One of the most common issues I am asked about as an endurance coach is how to progress workouts as an athlete develops. In this blog I will look at different ways you can progress a workout or type of workout in order to illicit further adaptations and improvements.
It is essential that runners continue to provide their bodies with a stimulus for improvement; this means doing something different and that is where an appropriate adaptation to a workout in order to progress it’s difficulty comes into play.
Running the same workouts over and over again will usually lead to the same outcome over and over again and the athlete reaches a plateau in their performance. Although the workout itself is still physically difficult (and painful) the body has already adapted to the demands of the workout so there is no stimulus for improvement.
In our methodology we have 3 main options for progressing any given workout:
- Increase the volume
- Decrease the recovery
- Increase the speed
My preferred method here is to increase the volume. Running further at the same speed equals what we call an Extension of Endurance and is the most common method of progression I use with my athletes. This fits in line with our key principle of developing specific endurance and moving from less to more specific training as the training phase develops.
Moving from a shorter to a longer interval at the same speed can be considered a very specific progression (assuming that the starting speed on the shorter interval was appropriately fast).
However, all three methods have a place within the program and it is the role of the coach to decide which option works best for the athlete in question in the specific circumstances you are in. If you have gone a long time between using the same type of workout and have made good progress in other areas of your fitness then it may be possible to progress two things at once, maybe to run further and at a faster speed, or to run faster and with shorter recoveries, but in most situations progressing one of the three
We can look now at some specific examples:
Let’s take a commonly used workout and see how it could be progressed under the above methods:
Athlete: Male 10000m runner targeting a 30minute performance
Workout: 10x1000m @ target race speed (3’00”) w/ 90” recovery.
1) Increase Volume: We have two options here
a) Increase the total volume of the workout with the same length of test, for example 12x1000m in 3’00” w/90” recovery
b) Increase the volume of each individual test with the same overall volume of workout, for example, 5x2000m in 6’00” w/90” recovery
(b is quite an extreme example and you may want to consider making this step in 2 or 3 goes rather than all in one jump)
2) Decrease the recovery
The second most popular progression in my program, the objective here is to run the same speed for the same length of test and overall volume, but with a shorter recovery period.
For example, 10x1000m in 3’00” w/60″ recovery
3) Increase the speed
This is the least frequently used method in my programs but it does still have a valued place in certain situations. Generally speaking our overall philosophy of developing Specific Endurance means that we start each training period with workouts at the speed we deem appropriate and use one of the above listed methods to progress the workout and make it more specific.
So, even if the athlete is not near to top shape we will start with smaller volume workouts at the right speed rather than high volume workouts slower. We find this a more effective method of developing fitness but others may have different experiences.
On occasions however, we still look to repeat workouts at a faster speed and there can be numerous reasons why this may be the case.
In the above example workout here a sensible progression may be that the original workout becomes 10×1000 in 2’55” w/90” recovery.
If you are really lucky (or highly skilled) then you may surprise your self by choosing method 1 or 2 and finding that you also increase the speed as well. It doesn’t happen to often but when it does it usually means its time to lace up the racing flats and get competitive as you are in better shape than you realised.
Having looked at how workouts can be progressed within a season, in our next blog we will continue this theme of progression by looking at how athletes can progress their workouts over the course of their career.