Training Programming (Part 2) – What to Focus On

In the ‘Training Programming – Part 1’ post I got you started by thinking about;Honest Self Assessment – What is your ability right now,Goal Selection – Where do you want it to be in the future,Timeline – When in the future,The Year in Seasons – How can you spread out the year’s training focusses into sections/stages, which will be building slightly different elements needed to achieve your goal/s.

Building a training program is a large topic to write about, if I want you to really understand how you can create and manipulate it to be tailored for yourself. So I need to break it into lots of small parts. Today I want to help you look at what types of training you can use to fill your training program. And how to target some common weaknesses/issues that you want to improve but may be ignored or just not known how to work on them.

If you just expect to ‘run more’ without picking elements to focus on, you’ll possibly reinforce your bad habits/weaknesses and/or just plateau sooner. Your body will try and deal with bad habits etc and adapt as much as it can, however you’ll improve faster and with better quality running if you train with purpose (an example of this idea could be that your knees collapse on each step, putting imbalanced force and strain on muscles and tendons. If you just run more in the same way you currently are, the muscles and tendons will try to strengthen but they’ll strengthen in the imbalanced way, unless you work to correct the issue).

Focussed effort for many repetitions is the greatest key to improvement in any area of life!! You need a FOCUSSED plan, don’t just ‘wing it’, that would be like going out bush without a map or ‘blue reflective tape’ to guide you. A great plan will be well rounded and should include basics you do fairly well already plus the weaker training elements you need to work on, to reach your goals… and then you need to execute that plan with discipline. (the plan isn’t chiselled in stone though, it’s a guesstimation of what’s needed, there are no foolproof plans, there will be adjustments along the way depending on how you’re handling the chosen plan.)Look at your goal/s, decide what makes it/them difficult for you (how will it challenge you)? The distance, the pace, the elevation, your injuries, your muscle strength, your cardio/breath work/energy, your mental game….. Once you figure out what you need to improve we can look at what type of training will work those specific elements of your performance and include them in your routine.

Different types of training sessions, different ways to direct your focus in training, how can you get more out of your sessions:

THE LONG RUN, (SLOWER PACE, GREATER DISTANCE) – When dedicating your effort to achieving more km’s underfoot, you can set yourself up for failure if you start dehydrated and lacking fuel sources. In preparation for your long run day, pre-hydrate and pre-fuel during the 24hrs prior, then fill your vest well so you can keep topping yourself up. If you always feel too sore to add distance because you’ve trained hard the day before, you may benefit from taking a rest and recovery day before the long run so you start fresher. Although some weeks you can deliberately pre-fatigue yourself the day before and challenge yourself to still manage your best distance running on sore legs, or you can add some strength work after your long run to force more adaptation so that future long runs are even further/stronger. To aid the adaptation you may want to program in a rest and recovery day afterwards as well, before pushing out the next session. During a long run you want to be as efficient and energy conserving as possible so you don’t burn out before reaching the distance you’re aiming for, take note of your perceived effort and slow down where necessary, keep that reserve tank for the last part of your session. Relax your breathing, don’t run at too fast a pace, good proportions of muscle engagement and good head space will help.

INTERVAL TRAINING, (FASTER PACE SHORTER DISTANCE) – A great way to improve event day pace, better handling of uphill running, improved cardio and respiratory capacity, these hard effort sessions will help you run with less perceived effort. An example of how this session looks; 10 min warm up run, slow pace, slightly increasing as the movement feels more efficient. 5-10x repeats of 2mins threshold effort running, 1min recovery jog/walk trying to recover breath as quickly as possible. Followed by a 5-10 min cool down jog. You can play around with the time of the high intensity running and the time of the low intensity jog/walk, plus how many repetitions performed. I find this is another good session to work on your mental toughness!

HILL REPEATS – Similar to the interval training in the way that you change intensity up and down, doing many repeats. To make the most of this type of training think about the uphill and down hill as two separate parts of the session. UPHILL focus on propelling yourself up with strength in the legs, with good posture (many people lean way too far forwards putting extra strain on their lower back, engage your core, shoulders back but relaxed, with slight angle forward of the whole body from the ground up). Strength sessions in the gym can help you improve uphill running. DOWNHILL focus on absorbing energy from your movement rather than propelling and focus on balance. Best advice to balancing downhill is to align the body upright, head over shoulders, torso sitting on hips and feet landing under hips, NOT in front as this may lead to your foot slipping out in front of you and landing on your butt. Eccentric loading strength exercises in the gym can help with absorbing the load of your body heading downhill, like landing softly as you drop/jump down from a box and the lowering phase of movements like deadlifts. Speedy treadmill work can help you get used to a fast turnover of your legs (cadence) in a safe way, in preparation for the fast downhills that may make you nervous right now.

