Training Plan Components
Everything important in life deserves a plan. But what really is a plan? There should be general components in a plan, these can than be mixed with specific directions and could lead to an attainable goal or end-result to the plan. It is also important psychologically, developmentally, and strategically to have the plan in writing. Putting words and numbers on paper somehow makes a plan seem more permanent, more real, and more personal.
Training a middle-distance runner is an intricate activity that balances aerobic work with anaerobic work. Because these are combined zone races, an athlete benefits from the development of a plan that addresses the specificity of the physiological demand of middle-distance running. It takes a great deal of effort over an extended period of time to train an athlete properly. An inventory of the athlete’s skills will reveal key components to use in constructing an individualized training plan. These points will help in some of the specific direction to follow on a day to day basis. There is also the necessity to understand general training principles that apply to human performance in general, and middle-distance runners in particular, when implementing a plan. These principles show humans for what they are: not tremendously skilled at any one bio-motor skill, but with great ability to physically adapt if stimulated properly. This adaptation capability is based on a combination of physical traits that are both common to mammals, and specific to humans. It is also based on the human brains ability to understand long-term rewards and what it takes to physically, psychologically, and socially achieve these rewards.
Training theory in athletics has been heavily researched. Through a combination of academic research and related application, ten important principles have been identified to help coaches achieve an understanding of the concept of training. A thorough study of these ten points is crucial in understanding humans as living organisms in regard to what work they can do, and when they can do it. A proper training load at the proper time is the key to it all, but that is over-simplifying a complicated scientific series of principles.
The ten general physiological training principles are:
- Adaptation: A person’s fitness level responds positively or negatively to a training stimulus, or workload. Positive evidence of this is in how the identical workout keeps getting easier as the season progresses. Negative evidence of this is explained in the over-training syndrome. Adaptation occurs during the period between workloads, not during the work itself.
- Progression: Because adaptation does occur in humans, workloads must continue to become of a greater stimulus to the body as the season progresses in order to achieve the effects of a perfect load.
- Readiness: An athlete must be psychologically and physically prepared to accept the proper load of stimulus in order to continue adaptation.
- Individual response: Because of the differences in humans, there will be a different training effect for each individual to the same stimulus. Few athletes are great at accepting all of the various types and degrees of training loads.
- Overload: An understanding of overload and adaptation is the foundation to the study of training theory. The training stimulus must be such that it taxes the targeted energy system or bio-motor skill in such a way as to cause fatigue, but not so much fatigue that it is detrimental to the overall fitness level following a period of recovery.
- Specificity: A training stimulus needs to focus on the bio-motor skill that is being targeted to be most effective. There are many examples of training stimulus that fatigue more than one bio-motor skill, and are considered general in nature. These are valuable early in a training season but workloads need to move toward more specificity as the middle-distance racing season progresses.
- Variation: Once the level of training stimulus to be applied has been identified, a load must be applied to reach that level. There are usually many different workouts that can be used to accomplish this degree of loading. It is desirous to change aspects of workouts to make them interesting, but not to affect the desired training result.
- Restoration: The period of time during which actual physical adaptation occurs following a stimulus plays a crucial role in reaching higher fitness levels. This period needs to be of a proper length as to allow recovery, but not so much so that fitness is actually lost.
- Reversibility: As a middle-distance runner improves the fitness level of the body moves farther and farther away from its genetically dictated equilibrium. When the athlete ceases applying the proper stimulus, fitness will move back closer to this natural level of human equilibrium, causing a sort of detraining. Some things change rather quickly, while others reverse themselves over a much longer period of time.
- Longevity: Many of the physical changes that occur to the body during middle-distance running training are chronic. Thus, it takes a very long period of time, usually over many training seasons for full development to occur. This is why the concept of the training age is as important a factor as the chronological age of the athlete to the coach.
Related: Middle Distance Winter Training
There are trillions of cells in the human body and thousands of chemical reactions that occur simultaneously to satisfy the concept of life. When an athlete begins a training program they are beginning a program of changing cells, tissues, organs, and the chemical reactions that tie them all together. Before specifics to the actual training can be understood, a degree of scientific knowledge must be gained in how the body functions when a stimulus is applied. An acceptance of these ten principles of general training will help in that knowledge base.
