Athletes push themselves, both mentally and physically, during each training session and even more so during competition. But, regardless of your sport, you’ve probably encountered frustrating lulls in your progress. Maybe you were making rapid advancements before hitting a sudden plateau, where improvements just stopped. Or maybe you experienced an injury that took you out of your routine for an extended period of time.
Both of these irritating situations can be avoided and managed by monitoring both your workout frequency and intensity. The trick is to find a routine that is perfect for you: It must be challenging enough to force positive adaptations but realistic for your current fitness level.
Your Starting Point
This first step, while it seems simple, can be the most difficult. Over the course of six months, keep a journal of your workouts. For example, a runner would want to record distance, pace, details about terrain and maybe their heart rate. It’s also important that both immediately following, and the next day, you record any soreness you might experience.
Ultimately, you want to be able to look back on this record and see how specific aspects of your workout effect you. You should be especially interested in your total weekly mileage. Looking back on this log, you want to find a weekly mileage that left you feeling rested and injury-free. This will be your starting point, or baseline mileage.
But, if you just continue to train at your baseline, you won’t see much improvement. You have to gradually increase your mileage. To do this, tack on just one extra mile to your long run every two weeks. This will give your body a week to adapt to the new challenge, instead of risking injury by increasing your mileage too quickly.
Notice that I specified adding this mile to your long run. While your exact program design will vary, you should have one day each week where endurance is your focus. Keeping that confined to just one workout will give you plenty of time to rest between workouts.
This rest period is extremely important. After adequate rest, your body reaches a period referred to as supercompensation. During this phase, you’ll be able to perform well above your normal ability. For most people, this happens after about 6 days of rest. However, the exact amount of time you personally need to reach supercompensation may take some trial-and-error to find.
Mix It Up
Another important marker of a balanced program is variety. This isn’t just a matter of trying new things all the time to avoid boredom, though. You’re overall training pattern should cycle from below baseline, to baseline, above baseline and a gradual decrease back down. Ideally, you should time this cycle so that you peak right around your competition.
Have you found the balance in your workouts? Please share your tips in the comments.