First published on The Sunday Times on 3 June 2018
Dr Ivan Low – Have you ever signed up for an endurance running event, got overly excited and immediately headed straight into a series of hard trainings, only to eventually succumb to injuries before even toeing the starting line? Or are you one of those who tend to wait until the very last minute to begin your training and end up struggling just to complete the race, or worse still, putting yourself at risk of serious injuries and harm through over-exertion during the race?
If your answer is yes to any of the above, you are probably not alone. Many people tend to underestimate the importance of adhering to a systematic training program, and this is a particularly common mistake amongst recreational runners. A well-designed training plan is important for the safety and success of all endurance runners, and not just requirement for elite athletes only.
So, how do we know if a training plan is well-designed? Often, good training programs abide by a few key principles which can then help us gauge the suitability of one’s training plan.
1. Principle of Individuality
Individuals differ in their capacity to adapt to exercise training as a result of differences in their hereditary and physiological build. This explains why some runners may experience significant improvement after adopting a given training program while others exhibit little or no progress despite going through to the same program. A good training plan has to be specific and tailored not only to the individual’s fitness, but also to his/her’s training capacity and needs.
2. Principle of Specificity
Exercise adaptations are specific to the volume, intensity and type of training. In other words, if you wish to race fast, you have to train fast;t if you wish to race far, you have to train long!
3. Principle of Progressive Overload
A systematic increase in training demand is also necessary for the continuous improvement of one’s fitness . Good training regimes gradually condition your body towards the specific physical and mental demands of your upcoming race. It also ensures that as you edge closer towards your fitness goal, the risk of unintended injuries is minimised.
4. Principle of Variation or Periodization
A good endurance training program should not be repetitive, dull and one-dimensional. The prescribed volume, intensity and mode of training should vary systematically , so that the training stimulus remains challenging and effective over the entire training cycle, or even across multiple cycles within a training season.
5. Principle of Recovery and Reversibility
During rest, and not training, our body repairs itself and gets stronger. Therefore recovery periods or days should be periodically incorporated into training programs to afford the body sufficient recovery before the next bout of training. Training too hard or too soon is one of the most common and leading cause of overtraining or overuse injuries.
On the other hand, if trainings are spaced too far apart, the body may lose the stimuli and benefits gained from the previous session. Fitness gained can, and will, be lost (detraining) when one stops exercising for a prolonged period. Therefore, in order to ensure optimal training gain, an ideal training program should allow just enough time for recovery before introducing the next training stimulus. Remember, consistency is key!
So, is there a “one size fits all” solution when it comes to training prescription? Unfortunately not. One man’s meat may be another man’s poison. Athletes should never blindly adhere to a training regime just because it has worked well for others. Finding an optimal training program may also sometimes involve a certain degree of trial and error.
Nonetheless, it is always good to begin with a training program that has been tried and tested, and gradually tweak it to suit your specific needs and abilities. If you are not sure where to start, try the #RunWithMok Training Plan, by runONE above this article!
Dr. Ivan Low Cherh Chiet is an Instructor and Exercise Physiologist in the Department of Physiology, NUS. He ran the Boston Marathon in 2015 and also extends his expertise to runONE’s training program for ST Run 2017 and 2018.