Are you self-coached? My #1 tip on how to structure your training in your busy life

Training and racing

Jun 27

I have to admit I never intended for #SpartaChicks to be a site where we discussed training - in my mind, that was reserved for SpartaPT.

My intention was that #SpartaChicks instead would be a safe place for us to discuss everything else (all the fears, self-doubts, self-sabotage, mindset, struggles and realities of being a goal-oriented woman with lots of responsibilities). The stuff that isn’t really being discussed elsewhere.

There is another reason I shy away from giving training advice (even on SpartaPT) - I hate generic advice and I don’t believe in one-size-supposedly-fits-all generic training programs. I think they set people up for failure rather than success.

But I’m coming to realise that mind + body isn’t so easy to separate and inquisitive SpartaChicks have lots of questions about their training too.

One of the questions that have come up repeatedly in the last few weeks has been from women who are (what I’d call) self-coached. They are women who use generic training programs or who write, organise and plan their own training. Specifically, they are wondering how to structure their training during the week when they are short of time.

How to structure your training

To use their words:

For me, it's about understanding quality versus quantity training. I'm always motivated to train however sometimes time is limited and so knowing what sessions are a “must” versus a “nice to have done” on a perfect week can be challenging.

“…what is the right type of training for me to achieve the results I want. I'm always worried that I'll be wasting my time on the wrong exercises and end up at the same point that I started at.”

I know that time and routine (rather, a lack of them) are a major issue for most women thanks to work, children, kid’s sports, social commitments, all those never-ending household chores, P&C obligations, shift work (either yours or your spouse) and a lack of close family support to name a few.

So how do you prioritise the type of training you do? And what constitutes a “must do” session vs a “nice to do” session if you’re stuck for time?

This is how I would approach the question if you were a client and I were writing your program for you.

I've created a (free) cheat sheet you can download, print and use to structure and design a training program that brings you the results you want in the limited time you have. Click here to have it sent straight to your email inbox now

Firstly, a few questions you need to keep in mind:

What is your goal?

What does your goal require of you?
Eg. If you want to break 30mins for parkrun, then it’s being able to run at 6min/km for 5km. If you’re training for your first Nepean Triathlon, you need to swim 1km, ride 30km and run 10km within the cut-off.

Where are you now with your training? What are you able to do right now?

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Quite simply, here’s the secret:

The difference between a “must have” session (one that should be your highest priority each week) and a “nice to do” session (one that just fills out your program) is that a “must have” session should be (what I call) a quality session.

A quality session is a training session that includes some effort/s that are designed to lift your fitness above your current aerobic baseline and that is specific to your goal.

To be clear, these are not long slow or easy sessions.

Quality sessions take you from your current fitness levels and move your fitness up the ladder, one step closer to your goal.

Here’s the challenge with quality sessions..

Often they aren’t easy. They are not the type of sessions you probably want to do at the end of the long day when you’re tired, the kids have been feral and you just want to curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and watch [insert favourite TV show]. And it’s very easy to talk yourself out of doing them — but they are exactly what you need to do if you’re short on time and have a goal.

They are the most efficient way for you to get the results you want in the limited time you have available.

Now, there is a time and place for an easy 30-40min run or a long, slow (coffee) ride on the weekend with your girlfriends. And if you have time for that, then you certainly should include those sessions in your program too.

But if time is short or you get to Thursday and haven’t trained because of your partner’s work schedule, a long slow easy session isn’t the best use of your time.

Going back to our parkrun scenario, if you’re currently running 6:30min/km pace for 4km, a quality session for you might be running (after a warm-up of course) for 10 minutes at 6:15-6:20 pace or doing 3 x 1km efforts at 6:10-6:10 pace (with a rest starting around 2min - and slowly decreasing over the next few weeks).

You can see that in these examples, we’re slowly and deliberating changing the speed/pace of your sessions from your current fitness levels (6:30min/km pace) and moving it closer to where you want to be (6min/km pace).

If your goal race is on a hilly or undulating course, one of your quality sessions might need to be focused on strength (e.g. such as hill repeats to get you closer to the strength levels you’ll need on race day) rather than focusing on speed.

Of course, there are a thousand variations on the type of intervals and sessions you can do. And if you’re a perfectionist or an over-thinker (like me!), it’s very easy to doubt that you’re making the right decision.

But as long as you’re doing 1-2 quality sessions each week, your fitness will continue to improve and each week you’ll be one step closer to your goal.

Once you’ve got your quality sessions pencilled into your week, you can use any other available training time you have to improve your endurance (say, by doing a longer and slower swim, bike or run where the focus for the session is on endurance and distance rather than speed).

Triathlons, of course, present a different challenge from a time management perspective but the principle remains the same. Start with 1 quality session for each sport each week (so 3 in total) at the very minimum and you’ll see much more progress and improvement in your fitness then you would if every session was easy, slow or long.

Don’t forget to click here to get your cheat sheet so you can make sure your training is structured properly to get the results you want!

Finally, one word of advice.

Be careful how you structure your sessions throughout the week. As I said before, quality sessions are challenging. They can be hard on your body and too many quality sessions too close together - without sufficient rest and recover - can increase your risk of injury. I think they can also affect your mojo - we all love and need those easy sessions where we can just turn the arms and legs over and switch off the brain. So be smart about it.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer them for you.

Or does this all sound too hard or likely to trigger your obsessive-compulsory nature? Then hand the job over to me! As I recently said to a client, she pays me to do her (over)thinking for her! Check out the new program available for the Nepean Triathlon here or any other event or goal you have your sights with this program.