Don’t Be A Slave To The 7-Day Training Week
The same workouts on the same day each week can be limiting.
Making a longer training cycle work for you can be a challenge, but with a shift in thinking and willingness to adjust your schedule, it can be implemented effectively.
Many runners and coaches fall victim to the convenience of the calendar when planning out a training program. Some combination of the Sunday long run, Tuesday night track workout, Thursday morning tempo run and Saturday race or hill session is the weekly norm for many, with little room for flexibility or substitution. There are myriad workouts we must fit in every seven days or we risk compromising fitness gains, right?
While it’s true that cycling through a variety of challenging workouts is an important component to getting faster, the belief that each week has a finite number of specific sessions that we must check off the calendar on a certain day—or that week is a complete waste—is a total farce.
A sound training system, at the most fundamental level, can be defined as a stress-rest-repeat pattern in regard to scheduling races and key workouts. The problem with this definition is that many runners and coaches take it far too literally, adding stress in the form of challenging workouts, demanding long runs and all-out races far too frequently, while failing to include an adequate amount of recovery following these key sessions, thus resulting in the cramming of too many “essential” elements into too short of a time period—a week. Staleness, performance plateaus, burnout and even injury often result. Spreading the same number of key workouts out over a 10- to 14-day period is a more effective strategy, allowing you to place a greater emphasis on recovery between your toughest sessions, thus putting you in a better position to get more out of them, which will ultimately help improve race performances.
Making a longer training cycle work for you can be challenging, but with a shift in thinking, the willingness to adjust your regular weekly schedule and some planning, it can be implemented effectively.
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Start by taking a long view of your training cycle for your next goal race, and identify the key workouts, long runs and tune-up races you hope to nail in the 8 to 12 weeks leading up to it. Simply list these key sessions for now in order of their intended execution and don’t worry just yet about plugging them into specific days on your calendar. Next, use the chart on the following page to rate the races and workouts on your list in terms of intensity and perceived physiological toll on the body to determine an adequate number of recovery days following a tune-up race or key workout.
Recovery days should be taken in the form of easy runs that are no more than two-thirds the duration of your long run, cross-training at a low to moderate intensity level or total rest. It’s important to remember that the exact number of recovery days following a race or challenging workout (and what those recovery days consist of) is going to vary depending on the individual. There are a lot of factors that affect a runner’s recoverability: age, experience, injury history, work stress, illness, sleep and the list goes on. Let the suggestions for recovery days in the above chart serve as a guideline when laying out the key sessions in your next training cycle, and be willing to be flexible during the planning process. When in doubt, push things back a day rather than force additional stress upon your body before it’s necessary.
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Three common fears arise when attempting to break from a 7-day training cycle:
1. Not being able to fit in all of your key workouts because you’re spacing them out so much.
2. Not doing a long run every weekend (and being unable to do long runs during the week).
3. Not getting in enough “quality” workouts prior to race day.
Here are three ways to face these fears and change your schedule:
1. Prioritize, plan ahead and be creative. Identify your key workouts, plan ahead to ensure you’re able to fit them in when you need to and, if necessary, combine the elements of two different workouts into one session, such as a short tempo run followed by a set of intervals, or a progression to half-marathon or marathon race pace toward the end of a long run.
2. Realize that the weekly long run is often overemphasized. There is no commandment that says you must run long every seventh day. In fact, from the standpoint of physiological adaptation, a long run every 10 to 14 days is optimal. If you can’t run long during the week due to work or other commitments, schedule a high-quality long run for every other Saturday or Sunday.
3. Remember that between workouts is when the magic happens. You are not as good as the workouts you do; you are only as good as you recover from the workouts you do. Take your recovery days seriously. This is when you absorb all the hard work and real physiological improvements and adaptations take place. Don’t fall into a pattern of over-training and under-recovery.
Don’t fall victim to the convenience of the calendar when planning out your next training program. In fact, don’t even pull out a calendar until it’s absolutely necessary. Identify your key workouts, emphasize recovery days as much as the next challenging session and make a longer training cycle work for you. Check out the next page for a sample 14-day training cycle geared toward an experienced, performance-oriented half-marathon runner.
Sample 14-day training cycle for a half marathon:
Note: Use the chart on this page to reference sample workouts, their corresponding effort levels and the recommended number of easy/recovery days afterward.
Sunday: Long Run: 14 miles with the last 4 @ goal half-marathon pace [Level 2]
Tuesday: Easy Run: 5–6 miles + 6 x 20-second strides (sprints at 90 percent effort) with 1:00 recovery between reps [Level 1]
Wednesday: Intervals: 2-mile warm-up, 5 x 1 mile @ 8K race pace with 2:00-3:00 recovery between reps, 2-mile cool-down [Level 2]
Thursday: Easy Run: 6–8 miles [Level 1]
Friday: Easy Run: 4–5 miles + 6 x 20-second strides [Level 1]
Saturday: Fartlek: 15:00 warm-up, 15 x 1:00 @ 5K race pace with 2:00 jog recovery between reps, 15:00 cool-down [Level 2]
Monday: Easy Run: 5–6 miles + 6 x 20-second strides [Level 1]
Tuesday: Steady State: 2-mile warm-up, 6 miles @ marathon pace + 10–15 seconds/mile, 2-mile cool-down [Level 1]
Wednesday: Easy Run: 4–5 miles [Level 1]
Thursday: Intervals: 2-mile warm-up, 4 x 2 miles @ half-marathon pace with 4:00 recovery between reps, 2-mile cool-down [Level 3]
Friday: Easy Run: 4–5 miles [Level 1]
Saturday: Long Run: 15 miles easy + 6 x 20-second strides [Level 1]
This piece first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.