Training is a complicated puzzle and it is very hard to be objective about one’s own performance. Staying safe and getting the most out of our training process is a constant balancing act. Here are some guidelines to help –
Consistency is key. The route to healthy, sustainable fitness is through the consistent application of the minimum amount of effort to produce the desired adaptations in our bodies. The boom and bust model so many of us find ourselves caught in does not produce long term, sustainable results. We should be aiming to see year on year improvements up to ten years after we start focused training. So if your heart rate is up a bit one morning take a couple of easy days until it balances out again. You could save yourself three weeks out with a chest infection. If you don’t have much time, or can’t be bothered, 20 minutes on the turbo spinning your legs out is better than nothing. Do that twice a week for a month and you have 2 hours forty minutes of training you wouldn’t have had otherwise. As a bonus you may find once you get on the turbo it’s not so bad and you can manage 45 minutes instead. Just keep chipping away.
Only increase your training load by about 10% over a week. Make this ten percent of volume OR intensity. Try not to do both at once. This can seem very small but it soon adds up. It enables a gradual increase in load and helps prevent the boom and bust which halts consistency. Overload your system frequently and it may well respond by becoming ill or injured.
This is the hardest part of training for many. A more positive term is ‘Adaptation’. This involves creating time with a reduced training load so that your muscles can repair themselves from the damage inflicted on them by training stress. The adaptation time encourages them to rebuild themselves stronger than they were before to withstand the increasing stress you are applying. This is when you get improved performance. So if your performance is stagnating are you getting sufficient adaptation time? The general guide is to make one day a week very easy and one training week in every three or four reduced by about a third in both volume and intensity.
Eighty percent, or more, of an endurance athlete’s training should be done in their aerobic heart rate zone, that is under 80% of their maximum heart rate. If you haven’t got a heart rate monitor this means that for 80% of the time you should be able to have a full on conversation. Or, if you are on your own, train whilst breathing in and out using your nose only. The other twenty percent should be done so hard that you can’t talk to anyone, or be composed of strength work. This is another rule people find very hard to stick to. Most of us train too hard on the easy days and too easy on the hard days, leaving us in a no-man’s land.
So there you go four simple rules to guide you in coaching yourself. All rules are however made to be broken – or at least bent.