The Best Training Plan Ever: Listen to Your Body

I’m about to let you in on a secret about the best training plan ever written. This won’t take long so pay attention. The best training plan isn’t one that you follow – it’s the one that follows you. What I mean is that the perfect plan would constantly change depending on how well your body responds to the workload. There would be no weekly schedule to follow. Your personal coach would assess your status each morning then use that information to determine the best workout for the day. This sounds great in theory but few athletes have the resources and/or lifestyle to employ this premium level of customization.

As a coach I have written countless training plans published in various magazines and on the Internet. Some were created to accommodate large groups of club members, others for charity-based programs. The plans typically consist of 6-24 weeks with daily workouts designed to gradually produce the specific adaptations necessary for success in running, cycling, and triathlon events. Several of these plans have can be found on the Mio Global site, including: Half Marathon Training Plan, Fondo (100 Mile) Cycling Plan, Beginners Triathlon Plan, 12 K Run Plan.

While these generic plans work well for most, they do have their limitations because they are neither individualized nor dynamic. This is where the concept of listening to your body and adjusting the plan comes in. In other words, you use the prefabricated schedule as your road map while still allowing yourself flexibility to detour and explore your own body’s limits along the way. If done right, your result will be a successful and empowered athletic journey. Below are a few things to focus on when following one of these types of training plans. These tips can help identify times when a little tweak in the plan will better enable you to reach your optimal health and fitness.

1.Recognize the difference between training discomfort and acute pain.

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Experienced athletes often learn the hard way how to differentiate the type of pain that can lead to an overuse/overtraining injury. Pushing through general discomfort of a hard workout may be necessary to achieve the training benefits that make us faster. But if the pain is sharp and concentrated to a specific area then this may be the body sending a direct message to stop and pay attention. An area that remains sore to the touch during or after a workout should never be ignored or written off as inconsequential. In a case like this it’s better to be safe and back off than to throw caution to the wind. Switch the workout type so the area is not further aggravated. For example if your foot hurts while running, replace the run workouts with cycling or swimming for a few days. If the pain persists for longer than 4-5 days then it’s probably best to have it checked out by a sports medicine professional.

2. Post workout tiredness versus on-going fatigue.

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Training for performance is the balance between loading stress and providing recovery. In fact, it’s during the actual rest and recovery phase that our bodies undergo the physiological adaptations that ultimately make us stronger and faster. Understanding this balance is critical to whether we will improve or regress. We should expect to feel tired following a long and or hard training session. How much stress we can absorb and build with is highly individual and based on a lot of different factors. The older we are in general, the more recovery we will need between long and/or hard workouts. The same goes for a less experienced athlete with a small aerobic base or muscular foundation. To complicate things further, added stresses that are unrelated to training could also tax our body’s systems. Some of these include a poor diet, family or work pressure, unrestful sleep, uncomfortable environmental conditions, emotional anxiety or just about anything that takes up mental or physical energy. While some of these may be positive in nature, they can still load up our nervous system and delay recovery and adaptation. In a less favorable scenario, these can lead to overtraining or even worse, chronic fatigue. The important message here is that there are two ways to reach an over-trained state. The first is by piling on too much training stress (volume, and or intensity), or a compilation of several types of stresses. The other way is to rest too little.

Listening to your body means you are paying attention to:

  • How well you are sleeping

  • Changes in appetite

  • General overall feeling and emotions

  • Irritability

  • Muscle soreness

  • Reduced libido

  • Disturbed sleep patterns

  • Disinterest in normal things


The above list is made up of just a few signs that you may be training too much.

In addition to the emotional signs of overtraining, some physical signs include:

  • High resting heart rate

  • Reduced heart rate variability

  • Depressed heart rate during exercise


These are all ways that your body is communicating that it needs to recover -- meaning you may need to take a break from training and allow your body to rest and recover.

Among some of the more popular tools available to help monitor your recovery and your readiness to train, such as Mio Performance Wearables, I recommend you try RestWise and SweatBeat.

Restwise is an online platform with a short list of questions to assess your emotional and physical wellbeing. SweatBeat is a physiological measure of your heart rate variability that provides a snapshot report of the health of your autonomic nervous system. Each of these provides a daily score and suggestions on the type of training or rest that may be needed based on your numbers. I recommend both these tools for any athlete who has difficulty determining when to train hard and when to back off. Just because your training plan calls for a 90-minute run doesn’t mean you should do it at all costs. If by chance you still push through workouts while in an over-trained state, that cost could be quite high and easily bankrupt your health and performance. The training plan should be a guide, not a mandate. Listening to your body and customizing the plan accordingly is the best training plan you’ll ever find.

Written by Duane Franks, Owner and Head Coach of Trifiniti Endurance Performance Coaching. Learn more about Duane and Trifiniti Endurance Perfomance Coaching at www.trifiniti.com.
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