Being your own coach

Today we welcome an article from Brisbane student, Daniel Broadbridge. Working his way through a sports science degree, Daniel is an aspiring ultra runner and here he puts forward some of the reasons as to why he coaches himself, rather than pay someone to do it for him. While he fully admits he’s a skint student who can’t afford to pay for a coach, there are a whole host of other reasons as to why being your own coach may benefit you.

Take it away Daniel…

The fact that you are reading this article probably means that you’re interested in coaching yourself, rather than have someone coach you. I feel like my first question for you would be, why?

A (good) coach has the experience and skills necessary to tailor-make a training plan specific to your goals. He or she will be able to look at your previous experience and then be able to write up and coach you to your goal using key running workouts, rather than the generic stuff I’ll be describing below. It also takes out the hassle of trying to design your own training plan, each time I write up my own it usually takes close to half a day to get things sorted out. So, my advice? Go get yourself a running coach.

However, you may be a person who loves having absolute flexibility in what you do each day, you don’t want someone prescribing your exercise for you, or you may like being 100% involved in your own processes and you don’t want someone else interfering. The main reason I coach myself at the moment (apart from being a broke uni student and being unable to afford it 😉 is I want to make mistakes now, with myself, before I finish my degree and before taking on a mantle of being a coach for other people.

I’ve already made a few mistakes in writing up training programs for myself, so take that as a warning. If you’ve never written a training program up for yourself before, be prepared for a few goals to be missed (going back to my first point, go get yourself an experienced coach!) But if you’ve made it this far and you really want to coach yourself, below is the barebones that every coach uses as their basis for their program, along with a few interesting papers (which are listed at the bottom if you wish to read them yourself) I’ve read relating to running. Before I begin I would like to give a warning, please consult with a health professional to make sure that you don’t do any harm to yourself when starting a new exercise program.

The underpinning of all exercise prescription is the principle known as FITT (or FITD). Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type, which is how the rest of the article will be set out. Also, I’ll be using the phrase ‘aerobic fitness’ frequently for the rest of the article; this refers to getting the energy to run by using oxygen to break down fats and carbs in your muscle cells. This is a complex process which heavily involves the use of your heart and lungs (and a lot of other things). As soon an exercise has been going on for longer than 5 minutes continuously (ultra-running, a 5km road race, Le Tour De France etc.) you’re using aerobic systems to get energy.


It pretty much says it in the name, it refers to how much of an activity you do. In terms of running, we usually talk about how much you do in a week. To gain aerobic fitness, at the very bare minimum, you need to run three times a week. To improve your performance, you need to be running at least 5 times per week. Top athletes will often be doing upwards of 10 sessions per week by doing double days, running in the morning and then again in the afternoon. Double days are beyond the scope of this article but they’re useful in specific circumstances and have been shown to improve aerobic fitness markers1 beyond only running once per day. Be wary of injury if you’re doing this though.


According to Exercise and Sport Science Australia there are five different levels of aerobic intensity, based on percentage of max heart rate (to get an estimate of your max heart use the formula 220-your age. For example, I’m 20 therefore my estimated max heart rate is 200.)

  • Recovery: 65-75% max HR
  • Extensive recovery: 75-80% max HR
  • Intensive endurance: 80-85% max HR
  • Threshold training: 85-92% max HR
  • Interval training: 92-100% max HR

Due to intensity being based on HR rather than just how you feel, I recommend wearing a HR monitor for all your training sessions. I unfortunately can’t recommend how to structure your training program to incorporate those different sessions. That’s up to you. Or you can get a coach and he or she will sort it all out for you.


This refers to what ‘type’ of physical activity you do. Another way to describe it is specificity. Obviously for running the best way to get fit for running, is to run, rather than do another aerobic activity like cycling. Running can be in the form of intervals (3x1000m with 4 minutes of rest in between each repetition, for e.g.) or continuous (going for a 2 hour long run). The trick is getting a balance between these two core types of training and this balance depends on what you’re training for.

The best way to get this balance right? You guessed, a running coach! But what also becomes interesting is the concept of cross-training. Can you do other types of training to make you a better runner? And current research says yes2,3! But it’s tricky, the other type of training I’m talking about is strength training and one articlestates that no gains can be made if the load between running and strength is incorrect due to a phenomenon known as the ‘interference effect’.

