The majority of our UESCA coaching certification content has come from two primary areas, peer reviewed sources and from our top advisors and contributors. While there is a lot of valuable training information in our certification content, I was asked the other day by one of our coaches what the most impactful and important training information was that one could learn from UESCA. After answering him, I realized this information would also make a great blog post. So without further ado… the top 10 pieces of training advice from our certifications!
1. Hard First, Easy Last
Periodization, or some form of training block structure is common within program development. For example, perhaps a training block is focused on building endurance, or race pace intensity. Whatever, the goal of a particular training period is, there should be one constant – Hard First, Easy Last. This is for one very simple reason. You should place the hardest workouts at the beginning of a training block because that is when you’re the freshest and most recovered. As the block progresses, the less fresh you will be as fatigue is cumulative. This of course is not to say that the end of the block should be ‘easy,’ however in relation to the beginning of the block, there should be a much lower volume of stress on the body.
2. The Most Impactful Training Occurs at Opposite Ends of the Training Spectrum
One of the biggest mistakes that endurance athletes make is going too hard on their easy days and too easy on their hard days. Therefore, what ends up happening is that most all of the training is done in this ‘middle’ish’ area where there are minimal training adaptations. This is because training at the opposite ends of the spectrum (i.e., easy/hard) is where the bulk of the training adaptations occur. While easy and hard days have to be placed at the right time in a program for a particular individual to get the most impact from them, physiologically speaking, they give the most bang for the buck.
3. Least to Most Specific
Assuming an athlete has a base level of aerobic fitness, when designing a training program, there should be an overall trend from least to most specific. For example, if you’re training for a fast 5K, the beginning of the program should consist of long, easy runs and at the end of the program, it should likely consist of short, explosive efforts and hard, short tempo efforts. Conversely, if an athlete is training for a 100-mile ultramarathon, the focus areas in respect to placement in the training program would be reversed in relation to the 5K program.
The rationale for this is that you want to be as sharp and prepared as possible for your race and the only way to do this is to place the workouts and conditions that mimic the race you’re training for as close to the race as possible.
4. Changing Training Stimuli/Intensity
Another common training mistake that athletes make is to train at the same intensity and volume all of the time. While this obviously sounds like a mistake (because it is), you might be surprised by how many athletes follow this approach.
For starters, different physiological adaptations occur at different intensity levels. Therefore, in order to be as ‘complete’ as possible as an athlete, it is a must that varying training intensities must be present in a program.
Additionally, the body will only progress to the degree that it is stressed. For example, if you never stress the body past a certain point, you won’t see any forward progress past that point. Let’s say that a new runner runs three miles, three days a week, all at the same pace of 9 min/mile. They will get more fit to a point, but if they don’t ever push past their mileage and pace, they won’t ever get faster or more fit. This is also why the training stimulus that works for a beginner won’t likely work for that of a seasoned athlete. The seasoned athlete needs a much larger stress to elicit a positive training adaptation.
5. Correlate Data
There are near endless training data and metrics at your disposal today – most of which can be ascertained by your GPS watch or cycle computer. While data is great, it is useless unless you know how to understand and analyze it. With so data available such as heart rate, power, rate of perceived exertion (RPE), lactate threshold, VO2 Max, cadence, speed/pace, etc… it can be dizzying to try to make heads or tails out of all of it.
For the most part, the aforementioned data sources are of limited value in isolation. However, when correlated with more than one data source, they have a lot more value. As an example, by itself, seeing your power increase from 200 to 250 watts on the bike doesn’t tell you a whole lot. However, if you correlate this with only a five-beat increase in heart rate and a speed increase of 10 mph, this tells you a lot more… specifically for the reassessment of this data down the line.
6. Track Trends
As alluded to in the prior piece of advice, tracking trends is important for the construction of training programs. Of course, this is really only possible with past training and racing data to go off of but it also highlights the importance of keeping a training diary of some sort. For example, let’s say that you notice that your athlete doesn’t perform well after a day of complete rest, but rather they perform much better with active rest (i.e., easy run/ride/swim). In this case, by tracking this data, you can adjust their training program to replace days of complete rest with days of active rest.
7. Don’t Follow Another’s Plan
This is another big one! Whether it be an inflexible pre-formatted training program from a magazine/website, or using another friend’s program, this is a big mistake. It is critical to understand that what works best for someone likely will not work the best for you as well. This is because people respond differently to the same training stimuli due to differences in fitness level and physiology. So even for pre-formatted plans that say you must be at a certain volume prior to starting the plan, it is still not an optimal scenario.
Another reason for not blindly following another’s plan is that changes will be needed to a program based on how fast or slow one progresses, as well as other variables such as fatigue, injury, unforeseen time off, etc… If you are following someone else’s plan or a generic plan, these modifications will be very hard to accommodate.
8. Stress Is All Encompassing
When people think of an ‘off day,’ or an ‘easy day’ during training, often this is viewed purely through the lens of their specific sport they are training for. For example, if an athlete is training for a marathon, an easy day would be not running or just doing an easy two-mile run. However, it is important to realize that the purpose of an ‘easy day’ is to reduce the total stress on the body, not just in respect to a specific workout. What I often hear from coaches is that an athlete may take the day off running or just do a short jog, but they spent the day out in the sun on their feet sightseeing or doing yard work. This is a lot of stress and most certainly, not an ‘off day.’
Therefore, whether it be an easy day, or a recovery week, it is imperative to remember that stress is all encompassing and thus, all of one’s actions should keep recovery as the main focus.
9. Trial Everything In Training
When it comes to race preparedness, there is no such thing as being too detail-oriented. This includes trialing everything in training from clothes, food/drink, equipment, etc… A mistake that new (and seasoned) endurance athletes make is using a new type of food/drink that they pick up at the race expo on race day. This is just inviting a big ole’ GI issue.
In the same context, if an athlete read on the race website and found out that orange Gatorade will be supplied at the hydration stations, using orange Gatorade in training would be a smart idea to see how well they tolerate it.
10. Fitness First
There are endless articles and videos on how to best prepare for a race – we know, because we wrote a lot of them! Many of these articles discuss specific training strategies such as heat and altitude acclimatization, downhill running training, climbing, etc…
Don’t get me wrong, these areas are important to understand and figure out, however, they are often done at the expense of gaining as high a level of aerobic fitness as possible. When an athlete is in their best possible aerobic condition, it makes everything better. Therefore, in order to best prepare for a race, the most important thing is to have the highest level of fitness possible. Then focus on the other areas, like the ones noted above.
While it was hard to pick out pieces of content from our certifications that we considered ‘most valuable,’ the ones noted here not only have a lot of value, but also because they are often neglected or minimized in terms of their importance.
Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running, ultrarunning and triathlon coaches (cycling coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.
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