As a runner becomes more serious, one of the things they will often look into is using a training plan. While training plans can range from very generic to extremely specific if a private coach is hired, there are some factors they should all offer.

Structure

Training plans should provide a structure based on physiological adaptation and long term improvement. Informed guidance is key to building speed and endurance. Bodies need variety, different stimuli, and recovery in order to respond to progressive training. Training plans can provide the right balance between hard effort days and recovery days. A good plan will break up the hard effort days into those which work primarily on speed, and those which work primarily on distance. 

Balance

You can tell whether the training matches your body’s adaptiveness if you feel tired and somewhat sore after the hard days, but ready for the next one after about 2 days of easy running. If you have to run very slow each day to achieve the mileage you want, then you need to back off quantity and ramp up quality. Likewise, if you’re running too quickly each day and not letting your body build up mileage, you risk not building the endurance you need. A training plan can help balance these two factors.

Growth

A training plan should be built in phases, with each stage building on the previous one. It needs to be systematic, integrated, purposeful, and progressive. This is because with each completion of a cycle in training, your body will have adapted to the increased load. However, the load can’t continue increasing forever. There were times when my workouts had been getting progressively faster, when suddenly I realized I had hit a plateau. This was a good time to discuss with my coach and tweak the next weeks’ training.

Breaks and downtime

What helped in this situation was adding in intentionally considered peak times and down weeks. Having a solid 1-2 week break between seasons or after a key race helped my body reset and get antsy again for the next block. These resets allow for adaptation to set in and for later improvements to continue. In the beginning, a training plan will most likely consist of a base phase where the quantity and quality of running are controlled. Eventually, your body adapts and pace and distance can both be ramped upwards in the right amount so as to not induce an overuse injury but to set you up for a race performance. Ideally, training load will always match the body’s ability to benefit. 

Accountability

Having a set schedule can be very comforting to runners who are either afraid of doing too little or too much. The right training plan can hold a runner back from going too hard too often, or from getting into a funk of just easy runs each day. For other runners who aren’t necessarily focused on a race time, the training plan can add variety and fun challenges to their routine. Many plans also have the benefit of a group all following the same schedule or a coach to check in with which can also add in keeping runners on track!

Get your own custom training plan with the Runkeeper Go™ app.