Under the guidance of a strength and conditioning coach, recreational runners who followed a program that was designed for them had increases in peak running speed and increases in the strength of knee extensors (quadriceps) compared to a group which did no strength training3. Another paper focused on elite long-distance runners and they found that over a 40 week period, doing 2 strength sessions a week in a pre-season period and then once a week once the racing season had started improved running economy and VO2 max compared to the group of elite runners that didn’t do any strength training4.

And here’s another interesting thing I found relating specifically to trail running. ‘Core’ training is all the rage these day. It seems you can’t be a trail-runner without doing some sort of core training. Well, it turns out it’s actually beneficial for performance. In a study which involved ultra-runners who were part of the Italian national team found that athletes which did a combination of core training, strength training and explosive/plyometric training on alternate days decreased their cost of running5. I.e. They increased their efficiency, compared to the ultra-runners who didn’t do any core/strength training.

I suppose the take-home message is: do strength but in a certain way that doesn’t increase your injury risk or waste your time. Again, it’s beyond the scope of this article to explain different strength exercises to you, I mean Runner’s World online has about 1000 different articles as to what strength training you should do. But if you get a good coach, then he or she should be able to recommend to you what types of strength you should do and how to fit it into your training schedule.


This refers to how long you need to be exercising for. In order to improve aerobic fitness, at a minimum, each session you do needs to be at least 20 minutes. Of course, if you plan on running an ultra, you’ll be doing a few runs which last way longer than 20 minutes but it all depends on your goal. A coach will be able to guide you in the right direction.

Phew, done! I hope I’ve impressed upon you how many factors are involved in writing up a training program. It’s hard, man! I’ve messed up with myself more than a few times, but each time I do, I learn and I try not to make the same mistake again. I also hope I’ve shown why having a good coach which understands exercise prescription is an invaluable tool. It’s a lot of work writing up a training program which suits your needs and goals, and also a reason why my Exercise and Sport Science degree lasts four years. There is a lot to know to be an expert in this field.

And I think I’ll end with the most invaluable article I’ve found, a reason to be lazy. I don’t know about you, but I hate stretching. I always thought it was a waste of time, and it turns out, it is (for long-distance runners)6! A systematic review of current literature (the highest form of scientific evidence there is) has found that static stretching immediately prior to a run decreases running efficiency.

The review has also found that the majority of elite long distance runners are less flexible than their recreational counterparts, which aids the elites with hip stability. Also, there has yet to be a study which proves that stretching helps to decrease muscle soreness or indeed chronic injury levels. The authors of the review concluded that they couldn’t find any significant advantage of stretching for endurance runners. So there 😛


1: Yeo, W. K., Paton, C. D., Garnham, A. P., Burke, L. M., Carey, A. L., & Hawley, J. A. (2008). Skeletal muscle adaptation and performance responses to once a day versus twice every second day endurance training regimens. Journal of Applied Physiology, 105(5), 1462-1470. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.90882.2008

2: Hickson, R. (1980). Interference of strength development by simultaneously training for strength and endurance. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 45(2), 255-263. doi:10.1007/BF00421333

3: Taipale, S. R., Mikkola, J. J., Salo, J. T., Hokka, J. L., Vesterinen, J. V., Kraemer, J. W., . . . Häkkinen, J. K. (2014). Mixed Maximal and Explosive Strength Training in Recreational Endurance Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(3), 689-699. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a16d73

4:Beattie, P. K., Carson, C. B., Lyons, C. M., Rossiter, C. A., & Kenny, C. I. (2017). The Effect of Strength Training on Performance Indicators in Distance Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(1), 9-23. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001464

5: Giovanelli, N., Taboga, P., Rejc, E., & Lazzer, S. (2017). Effects of strength, explosive and plyometric training on energy cost of running in ultra-endurance athletes. Eur. J. Sport Sci., 17(7), 805-813. doi:10.1080/17461391.2017.1305454

6: Baxter, C., Mc Naughton, L. R., Sparks, A., Norton, L., & Bentley, D. (2017). Impact of stretching on the performance and injury risk of long-distance runners. Research in Sports Medicine, 25(1), 78-90. doi:10.1080/15438627.2016.1258640

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Dan on Twitter
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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