Training Plan Components for Middle Distance Runners

Posted by Scott Christensen

Everything important in life deserves a plan.  But what really is a plan?  There should be general components in a training plan, these can than be mixed with specific directions and could lead to an attainable goal or end-result to the plan.  It is also important psychologically, developmentally, and strategically to have the plan in writing.  Putting words and numbers on paper somehow makes a plan seem more permanent, more real, and more personal.

Training a middle-distance runner is an intricate activity that balances aerobic work with anaerobic work. Because these are combined zone races, an athlete benefits from the development of a plan that addresses the specificity of the physiological demand of middle-distance running.  It takes a great deal of effort over an extended period of time to train an athlete properly.  An inventory of the athlete’s skills will reveal key components to use in constructing an individualized training plan.  These points will help in some of the specific direction to follow on a day to day basis.  There is also the necessity to understand general training principles that apply to human performance in general, and middle-distance runners in particular, when implementing a plan.  These principles show humans for what they are: not tremendously skilled at any one bio-motor skill, but with great ability to physically adapt if stimulated properly.  This adaptation capability is based on a combination of physical traits that are both common to mammals, and specific to humans.  It is also based on the human brains ability to understand long-term rewards and what it takes to physically, psychologically, and socially achieve these rewards.

Training theory in athletics has been heavily researched.  Through a combination of academic research and related application, ten important principles have been identified to help coaches achieve an understanding of the concept of training.  A thorough study of these ten points is crucial in understanding humans as living organisms in regard to what work they can do, and when they can do it.  A proper training load at the proper time is the key to it all, but that is over-simplifying a complicated scientific series of principles.

For your training plan, the ten general physiological training principles are:

  • Adaptation: A person’s fitness level responds positively or negatively to a training stimulus, or workload.  Positive evidence of this is in how the identical workout keeps getting easier as the season progresses.  Negative evidence of this is explained in the over-training syndrome.  Adaptation occurs during the period between workloads, not during the work itself.
  • Progression: Because adaptation does occur in humans, workloads must continue to become of a greater stimulus to the body as the season progresses in order to achieve the effects of a perfect load.
  • Readiness: An athlete must be psychologically and physically prepared to accept the proper load of stimulus in order to continue adaptation.
  • Individual response: Because of the differences in humans, there will be a different training effect for each individual to the same stimulus.  Few athletes are great at accepting all of the various types and degrees of training loads.
  • Overload:  An understanding of overload and adaptation is the foundation to the study of training theory.  The training stimulus must be such that it taxes the targeted energy system or bio-motor skill in such a way as to cause fatigue, but not so much fatigue that it is detrimental to the overall fitness level following a period of recovery.
  • Specificity:  A training stimulus needs to focus on the bio-motor skill that is being targeted to be most effective.  There are many examples of training stimulus that fatigue more than one bio-motor skill, and are considered general in nature.  These are valuable early in a training season but workloads need to move toward more specificity as the middle-distance racing season progresses.
  • Variation: Once the level of training stimulus to be applied has been identified, a load must be applied to reach that level.  There are usually many different workouts that can be used to accomplish this degree of loading.  It is desirous to change aspects of workouts to make them interesting, but not to affect the desired training result.
  • Restoration: The period of time during which actual physical adaptation occurs following a stimulus plays a crucial role in reaching higher fitness levels.  This period needs to be of a proper length as to allow recovery, but not so much so that fitness is actually lost.
  • Reversibility: As a middle-distance runner improves the fitness level of the body moves farther and farther away from its genetically dictated equilibrium.  When the athlete ceases applying the proper stimulus, fitness will move back closer to this natural level of human equilibrium, causing a sort of detraining.  Some things change rather quickly, while others reverse themselves over a much longer period of time.
  • Longevity: Many of the physical changes that occur to the body during middle-distance running training are chronic.  Thus, it takes a very long period of time, usually over many training seasons for full development to occur.  This is why the concept of the training age is as important a factor as the chronological age of the athlete to the coach.

Related: Middle Distance Winter Training

cellsThere are trillions of cells in the human body and thousands of chemical reactions that occur simultaneously to satisfy the concept of life.  When an athlete begins a training program they are beginning a program of changing cells, tissues, organs, and the chemical reactions that tie them all together.  Before specifics to the actual training can be understood, a degree of scientific knowledge must be gained in how the body functions when a stimulus is applied.  An acceptance of these ten principles of a general training plan will help in that knowledge base.

Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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