There’s a simple message that I learned from a grad school professor, Charlie Casserly, about coaching. Learn a lot but then simplify.

People often use the old coaching adage of “keep it simple stupid,” to mean that too much information is bad. That you shouldn’t complicate the act of coaching. There’s a crucial mistake in this line of thinking. It’s not that too much information is bad, it’s that overcomplicating the message can be detrimental.

In fact, a deep dive on understanding a topic is necessary. It gives you the ability to trim the fat and see what is important and what is not. Without a full understanding, you don’t know what to keep simple. Take running form for example. We could simplify the message to “Lift your knees and don’t land on your heel.” It’s simple and easy for an athlete to understand. Give those instructions and just about anyone can follow them. But did we select the right cues? While lifting your knees and landing on your mid/forefoot might look like something that elite runners are trying to do, the reality and research points otherwise. Only if we have a full understanding of the biomechanics of running can we then pick out what in the world matter to the athlete standing in front of me.

In other words, we need lots of knowledge in order to simplify. With that in mind, below are two examples of simplifying training to what actually matters.

Overall Goal of Training

The goal of training is simple. We are trying to fundamentally change the person we are coaching.

That’s it.

The individual you are coaching now, will not be the same person you are coaching a year from now. They will have fundamentally changed. If they didn’t, the training failed. This is an important concept, that means the training you do today, may not work tomorrow for the same athlete, simply because he or she has changed.

The goal, therefore, is to mold the race or competition you want. We determine the “shape” we are trying to build with each athlete. What does this mean? We aren’t training for a certain race; we are molding our athlete to perform a race in the way we want them to. What we are trying to build depends on the athlete. We need to take into account their strengths, weaknesses, and goals. These provide the roadmap for the route we need to take the athlete.

Our goal in training is simple; we need to:

  1. Decide a direction to take
  2. Understand what training stimulus accomplishes this goal
  3. Apply an appropriate training stimulus for that INDIVIDUAL athlete
  4. Allow for adaptation to occur.

These simple steps serve as the foundation of training.


What does a coach need to know?

Complex to simple is one of my rules on coaching. So if we take this mess of understanding and try to simplify it, what does a coach really need to know?

  1. What adaptations are you trying to get for this individual?

Step one is knowing what training adaptation are you trying to cause. In what direction are you trying to get this athlete to adapt? Is it aerobically, anaerobically, specific endurance, strength, etc.? It doesn’t matter what model of training you are using, you need to know what changes you are trying to get.

  1. For this individual, what types of workouts cause this adaptation?

Remember back to our training model (athlete + event). You need to understand what training stimulus causes this adaptation for the athlete

  1. How much stimulus do we need to “embarrass” the body?

Simply, how much stress do we need to cause to get the adaptation. Are we trying to press this adaptation or are we simply trying to maintain it? To decide how much is needed, start with what they’ve done in the past and handled and gradually push that boundary.

  1. How much and what type of recovery?

After the training stimulus is applied, how much recovery do we need before we attempt our next workout of any kind, and how much before we attempt a similar workout? In other words, we need to know in general how long it takes for the body to come out of the stress to do a workout in a different direction. Can we only do a recovery run the next day, or can we do a sprint workout, for example? Additionally, do we attack the same system in a week, 10 days, or 14 days? Knowing how much space we need before we attack again is key.

  1. What’s the timing?

By timing, we mean, how does it fit into the grand scheme of our training plan. Do we really need to do 10x400m at mile pace when we have 16 weeks until our peak race?  In other words, we need to know the timing of when we are trying to bring that particular system to peak force.

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    1. Allen Newbauer on October 3, 2018 at 12:11 pm

      This is a awesome post. I really like the point of individualism. In our society of instant gratification people are always looking for the easy answer, which in my opinion has lead to the many cookie cutter programs in running. I think we are leaving a lot on the table by doing that.

    2. Greg Christensen on October 8, 2018 at 10:42 am

      Couldn’t have stated this better, Steve. I am not a coach … just a well-read physician that has actively tried and forced myself to learn better form. My high school son has certain muscles that are too tight often leading to active overstriding and an inefficient stride with a resultant necessary higher than normal stride rate. Too much of the time his ground contact time is short, but not in a good way … there is too often little power in his stride. He fails to use his gluteal muscles well not just because of the relative paucity of neural connections, but because he has not trained these muscles well in practice .. so they fatigue easy (even though they are slow twitch in nature). His friend, the best boy on the high school XC team, has a different problem. He is gumby. Overstretched hamstrings and hip flexors. The latter sounds like it could not be a problem, but it is. A huge stride with too long of a ground contact time leads to less transfer of stored elastic power and a resultant stride rate that is too low for him. INDIVIDUALIZATION in training, and it STARTS and continues with biomechanics. You are so correct, Steve.

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