Coach Tip Tuesday: There's a Method to the Madness

Posted On:
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023
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The Mad Hatter from Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland.

Hooray! It’s Coach Tip Tuesday!

This week I’m talking about how there’s a method to the madness.  Read: I’m talking about how coaches don’t just play “pin a workout on a schedule” like you play Pin the Tail on the Donkey at kids’ parties.  Believe it or not, there’s actual thought and planning that goes into these things! :)

There are SO many factors that I consider when writing a training plan. When I write the plans for the Triathlon Program at Fleet Feet Syracuse, I consider the ability level of ALL athletes enrolled in the program since those are group plans. I need to design plans that can be scaled for any athlete, whether they’re new to triathlon, or a seasoned athlete. For my one-on-one athletes, I consider SO many individual factors: age, ability, work schedule, family schedule, training venue access (i.e. when does the athlete actually have access to facilities like a pool?), injury history, personal goals, limiters, etc.

All training plans, whether written for a group or for an individual athlete, are a careful balance of increasing load, and then allowing for recovery and adaptation; basically the coach is looking to manage stress in an athlete in the most strategic way in order to induce physiological adaptations in the body.  Doing multiple hard workouts, even in different disciplines, on the same day, generally creates a high-risk situation for most age-group athletes.  (They are more prone to injuries and overtraining this way.) 

For triathletes, learning how to run well on tired legs is a skill that is needed on race day, so long runs are usually scheduled the days after long rides.  Additionally, running tends to have the highest training load impact on and is the longest-term developmental path for most athletes (meaning that it adds the most training stress and it tends to be the discipline that takes the longest to progress in), so doing a long ride on the day after a long run may result in the athlete feeling quite tired on their ride.

For some athletes, swimming may be a high-stress workout (this is especially true for adult-onset swimmers who are afraid to put their faces in the water or who are afraid of drowning), so swims for these athletes need to be treated differently than swims incorporated into the plan of an athlete who was a high school or collegiate swimmer.  As a general rule, athletes should be wary of making drastic changes on their own to a training plan; doing so might impact some of the long-range plans that the coach had in mind when he/she designed the plan.

Both amplitude and rate of change are unique to each athlete, so in order to elicit a maximal training response, a coach needs to design a plan that is unique for each athlete who he/she is working with.  For athletes who have chosen to work one-on-one with a coach, no two training plans should ever look the same (even if the athletes are training for the same goal race), because no two athletes are ever exactly the same.  Yes, some things may be similar for athletes training for the same goal race (like which weeks are scheduled as peak weeks, taper weeks, etc.), but the specificity of the workouts should be unique to each athlete.

Training plans are very much like quilts: they are lovely to look at first glance and you can appreciate that they’re “nice,” but when you take a closer look you realize that they are really quite intricate and that there was a lot of work put into them, so you value them that much more. 

So yes, while there are days when the athletes who I work with are undoubtedly cursing my name and swearing that I’m out of my mind (they tend to do this during hard sessions ;) ), I’m not.  There’s a method to the madness of why I planned things the way I did, and it’s always, always, always with the athlete’s best interests at heart. :)

If you have questions about principles of training, about group plans versus one-on-one coaching, or about my personal coaching principles and philosophy, you all know where I am. :)


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

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