If you do it yourself, how do you plan your training?
Or, if that sounds unappealing and you prefer to use the training materials created by someone else, how do they create their training plans?
Is there an obvious logic behind it? Are there principles? Tradition? A famous name? Latest fad? Clever marketing?
Your Training Diet
We would hope that there are certain physiological and psychological principles guiding that training plan. If we were evaluating a good nutrition plan, we would want to know that it provides sufficient calories, provides the right blend of calorie type (clean, quality carb, fat and protein), and provides the full array of micro-nutrients within those types. And, it would need to tell us when to deliver that nutrition – what times per day, how much, and how many times per week, with regard to our sleep, our work, our training times, and even with regard to our social life. It may even go so far as to prescribe nutritional shifts for different seasons and at different stages in life.
To our benefit or detriment, the culture we each find ourselves embedded in actually prescribes most of that nutrition planning for us without us having to think about it (though, it would be not be accurate to call it ‘planning’). That’s another topic however.
While much our nutrition may be culturally programmed for us, our training diet is not. Or we might say, our culture has a ‘no-training’ plan! That plan might be summarized as: “Sit a lot, eat a lot, and stare at screens as much as possible!” But that’s another topic too.
That leaves those of us with an athletic lifestyle in need of a training plan that someone makes for us, or make our own. I imagine most of you reading this are doing a bit of both. And likely, there are sports cultures we have joined or dabble in, where we pick up training ideas within those cultures. But how thoughtful, or how examined and updated are those ideas versus how traditional or dogmatic are those ideas and followed without question?
In order to evaluate how well those ideas and training plans are serving us, let’s take a moment to look at a basic outline any plan should follow to get us closer to having a proper training diet. When we satisfy these principles we are going to be closer to having a safer, more effective, and more interesting training lifestyle. Like with nutrition, it doesn’t have to be rigid and precise, but our diet should cover these major principles.
The summary is this: for the kind of performance we want to be capable of, we need to do the appropriate training activities, each with a specific skill focus, do them for long enough time, at appropriate intensities, and we need to do these training sessions frequently enough for the benefits to accumulate.
FIT or FITT or FFITT?
There is a popular acronym that captures part of these, called F.I.T. which stands for Frequency, Intensity and Time. Then some models add another letter T for Type (making it F.I.T.T.!)
The importance of Frequency
In order to get the body to adapt – to get stronger and more comfortable at doing the kind of work we will do in our event – we have to be working frequently enough each week and do this consistently over many months.
The importance of Intensity
In order to stimulate the kind of growth needed by these systems the training must get the respiratory, the cardio-vascular and the muscle systems working at different intensities.
The importance of Time
And, when working at certain intensities, we need to staying working in those intensity zones for certain amounts of time. Tie that back into frequency, and we work out at a certain intensity for a certain number of minutes in a set, and do this a certain number of times during the week for a total training amount.
These three are the classic outline for metabolic training – get that heart rate in certain zone for certain workouts and do these on a certain schedule.
Then we add that fourth category…
The importance of Type
Classically, we would prescribe activities that cover a type of stimulation, like tempo (race-pace or slightly above), strength (like hill work or added resistance), sprints, or long-slow-distance (endurance) work. This covers more details about muscular stimulation, and it overlaps with intensity.
Over the course of a year (assuming one is on a yearly training cycle) the arrangement of FITT would change according to the stages of development we go through over that year to prepare for our particular event.
What About Neural?
What is obviously lacking in the outline so far is anything that explicitly addresses economy, or what we might more technically call the neural aspect of performance. In more sophisticated training programs we are going to recognize and give emphasis to the neural foundation for all movement and efficient application of power.
The metabolic, the muscular, and the neural (or motor) systems are all inter-related, but there is an order of priority in their development. I describe the relationship this way:
The metabolic system takes food and converts it into energy and delivers this to the muscles (and removes waste). The muscles take that energy and convert it into power. The neural system determines when, where and in what amount power is directed through muscle to move the body in the desired way.
Efficiency is when the body delivers power to the right spot, at just the right moment, in just the right amount – no more, no less. Only with persistent neural training in the midst of any and all muscular and metabolic training do we become truly efficient in our athletic movements.
To honor this understanding, let’s add another category F (making it F.F.I.T.T.!!)
The importance of Focus
One part of Focus is about what qualities, what details in the movement patterns are going to be corrected or refined or reinforced under the assigned training stress. Because all repetitive movement is programming the body for how it should prefer to move, we should be considerate of what qualities are being reinforced (or neglected or torn down) in every activity we do. We need to uphold certain standards or qualities of movement in every training set we do.
The second part of Focus is about attention. What are you training your mind to do while working? What attentional and thought patterns are being set? What attitudes are being reinforced? What you do (or don’t do) with your mind, with your attention, during training matters. It will determine what happens with your mind, your attention in your big event.
Does your training plan include assignments for your attention, for your thoughts, for your attitude?
Our Training Mandate
We should be disciplined to train with appropriately regular frequency.
We should be disciplined to work in the intensity zones that are more pleasant and those that are less pleasant, and stay working there for the time or duration that will make that intensity have its desired effect.
We should have the appropriate variety of activities that will develop all the dimensions of metabolic and muscular work our event will require – the appropriate blend of stability/trength, endurance, and power work.
And we should have a disciplined focus on improving and protecting qualities of movement and mindset in every activity so that we are always moving toward being a safer and more economical athlete, and a more peaceful, confident one.
Improve Your Plan, Rather Than Perfect It
Maybe the logic of this outline encourages you to try building your own training plan, or improve the one you’ve got. Or maybe it raises some questions about the one you’ve been using from some other source. But don’t worry about trying to make things perfect. At each new cycle, take what you’ve learned and just work on making some aspect of it better than it was before.
Your ability to make a good training plan – a plan that really fits you and your unique situation – comes from years of experience making plans and testing them out. Even with trusted experts giving you good guidance, you should aim to become the expert on your own needs. To do that, you should have some understanding of the big picture of how training works and make attempts to at least modify and personalize the plans you use. It may be good to start with plans someone else creates (someone you trust to have a mature understanding of proper training for normal adults, not for young people and not for elites who take great risks with their bodies – afterall who’s your appropriate role model?) in order to master their system or process. Then over the years, you can take bigger steps, with increased knowledge and experience, to modify and personalize those plans, to cover those principles and get all the training nutrition you need for your goal.
Want To Design Your Own?
If you happen to really like the idea of learning to design your own training plans, we have a course on the Mediterra Dojo called Self-Coaching 101. This is like a workshop, letting you study and create your own plan at the same time. It systematically explains the principles behind an effective series of practices with step-by-step assignments, by which, at the end, you have created your own intelligent, personalized series of practices. It costs a one-time fee of $20 (the price of a book, but with a lot more), and you can access the course for 3 months and ask for an extension if you like.