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5 Tips To Get The Best From a Free Generic Training Plan

In a world where every runner / cyclist and duathlete is identical in EVERY way, then a single generic training plan, downloaded for “free”, would be a great solution. Where every athlete is made using the same cookie cutter, and remains perfectly identical, then indeed a generic cookie cutter training plan will be perfect.

But what if athletes were not identical? Imagine a world where each one was individual and unique. This could lead to two athletes running as hard as they can for 10k and one being faster than the other. One having an average heart rate that was higher and yet ran slower. Surely then, in a world where there is variation between “individual” athletes, the same “cookie cutter” training plan will not have the same effect / value / results?

In this blog post I want to look at the pro’s and con’s of generic training plans and offer five points to help you make the most of a generic plan.

Generic Training Plans Work

Do they? Well I suggest that depends on how you define “work”, but certainly in many situations they will be “good enough”. For someone that is simply looking to become fitter, with no real parameters around what fitter means, then pretty much any form of consistently performed exercise will improve health (which you could argue equals being fitter). In that context a generic training plan certainly works! It offers a list of activities and a timetable to follow. If you follow it religiously in 99% of cases it is hard to imagine that you will be less fit at the end. Unless you become injured, but honestly that is reasonably unlikely.

The Benefits Of Generic Training Plans

The number one benefit is that they are free! And for a lot of people that is a killer benefit. Whilst, I could argue that there is no such thing as “free” on the internet (you are paying with your personal data usually), paying by simply giving someone your email address for marketing purposes is a trivial price for many, compared to having a “training plan” to pin on their fridge door. Sadly for some, possessing the plan suddenly equates to doing the plan. If the plan says “do xyz” on Thursday, then you really do actually have to do XYZ. Obvious? Maybe… But how often does Thursday become a week on Thursday because it rained / was cold / cat threw up / busy day at work…

Looking beyond “free” they are also readily accessible. This means you can get started in no time (on a whim), and you can get straight into the running about bit without some dull person asking about your goals and background. Honestly, I can see the advantage of this!! But sometimes, when something is VERY readily accessible (and FREE), it is not only easy to start but it is also VERY easy to stop. As some would say, you have no skin in the game… It “cost” you nothing, you went from dreaming about it to having it in minutes. And vitally when you stop following it… nobody knows. So stopping becomes a very simple, and consequence free, action. Not for everyone, but for some. Remembering we are all different!

Given the choice between sitting on the sofa in an obese state or doing some form of regular physical exercise, then absolutely a free generic training plan that is easily accessible with minimal barriers DOES HAVE BENEFITS. But so would any activity performed consistently three days a week. It’s not the plan, its the behaviour that is delivering value. However this is not the scenario that most runners, cyclists or duathletes find themselves in! The chances are you already exercise and the reason you are seeking a training plan is to help you achieve something particular.

The Drawback of a Generic Plan

The reality is that YOU are an individual. If you follow a generic plan, chances are you WILL make some improvement, but it is unlikely you will become the best you could be! You may or may not achieve your goal – that will depend on what your goal is. Let me give you an example; someone new to running (or a novice runner) decides to “do” a marathon for charity. Their goal is to finish the marathon without dying or serious injury. REALITY: most people could “do” a marathon tomorrow with NO training plan and they WILL NOT DIE in the process. Of course they might well walk most of it with the occasional slow, short, jog in the early miles. Yes, they will probably have blisters from the wrong footwear. And yes the will be tired at the end. But the unambitious goal of “survive a marathon” will almost certainly be achieved – without a plan of any sort. Following a generic plan, then one might reasonably expect some improvement equating to more running in the early stages. With a bespoke plan and a Coach you would expect to see a better formed range of goals, and a substantially “more significant” achievement as well as typically a runner that smiles as they reflect back stating “I would never have believed that I could have done that”. Very different outcomes.

Two BIG drawbacks of a Generic Plan: (1) There is nobody there who has the skills and experience to listen and then guide you to a more challenging but still realistic goal. (2) The plan is highly unlikely to focus on your particular developmental needs and obviously can’t adapt itself to your progress.

5 ways to get the best from a Generic Plan

Not everyone will have the ability to employ a Coach to help them. If you are planning to use a Generic Plan then here are five general coaching principles that you might like to consider:

  • 1. Start With The End In Mind. Tedious I know, but give some really thought to what you want to achieve and set yourself three “tiers” of achievement. The first tier would describe the absolute best possible outcome that represents a huge stretch. The next tier might be what you think you could do on a good day if all goes to plan. And finally the third tier is the least you are hoping for. Make these specific, detailed and meaningful to you. This is what is going to help you do XYZ on a Thursday when the cat thew up and you worked late… 😉
  • 2. Start In The Right Place. You need to ensure that your current level of fitness / ability is appropriate for the plan you have obtained. Hopefully it will come with some useful narrative around who it is for and what it assumes your starting point is. Also how many hours a week it assumes you will be able to dedicate to training sessions. You may find that you need a preliminary plan to do first. Or you may have found a plan that is aimed at someone with much less fitness. If the plan says it is for everyone shred it and find something better!
  • 3. Follow The Plan. Once you are sure that it is appropriate for you, then follow it! Obvious I know, but in the early stages it may feel easy, so don’t be tempted to rush ahead or do more than is suggested. It is (hopefully) progressive.
  • 4. Repeat If Necessary. Reality is people develop at different rates, and if you find that you are unable to achieve a particular week then repeat that week or even take a step back and repeat the previous couple of weeks. You may need additional rest before you repeat these weeks. This is the biggest draw back of a generic plan; it will make an assumption about the rate at which you are progressing and adapting, which by inference will only be correct for a few people. Therefore part of your “job” is to be mindful and observant regarding how you are progressing and feeling.
  • 5. Take The Rest Days. Your body adapts during periods of rest and recovery not on the days you are training hard. Therefore rest days / periods are super important so don’t be tempted to think that if you just train more and harder you will get better. You won’t. At best you will end up jaded and bored with training at worst you will injure yourself.

Finally don’t try and “improve” the plan with other random training sessions you stumble across online or in magazines. Or even from the local club expert who has a “killer hardcore turbo nutter session that you MUST do”. Trust me… compared to that advice, stick to your generic plan!

You need a Coach because…?

Quite simply a good Coach knows to “coach what they see” which means that they take the time to properly figure out where you currently are and then (in context to your well formed goal) what your “performance limiters” are. Your bespoke plan SPECIFICALLY aims to overcome those limitations, with a level of intensity appropriate for YOU, which will then drive performance improvement.

Again a good Coach will “coach what they see” with regard to your progress, re-asses your limiters and adapt your plan (weekly) to help you keep making progress. In essence chipping away at the “problems” or limitations that are impeding the best version of you. These could be technical issues (technique), fitness, strength, dietary or physiological in nature. Therefore you should expect a programme that evolves inline with YOUR needs and is much more than a series of “run sessions”. The expertise to be able to imaginatively “coach what they see” is EXACTLY what you are paying for… SO if you do decide to hire a coach then make sure that is what you are getting 😉

Regardless of how you go about preparing for YOUR event, I hope you have picked up at least one idea from this post that will help you prepare more effectively. Good luck with your event and remember to always enjoy your training – you spend more time doing it than the actual event!


About Ed

Ed Stivala is an England Athletic qualified Event Group Coach specialising in Endurance Events. This is the most senior coaching qualification currently awarded to Coaches by England Athletic. His practice specialises in performance coaching for runners: online or face to face. He also hold qualifications in Personal Training, Nutrition and Swim Instruction.

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