or any other activity?

Some activities in your week might serve a social purpose (which can be hugely important and beneficial). Other activities you might do on your own but have limited times in the week to do them (for instance when facilities are available).

A good idea is to just write a list with a brief note of when this can be done and its main characteristics. For instance Squash club Tuesday night high intensity cardio, or Yoga Monday morning strength and flexibility.

For an endurance runner, that is seeking to move up from an introductory level of three runs (exercise sessions) a week, a good rule of thumb is one long run, one high intensity session and then several shorter runs at an easy pace per week. Then progress to turning one of those shorter easy runs into a shorter T paces run!

What do I need to do?

This of course depends on what you are trying to achieve! But I appreciate that is not helpful in a “broad advice” type post such as this. Let me offer you some pointers;

I shall assume that if you are reading this you have been training three days a week for a while and you now want to progress your fitness; perhaps to become faster or run a longer event. Whilst I am thinking of a runner, the same guiding principles can be used in other endurance events;

  • Sudden changes to volume will lead to problems. Look back over the past few months and take a view (realistically) on the typical weekly mileage you would do. Increasing this by 10% is (for most people) a very safe way to progress. That will give you an idea of the type of distance you will be trying to cover.
  • High intensity sessions typically are the times we injure ourselves. There are many reasons why intensity sessions are important in our training plan, but balance this with risk of injury. In running intensity normally equates to a faster session (this does not strictly have to be the case, but for simplicity lets pretend it is!). Broad rule try and limit yourself to one intensity session per week, or even per fortnight if you take longer to recover or have other considerations (age / training experience / injury history / physiological weakness).
  • Long Slow Runs are a “thing” for a reason. I won’t go into the detail on this, but just believe me that if you are an endurance athlete a long slow something each week is going to be important!! I mostly work with runners, so it’s a long slow run once a week. Clue here is very much in the name… LONG and SLOW.
  • Variety. This comes down to coaching ethos and also the purpose of your plan. But for most people I would suggest that incorporating another sport (that you enjoy) in to your week makes a lot of sense; both interns of the physical and psychological value. But perhaps a little restraint too… Once a week perhaps? After all you only have 14 slots a week to burn.
  • Volume. Again this is partly about coaching ethos. I tend to believe in building up a lot of slow low intensity volume (Zone 2 or base training) each week. Again in the interests of time I shall talk about the ‘why’ another day! But suffice to say that I subscribe to the philosophy of 80 / 20 training. Therefore I would fill my week with this low intensity but high volume work to get me to my mileage or training stress score (depending on what I am working with) for the week / month.

And rest…

Your body adapts (becomes stronger and fitter) when it is resting and recovering from previous training stimulus. NOT whilst that stimulus is being applied. Therefore, you need to factor in rest and recovery. Broad rule one day a week and one week a month (or training block if you are using a ‘periodised’ plan).

However, rest & recover does not mean you have to do nothing! It simply means a significantly reduced, or mild, activity. There is in fact good reason to not just ‘do nothing’ after a period of activity!

As you organise your week think about which day (two slots on the same day) are going to serve as your rest days.

Being consistent

If you look at many pre-written plans that cover several training blocks you will see a consistency or rhythm to them. This is no accident! Apart from anything else habit is important to achieving consistency. And consistency is VITAL for achieving results. Also it makes life easier from a planning perspective as most of us have a natural “rhythm” to our week…

Use this to your advantage and seek perhaps to keep certain sessions on set days, but change the detail. Again, it’s no accident that runners tend to do their long run on a Sunday – but of course there is huge variation in what constitutes a long run!

Finally fit the pieces together

You now have many of the pieces of your training jigsaw laid out in front of you! So now you can start to plan your week and your month. And you should have some kind of structure and an idea of progression.

The missing piece of the jigsaw is of course what to do in each sessions and how to combine them to get different outcomes. That is a story for another day dear reader… Of course you could hire a Coach to help you with that… It’s part of what I do for a living 😉