Simple Training Tips - VIP Treatment

Training for sport can be complex and confusing. Overdo it and you risk injury. Underdo it and you may not get results. Here's a simple guide to help – use the VIP treatment…

You can't beat a good acronym. They make things so much easier! We've had loads in physio, popular ones like RICE (which is now POLICE) and more confusing ones like SAD, which means Sub Acromial Decompression. Or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Or Sudden Adult Death. Luckily it's pretty obvious which one's which!
My latest acronym is VIP – Volume, Intensity, Priority. It's a simple way to guide your training and avoid injury.
Training volume is basically how much you're doing. Running injuries often result from a rapid increase in volume, most commonly a big increase in weekly mileage. Most athletes have a 'breaking point' – an amount of training above which they start to experience breakdown and injury. What this level is depends on the individual and might be changeable with strength and conditioning work. Mo Farah reported runs up to 140 miles per week for example, a huge training volume but he will have taken years of gradual increase to reach that point.
In terms of injury, total training volume may not be as relevant as how quickly it's increased.Some studies have even suggested running high mileage may have a small protective effect. A general recommendation is the 10% rule – increase weekly mileage by a maximum of 10%. This can be helpful but has its limitations – it may not work with very low or very high mileage. A step-up, step back approach of building up for 3-4 weeks then stepping back with a lower mileage week can be very effective.
Another important aspect to consider is frequency of exercise. I've put this within volume, partly because I couldn't find anywhere to fit the “F” in the acronym! How frequently you exercise per week with affect how many rest days you have and how well you recover. If using a high frequency programme plan your rest days carefully to allow recovery after longer or harder sessions. You may need to plan your week to mix up activities and the load on various tissues;

Varying intensity through the week
Training intensity is essentially how hard you're working in each session. The most common thing for people to vary is speed but adding in hills is also a common way of increasing intensity. In addition you can vary the mixture of running and resting within an interval session by increasing the length of the run and/ or reducing the rest period. Some may choose to mix these variables up to create particularly tough sessions like hill repeats.
The challenge with training intensity is finding the right level for your training goals and tailoring it to prepare you best for your next race. In general for distance runners the majority of your work should be low to medium intensity. I usually recommend an 80:20 split of low to high intensity training. You might be surprised to know that a similar split is used by elite athletes who do a lot of their training at slower speeds. The exception might be some of the East African athletes who are famed for their high intensity 'bone breaking' sessions. They may work closer to a 60:40 split but many of these athletes have been running daily since childhood and their bodies have adapted to this level.
In terms of training what do you need right now? What is your top priority? Is it speed or endurance? Is it strength, control or flexibility work? Is it rehab for a lingering injury? Is it actually rest? How does this link in with your plan over the next 6-8 weeks?
I'll use myself as an example. I have a couple of persistent niggles that I want to deal with prior to my marathon training really starting up in January. To do this I need to strengthen my left leg as it is weaker, especially in the quads. I have a reasonable baseline fitness – I can comfortably run a half marathon. So my priority now is rehab and build strength. What this means is that I need to work on strength and conditioning as a priority, even if it means dropping a run or two. I'll keep the mileage ticking over, maybe do a little speed work but it isn't my priority at the moment.
Each training session needs to have one goal and the overall balance of your training should work towards achieving your priorities. Try to stick to just one goal per training session, for example trying to gain endurance and speed by doing your long run too quickly is a common mistake.
Closing thoughts: really the aim of this piece wasn't to give specific advice on training variables but rather to just encourage people to consider the overall structure of their training and its impact on their body. It probably just comes down to asking yourself three simple questions;
  • Am I doing the right amount?
  • Am I working at the right level?
  • Am I doing the right stuff?
Here's one of my snazzy diagram things to summarise;
 Contributed by Tom Goom, BSc, MCSP


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