How do I become a Fitter, Faster, Better Cyclist or Runner (Chapter 3)?
Chapter 3: The detailed plan
In this chapter we will briefly think about the psychological aspects of sport that can help you meet your goals. Then we will develop add the details to your plan so that you have a day by day plan to reach your goal. If you want to get on with planning you can leave the mental side of things until later but spending some time on considering how you think and approach your training will pay dividends in the long run, so taking a few minutes to read through the section on psychology would be a great first step, also making your training more enjoyable and effective.
Sports psychology point 1:
Do some exercise, it is good for you
The fundamental thing about regular exercise is that it is good for both our minds and our bodies. There are numerous scientific papers and practical data documenting the benefits of exercise in helping depression, anxiety and many other psychological difficulties.
Of course there is a catch and clearly, obsessive and excessive exercise can be detrimental both physically and psychologically. Focusing on the wrong things, getting hung up on results, beating yourself up about missing a training session or being a bit over the weight you would like to be can be very negative. However, in general, if you have a well thought out plan to reach an achievable and challenging goal, sport and exercise will be of great benefit to you.
It is also worth making a habit of some things that are easily done and of fantastic benefit to both your mental wellbeing and your training.
Sports psychology point 2:
Do 10 minutes mindful meditation on your breathing each day
Spending a few minutes each day observing your breathing, “mindfulness meditation”, will calm your mind and have lasting benefits throughout your days. There are many great articles on mindfulness but basically it is just a case of closing your eyes and concentrating on your breathing, when your mind drifts, which it will, accept this and gently refocus yourself. Just 3 to 10 minutes each day will make a difference.
Note: You can also teach this to your friends, family and colleagues to make their lives better and bring an air of calm to those that surround you - it is good to be surrounded by relaxed, happy friends. Just a thought.
Sports psychology point 3:
Develop and practice your winning image
Next, develop what is known as a winning image. This is an image of you successfully completing your goal. Spend some time on this now. Imagine yourself meeting your goal: how will it feel; what will you do; what will it sound like; what will you see and hear... spend some time making this image very clear. Make it more vivid by imagining the colours in the image bright and happy, make the smells and sounds powerful and positive and feel the happiness of your success. I bet you are starting to smile about it now.
You can use the winning image when things get a bit tough, as I’m sure they will at times. Maybe you don’t want to do your training or the last part of a session is getting tough - if you visualise the winning image you will feel motivated and realise it will be worth it. You can also use it before and during your target event to keep you focused and positive.
You now have 3 very powerful tools to help get your mind right: exercise regularly; mindful meditation and the winning image.
It can be a good idea and very helpful to spend a few minutes before each training session being mindful of your breathing, then focusing on your planned training session and then on your winning image. You are likely to find this of tremendous benefit to feeling positive, enjoying your training and getting the most out of each session.
Getting into the detail - the detailed plan:
What was your priority need to reach your goal and what was the training you planned in Chapter 2 to meet your goal? You will need to keep this in mind since it is the focus of your training.
A weekly plan
Most athletes I know and have worked with prefer to have a routine. Some don’t but most do. Even at the elite / full-time level where the daily priority is training it is often practical and useful to fit into a weekly routine. For this reason we will work with a weekly routine but the principles can be applied to however you prefer to organise your training and many people work with a two-week or even a 10 day cycle.
The first step is to work out how much time you can devote to training and when. A good way to do this is to write down your weekly commitments. You can do this as two lists; things you definitely have to do and can’t change, like going to work perhaps; and things that you may be able to change or adjust to accommodate your training.
If you do this for each day of the week you can start to get a picture of how much time you have available and when.
For example you might have: Monday
8am: get up and get ready for work
8:30am to 6pm: work, including travel to and from work
11pm: go to bed
No doubt you will have a few more commitments but in this case, on Monday you have between 6pm and 11pm to do some training, eat and do whatever else you may need to do in the evenings - so maybe you have time for up to an hour of training on a Monday evening.
As you build up this picture of your week you can see where you might fit training in and also where you may be able to adjust your schedule.
There are lots of ways to fit training into the day. Be creative - for example many people find that combining exercise with their daily journey to work is a good way of using up almost no time from the day with many other benefits. Many offices have showers and secure bike parking available nowadays.
Don’t be over ambitious with time. It is easy to be over optimistic with time.
In fact it is usual to be over optimistic with time so be careful.
Now you have a good idea of your weekly commitments, how much time you have for training and how it can fit into your week.
The training plan
If you are going to have a weekly routine it is best to plan one week first and then make the others similar.
The first thing to do is put in the most important sessions, maybe you have two; the key session that you created in Chapter 2 and something that is a bit longer and more relaxed that allows you to have fun with your sport and build up some stamina.
These sessions are likely to be tiring so you need recovery before and after them. Remember the train, rest and recovery chart from Chapter 2. It is also best to make sure you have plenty of time to do these sessions properly so a bit of space before and after is good. Weekends can be good times to do key sessions but if you have children it may be easier at other times. Again, be creative.
