Jay has grown frustrated with his nagging foot pain and has been forced to cut back on the miles and cross train. Jessica's progress has totally plateaued despite stepping up her training efforts. Meanwhile, Danielle has been training great but suddenly her legs feel flat and she's got no explanation.
While talking with each of them I could sense their frustration, but luckily for them I've learned that taking a good client history is key to a good intervention. And in each case it was a simple fix that resolved their issue. In fact, you'll probably roll your eyes as you read the solution. (Well, this one isn't THAT obvious, but I bet many of you can relate.)
Not Getting Any Faster? Here's Why.
Jessica went from a being a 29 minute 5K rookie to breaking 25 minutes in only a few months of training. Unsurprisingly, she found that as she added miles to her week, she got faster. However, recently she reconnected with me after being unable to breakthrough a plateau. She's been stuck at 23 minutes for 5k, is running 30 miles/week and claims she doesn't have any more time to squeeze in more training.
To her credit she's been faithfully performing 2 strength training sessions each week upon my recommendation and she hasn't sacrificed them for more miles. (High five, Jess!)
Like many new trainees, Jessica initially wanted to “just run”. It took a little arm wringing, but I convinced her of the value of developing her strength base. Less injury risk, a more powerful stride, improved posture and more confidence, not to mention better fitting clothes (sometimes you have to go there) being the key selling points. So, unlike most runners, strength training was not her weak link. What was holding her back?
Upon more probing it turns out she's been putting in the mileage (even adding 5 miles to her weeks recently), but there's been next to no variation or, more importantly and better stated, progression to her training. She's got no shortage of motivation, but needs some help focusing it properly.
Quite simply, a plateau indicates adaptation. If you're not improving (and not getting worse), then you've adapted to the training load you've been placing on yourself.
Since she had adapted to the mileage, I suggested she include more speeds in her training. A hill workout, a tempo run, and 'strides' after easy runs being great places to start. But wait, here's the key! EACH of those types of workouts needs to progress, too.
Since she can't fit more miles (quantity), she needs to focus on progressing the quality of the workouts. For example, in week 1 she might start with 5X 30sec hill reps with 90 seconds recovery between each. By week 6 she might be at 10x 30sec with only 60 seconds recovery.
Don't keep doing the same workout!
The secret is to progress a little each week. After only 2-3 exposures, you've most likely adapted to it and need to tweak it to see further improvement.
By now you're wondering... You obviously can't just continue to make things more intense forever, right? Well, after a phase of high intensity training, it is wise to back off and recover. Then rebuild, this time from a more advanced starting point.
Within 4 weeks Jess knew the program was working when she began to feel her “normal” speeds get easier. In week 6 she entered a 5K and dipped under 23 minutes for the first time! I have no doubt she can make (a lot of) further improvement, too, which is exciting for me!
How about you? Are you lacking progression in your training? Can you give me an example of how this post applies to your current situation?