A blog by runners. For runners.

Study: more support for training plans

why you need a training plan

Whether you’re training for your first race or your fiftieth, following a training plan is a must.

Training plans get us ready for race day. They ensure we’re not only physically prepared, but mentally ready as well. Plus, following a tried-and-true training plan may also reduce the risk for injury and burnout.

Study: what happens when you don’t follow a training plan
Most training plans are several months long – a typical marathon training program lasts for 16 weeks, for example. I don’t know about you all, but whenever I follow a plan this long, I get antsy towards the end! I always wonder if I could have been marathon-ready in a shorter amount of time.

Well, probably not.

A recent study published in PLOS One found more evidence for the old idiom “slow and steady wins the race”, at least when it comes to the time needed to train for said race.

For the study, one group of runners did one hard workout, 24 times over an eight-week period. The runners’ aerobic fitness improved throughout training, peaking within 10 percent of their VO2 max. After eight workouts, their VO2 max improved by 2.3 percent, and after 16 workouts, it improved by 7.1 percent. Four days after their last hard workout, the runners’ VO2 max was measured again, and was found to have improved by 10.7 percent over their fitness before the study (it’s interesting to note VO2 max peaked after they had concluded hard workouts – just more support for tapering.)

The other group of runners did the one hard workout, 24 times over a three-week period and their fitness declined. Twelve days after their last hard workout, their VO2 max finally improved. But only by 6.1 percent, which was significantly less than the other group’s.

This study shows that “crash training” doesn’t work. Sure, 24 workouts in three weeks is an extreme example, but there is a reason why most training plans last several months – it takes that long to safely get in peak race shape.

Foundations of good training plans
If you’re looking for a training plan, it’s essential you choose one that contains the following:

  • Rest days every week.
  • A gradual increase in weekly mileage. Most plans won’t have you increase mileage by more than 10 percent each week.
  • One long run per week. Keep in mind “long” is relative to the distance your training for.
  • At least one easy run per week. More advanced training plans will also call for one speed workout each week.
  • A cut back week – where you reduce mileage and back off speedwork – every month or so.
  • A taper – where you gradually cut back on mileage – in the few weeks before a race.

Of course, it’s important that you select a training plan appropriate for your ability level. If it’s your first time racing a certain distance, it’s probably best to stick with a beginner plan.

One good way to see if a training plan is right for you is to look at the first week’s total mileage – it should be around what you run now. Also, pay close attention to how many training runs you’ll need to do per week. If you only like running 3 or 4 times per week, toss out plans that call for 5 or 6 running workouts each week.

Pssst… if you’re in the market for a training plan, each of our WalkJogRun training plans meet all of the above criteria.

Written by Jen Matz.