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Why none of my workouts are key workouts

It made some sense when I first came across it. The loose concept is the coach can write a weekly plan for, let’s say 10 hours of training, but if life or lack of motivation get in the way, as it often does with working age group athletes, they can select only the workouts pre-determined to be most important and still make the best of the disrupted week without bugging the coach. But I have problems.

The first is, it’s hard to judge or compare the value of individual sessions. If you believe, like I do, the importance of consistency and accumulated volume and fatigue as the most important predictors of endurance sports success and improvement, it doesn’t even make sense to look at individual workouts alone. What’s important is the mix of training over weeks, months and years. Every workout only makes sense in the context of the other workouts around it so it’s impossible to judge a workout as being “essential” or not if you don’t consider the context of the week(s) around it.

My second problem is that it would be tempting, I imagine, to make the longest or most complex workout of the week in any sport the “key” workout. Let’s take the example of the 45 min recovery run. If you subscribe to the 80:20, or polarized training philosophies, which I do it’s pretty important to get that easy run in because it should be the bulk of your training. However, if you’ve done three of them already in the week, your once a week interval workout is what’s perhaps going to give you a bump in fitness. If I was forced to pick a key workout at the start of the week it would likely not be the one I spent the most time conceiving. It would also likely change depending on what else happened, not just in the present week but in the weeks preceding. I’m available for my athletes to contact me whenever during the week and I’ll happily make adjustments during the week if they skip a workout or their schedule changes. That’s what a personal coach is about and that’s our advantage over pre-set training plans (at least until the robots take over completely).

Third problem. I consider frequency of training sessions an important variable. If I give you a 10 hour plan with say 9 sessions and you only do the “key” workouts you might end up with 6 hour week with 5 sessions. Now, if you’d told me at the start of the week you only had 6 hours I probably would have optimized that by breaking it into 7 sessions. I know it’s not always possible to predict but it would’ve been better to tell me at the start of the week your time constraints to get the most out of the time you had available. As inconvenient as it might be for the coach, you can’t do that by simple subtraction.

Four. The implication is that by doing the “key” workouts you’ve done the essentials of the program you were originally set, and I just don’t think that’s true. You might fool yourself that by doing 6 hours of a 10 hour program you were 80% there. I think if you do 6 hours of the 10 hour plan you probably got 60-65% benefit. Triathlon is an endurance sport. Volume is important. As hard as triathletes try to find them, the evidence keeps telling us there are no shortcuts.

My final problem with key workouts is psychological. If we embark on a 10 hour training week plan together—I think you can handle it physically and you’ve told me you can make it work around your life—why should I integrate a parachute for you every week? How’s that encouraging you to stick with your goals? Don’t get me wrong, I have a family and a career too and know all the ways that can knock you off a plan but you do you really need another reason not to commit? Commit. And if disaster strikes we’ll deal with it then. Or maybe, without an escape route, you’ll find a way to fit every one of my precious, equally cherished workouts in.

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