Beware of training pitfalls

Written by Christer Wernhult. 

At the start of a new season, our training motivation is, for obvious reasons, at its peak. We like to receive confirmation that our fitness is improving and are often eager to step up our training for upcoming challenges.

This is, of course, fundamentally positive, but at the same time, there is an obvious risk that we "tighten the bow" in this period. If we do not have a long-term and balanced perspective on our training, it is easy for us to end up skewed in our training plans. Either the body is unable to assimilate the training, because too high-intensity load becomes destructive instead of constructive, or we have an injury, which forces us to interrupt the training. Perhaps the most common, however, is that we simply don't have the mental strength to manage a training plan, which becomes too ambitious.

Whether it's physical or mental signs of too quickly increased training load that first make themselves known, it's important to understand which training errors trigger the problems. These can often be traced to five different factors.

Too much too fast

As already indicated above, it is usually our lack of long-term, which means that we do not get the desired performance improvement from our training. In many other contexts in our daily existence, we are used to a quick response to most things we do. A few quick taps on a keyboard or a smartphone will fix most things that we want to accomplish in our high-tech everyday life. Also in the context of training, there has been a lot of talk lately that high-intensity training produces rapid performance improvements.

However, our bodies work physiologically in the same way as when we lived hunting and fishing many thousands of years ago. Developing our physical performance is a long, patient process. Since each ground contact during running involves a load of approximately three times our body weight, we must gradually get used to handling such stresses. However, if the body is given time to build up its strength, it can handle quite impressive levels of stress – even for a considerable length of time. But then we have to hurry slowly.

If you are a beginner or if you have taken a longer break in your running training during the winter, it is especially important to increase the load in a controlled manner and to ensure sufficient recovery between training sessions. Different individuals have different genetic conditions for being able to assimilate running training, but the starting point should never be to train as much as you can manage in each training session. The feeling that there is always some reserve power left after a completed training session is a good rule of thumb.

If you empty yourself during a single training session, it will have negative consequences for the next training session. This is especially noticeable during a build-up period, where the aim is to lay a stable foundation with the help of a large amount of training.

Too one-sided training

For our training to be done regularly, it must be easily accessible. In plain language, this means that we should not have to travel long distances to special training facilities, but that we can run where we live - or in connection with work or other places, where we regularly stay.

However, this does not mean that we should always run the same familiar training round. Both the body and brain need variety for training to be stimulating. Therefore, make sure to vary short and longer training sessions, choose different surfaces and sometimes run in hilly terrain. Vary the running pace during the build-up period by regularly adding a so-called fartlek, where you switch between slow distance speed and slightly faster sections in a spontaneous irregular pattern.

Constantly running the same training lap at a steady pace may work as a way to maintain a certain level of fitness, but it is not optimal training for improving performance. Namely, the body adapts to precisely the load it is exposed to. It builds capacity to cope with the current distance at a certain familiar running pace and is not challenged to develop capacity beyond this. Therefore, make sure to always alternate long, hard training sessions with short, lighter training units or pure rest days.

Wrong training group

Training with other runners is an excellent motivation booster and adds a nice social dimension to our training. If the group training is to help you develop as a runner, you must end up in the "right team".

It is not only important that the group is fairly homogeneous, i.e. that everyone has roughly the same running capacity. At least as important is that the group agrees on the purpose of the training sessions and carries out these according to an agreed plan.

The risk with all group training is that one or a few runners would like to test their ability against others in the group. The training sessions become internal power measurements instead of training sessions, where you help and support each other. Repeatedly completing distance workouts at an excessively high pace does not make the training more effective - if anyone thought so. Instead, the result is usually that the body does not have time to recover sufficiently for the next training session and we end up in a negative spiral, which in the long run means that the training becomes destructive instead of constructive.

Therefore, choose your training partners with care. In addition to having similar training goals as you, you should share the basic philosophy of group training. Training should primarily be a help to develop together, not a way to measure the forces against each other.

Training is out of sync with the puzzle of life

It's easy to think that successful training only depends on what we do during our training sessions. In reality, however, the final training effect is not determined solely by the training work itself. Much of what we do in our everyday lives also influences how we develop as runners.

If we are careless with diet, sleep and other recovery or if we live an extremely stressful life, our training sessions do not give the optimal effect. Therefore, we must plan our training so that it is balanced against everything else that we do in our daily lives.

If you feel that you are not getting the progress from your training that you expected, it is far from certain that you should modify the training itself. Just as often, there are factors in everyday life that need to be adjusted so that you can better utilise your training.

If we want to get the best out of the time and energy we put into our running, it is about us being willing to adopt a particular lifestyle. It does not mean at all that we have to live as ascetics. Rather, it means that we can see and understand the connections between our training and what we do when we are not training.

Lack of supplementary training

Historically, performance in running has been closely linked to the body's ability to transport oxygen. Factors such as maximum oxygen ( VO2 max) absorption capacity and high lactic acid threshold have long been considered decisive for how quickly we can run longer distances. Only in recent years have we realised that factors such as strength, mobility, coordination and balance also have given a place in a complete training plan for runners. Correct technical performance of the running movement itself has also received more attention and is now recommended as an important component of effective running training.

There is both a direct performance-enhancing effect and an injury-prevention aspect of supplementing your running. How much strength, mobility and running technique the individual runner should include in their training plan is individual.

However, with the relatively sedentary existence that is the normal state in the Western world, it would be naive to think that we can only focus on exercise that stimulates the circulatory system (read running). We also need to spend time improving muscle strength, coordination and strength to be able to utilize the running training itself.

Many ambitious training plans fail precisely because our muscles, tendons, bone tissue and joint cartilage cannot cope with the load that regular running entails. Unless you're a Kenyan or Ethiopian, who laid a solid foundation by running to and from school every day, it's wise to set aside time for supplemental exercise. This type of training is often called "prehab". If we don't understand the importance of it, sooner or later we run into injury problems and are instead forced into "rehab" training. Even many East African runners, despite their good basic conditions for long-distance running, actually make time for appropriate supplemental training.