READING TERRAIN and DELIBERATE FOOT PLACEMENT – Whether on a long run, medium cruisy run or a social run, you can direct you focus to reading and judging the differences in the trail, planning where to step and executing well (landing where you want to, not just plodding down wherever without any control over it). Sometimes you want to really try and find the easiest placement, the most efficient, direct line through the path ahead like you want to during your events, where your goal is to perform well and cut down times. However it is also useful to sometimes deliberately choose a difficult path along the trail, darting left to right, not just straight through, sometimes jump onto that log, maybe over it, landing on the dodgey looking rock and use your proprioception (body positioning awareness and reaction) to deal with the rock maybe shifting underfoot and continuing on without busting up your ankle.

RUNNING BIOMECHANICS – Similar to the last point, you can really focus on the mechanics of your running during any/all running sessions. How are you pulling your knees forward? Are you swinging your feet around like you’re treading water or a clean line straight forwards? Are you using your feet and ankles to absorb on landing and spring forward, or are you just lumping down hard on your heels and plodding forward. How’s your posture? Are you engaging muscles correctly or can’t really feel what’s happening, it just is happening? You may need a coach to analyse and work on your running mechanics, it’s hard enough to feel your movement objectively during slower movements in the gym let alone when moving at speed on the trails.

STRENGTH TRAINING – This can be on your own or like above, with a coach. Strength training can be body weight through to equipment based exercises with much greater resistance, separate from running. Some exercises may be chosen to specifically target one or two muscles that need extra work, other compound exercises focus on coordinating multiple muscle groups at once. I continue posting about these exercises so won’t go on about it much here, other then to mention that supplementary strength training can help rehab and prevent running injuries.

BALANCE – Balance is important to make better use of your strength and to build confidence running on uneven terrain. This is often neglected in training programs. Focus on balance in and outside the gym. I also will continue adding specific examples of balance exercises in future posts, but remember this for now – your head position and your vision/focal point greatly affects your balance, so good posture and looking ahead and focussing deliberately is best, not just running without really looking properly at anything, letting you vision kind of zone out or blur won’t help your balance.

CROSS TRAINING – A great way to get extra training volume into your week without risking overuse injuries, with adding fun sessions into the mix and creating a well rounded body that can handle anything thrown at it. This could include a regular netball or soccer games, swimming, cycling, 9/18 holes of golf, ninja warrior/ocr training, dance class or just dancing at home… Many ways to add cross training into the equation, I high recommend focussing on what you really enjoy, keep fun as a top priority, plus you can think about what other areas of training you want to work on, like balance, coordination or different planes of motion, less repetition (let’s face it, running puts massive repetitions in sort of one direction, forwards – less on the trails compared to the treadmill, but still other activities will mix it up more, providing greater variety of movement and muscle use).

STRETCHING/MOBILITY – Yoga or just doing your own stretching routine will help keep you agile enough to move well and utilise your strength through greater range of motion. Don’t underestimate mobility, in life or in athletic performance. Just imagine really tight, limited hips, on fatigued legs 2/3rds through an event and then you want to jump or step high up onto the tree that’s fallen across the trail, and you’re the ‘Tinman’ from Oz!?!?

MENTAL TOUGHNESS/MINDSET – Especially going into longer and longer events, your frame of mind and mental toughness will play a greater role in your ability to achieve your goals. The body sends your brain warning signals to back off well before you reach your actual physical limitations. It’s always worried you’ll go too far and hurt yourself so it tells you quite early on to back off. We can give up early in training or DNF an event by listening to the early warning signals. (Obviously some warning signals need to be listened to, I don’t want you lot going silly and breaking yourselves) Learning to really be in tune with our upper mental and physical limits we can better push through, closer to our performance ceiling. Easier to say than do I know. Separate from training, meditation/mindfulness sessions can be useful in help to calm and focus the mind, so in training or events it can better asses your situation. During training you can build mental toughness by deliberately throwing yourself some ‘curveballs’. Do some things, add some elements to agitate yourself, like stepping in the puddle with one foot and try to remain calm through the next 3km of squelching shoe and sock on one side. Don’t push out the air bubble in your hydration pack and ignore the noise it makes. When you come across a section of trail you find extremely hard, do more repeats of it rather than sigh a relief and move past it. Run with someone that will tell you every Covid hotspot and go on about the whole situation the whole run and try not to push them into the shrub. You want to learn to appreciate the extra challenges (“learn to love it” never really happens, but you can definitely learn to appreciate it) because through stress and challenge the greatest improvements come and this is what it’s all about, greater adaptations for greater performance.

These are some examples of types of training sessions, different ways to focus your efforts that you can include in you training program, think about you priorities.

In future posts I’ll continue to go more in depth about different training styles/sessions. Next post I write on Programming, I’ll discuss building the structure of you plan, how you can fit it all together. Trust me it’ll start to actually look like a training plan soon. In the mean time you can start implementing some of these ideas into you current routine.

Train hard, train smart

Ricey 🤟🏻😃💪🏻