Coach Tip Tuesday: Self-Coached Athlete Mistakes: Incorrect Sequencing

Posted On:
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023
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A visual representation of what training looks like if you don't get the sequencing right.

Last week I kicked off a series of Coach Tip Tuesdays that are focusing on the most common mistakes I observe self-coached athletes making.  This week, we’re going to talk about the second-most common mistake I see: Incorrect sequencing.

What is Workout Sequencing?

Workout sequencing can refer to a few different scenarios in an athlete’s training, but what I’m talking about here is the sequence of workouts over the long arc of an athlete’s training.  Basically, what I’m referring to is the sequence of workouts that are planned week over week or month over month.  These workouts are planned in a specific sequence that - when completed - enables the athlete to build the skills, fitness, and durability that they need to do subsequent workouts in their training.

As I have said many times over the years, one of the biggest jobs I have as a coach is to rein athletes in when it’s warranted to keep them safe, engaged, and progressing toward their goals in a healthy way.  Because their tendency is generally to do more (whether that “more” comes in the form of volume, intensity, or both), one of the challenges that self-coached athletes face is determining the correct sequencing of workouts and/or things to include in their training.

I’ll be honest and say that it took me many years of coaching and studying endurance sports to really hone in on what the correct sequencing of things is for athletes.  It’s not something you can learn by reading a single article, a single book, or even by attending a webinar/learning session with an experienced coach.  Learning what sequencing is optimal is something that comes with time and experience.  (That’s a fancy and kind way to say it’s learned via trial and error.)

Especially in this age of internet and social media - where we have access to so much information - it can be extremely challenging for athletes to decipher what advice and knowledge is good and what is not.  (Remember: Information is not necessarily knowledge.)  Additionally, even if the knowledge or advice is sound, it’s very hard for athletes to determine if that advice is actually applicable to them.

In some cases, the information that athletes consume and learn might be applicable to them.  In other cases, it may not be applicable to them yet.  And in still other cases, that knowledge (again, no matter how sound or factual that it is) may actually never be applicable to that specific athlete. 

Learning Correct Sequencing Takes Time

One of the benefits of hiring a coach is that you get that experience working for you without having to spend the time and energy to acquire that specific knowledge yourself.  Self-coached athletes have no choice but to try things, and then see if they work.  Their coaching experience is very often limited to just their own experiences.  Coaches, on the other hand, learn from each and every athlete they coach (including themselves) and therefore have a bigger data pool to glean experience from.

All too often, I observe athletes trying to complete higher-level workouts before they are ready for them.  In many cases, the athletes cannot even recognize that the workout is a higher-level workout.  When and if the workout becomes a problem (or when and if the athlete fails the workout or has a training hiccup), they are often left asking themselves, “Why?” and never getting a conclusive answer…all because they don’t have the breadth of experience to know that they were trying to run (sometimes quite literally) before they were able to crawl well.

There are many times when athletes attempt something before they are physiologically ready to handle the load of what they are trying to do.  Here are some common sequencing mistakes I observe athletes making (this is by no means an exhaustive list of all sequencing mistakes):

  • Adding too much weight to a strength training exercise
  • Attempting a particular strength training exercise or adding weight to a strength training exercise without having mastering the foundational movement first (this includes when athletes do not use or are unable to maintain proper form)
  • Attempting to do speedwork (in any discipline, but most frequently in running) before they are durable enough to handle the intensity load that speedwork requires
  • Attempting to do speedwork before building endurance
  • Attempting to build endurance (in any discipline) before they are mechanically sound enough to be able to handle that amount of volume
  • Moving to a training block (such as Competition Phase) without having thoroughly and successfully completed previous blocks (such as Base Phase or Build Phase)
  • Attempting to execute a workout in a progression of workouts without first having successfully completed the first workouts in the progression
  • Attempting certain types of workouts or disciplines without having first established an appropriate range of mobility and flexibility
  • Doing what should be the Main Sets of a workout without doing a dynamic Warm-Up and a discipline-specific Warm-Up

In almost all circumstances, it’s better to start easy.  And when I say easy, I mean easy.  If you think something looks too easy, you’re probably starting at the right point.  Remember: There is nothing wrong with feeling great.  So check your ego at the door and do the easy thing.  If that goes well, you can manipulate one of the variables (duration or intensity) and progress the workout from there.  Additionally, be sure to do the extras; they lay down the foundation that enables you to progress through subsequent training milestones.

The Bottom Line

If you’ve been injured in the past and/or you’re not progressing in your training and/or not closing the gap on hitting your goals, you may want to take a look at the sequencing of your training. If you don’t understand what you’re looking for, now may be a good time to sit down and have a conversation with a coach (even if you don’t hire them to write a plan for you or coach you all the time). Sequencing is one of the most important aspects of training plan design and should be thoughtfully considered along the path to any goal you set for yourself.

About

Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at laura@fullcircleendurance.com.

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