As you look toward assembling your training plan and goals for next season, there are several things to consider. Of course the distance of each event and how much time there is between now and the event are important, but there are additional items that you should think about when putting details to your plan.
This column contains ten things to consider when deciding how many hours per week to train, how long your longest workouts should be, how many workouts to include in each sport each week, how many key or hard workouts to include and how many workouts you should string together before giving yourself some recovery. Let's begin.
1) What is your sport history?
If you are a triathlete trying to decide how much time to devote to swimming each week, that answer will change if your sport history includes no swimming experience compared to a history of being a former collegiate swimmer. A person with a deep swimming history can swim fewer days per week and fewer hours per workout.
2) What is your current level of fitness?
How long has it been since you've broken a sweat due to sustained aerobic activity? Someone that is currently a fit runner can handle more intensity in a training plan compared to the person that hasn't done aerobic work for years. Of course if you combine item 1 with item 2, combinations of sport history and current fitness levels will change training needs as well.
3) How much job stress do you have?
While exercise is a recommended method to reduce stress, too much volume and intensity along with a very stressful job can lead to injuries and burnout.
4) What are your family obligations?
A single person with no family living in the same town has different time commitments to family than someone taking care of their own three children and aging parents. Of course a single parent has a bigger load than two parents sharing responsibilities.
5) How many social obligations do you have?
Some people are very active with volunteer organizations, church groups, youth groups and other social groups. People that have multiple social obligations need to budget time differently than people with no social obligations outside of sport.
6) How much down time or recovery time do you have in each day and week?
Too many athletes cheat on sleep. A commonly heard quote is: "I can sleep when I'm dead." Well, you can't turn in good performances and enjoy yourself when you're dead, and those stellar performances don't come without adequate rest. Sleep and recovery periods are necessary for the body to absorb the benefits of challenging training. Plan high quality recovery periods.
7) What is your injury and illness history?
People that are dealing with old or current injuries need a different training plan than someone that has bullet-proof health. Of course, people that are recovering from a recent viral or bacterial illness have different training needs than a healthy person.
8) How physical is your job?
If you spend eight to ten hours each day doing a very physical job (firefighting, mail delivery, military services, construction, etc.), your training needs are different than someone that is self-employed and sits in front of a computer all day long.
9) How much training time is available?
People often think, "Gee, I get off of work at 5:00 p.m. so I have three hours to train each day, in order to wind things down by 8:00 p.m., and I have unlimited time on the weekends." When you consider actual training time, be sure to consider all of the items listed above, commuting time, preparation before training and clean up after training. Once you consider the items listed in the column, you may find you have one hour, at the most, on three nights per week. Fortunate are those of you that have ample hours for training and recovery, in addition to the luxury of flexible workout time to cherry-pick the best weather and daylight conditions.
10) How old are you?
No athlete considers themselves "old", but the fact of the matter is that as we age, our recovery isn't as fast as a young, sub-30-year-old person. The overall training volume and intensity that brings about improvements toward sport goals differ for a 25-year-old when compared to a 65-year-old.
If you assemble your own training plan, be sure to consider life and lifestyle factors that affect training, recovery and performance. If assembling your own plan from scratch is overwhelming, you can certainly make great use of ready-to-use training plans as your starting platform. From the plan framework, you can slight adjustments to volume, intensity and frequency of workouts to meet your personal needs.