Recipe for Completing the Perfect Workout
Sometimes coaches and athletes have different ideas about what makes for a great workout. As a coach, the easiest part of my job is posting a workout. As an athlete, the easiest part of your job should be doing them. Sure, some workouts are really, really tough and some intervals might make you want to puke. But the easy part I‚Äôm talking about is completing them according to a plan.
Here‚Äôs the recipe for completing the perfect workout.
1. Hydration/nutrition. Have something to eat and drink before you work out. Each athlete has his or her own individual tolerances for how soon before a workout to eat. You can experiment with this to find what works, but don‚Äôt punt on it. This is especially important for early morning workouts since you wake up dehydrated and depleted. If your body has some fluid and fuel, your workout will be better.
2. Follow the plan. You hired a coach or bought a training plan for a reason. Whatever the reason maybe-to make you work hard enough or keep you from working too hard-trust that your coach has designed a workout to obtain the desired outcome. It fits into your training calendar in a specific way. It‚Äôs always best to complete the workout as written. Here‚Äôs a little peek into your coach‚Äôs head: it makes your coach crazy to see a 2 hour run logged when the plan calls for 1:15. We don‚Äôt care if you were ‚Äúfeeling good‚Äù‚Äìif a 2 hour run was called for, we would have put it on your plan. If you have questions about a workout, ask your coach beforehand.
3. Bail out only when necessary. Complete your workouts as written as often as possible. Coaches understand that life/family/career can sometimes get in the way. Consistency is an important part of making progress. Do your best to complete every workout.
4. Warm up. The first 10-15 minutes (or more) are for warming up and preparing your body to work. It‚Äôs common to include drills and/or pickups during this period. It‚Äôs easy to fall into the bad habit of thinking, ‚ÄúI only have an hour to run so I‚Äôm going to make the most of it by running hard for an hour.‚Äù You‚Äôre better off warming up for 10 minutes, running hard for 40-45 minutes, and then cooling down for the last 5-10. The quality of the workout will be higher and recovery will be easier‚Äìyou‚Äôll be better for it in the long run.
5. Drills have a purpose‚Äìdo them. As with the previous item, athletes sometimes feel that when they‚Äôre time-limited, they can skip the drills and get to the ‚Äúimportant‚Äù part of the workout. News flash: sometimes the drills ARE the important part of the workout! Don‚Äôt just go through the motions (or skip them altogether). Swimming harder won‚Äôt make you faster over time, but swimming with better technique definitely will.
6. Hydrate during the workout (and eat if the workout is longer than an hour). Keeping your body hydrated and fueled is an important part of achieving good results. Every workout is an opportunity to practice race day nutrition habits. You don‚Äôt want to find out during your ‚ÄúA‚Äù race that your fueling plan doesn‚Äôt work.
7. All out means all out, RPE 7 means RPE 7, and recovery means recovery. One of the most common issues I see with athletes is that they go too hard on the easy stuff and not hard enough on the hard stuff. If your plan calls for work at a particular level of intensity (RPE, HR, pace, watts), complete it at that level. Your coach doesn‚Äôt think you‚Äôre a better athlete when you work too hard. And on recovery intervals (or recovery days), go easy. A great description of recovery pace is a pace you‚Äôd be embarrassed for anyone to see you doing.
8. When your coach gives you a range of intervals, it doesn‚Äôt mean you need to complete the max. If your workout shows 4-6x 800m, it‚Äôs okay to do 4 or 5. If you‚Äôre hitting your intervals at the right pace and feel good, it‚Äôs always fine to complete all intervals. After the last interval, you should feel like you have one more in your tank. Leave it there. If you finish your last interval completely wiped out or if it‚Äôs much slower than the prior intervals, you did one too many. Quality is more important than quantity.
9. Cooldown. Allow 5-10 minutes to cool down after the work portion of your session. This is part of the workout‚Äìnot something you can skip. Include some stretching or yoga to keep you loose.
10. Keep hydrating and eating. Make sure you put some food into your body within 30 minutes of completing your workout. If you‚Äôre ‚Äúdieting,‚Äù this is the wrong time to limit calories.
11. Log, upload, and analyze. Make sure your coach can see what you‚Äôve done‚Äìlog your workout as soon as possible after completing it so you won‚Äôt forget details. In your log, include comments about how the workout went. It‚Äôs not helpful for your coach to read comments about your HR or power output at a particular point of the workout. We can see that from the file. What is helpful is when athletes make qualitative comments about the workout‚Äìhow did you feel? (Be sure to include any information about injuries‚Äìeven little nagging issues.) And don‚Äôt leave all the analysis to your coach. Examine your own results. No single workout tells the entire story so treat each as a single data point, but you can learn a lot from each data point.
Following these steps will allow you to make the most out of your coaching investment. Happy training!