No training program should be designed without first determining proper training zones and intensities. The more specific the better. Raise your eyebrow when a training program simply instructs you to go at "race pace", or "long easy effort". Instead, each recommended intensity needs to include quantitative values. This means that your cycling hill interval workout should not just be "6-8 long hill repeats", but should also prescribe power or heart rate training zones; such as "6-8 hill intervals of 4 minutes at an average of 300 watts", or "6-8 hill intervals of 4 minutes at a heart rate of 154-165". In order for a training program to prescribe such intensities, it is necessary for you to take baseline measurements. The most common baseline measurement is a series of time trials that allow you to determine your approximate anaerobic or lactate threshold, or what is sometimes called the "maximum lactate steady state" effort. Basically, this just means that before designing your training program, you must spend 20-30 minutes in each of your sports (i.e. swimming, cycling, and running) determining what your maximum *sustainable* pace is. Generally, this corresponds well with the point at which your body is removing lactate as fast as it is accumulating, and you are beginning to breath rapidly to "blow off" carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. Your training program's intensities, or zones, are then based off the heart rate or wattage at which this state occurs. If there are no baseline measurements, the success of your training program will be sub-optimal, at best. During the first two to three weeks of taking on a new athlete, I run them through a battery of tests that help determine these training zones, so that I can write their workouts to be biologically specific.
Periodization is the process of breaking a training program year into smaller periods, or units of time duirng which the training occurs at specific volumes and intensities. By arranging these periods in the correct sequence leading up to your races, peak performance can be achieved without overtraining or injury. A training program that has you at the identical training intensities and volumes, week in and week out, is not a periodized training program. A very basic example of periodization would be "base training", during which you build your aerobic system and teach the body the work more efficiently in the presence of lactic acid; followed by a "build" in training intensity and volume as you become fitter and stronger; then a "taper" as you approach race season, where your body absorbs the benefits of the "build" cycle; and finally a "recovery" period after racing season, in which you joints heal and your body recovers from the season. There is no perfect periodization scheme, but any good training program needs to lay the groundwork for training in a structured and periodized format, as opposed to training the same way the entire year, then "laying off" for a week or so before the race. Periodizing a training program is difficult and time consuming. During the first week that I take on a new athlete and design their annual training plan, I'll spend 4-5 hours ensuring that just the basic periodization is "perfect" - and it usually still needs changes as the season progresses!
3. Training Specificity
Your training must be race specific. If you're preparing for a marathon with 3 weekly tempo sessions, 1 weekly speed-work track session, and 1 long weekend run, you're spending way too much time in an anaerobic, carbohydrate burning zone, and your body is not learning how to work in an efficient aerobic manner. This means you're going to be full of lactic acid and high blood acid during your marathon and have a very uncomfortable race, if you even finish. Beware of any training program that doesn't have you "training like you race". This means lots of practice with race specific fueling, race specific intensities, and race specific courses or topography. If you have a flat, fast race approaching in three weeks, you shouldn't be wasting much time with hill intervals, and vice versa. All my athletes must provide me with a complete list of their planned and desired races, so that I can ensure their training actually is race specific.
4. Holistic Philosophy
Your training program can't just prescribe workouts and nutrition. It must take into consideration stress levels, amount of sleep, resting heart rate, weight, fatigue levels, etc. Your training program must listen to your body. If you try to "push" through a prescribed workout, just to follow the rules, this may not be the best idea. It's also nice to be able to look back and see how the resting heart rate was leading up to a bad race, versus a good race, or how the weight fluctuates before signs and symptoms of overtraining occur. All the athletes I train are recommended to keep track of these variables on their daily training log.
Rest and recovery must occur! While for those of us with busy lives, this may mean that your rest week takes place during the visit to the in-laws at the end of one month, and happens during your long week of deskwork in the middle of another month, your must decrease training intensity and volume at regular periods throughout the training year. Some training programs might include every 4 weeks and some every 3 weeks, but all programs must allow your body to stop, then soak up like a sponge all the benefits of your hard work. Otherwise, you're just chipping away at yourself until sickness or overtraining forces you to stop.
I hope this information helps you in choosing your training program. If you're interested in coaching with Pacific Elite Fitness, just shoot me an e-mail. I'll help you choose a plan that works for you from a scheduling and affordability standpoint, then have you set-up within a few days. Don't wait too long to plan, and as always, train smart!