Cross Country Training
- Run in modern synthetic fabrics such as Dri Fit and Gore-Tex.
- Never wear cotton as either an under-garment or an over-garment
- Layer the fabrics depending on the temperature.
- Wear a wind-proof modern fabric as the outer layer.
- Cover the head and hands.
- Start the workout by running against the wind.
- Finish the workout by running with the wind.
- Just as in heat, the body must be well hydrated.
- Stretch inside a building.
- Warm up and cool down inside a building.
- Do not linger in the cold.
- Learn about the different modern fabrics that have been developed in the past ten years. Always discourage cotton for running in the heat or the cold.
- Because cold air holds little water, make notes to yourself and team to keep the body hydrated more than usual during cold periods.
- If your team is racing in weather much colder than home, research the weather and make a plan for having the proper clothing to legally and safely compete in.
“Your Focus Needs More Focus”
Each year I notice that midway through the indoor season the focus of the sprints group starts to dwindle. After the initial excitement of getting acclimated to the team setting and traveling to meets fades, athletes have adapted to a routine that might not seem as appealing as before. But this time of the season is no time to run out of steam. The championship meets are still weeks away and athletes must recharge to achieve the results they have been training for.
Still, when athletes spend more time in between drills and sets goofing around and gossiping, rather than putting effort into the task at hand, I often wonder if they are committing an honest 100% effort both mentally and physically.
Early in my career, I searched for ingenious ways to reel my sprinters back in, and keep them motivated during the middle of the season. Ironically enough, it wasn’t until watching a martial arts film did I reach an epiphany.
Two different Karate Kid lines come to mind when I think of movie quotes pertaining to keeping athletes on point. One is from the original 1984 film and the other is from the remake in 2010.
Mr. Miyagi – “You must focus Daniel-san. To win…you must FOCUS!”
Mr. Han – “Your focus needs more focus.”
Over the past three to four years, I found just the right workout that is capable of luring athletes back in, during the season’s dull period. It is… 4 x 100m handoffs. That’s right… It is January in Boston and we are doing handoffs inside. I am not saying indoor 4x100m handoffs are ideal, but it sure gets the athletes excited. I typically have short sprinters, hurdlers, and long sprinters practice relay handoffs. Honestly, what athlete doesn’t want to be on the 4 x 100m?
More sprint workout advice from Coach Mangiacotti: How to Build the Perfect 100 Meter Sprinter
This relay handoff workout has two benefits; it refocuses the group and also serves as an introduction of what to expect during the outdoor season. Getting a head start on teaching this relay in the winter can be a huge advantage during the spring months. In New England, the weather in January and March does not vary. The temperature usually remains the same… cold.
Additionally, relay handoffs are also a great way to get acceleration and maximum velocity work in during the week. If an athlete lacks motivation they will quickly find it in this workout. If not, as an outgoing runner they will have an incoming runner sprinting past them in the workout. Or…a lethargic incoming runner may never catch the outgoing runner. These repetitions will be instant feedback for you and the athletes when watching for effort and execution.
We are lucky to have an indoor track. I typically set up the relay exchange zone on one of the straightaway’s on the oval and use the same measurements as an outdoor track. Using chalk or medical tape I shape a small triangle about 10-15m off the turn to signify the starting point for the outgoing runner. Then I measure 10m down the track and make a large triangle to replicate the start of the exchange zone. Finally, I measure another 20m down the track and put down another large triangle for the end of the exchange zone. Often, I will ask the incoming runner to run in lane 5 with the baton in their right hand and have the outgoing runner in lane six receiving the baton in their left hand. Indoor lanes are narrow so I do not want the two athletes to get their legs tangled.
Once we are ready to start the workout I will ask the incoming runner to start at the middle of the turn. This is about 30m from the starting point/small triangle for the outgoing runner. The incoming runner will run through the entire exchange zone. In total, the incoming runner will run approximately 60m. That’s some good acceleration and maximum velocity work. The outgoing runner will also run through the zone at 100% effort. This is 30m in total volume for each outgoing repetition. If the outgoing runner does not accelerate properly the athlete will know right away. This workout puts the focus back into practice.
