A well-crafted plan for your training will reap plenty of benefits! While kit and new gear often feels more tangible and useful, having a solid objective, and the steps to achieve it will hopefully make you a stronger athlete.
Having a clear plan helps you understand what you are aiming for, and the actions you need to take to get there. Not having a training plan may mean you end up doing activities that don’t actually help you reach your goal.
From an exercise perspective, a plan will help you manage the different sessions you need to do, plan in rest, and try to make sure you are constantly improving. A training plan helps you by putting structure and balance in your training. It also provides a mental advantage because it takes the day to day thinking out of training, and helps you build confidence as you complete the plan.
To help you choose the best training plan, it will be useful if you first set a goal, this will determine what sort of plan you need to follow. A harder goal may take more time to achieve!
A goal can be speed based, time based, or distance based, it can be basically whatever you like as long as you are able to tell when you have met that goal. It should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound. For example, you may want to run a 5k in 25 minutes or less, by the end of July. This is a specific goal, that is easy to measure, within your capabilities, relevant to you specifically, and has a set time boundary.
The first thing to think about with a plan is making sure you don’t over do it. It can be very easy to get excited and overstretch yourself in the first few days or weeks in an attempt to see faster results. However, doing this is likely to lead to fatigue, loss in motivation, and possibly injury, which may derail you completely! It is important that your plan is realistic for your needs. If you are looking at a pre-packaged training plan (classics include the Couch to 5k, or there are plenty of alternatives on the internet), choose one that has a weekly distance, duration, and frequency that is sustainable for you.
Consider the training you consistently completed in the past year and your current situation; how much time and effort do you realistically have for this plan? If your goal is quite difficult do you need to give yourself more time to achieve that goal? Be realistic and make sure that both your plan, and your goal, are achievable for you!
A plan should help you be more consistent and create accountability so that you stick to regular and useful training. Many people struggle to think of what exercise they should be doing if they don’t have a plan or may get distracted by other more exciting opportunities (think going out for dinner, relaxing on the sofa, or staying in bed an extra hour!). If you have written a plan, you are more likely to stick to it than if you are just making it up as you go along. I find that having a clear plan each week takes all the thinking out of exercise and means I can just focus on putting the right kit on and doing the sessions.
Hopefully, if you stick to the plan, you will notice which sessions you like the most, and which sessions are most effective. You can build on this and use these sessions more often. Additionally, if you repeat sessions (for example every 4 weeks you do a timed 5k effort) hopefully you will be able to track improvement! Seeing these advances will be a huge confidence boost and help you stick with the hard work, even if the weather is rubbish and you’d rather be on the sofa.
Don’t assume that a running plan will only include running, it may be useful for your plan to contain other activities, including rest! Consider how doing other activities may affect your ability to train either positively or negatively. For example, if you play football on a Thursday night, perhaps it is best not to also do a running session on Thursday, and take Friday as a rest day. Football is a good aerobic exercise so may be useful for your training, but should be balanced with the other activities you are planning. If you are doing a multisport event you will have some variation built in naturally, but don’t ignore doing other activities to mix it up if you enjoy them!
There are plenty of free example plans on the internet including:
Couch to 5k
And the BHF
Generally, you should try and do some endurance work outs (slower and longer), and some speed works outs (short and fast). If you are doing multisport events, you can do this for each of the disciplines, and it may be good to do some brick sessions! A brick session is where you do one discipline after the other, for example ride your bike, and then go for a run. These sessions don’t necessarily need to be any longer than doing a single discipline. For example, you could do a 20 minute bike ride, and then a 10 minute run, this is still an effective way of getting used to the feeling of running when your legs are already tired from riding!
Another thing to practice for multisport events is transition. This will help you on race day as the transition is also part of your overall time. At home set up your bike, helmet and bike shoes and just practice running to the bike, putting your helmet on and shoes, running with the bike for a few metres and jumping on. Repeat the same procedure for dismounting and putting your running shoes on. Race day can be a bit stressful so it’s really good if you have practiced these fiddly movements such as clipping your helmet on and off, and strapping your shoes up, so that on the day it feels very easy and natural.
Don’t forget that rest days are part of the training plan, rest days are important for:
- Alleviating muscle pain and soreness
- Repairing and building muscles
- Replenishing the body’s energy stores
- Preventing injury
- Allowing the mind to rest