I recently attended Training Peaks University in Stirling, a 3 day course jam packed with information I’m excited to use with the athletes I coach.
One discussion centred on the most important factors to focus on when dealing with athletes at various points in their progression—how do you set priorities for athletes? I realised one of the key points with novices was the frequency of training—an aspect an athlete I coach has been struggling with.
If you’re a novice, the first point of call is to get into the habit of training. Until now your life hasn’t involved making sport a regular part of your routine so this is a lifestyle change. All the technical interval sessions in the world won’t help if you’re not getting yourself out and training 3, 5, 7 (or whatever is appropriate) times per week. Anything you do in these sessions is better than doing a tailored interval session once a week. Establishing this habit is the crucial first step before you need to worry about the duration or content of any given training session.
There is a vast amount of information on the internet and in magazines on how to train; specific plans, training zones, concepts of periodisation, interval sessions etc. This can be utterly overwhelming for a novice when really first and foremost they need to make the lifestyle change from non-athlete to athlete. Everything else builds on this.
The problem of focusing on content before frequency of training can happen with experienced athletes, and it took me a while to realise this was the approach required for an athlete I coach.
They’d performed at a high level in both 70.3 and full Ironman distance triathlon so were by no means a novice. In 2015 they suffered an injury setback combined with changes in home life and work both putting more demands on their time and energy. As the injury improved, I tried returning the athlete to training as they had been used to pre-injury. It didn’t work. They couldn’t do the sessions; motivation was poor and frequently training wasn’t attempted.
As I simplified and reduced their training structure and found a starting point we could build from, things began to improve. More sessions were completed and their confidence and motivation improved. I noticed I was planning their training sessions with, “How do I get this person out training one more time this week than I did last week?” rather than over-focusing on the content of each session to the detriment of the main goal, frequency. Anything else was a bonus. I was trying to affect a lifestyle change as I would with a complete novice.
So if you’re a first timer in endurance sport or returning to it with a very different lifestyle to that which you had when you were last training, try focusing on training frequency as your primary goal. Once training is a habit you’ll find building on it with specific sessions and other training goals much easier.