Rules of Engagement (Training)

Setting a Goal

Determining what your goal is for being active, can play a fundamental role in you achieving what you set out to do. Aimlessly training is one way to lose the enthusiasm to get off the couch and be active. However, by having a goal it gives you a why for those times when you may not feel like training, or when a session challenges you.

Set your goals high enough to inspire you and low enough to encourage you.

– Unknown – 

Select the Right Intensity

Once we have a goal we are working towards, there can then be a tendency to smash yourself. You work harder than everyone else and you’ll end up being better, right? Well, I’d say yes and no. If you manage to not get injured sure you can improve fast, but pushing yourself hard all the time is one way to end up on the sideline watching. It is both physically and mentally challenging. Instead, find the right balance on intensity. This is where the 80/20 Rule provides a great guideline to getting the right intensity in training. 

Stephen Seiler a Professor in Sport Science and well known for his research on how elite endurance athletes train. In his research, he discovered that most endurance athletes spend their training time at low intensities with only a small percentage of the training time spent at high intensities, and minimal time spent in between. This training intensity distribution has become popularised and known as ‘polarised training’. He also noted that this training method scaled from elite Olympians down to the average age grouper.

Training at lower intensities is typically very enjoyable. It allows you to notice what is going on around you, to have a chat while riding or running and is very sustainable. It also allows for you to push the intensity on the few sessions where the goal is to go hard and push. That’s not to rule out training in zone 3 completely, but there is a time and a place for that style of training. Keeping things simple is often best, and so I recommend using the 80/20 rule when thinking about intensity, to allow for consistency in your chosen sport which leads onto the next point.

Stick to the Plan

Once you’ve decided why you want to train and also the mix of training you plan to do, establishing how many sessions a week you’ll have time to stick with is key. I like to use the following rules of thumb:

  • 2 sessions a week to maintain
  • 3 sessions a week to improve
  • 4+ sessions to focus on a sport

Initially, for a non-trained person 2 sessions a week will be enough to see good improvement, particularly if they consistently complete the training week in week out. This is the key aspect, consistency! Doing 4 sessions one week; 0 the next; 1 the following; 5 the next; 1 the following etc is not the way to best make progress. Endurance takes time to build, and it requires consistency over time. Tiny improvements over time accumulate into major progress.

When planning your training it is often better to choose fewer sessions when starting and know that you can fit it in and stick to the plan. This helps to build confidence and not to become disappointed in yourself which can occur when sessions are regularly missed. As stated by Stephen Seiler – “The process is about enjoyment, persistence and patience”. Check out Stephens Ted talk here.

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