Coach Tip Tuesday: There is Still a Method to the Madness
“Coach Coach Laura Henry, did you mean to put this [insert workout or interval here] on my training schedule?”
Almost all of the time (we’re talking like 98.7% or more of the time), my answer to that question is a resounding “Yes”. I wrote a Coach Tip Tuesday nearly five years ago that talked about how there is a method to the madness. This week, I’m following that idea up with this one:
There is still a method to the madness.
While some coaching software actually does allow for algorithms to be used to auto-generate a schedule of workouts (and make it appear to the athlete that the schedule is personalized and written by a real human), this is not something I have ever done in my time as a coach. I don’t usually deal in absolutes, but this is a very appropriate time to deploy one. I have not EVER done that.
Each and every training schedule or training plan that I’ve written for athletes who have hired me for Performance Coaching or Custom-Built Training Plans has started with a blank slate that I have personally filled in thoughtfully and intentionally. Though they are not personalized, the Pre-Built Training Plans that I’ve written are also thoughtfully planned out with elements that I know can serve athletes well as they prepare for a given race. The same can be said of any good coach who has an athlete-centered approach to their coaching business.
Whether it was me or a different coach who who wrote your training schedule, here’s an important truth to embrace:
There is a reason why the coach who wrote the schedule or plan wrote things the way they did. This includes, but is not limited to:
What days which workouts are planned on
The type of workouts that are planned on a particular day
The content and structure of each workout
The sequence of workouts on a given day if there are two or more workouts planned for a single day
“Extras” that are planned on a given day (such as warm-ups, mobility work, stretching, etc.)
Building on this, here’s one of the hardest truths for athletes to accept:
If you alter the plan, you alter the plan. Changing something in the plan changes how the plan works. If you edit, move, or swap workouts, it may “check the box” in terms of “getting it done”, but it will not have the same impact (and potentially, result) that the original schedule was intended to. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that getting something done - even if differently than planned - counts the same as if you had done it as planned.
Yes, life happens. And things may need to be changed in a training schedule. This is okay! Honestly, it’s even expected. There are many times when something is better than nothing. That is true AND this is true, too:
The change will never - and I mean never - be the same as the original schedule. For instance, even if you end up completing the same workout that was planned on a different day from when it was scheduled, the snowball effect from that change will not be the same as if you had done things as they were originally planned. It’s as simple and as tough as that.
Athletes - and, in my experience, especially age-group athletes - like to try to double up to make up. What drives the “why” behind this is different for each athlete. Some athletes cannot handle it if a workout turns red (meaning that it wasn’t completed). Other athletes don’t like the feeling that they didn’t do something, so they “do” it even if it means that doing it ultimately carries a higher cost than not doing it.
No matter the reason behind doubling up to make up: Thinking that you can successfully do this is a false narrative. Simply put: You cannot load into four days what should have happened in six. It’s a dangerous road to go down, especially since you may get away with it for a bit if you attempt to do it. And getting away with it perpetuates the myth that it’s okay. However, once this plays out again and again, it adds up over time, and ultimately, it will result in an overload, usually in the form of an injury.
If things pop up that cause you to miss workouts and/or you are time-limited overall, you need to accept that you will be doing less overall. This means that other athletes who have more time available may be doing more and different training than you are. It also means that you may not achieve the results you want to and/or that your results may differ from other athletes who are in your competitive group (age group, classification, etc.). This is important to accept, as you simply cannot safely and effectively cram that same volume of training into the limited time you do have available.
The intent of any training plan is to balance stress (workouts and life stress - they both count!) with appropriate ratios of recovery and rest to help an athlete safely reach their goals. Stress + Rest = Growth. (Aka The Growth Equation.) Alter part of this equation, and the result can (and likely will) change to be something other than “growth.” (Spoiler: It won’t be a positive something.)
So if your workout has a particular structure or intervals that are planned, there is a reason for that. If your schedule is laid out in a particular sequence, there is a reason for that. If there are rest days in your schedule, there is a reason for that. If there is mobility work and warm-ups in your schedule, there is a reason for that. If something is not included in your schedule, there is a reason for that.
It will be the truth as long as athletes are training and racing: There is still a method to the madness. If you can embrace this as true, your long-term results will speak for themselves.
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.