An often asked question asked of me, as a coach, is “Will I get an individual program or does one size fit all?” The answer is that one size (approach to training) does fit all athletes. Why is this?
The answer lies in the fact that human beings have a common physiology. If you want to burn fat you exercise below 70% MHR. If you want to develop speed you use 100% efforts of 6 seconds or less. If you want improve your lactate threshold (or anaerobic) threshold you complete workouts keeping your HR in the 83 to 87% range. If you want to develop specific running economy to, say, run a marathon at a pre-determined speed you spend considerable amounts of time running at that speed.
If a sprinter wants to train for 10,000m they train like a 10,000m runner regardless of how different their physiology may be. If a 10,000m runner wants to improve their 1500m time they will have to include 800m/1500m type workouts in their training program. If a person wants become a better golfer they would not be advised to hit tennis balls. If a person wants to play football they would not be advised to join a soccer club. It is NOT THE INDIVIDUAL that determines the training. It is the EVENT THEY ARE TRAINING FOR for that determines the training - something that is completely overlooked in so many articles published in running and triathlon magazines.
One ‘size’ (type of training) therefore does fit all (those training for a similar event). If an athlete wants to train for an Ironman/Ironwoman or a marathon then the philosophical framework of the training program is the same for all athletes. Where the differences come into the program is at the individual's "Balance of Attributes" level. Some athletes may have more natural or acquired speed than another, some may have more natural or acquired stamina than another, some may have a genetic advantage. Some may be able to achieve their goal simply by continuing to develop a strength while maintaining a weakness at its current level. Others may have to maintain their current level of strength while improving a weakness. IN SHORT THERE ARE ENDLESS VARIATIONS THAT MAY BE EMPLOYED WITHIN THE 'ONE SIZE FITS ALL' BUT THEY ARE ALL VERY MINOR VARIATIONS BECAUSE THE PROGRAM CANNOT MOVE OUTSIDE ITS PHILOSOPHICAL BOUNDARIES OR IT CEASES TO BE THE TYPE OF PROGRAM IT IS MEANT TO BE.
The problem of dealing with individual differences is automatically solved if testing, in the form of Time Trials, is done regularly. From the results of the tests the athlete will be given specific instructions as to what speeds they should employ in their training. For example if three athletes were to record 12:00, 11:00 and 10:00 for a 3k TT all their training paces would be different and if the workout said to run 50 minutes at LaT speed the 10:00/3k runner would be expected to run further in 50 minutes than the other two runners. It is in knowing exactly how far each should run that is critical. Thus if the 10:00/3k runner did not manage at least 14k while keeping HR below an average of 86 to 87% the coach would know he/she was tired or the conditions were not good. On the other hand the coach would consider 13k and 12k were good results from the 11:00 and 12 minute runners.
Where the one size fits all is in the fact that all athletes would be given a workout that lasted ~50 minutes. To give the slower runner less work would just mean the coach is not training that person to their capacity.
Does that mean every program is the same?
NO! Consider two Ironman athletes. Differences in their programs arise due to the following: - relative speeds (as discussed in Tony's article, above) - whether an athlete needs to improve their speed or endurance (as discussed in Tony's article, above) - any injury/medical issues each athlete may have - the commitment each athlete can make to their training (eg twice a day, once a day, etc) - the athlete's work week - eg most people have weekends free, but not everyone. One athlete's "weekend" might be Monday, Tuesday. - the date of the race - the workout two athletes do on the 1st September will be vastly different if one of them is racing IMOZ and the other is racing IMWA - correspondence/squad - as noted elsewhere, squad programs are written with a particular venue in mind (eg Anderson St hill), correspondence athletes will be told to find a hill of a certain length and given modifications if they can't find a hill of the right length or grade - willingness/ability to cycle outdoors mid-week - windtrainer alternatives are available - etc. The list of factors used to individualise a program is almost endless