Another thing to bear in mind is if you like to train with a club, it is often good to keep your key sessions a day or so apart from those sessions, unless of course they are your key sessions but then you may lose some control and the training may not be right for your goal. It is important to think about your priorities and needs.
Once you have the key sessions in place you can think about what else you might do.
In general it is true that the more training/practice you do, the more efficient you become at your chosen activity. Your body gets better at what you practice. This is of course making sure that you don’t become over-tired and that you are properly rested for your key sessions.
There are also the psychological benefits of exercise - remember Sports psychology point 1:
Do some exercise, it is good for you...
It is therefore good to fit in some easy exercise around your key training sessions. You can also add some things like stretching, and yoga is great for this as well as helping with mental relaxation.
Here is an example:
If you are a cyclist aiming to do a 10 mile time trial in 28 minutes; your primary key session may be to build up from 4 x 5 minute efforts at a bit faster than your target pace with 2 minutes rest after each one, to 6 x 5 minute efforts with 1 minute rests over a 6 week period. You may do this on Tuesday or Wednesday for example.
Your second main session of the week may be to ride for an hour at a good pace. As an aside, you may want to try and find a good group to do this since cycling with a good group that rides at a consistent pace is an excellent way to build your cycling fitness. You may do this on a Saturday or Sunday.
You may choose to find a midweek 10 mile time trial and ride that as specific training with a harder session of say 4 to 6 x 3 minutes with 2 minutes recovery to help build your tolerance to faster paced riding. This decision will be based on the needs you identified in Chapters 1 and 2.
So you would do one of your key sessions on say Tuesday or Wednesday and one on Saturday or Sunday with some easier riding in between if you have time and energy. Make sure you are properly rested before each of the two main sessions of the week.
A typical week might be:
Monday - rest day with some stretching/yoga
Tuesday or Wednesday - 10 mile time trial or hard session
Wednesday and Thursday some fun riding to build your endurance and overall fitness
Friday - easy/rest day
Saturday - your other key session
Sunday - Long ride with friends, time with family, whatever you can manage
The overall plan
Now you have planned your standard week the next step is to plan each week up to reaching your goal. A good duration for a training plan like this is 6 to 8 weeks because that is a good period of time to make a physiological change (let’s assume 6 weeks). For bigger events you will have several blocks of 6 to 8 weeks to form your overall plan.
As you improve your strength and fitness you can make your training a bit harder but also you want to be well rested for your goal at the end of the 6 weeks. To do this you increase your training for the first few weeks and then reduce it over the final week or two to allow your body to adapt and recover for the big day.
For the cyclist we mentioned above your key session could be 4 x 5 minutes hard (a bit faster than race pace) with 2 minutes rest (in future I will put recoveries in square brackets so 2 minutes rest is [2’]) in the first week and in subsequent weeks 4 x 5’ [2’], 5 x 5’ [90s], 5 x 5’ [1’], 6 x 5’[1’] and 3 x 5’[1’] in the final week.
The second main session, the 1 hour ride at a good pace stays at the same level of effort although the pace is likely to increase with fitness. This is a secondary session and well over distance so there is no need to aim to build this further. You would miss the 1 hour ride or just do a half hour in your final week to be fully rested for the big day.
Now you have the basis of a 6-week plan that you can use to meet your goal. It is good to write this down so you know what you are doing each week.
Also bear in mind that things rarely go exactly to plan so don't worry if things don’t quite happen how you have planned. It doesn’t mean you won’t meet your goal. If you get ill or miss the odd session don’t worry; the important thing is to be consistent. Don’t try to catch up by doing sessions you missed, but just get back on track - otherwise you are likely to get over-tired and then into the over-training condition we mentioned in Chapter 2.
Keeping track of it all, is it working?
It is a good idea to have some measures of how things are going. There are several ways to do this:
Keep a diary and particularly note down the results of your key session each week;
Take your resting heart rate each morning, you can do this by feeling your pulse and counting how many beats in a minute or there are a number of Apps that will do this with your phone if you have a ‘smart phone’; Azumio are good ones;
Think about how energised you feel each morning when you wake up and note that in your diary;
Get weighed each morning or at the same time each week and note that in your diary;
If your heart rate is unusually high then it may be a good idea to take a rest and either postpone the days training or give it a miss.
Any sudden change in weight can be a warning sign. Losing weight too fast is not good, you are losing muscle, not fat if you lose more than say a pound a week and you won’t be able to train properly in the long run and could make yourself ill.
Other signs of tiredness are being more irritable and grumpy than usual for no reason.
If you aren’t sure about being too tired to train it is usually a good idea to go out and see how you feel. If you feel bad or can’t go as fast as planned then do less, go slower or just go home; you will benefit from the rest.
Over training is much worse than too little training so be careful
You now have a plan - get out there and start training.
Good luck, have fun and please let me know what you think or ask if you have questions.