The Most Important Requirement of Training

The Most Important Requirement of Training

The most important requirement of training to optimize your performance is:

Training = Stress + Rest

This formula is simple for both the runner and coach, but hardest to accept by most runners. Athletes do not like to accept that their improvements come during the body’s recovery, not during the workout.  Every training stress must be followed by an appropriate rest period in order for the body and mind to optimally increase its fitness.  This might mean only resting certain muscles while applying stress to others, but for runner’s, it typically a recovery time for the entire body.

I do not know who first put forth this theory but it has been repeated and refined through many experienced coaches and physiologists.  The stress part of the equation is far better understood than the quantity and quality of the rest.

As coaches and athletes, we focus only on the “stress” part of the equation – the workouts, the mileage, and the races and often ignore the “rest” component – days off, easy running, cross-training, sleep, nutrition, relaxation.  But, in order to advance your fitness, you must balance both. The greater the quantity or quality of stress, then the more rest you will require.

Too many runners under value rest after hard training and racing and thus miss the benefits of the workout and may place themselves at risk for injury.  We focus on training too much, too hard, or both and can take a step backwards in fitness.

The stress/rest cycle is a moving target that challenges both the coach and the runner as there are so many factors that can affect either part of the equation.  Even with the best planning, a bad night’s rest, hard day at work, or even a missed meal can throw off the delicate balance. 

Good and bad days are often not predictable, but must be dealt with as a part of training, primarily the stress/rest balance.  Factors that are part of the stress factor are: Intensity of run/workout

  • Duration of workout
  • Intensity of workout
  • Preparedness for the run/workout
    • Fueling
    • Hydration
    • Aches, pains, injuries
  • Non-running factors
    • Heat / Humidity
    • Terrain
    • Life/Work stress
    • Health status

Each can contribute to making the stress portion higher, but can also subtract from the recovery after the workout.  For example, a higher stress level at work makes the workout harder and may hinder sleep and thus recovery.  It’s an ongoing evaluation to determine the level of stress you want from the day and the level for stress you got from the day and how that affects the recovery part of the equation.  As we all know, sometimes the tough workouts are a great reliever of life stress, but I believe they still add to the recovery that an athlete needs.  While we feel better after the workout, we still had to push harder to overcome the life stress and complete the workout.

While we have a good recovery plan, family and work responsibilities may get in the way.  You may have 48 hours between your track workout and the next tempo run planned.  However, if a family emergency occurs, you may not get the planned rest and need to make workout changes.  Even for a teenage athlete, school can throw challenges into a training plan with an unanticipated assignment.  That is when workouts can be changed carefully to ensure the balance is maintained.

Keeping this balance is the secret to success. You should feel able to adjust your training on the fly and must be honest with your coach so he can help you make the right changes to keep your training on track.  We are always told to “listen to your body”, but that means learning the difference between workout soreness and an injury, and being willing to sit out a workout for your own good.

Training plan requirements for optimal results:

  • You need a training plan that has time for adjustments.  This means having enough time to train to the level you want to reach with time to skip a few workouts for whatever reason.
  • You need to feel able to make reasonable adjustments.  It is acceptable to re-arrange workouts and even skip one from time to time.  However, if this happens every week, perhaps you need to replan.
  • You need an easy way to make adjustments.  The automated coaching software available today makes it easy to drag-and-drop workouts as you need to make changes.  However, it is important to work with your coach to be sure you are keeping the required recovery in your plan.
  • Balancing the stress/rest cycle doesn’t mean you never train hard. Many people think it means you never train hard. This is a balancing act, you must train hard and recover hard!