Make a Plan, Set a Routine, Avoid Fluff

Going along with the last article, this time of year is the perfect time to think about what works and what doesn’t, how to implement it, and how to streamline it. A little bit of thinking back and planning ahead can make a big difference in your long-term athletic goals.

Make a Plan

Try to identify why you train, what you’re training for, and how to get there. Are you training because you enjoy feeling healthy and fit? Do you get simple satisfaction from having a good workout? Do you get the most satisfaction from setting PRs in training? Or do you need to get out and compete against fellow athletes? It’s good to identify what it is that drives you as an athlete and as a person. Some people seem to not really care much about competition, per se, and really just enjoy getting the best out of themselves and their efforts as an athlete. They get as much pleasure out of a PR on a favorite climb or course as they derive from getting on the podium. Other people really don’t care how fast they are up a climb or their speed in a sprint. All they care about is that their effort is better than their fellow competitors or more expertly timed.

Once you know what drives you, do you know what will get you the most satisfaction out of your training? Do you enjoy the process, the peaks in fitness and PRs, or do you want to do your best to finish well? These all may result in different training plans and day-to-day habits. Either way, you should know what you’re trying to reach before you head off in the wrong direction, or before you start following someone else’s approach without questioning whether it’s in line with your goals.

Also, consider your past experience and what training or racing has been the most satisfying to you in the past and try to identify what allowed it to be so satisfying to you. What training has worked for you? What racing experiences went well for you? You may not need or want to repeat that, but you may want to use it as a template for future successes.

Whatever it is that you’re aiming for, remember that your body will adapt to the stresses applied to it. So, think about what training will stress your body in the right way for you to get better prepared to meet your goals.

Set a Routine

Once you know what your goals are, and have an idea of what training you have to do to get there, think about how you can arrange your schedule to include the workouts you want, and think about how the order of those workouts will affect the end results. Be sure to get in the recovery you need. Be sure to set goals that are reasonable. It’s easy to add to it when you have time, but that’s better for your motivation than setting the bar too high and not being able to follow through on lofty goals. If you have a day-to-day routine that you can follow every week, or close to it, that’s a huge advantage. If you know that you’re going to go to the gym on Tuesdays before work, that you have a Wednesday evening interval session, or a Saturday morning group endurance session, then it’s often much easier to get to your goals.

Set reasonable but effective goals, and focus on the process. Focus on what you’re doing today. Worry about the big picture when you’re making your broader training and racing plans for the season, but don’t worry about any of that stuff on a day to day basis. As long as your plan is reasonable, the results will take care of themselves in the long run if you just get today right.

I find that doing your workouts first thing in the day, if you can, often makes everything run smoother. You will have more focus on your workout and I find that I have less distraction afterwards when I get it done right away. Not everyone can do their workouts first thing in the day, so maybe look to your lunch break or right after work so that you’re doing it at a very defined point in time. For students or work-from-home people, sometimes it’s a challenge, because you might wake-up and get right into email or studying or work projects, but then you get caught up with work. By the time you get out to train, you may be distracted or even just mentally tired and lack focus for your workout.

Likewise, think about the order of your workouts. If you plan to do a few gym workouts each week, a couple of moderate workouts, and maybe a longer endurance session, then think about what your priorities are and how you want to order those workouts. If you know that you need to build strength and power, then make sure that you’re fresh enough to attack your gym or sprint workouts with intensity, and be sure to recover well from them. If power is your strength, but you need to build aerobic conditioning and endurance, then maybe try to focus on getting the miles in and maybe doubling up with a longer endurance session the day after a gym or sprint session. Or you could even just tag on a short gym session after your endurance session. You won’t get as good of a strength workout in, but if you’re naturally a pretty powerful athlete, then you probably only need some basic maintenance work there, but you could augment your endurance session by adding to it with 30 minutes at the gym afterwards.

For a lot of people with Monday-through-Friday jobs, I think an optimal schedule would be something like the following:

Monday – off
Tuesday – easy
Wednesday – workout
Thursday – workout
Friday – off
Saturday – longer and harder
Sunday – short to medium endurance

Avoid Fluff

As much as you need to train hard sometimes and long sometimes, it’s also important to recover adequately with rest days and adequate sleep daily. It’s also important to be efficient. However you’re planning your weekly schedule, you should look at each thing and ask yourself whether that session or that routine will help you achieve your goals. Will a given feature of your schedule make you a better athlete? Or will it take away from your ability to do your work or spend time with your family? Is it better for you to train 2 hours Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus some more on the weekend? Or is it better for you to get in 1 hour at lunch every or most days? It will probably depend on your athletic goals and your schedule outside of your sporting activities. But never lose sight of your goals and try to eliminate any wasted effort. More is not always better. More efficient is probably a better way to look at it.