Monday, September 25, 2017

How To Approach Workouts

Wish I had this knowledge back when I had this body :-)

A big key to the success and sustainability of our training is how we approach each run and workout we do.  So I wanted to write a blog entry to discuss this topic a little to help us all to enjoy and get the most out of our training. As with our training, let's break this discussion up into stress workouts and recovery runs.

Stress Workouts

Purpose:  Stress workouts are running workouts in which we significantly stress a system or systems of the body in order to produce a targeted adaptation so as to improve certain aspects of our running fitness.  Our goal is to do sufficient and specific enough work in order to elicit the adaptation we are seeking.

Primary Goals:  In order to accomplish the purpose of the stress workout we should have 2 main goals for the workout:
  • Effort:  Put in the appropriate effort level for the workout.  Your body gets the benefits from the effort you put in.  If you give the effort you’ll get the benefits regardless of what the watch says.  This satisfies the “significantly stress” component of our stress workout purpose (see above).
  • Execute:  Execute the workout as it was designed.  By this I am not talking about paces, but rather executing the distance and feel of the workout as intended.  (see Stress Workout blog entry)  Stress workouts are designed to elicit certain adaptations, and so good execution is important to satisfy the “stress specifically” portion of our stress workout purpose.  

Time/Pace:  Notice that I did not list times or paces as our primary goals for the workout.  The purpose of our workout is not to hit certain times, it is to significantly and specifically stress the body in order to elicit desired adaptation (improved fitness).  So times/paces should not be a our primary goals in stress workouts.  But what times/paces are good for is to provide us with feedback and sanity checks.  I have extensive pace charts on the MPR website to help runners interrupt the pace elements of workout so that they can do 2 things: 1) have a frame of reference for what to expect in terms of pace in workouts and 2) to understand what certain workout paces indicate in terms of race time fitness.

Attitude:  Far too many runners have significant anxiety and even dread about some workouts primarily because they have things they can’t fully directly control, such as pace/time, as their main goal.   This is an unhealthy way to feel about stress workouts.  Our stress workouts are our chance to stress the body and elicit increased fitness.  We only get 1-2 of these workouts per week (usually) so we should be excited about them and the opportunities for improvement they hold.  And by focusing on appropriate effort and smart execution (or 2 primary goals) we are centered on items we can 100% control. Know going in that if put in the work and approach it smartly that you will get the benefits from it, regardless of what the watch says.  Enter the workout with confidence, excitement and determination because you can 100% control meeting its primary goals.

Mirror Race Strategy:   Physiologically and mentally the best way to approach workouts (and races) is to follow a 3 phase strategy (see Racing blog entry) as follows:
  • First 10%:  start conservative and ease into it
  • 10% - 80%:  strong, smooth and steady
  • Last 20%:  finish strong with whatever is left in the tank
So this is how we want to approach all our workouts and races.  Ingrain this in your mind and body and make it second nature to you.

Example: if you are doing a 10 x 800 workout then start conservative on the first repeat , easing into the workout, run the next 7 repeats (2-8) strong, smooth and steady, then seek finish strong/fast the last 2 repeats.

Write It Down:  I recommend starting a workout diary, where you can write down beforehand what you want to accomplish and then afterwards assess how it went.
Things to include in your workout diary:
  • The specifics of the workout planned (warm-ups and cool-downs, workout type, distances, number of repeats, recovery, etc)
  • Your primary goals (see above), write them out each time to help ingrain them (no cutting and pasting)
  • Any secondary goals you have (this may include time/paces or heart rate targets but doesn’t have to)
  • List at least 2 things you mentally want to work on (such as positive self talk) and 2 things you want to physically work on (such as staying relaxed in the upper body).
  • After the workout objectively state the specifics of how the workout went and how you did on relation to your primary and secondary goals, and how did you do on the physical and mental things you wanted to work on.  
  • Be sure to pick-out at least 1 thing you did very well and at least 1 thing you still need some work on.  Note: be sure to keep this balanced, give yourself full credit for the things you do well, it is important in building up your confidence.
A good training diary is great way to stay objective about your workouts, and to learn your own strengths and how to take advantage of them, and your weaknesses and how to work on them.  Look back on this diary periodically to see your progress and better understand and appreciate your journey.

Recovery Runs

Purpose:  Easy runs are runs we do in order to promote recovery from our stress workouts while maintaining or advancing our cardiovascular fitness and our body’s adaptations to running.  These runs should be kept short enough in duration and slow enough in pace that they do not significantly stress the body’s systems, while being enough to maintain bio-mechanical efficiency and provide cardiovascular benefit.  

Primary Goals:  In order to accomplish the purpose of the recovery run we should have 2 main goals for the run:
  • Recovery:  keep the effort and duration of the run in check so as to not stress the body and let it recover. Keep the effort comfortable and relaxed, a rhythm you can easily carry on a conversation at, never feeling like you are pushing the pace at all.
  • Maintain Adaptations:  get in enough work (duration, effort) to maintain the adaptations/fitness we have built, without compromising recovery.  

See the “Recovery” blog entry for more specifics on duration and paces and common pitfalls of recovery runs.