the joy of strength training


September 18th, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Planning your training


Now that summer is over (did it ever really begin?) I am planning my autumn/winter training. This is a process that starts with ideas and goal-setting and ends up with a weekly training schedule. Because I am involved in so many sports and activities, this process can take quite a lot of mulling as I attempt to prioritise and be honest with myself, along the lines of “Gubes, there’s no point scheduling a run at 6am three times a week because you won’t get out of bed!”When I am developing a new schedule, I stick to a few basic principles:

  • Set achievable goals
  • Set a timescale that is neither too short or too long; around three months is good
  • Allow sufficient recovery
  • Don’t do too much too soon, build gradually
  • At Christmas ask Santa for new kit

But every season is also an opportunity to do things a little differently. Here are a few ideas that I have tried in the past, with varying degrees of success. Got any others you want to share?

1. Plan over a two-week cycle instead of a one-week cycle

I adopted this when I was doing a lot of power-lifting and was having trouble fitting in enough recovery time from heavy sessions around the other things I wanted to do. I decided to alternate between a heavy week and a lighter week. In the heavy week I had more recovery, and in the lighter week I was able to do more cardio, sports and so on.

How well did it work? It was ok but it made the planning and scheduling more complicated. There was some trial and error before I found a cycle I was happy with. It was useful when training for different goals simultaneously, e.g. doing cross-country running races and trying to increase my deadlift.

2. Training twice a day

This is useful when you have several training goals or if you are doing a multi-sport event. Rather than one long session, break up your training into shorter sessions, such as one in the morning and one in the evening. I have used this when maintaining (as opposed to significantly improving) multiple skills and activities. For example, a ring training session at lunchtime followed by a run or a row in the evening. Training twice a day needs to be approached with care. It is possible to develop little injuries and niggles or just become over-tired. Scaling back every few weeks is a good idea.

How well did it work? Psychologically it is good because you feel like you are getting a lot done. But although I started well, I found it hard to keep up. Firstly, it was time-consuming from a logistical point of view: if I was doing two sessions in a day but not coming home between sessions, I needed to make sure I had all the right equipment and clothing with me. This method is probably easier for people who always train from home or those who have the ability to get changed or store things at work; basically anything that makes the logistics easier. I also think that this method works better for short, sharp training sessions such as a 10-minute met-con. ‘Normal’ length sessions twice a day do tell on you eventually.
Grim challenge training

3. Coaching

Consider getting some coaching or lessons to set you on your way or give some pointers for improvement. It may save time and effort in the long run. I have got myself some coaching in the past for activities that I find technically challenging, such as Olympic weightlifting and swimming.

How well did it work? It made a big difference. Even a single session can solve some key problems and set you on the right track. One or two coaching sessions won’t break the bank and could save months of struggling to make progress. It’s good to be honest with yourself about where you need help and what you would get out of it. You can find coaching either through a local club or through the sport’s governing body. A personal trainer or a group class can also be useful if the instructor really knows their stuff.

4. Getting diet and recovery right

When I am planning a new training period, I try to take account of my diet, supplements, rest and sleep as well. I usually plan my diet, rather than making vague promises to myself to “eat more vegetables” or “drink less alcohol”. I also avoid drastic measures such as giving up caffeine (which is drastic for me) as I don’t want them to be a two-week flash in the pan. I try my best to get as much sleep as possible. Strength coach Dan John says,

“Sleep…is the single best weight loss too, muscle gain tool, training tool, life tool, I have ever encountered…It is free, try it!”

How well does it work? It is essential to consider these aspects and it makes an enormous difference. Often I end up letting one aspect slide, such as not getting enough sleep, and my performance suffers as a result. Diet is also more significant than many people think. Cutting down on starchy carbohydrate and upping the vegetables, for example, seems to give one more energy. Diet and supplementation might take a bit of trial and error to get right but is worth the effort.

5. Do what is hard

I’ve talked about this before, but I find that the most progress is made when you do stuff that is hard and horrible and even scares you a little bit! The success of a training plan is based on how often you train when you really don’t want to or don’t feel like it. You develop motivation reminders and cues to make sure that you do your sessions.  My mental cue for when it gets hard is “this is where it counts”. The easy stuff is not what makes the difference.

How well did it work? I don’t want to sound weird about it, but when I eventually (after a few years of what I thought was training) learnt what it felt like to push yourself harder than you thought possible and come out the other side, it was a revelation. Training-wise, I haven’t looked back.There is no doubt that if you want to make serious progress you need to go through a bit of pain. There is nothing wrong with training for fun, but you also need to push yourself otherwise you are running just to stand still. As Coach Rippetoe says,

Only people willing to work to the point of discomfort on a regular basis using effective means to produce that discomfort will actually look like they have been other-than-comfortable most of the time. You can thank the muscle magazines for these persistent misconceptions, along with the natural tendency of all normal humans to seek reasons to avoid hard physical exertion.”

Read more

Stumble it! Share Subscribe to this blog
  • 1

    Good luck with your fall and winter training plans. Nice outline there! How have you been?

    MonkeyMan on September 21st, 2008
  • 2

    Hi Monkeyman! I’ve been well, thanks. Recently just enjoying my activities with no particular aim other than having fun. However, I’ve decided to do a powerlifting competition at the end of the year so that will give a focus to my training for the next few months.

    Hope your training is going well too!

    gubernatrix on September 21st, 2008
  • 3

    What were you doing in that headstand photo? Were you practicing for handstand pushups? Is that something you could/would blog about, training for handstand pushups? If so, I would be really interested to learn the progression…Zoey

    zoey on September 23rd, 2008
  • 4

    As luck would have it, Zoey, I have already blogged about handstand push-ups here:

    That photo was taken at a seminar run by Crossfit London. They have recently put all their seminars into one super-duper day-long seminar called the i-Course, which I am reviewing in November, so watch this space for more…

    gubernatrix on September 23rd, 2008
  • 5

    Thanks Gube! I’ll keep an eye out for your review.

    zoey on September 25th, 2008
  • 6

    Good luck with the comp! My training is going ok. I’ve been taking it really light the past couple months due to
    some elbow troubles.
    Just recently started working with a sandbag again. Biggest thing I’m trying to focus on lately is diet. Not been good! LOL

    MonkeyMan on October 13th, 2008


RSS feed for comments on this post | TrackBack URI