Here at The Running Algorithm our code builds training plans with one key principle – simplicity. It’s all too common to see unreasonably complicated training sessions on our Strava feeds, often prescribed by coaches, that don’t seem to meet any particular training goals whatsoever. The key feature in any training plan is that most of your training is comfortably aerobic, which means we should be able to talk comfortably and not be breathing heavily, and some of your training is a bit harder. The exact ratio of easy:hard varies depending on who you talk to but most studies show a law of diminishing returns when it comes to increasing intensity. Something we see all too often is runners smashing out three interval sessions a week which comprises more than 50% of their overall volume, losing quality in those sessions and ultimately getting injured. More is not always better. How hard is hard? This is a question we see being asked a lot and it varies depending on where an athlete is in their training cycle, sometimes a hard session will be a longer ‘steady state’ tempo run, other times it will be 3 minute repetitions at 3-5k pace. A good training plan is comprised of enough hard sessions to stress your body but not too many that you’re overloaded which will lead to injury and burnout.
Each hard session should be simple, it should have a goal in mind which is appropriate for that point in the plan and it should aim to meet that goal. This is something I saw on my Strava feed today, it was prescribed for an experienced athlete of moderate ability by a coach. The session read – 5 minute warm up, 2 x 20s max effort with 60s recovery, 2 x 40s max effort with 90s recovery, 2 x 80s with 3 minutes recovery, 4 minutes at 5k pace and a 5 minute cool down. Eight days later this athlete got injured. This is a very clear example of something you should not do. I’ll go through this session issue by issue then explain how we prescribe our sessions. Firstly, the warm up is too short, a 20s max effort is very intense and five minutes of easy jogging before that isn’t sufficient. There appears to be no aim to the session, there’s not enough time accumulated in any particular training zone for any physiological response. I also think the cool down is too short. I had a flick back through this particular athlete’s Strava and there’s been no real sign of progression for quite a long time and three bouts of injury in the last six months. Sessions like these, which they’re paying a coach for, are partially responsible.
All interval sessions built from our algorithm have a clear aim based on the phase of the plan, progressively increase time at the target intensity week on week and are simple to complete, there is no benefit from obscenely complicated interval sessions, we also prescribe comprehensive warm ups and cool downs. Each training cycle is important for improvement but long term consistency is often a key marker in successful endurance athletes which is why injury avoidance was at the forefront of our minds while we were writing our code. The principles behind writing a good running training programme are simple – avoid injury and spend time at intensity, endurance sports reward consistency more than they respect talent. We aim to make our athletes faster by improving their longevity with sensibly written, simple sessions with a well managed progression of workload.