What’s a Training Structure? Part One

Hanny Allston
Hanny Allston

A few weeks ago we ran an article on some of the basics you should consider when pulling together a training plan. Today, we’re going to take that a step further and have invited the expertise of Hanny Allston to delve deeper into this area with ten considerations you may wish to bear in mind as you plan for your next race, event or running project. Because we have so much good advice from Hanny, we’ve split this article in two, with the first five considerations today and the following five early next week. As always, we hope it helps you in your planning, and if you have any other advice or tips, feel free to add them below in the comments. On a personal level, I take a slightly different approach when it comes to Aerobic and Anaerobic training, but that’s the beauty of running. Listen to everyone, follow no-one… do what works for you! Take it away Hanny…

When I returned to the sport of running in 2012 I was adamant that I was going to approach my running differently. No GPS watches to monitor my pace, no overly structured training sessions and certainly no training planners to tell me what to do.

Two years on and I have humbly changed my tack. A number of niggling injuries and moments drifting around the training circles have led me back to the world of structure. I have come to realise that whilst training should always by playful and exciting, there does need to be an element of commitment and purpose that comes from our old friend… the training planner. In fact, over the last two years I have progressed so far that I now assist runners to develop their personalized training structures.

Theory #1: Training Planners versus Training Structures

I begin with a diversion away from common running terminology. The phrase ‘training planner’ is thrown around a lot. We want training planners and love them until life throws a curve ball and we get knocked off the plan. To me, a training planner focuses on the detail rather than the grander picture, inferring a prescribed set of exercise sessions that lead you to your end goal. It implies that sessions are highly planned and linked to certain days and times.

Instead I love to create ‘training structures’. In this sense, the training structure may have a high level of detailed planning but the focus is on providing the methodology behind the plan. The training structure helps to guide an athlete through each block of training, periodising the approach and defining when to go hard or when to go easy. By providing a periodised pathway structure, if a planned session or block is disrupted, the athlete should be able to determine an alternative way forward.

Theory #2: Training Structures should bePeriodised

Over-racing is a common problem, particularly with so many awesome races to run in.
Over-racing is a common problem, particularly with so many awesome races to run in.

In Australia there are a multitude of events to choose from. If you were Inspector Gadget you could run in up to ten different races in Australia each weekend. In the ultra running world, more and more extreme events are popping up providing a wealth of choice to any eager athlete. The problem with this is that we can easily over-race and under-recover.

Ultimate performance requires a fine balance between training, racing and recovery. To succeed at our highest possible level, we need to apply a level of load to the body so that when it recovers, it recovers stronger and faster than before. Too much load and we quickly wear down our muscles and energy systems, leading to an elevated risk of injury, illness or athlete burnout. Therefore, creating a training structure will assist an athlete to determine which races are appropriate and how to build up the training in a sustainable fashion to reach the end goal.

Theory #3: Winter and Summer Seasons of Periodisation

Winter is rare in Australia. Expect maybe in Melbourne and Tasmania - and at anything 1,000m above sea level :)
Winter is rare in Australia. Expect maybe in Melbourne and Tasmania – and at anything 1,000m above sea level 🙂

If we delve back into the archives of some of our greatest coaches – Arthur Lydiard, Percy Cerutty, Richard Telford and Max Cherry – we can quickly see a common theme – Winter and Summer running seasons. Each of these coaches recognized that optimal preparation of the body could not be rushed and the foundations of performance lay in a periodised structure. Using the summer athletics season and the winter cross-country season, athletes could develop a profound aerobic base system to support the more degrading anaerobic training. Arthur Lydiard was particularly vocal in describing his belief that an athlete should never enter the anaerobic or speed intensive training until their body had been primed with aerobic fitness that could support a solid 100miles per week.

While it is not feasible (nor desired) that we all sprint around the track over summer, then gallop across the nation’s cross-country courses in winter, it should be recognized that our chosen events need to be carefully spaced apart and that the Father’s of our sport were preaching six months to fully develop speed and stamina.

Theory #4: Start with the Aerobic Base

It is essential to begin with the development of your aerobic base. During base training, the lipid metabolism system is primed and our bodies develop an increased level of efficiency at lower training speeds. Whilst ultra runners rely heavily on the aerobic system, all athletes require this solid base. The aerobic training period is also an essential time for building the foundations of your strength development. During this part of the training structure runners can focus on strength exercises that enhance glute muscle activation, calf stamina and muscles of the core. During the latter phases of the training structure, this underlying strength will allow an athlete to progress into faster and more powerful running training with reduced injury risks.

Aerobic training should last as long as possible. Arthur Lydiard firmly advocated at least 8-12 weeks of solid aerobic training or until a point where the athlete’s fitness improvements begin to taper off. That is, they are capable of running faster without expending more energy.

Theory #5: End with Anaerobic Training

I feel the need for speed! (But only once a week)
I feel the need for speed! (But only once a week)

The only form of energy which can be used by muscles is the chemical energy from ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is provided by sugar and fats in our diet. When muscles contract, they breakdown ATP stores to perform energy. If oxygen is present, such as when we are running aerobically, the ATP stores can be restored and reused. However, without oxygen, lactic acid is produced and eventually performance is curbed. Whilst as marathon and ultra runners we only rely on the anaerobic system for about 1% of our race, all runners can benefit from training this system. Anaerobic training makes it considerably easier to run up hills and keep going in the teeth of a strong wind.

Fast interval & powerful strength training improves your anaerobic capacity. However, this form of training can easily degrade the body and should only be conducted once a firm aerobic base has been established. Planning anaerobic training later in your training structure will ensure that your aerobic base and strength activation is not compromised. Around 4 – 6 weeks of anaerobic training is optimal to prepare you for race day.

Stay tuned for part two next week!

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Dan
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

4 thoughts on “What’s a Training Structure? Part One

  1. “The only form of energy which can be used by muscles is the chemical energy from ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is provided by sugar and fats in our diet. When muscles contract, they breakdown ATP stores to perform energy. If oxygen is present, such as when we are running aerobically, the ATP stores can be restored and reused. However, without oxygen, lactic acid is produced and eventually performance is curbed.”

    Would stored PC (creatine phosphate) not be considered another form of “energy”. Due to the initial phases of fast glycolysis (anaerobic) energy production comes from PC donating a phosphate group to ADP creating ATP.

    Also, lactic acid is not the chemical compound that causes fatigue. When lactic acid is produced, it quickly hydrolyze’s into Lactate and a free H+ ion. Which the H+ ion causes fatigue, Lactate acts as a buffer preventing fatigue.

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