Every new year brings with it the opportunity to reshape your fitness goals and dreams. So how are you planning on making the most of next season?
If you are not as fast, as lean or as healthy as you wish to be, then now is the time to develop a new plan to catapult you to greater gains than ever before.
All good journeys start with a specific destination. So what is it exactly that you want to achieve this year? For example, the goal of “running a marathon” is a good starting point but unlikely to focus your efforts enough to make it a reality. Instead, you could say “On September 17, I want to complete the OC marathon in 3 hours and 30 minutes.” Now you have a specific goal and with that you can start to plan appropriately. Determining your goal pace helps you understand the reality of what you need to be able to do athletically on race day, and your training can start to build you towards this.
I have built my whole coaching career on scientifically testing and coaching athletes. It’s the only ethical way to develop an athlete to their true potential. The process is simple:
1. Set a specific goal
2. Perform a test to find out your current fitness level
3. Build a plan that takes you from where you are now to where you want to be
4. Monitor your progress using simple technology and performance tests
Having a clearly defined plan based on a specific goal helps you stay motivated and on track to success. Monitoring your progress along the way is the sound way to make sure that you are still on target, thereby maintaining momentum and motivation with your daily training.
TRAIN SMART, NOT HARD
When it comes to reaching your athletic potential, knowledge is power. Most people have heard the phrase “Train Smart, Not Hard”, but what does it really mean? In essence, it means that you will get better results by taking a scientific approach rather than just working yourself in to the ground. There are many options open to you. The most simple and cost-effective tool you can use is a heart-rate monitor (HRM).
Monitoring heart-rate gives you a window to how your body is coping with the stress of an exercise session. In order to improve your fitness you need to perform a variety of training intensities to stress your body in different ways that bring about athletic development. This means training in specific “zones”.
Easier, lower intensity training to improve endurance
Moderate “Tempo” training to increase aerobic function
Higher intensity work to develop speed
Every athlete is unique and heart-rates are person specific. So in order to effectively use a heart-rate monitor you need to understand what the numbers mean relative to YOU. There are three basic ways to do this. In order of preference and quality:
1. Get tested in a sports science lab. A simple Blood Lactate or VO2 test is the most accurate way of setting up heart-rate training zones and learn what training intensities you need to do in order to improve. During your test, small fingerstick blood samples are taken along with oxygen and carbon dioxide measurements as you exercise at gradually increasing speeds. The readings are plotted on a graph against heart-rate and areas of inefficiency are clearly defined. In the graph shown you can clearly see that after 175 watts that fat use (yellow line) declines, carbohydrate use (blue line) increases and lactate (red line) rises. This defines “Threshold” and improving performance at this point is the key to endurance success. The resulting prescription allows you to train with the utmost precision. There are just a few labs in the SoCal area that offer these tests and all labs are not equal. Be sure to find out how long the staff have been performing these tests, who will be interpreting your data and who else uses the lab services. You don’t want a fresh faced sports scientist eager to “learn on you’. Instead you want an experienced technician with a solid coaching background who truly understands not only the science but also your sport.
Perform a “Field Test”. There are several types of test you can do. To find your “Threshold” which typically occurs at about 85% of maximum effort, you could run 10km or cycle 40km as hard as you can at an even pace. The average heart-rate you derive from the test is used as your 85% marker. From here you could use this as the ceiling of a 10 beats per minute (bpm) training zone for Tempo work, create an endurance zone in the 20bpm below this and an Interval zone in the 10bpm above this. For example, say your test gives you a 160bpm average, then do your tempo work in the 150-160bpm range, endurance work in the 130-150bpm range and speed work in the 160-170bpm range.
Use a performance test that comes with your heart-rate monitor. Many models of HRM have built in fitness tests that you can use to set training zones
Another useful tool is a pace or GPS system. If your goal is to maintain a certain pace for your chosen race then these devices allow you to train at that exact pace. If you monitor your heart-rate at the same time you can see improvements really clearly. For example, if in month one you run 5 miles at 8 minute mile pace and your heart-rate is 150bpm and in month two you run 5 miles on the same course at the same pace and your heart-rate is 5bpm lower (145bpm in this case) then you are gaining fitness. Lower heart-rate for the same workload equals IMPROVEMENT.
For the cyclists, a powermeter is a superb investment. Power is the amount of energy transferred to the pedals measured in watts. The goal of cycling training is to be able to sustain high power outputs for long periods of time. This is what wins races. A powermeter combined with heart-rate tells you exactly what a certain effort is “costing you”. For example, if in month one you can climb a hill in 20 minutes and average 200 watts and 175bpm and in month three you can do the same hill in 18 minutes and 225 watts at 172bpm, then you have specific evidence that your performance fitness is improving.
For the swimmers, a tempo trainer can revolutionize your training. This little device (that fits under your swim cap), emits audible beeps that help you control your stroke rate. With practice you can try faster or slower stroke rates and see which rate results in faster times for you. A test I use with my swimmers is to set the device to one stroke per second. I then ask them to swim an easy 100 meters and time it. Then maintaining the same stroke rate I ask them to swim faster. It forces them to maximize each and every stroke. They can often reduce their time per 100 meters by 10-15 seconds just by focusing on form.
In summary, whatever your goals may be, there are simple and cost effective tools out there that can help you stay motivated, on track and always moving towards success. As the old saying goes, “fail to plan or plan to succeed”.