On these days I will ask the athletes to do 3 sets of “give one, take one.” In all, each athlete gets to take three and give three handoffs. My standard line is, “You only get a few handoffs so make each one count.” This workout is comparable to 3 x 30m and 3 x 60m just done 30/60, 30/60, 30/60m or vice versa (depending if the athlete starts as the incoming or outgoing runner) with 3’ between repetitions and 8’ between sets.
This workout not only helps the team focus on running fast, but it also drives home the importance of communication with your teammates. If the athletes can figure out the approximate number of steps to give their teammates during the winter we can spend more time working out the smaller kinks during the outdoor season. This means that we can get some serious relay handoffs in during the spring rather than trying to rush through the process during the short outdoor season.
4 x 100m relay handoffs have helped refocus the athletes that I work with along with working on communication, acceleration and maximum velocity. Life is much easier anytime we can kill multiple birds with one stone.
Please follow me on Twitter @MarcMangiacotti.
So many comments came in so quickly to last week’s ‘The Lance Armstrong Defense’ article, I didn’t get a chance to respond to individual questions and statements as I normally do. But, it was such a hot topic I felt it deserved one more day of discussion.
So here are some thoughts on your responses before I move on to new topics next week:
1. While I appreciate all the positive sentiment and try to do the right thing as much as possible, no one should be pointing to me as a beacon of morality or integrity. At best, I am the same as most of you – just trying to figure out how to stay competitive against bigger and more talented programs while providing a fun, yet demanding experience for my athletes. At worst, I am a deeply flawed human being whose athletes often make me look more competent than I am.
2. Some people took exception with my use of language. And that’s unfortunate because I do truly enjoy pancakes. Even for dinner. Truth be told, my speaking/ranting/comedic style is much more Dave Chappelle than Bill Cosby. And my content is written for adults and not children. That said, I begrudgingly agree to keep things PG rated.
3. I have an extremely difficult time reconciling the logic and belief systems of the coaches defending the notion that inventing seed and relay times based on what you think kids should theoretically be able to run/jump/throw based on some arbitrary equation you invented in your head. Sweet Jesus, what an asinine concept! If that’s what we’re justifying these days as legitimate means of entering athletes into meets, this sport should take two weeks off and then quit.
The only time this is acceptable is, as Len Harmon pointed out, when you are forced to compete on crap flat tracks shorter than 200m. I spent the first decade of my coaching career (and all of HS) competing on a 160y flat track where fast times were nearly impossible. As an example, I coached the MA D4 Championship Meet Record holder in the boys 300m (34.82) and the MA D3 Championship Meet Record holder in the 300m (34.98). The fastest time they ever ran around the basketball court they competed on during dual meets was 36.9h and 37.1h, respectively. It’s not fair to expect coaches/programs/athletes in that situation to enter kids with non converted times, especially when competing against athletes competing on the rocket ship known as the BU track.
4. I see that MSTCA members felt compelled to defend themselves and their system. And I feel bad my article cast them in a negative light or implied they were the root of the problem because that was certainly not my intention. While I think we need a better entry system that only allows *actual* times run in *actual* meets, I certainly don’t think the onus for checking and verifying thousands of entries falls at the feet of (in the case of my state) the MSTCA or the meet directors. They have enough to do with running the meet and they do an excellent job. I do think the language needs to be changed such that coaches are not allowed to invent times at all. But, the responsibility of being honest starts with the coaches themselves. And it’s a double edged sword. If you (the MSTCA/meet director) catch and punish one coach/team for cheating, that coach is going to point out the dozens of other cheats who haven’t been punished. So it’s all or nothing and a difficult spot to be put in if you’re the meet director living in a perpetual state of overwhelm in trying to get the meet organized and run.
5. You know who I respect? The coach who told me I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Why? Because he had the courage and integrity to voice a dissenting opinion with his real name attached to it.
You know who I don’t respect? The Massachusetts ‘coach’ who made a sarcastic, troll style post with cherry picked statistics, but couldn’t muster the courage or personal integrity to post his real name.
‘Coach’, here’s the difference between you and I:
When I have an opinion, even a controversial one, I say it loud and proud and sign my name to it. It’s not always easy and I often take pointed and personal backlash for it. But, I am a grown man and dissent is the cost of having an opinion that people pay attention to. You, sir, should feel great shame in the terrible example you set for your athletes and program in lacking the cojones to sign your name to your petulant reaction. I coach 14 year old girls who take more accountability for their behavior. Hopefully, after some reflection and a few self help books, you will develop the strength and personal character to stand by your words instead of lurking anonymously in the shadows. In the meantime, if you need a pep talk on personal accountability, I have some freshman girls you can talk to.
