Make Your Training Specific To Your Goals

by Jon Sinclair

Anyone who trains everyday on a stationary bike shouldn't expect to be prepared for a day of cross country skiing. It's true that any aerobic exercise carries universal benefits that provide an advantage in any sports setting but specific muscle adaption limits cross over benefits. There's a great deal of evidence that the aerobic training in one sport won't yield the same results when tested by another aerobic activity. Weekend warriors learn that lesson every Monday morning.

When starting a training program the first step is to decide what the final goal should be: an age group win at a local race, a specific time in the New York City Marathon, losing 20 pounds, perhaps it is just to gain enough strength to run 10 miles, or maybe even making an Olympic Team in 8 years. Whatever the goal, once it has been defined then the next step is to choose training strategies that will allow for the greatest chance of success.

The human body is an amazingly adaptive tool. By introducing graduated stress a healthy person will adapt and become stronger in response to that stress up to the limit of genetic capability and within environmental constraints. That adaptive response will be specific to the stress. If you run a lot of very slow miles you'll become very good at running slow. If all you do is run short, fast distances you'll become a sprinter but would have little hope of comfortably running a marathon. If you live in south Florida you won't enjoy running a hilly marathon in mid-winter Vermont.

When designing a training program we always look at the specifics of the goal and create a program of workouts that answer those adaptive problems. One of our athletes is a very competitive mountain trail racer. Although much of her early season training may take place in other settings, by the time she reaches mid-season her hard workouts are all on technical trails that feature a great deal of strength training. Those are the conditions she'll be faced with in racing and those are the adaptive stresses we want to condition her to.

As coaches we look at racing conditions, running surface, distance, terrain, and any specific characteristic of the race or goal that might pose a challenge to the athlete. An effective conditioning program features graduated challenges that prepare for those specific characteristics the athlete will face.