In the future, do better. “Coach”.
So what is the moral of this whole story? As it is currently constituted, the sport of track and field cannot even decide whether or not *actual* performances are a requirement for meet entry. While this is certainly not the biggest problem facing our sport, in my opinion, it reduces the validity of track and field as a viable sport.
One of track and field’s great selling points is the objective nature of our competitions. It’s not like football where you can rush for 250 yards against bums one week and then get shut down for 50 the next week against a real team. Fast is fast. FAT is FAT, no matter where you live or who you compete against.
But, when your athlete or relay *earns* the fast lane in the seeded heat and gets bumped because some self righteous coach felt entitled to invent a time and you have no recourse to have it amended, that’s not good for track. And it’s certainly not going to win over the kid you’re trying to convert from another season of club soccer or basketball or lacrosse. It’s not going to convert any casual fans, a demographic the sport needs to consider. And it’s not going to keep athletes interested in the sport once they graduate HS or college because nobody wants to pay attention to a sport whose competitions are rigged by dishonest coaches.
Think about it.
To your success,
Take a deep breath and then post your comments below.
Goal-Setting for Athletes
Before the track season begins to stir with physical activity is an important time for the middle distance coach to establish oneself as a psychological leader. It is a time for long-term planning of coach directed individual motivation issues. It is a time to establish a list of performance and training goals for each athlete. It is also an appropriate time for the athletes themselves to establish goals for their season. Athletes have a hard time separating goals from dreams, so pre-season is a great time to instruct the athletes on how to set up goals that will be challenging, while also being attainable.
The purposes of goals are to enhance and structure mental training in sport and consequently life skills in general. Goal setting is the means for establishing a plan that should point toward a consistent direction for training and competition in sport. Goals are also waypoints that keep athletes on the road to a desired end-result. Goals provide the mental fuel for consistent training, tenacious racing, and athletic longevity.
There are four categories of goals that must be addressed by the middle-distance athlete. These goals are: general, short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. Basically, goals are anything wished for, dreamt about, or achievable choices concerning an activity such as middle-distance running. They are not about what somebody else may want, it is about what they want to choose to pursue and achieve. It is their behavior and motivation that will ultimately cause goals to be reached, not the pursuits of others. The guidelines for these four goal types are:
- General goals: These goals should be realistic and challenging. Since nobody knows their actual limits in anything, these goals should be set to improve the level of performance based on past personal history. While these goals are of a general nature in regard to cross-country running, the individual’s goals addressing them should be specific and measurable.
- Short-term goals: These goals are clear and specific and are over a period of time from today to about three weeks from now. Many times this type of goal simply revolves around the goal for today’s workout. It may be about the intensity or duration of the work, and is a mental picture of exactly what one would like to do.
- Intermediate goals: These goals may be specific as well as broad. They may also be less defined than short-term goals. These goals would be all of the things a middle-distance runner wants to achieve during this current training period. Because there are several goals during this period of time, there will need to be some prioritization of what is most important. Some goals may need to be postponed. Many times a significant intermediate goal may be to run a personal best for the middle-distance race distance or to find success against all of the competitors they will face in a race.
- Long-term goals: These goals are the ultimate reward. They should be written down boldly and placed in conspicuous places so that the athlete is frequently reminded about what the satisfaction level is ultimately going to be. Long-term goals are cumulative and are reached only by achieving the success level of shorter term goals. A long-term goal may be something like the desire to be a state champion in middle-distance running or to qualify for an important meet.
The athlete, coaches, teammates, and trusted confidents will be instrumental in developing a runner’s goals. It is important that the athlete truly believes that the goal is desirable and achievable. Below is a list of task cues for the coach to approach their middle-distance athletes on in an attempt to enable them to be productive goal-setters:
- Write down the general goals that they want to accomplish when they began the track season.
- Have them describe on paper what it will feel like to accomplish their short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals.
- In order to eliminate excessive frustration and confusion, write down examples of steps they will need to use in achieving a long-term goal.
Now how to structure your mid distance workouts to ensure these goals can be met!