To repeat, or not to repeat. That is the question.
We come to think of repetition as being boring. Something that we desperately want to avoid. But, without fail, if you are looking for a restaurant near your house for dinner, 9 times out of 10 you’ll pick somewhere you have went before.
Repetition in Training
In order to understand repetition in training, it’s important to understand, first, how the body adapts, via General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).
Here is a very simple explanation.
The Alarm Stage: When you run, you stress your body.
The Resistance Stage: Once the stress is removed, you recover.
The Exhaustion Stage: If you over stress your body, it shuts down.
When we are aiming for higher performance in running, we need to consistently be providing different stressors to the body. If we provide the same stressor, the body can plateau. But, provide too much novelty and the body does not begin to adapt to a stimulus since a new stimulus is constantly presented.
I believe that repetition in training is a part of a successful training plan. However, like all things, there are times when you should absolutely use repetition, and other aspects of training that repetition should be avoided.
Let’s look at different ways to utilize repetition in our plans.
Repeating a solid, weekly structure.
I believe in repeating a solid, weekly structure. Within that structure, the workouts can vary, and do vary based on where an athlete is in their training cycle and how they are responding to a particular stimulus.
In Run by Matt Fitzgerald, he gives the example of Constantina Dita-Tomescu.
“Constantina Dita-Tomescu’s marathon training is based on a one-week block of workouts that has remained constant for years, with only slight variations for the season and distance from a goal race. Not only are the distances and intensity of each day consistent, but also the location, even the course …”
Read more about Dita-Tomescu here.
Routine provides both a mental and physical boost. In fact, some even argue that the mental boost is more important.
In repeating weeks, I hope to take advantage of a term called “psychological momentum.” The structure provides the right stimulus to improve. Take out the guessing and instead, build a platform and framework to promote success.
We have too much to think about in the world today. Too many decisions. A set, weekly structure allows you to know what type of workout is coming on a particular day. You can prepare your body and mind.
In 2014, I’ve made a switch and focused more on building an individual, weekly training plan structure. The structure includes easy running, multi paced running placed in a format which works for that specific athlete’s availability.
I use the following structure as the best-case scenario template for an elite runner. A midweek easy day (Wednesday) could also be an off-day. This is only talking about runs, not cross training or other workouts.
(2) Tuesday- Quality
(5) Friday – Easy
*Saturday/Sunday flip-flop based on what day they want to run long.
But, for instance, one runner I coach, the weekly schedule is:
Monday – easy
Tuesday – Yoga
Wednesday – Quality
Thursday – Easy
Friday – Easy/Quality
Saturday – Long
Sunday – off/yoga/spin
Here’s another example. This one is based off of a consistent work and family schedule that allows her to run long on Friday.
Monday – off
Tuesday – easy
Wednesday – Quality
Thursday – easy
Friday – Long
Saturday – spin/easy
Sunday – Quality
Remember, create your weekly schedule around your life and availability.
Repetition within each 2-3 week cycle
We now have the weekly structure set.The next step is to look at how repetition changes within larger cycles.
Each athlete I coach works on either a 3 week or 4 week training cycle. A three week cycle means two weeks of stress and one week of recovery. A four week cycle is three weeks of stress and one week of recovery. Stress, in my world, simply means training. I’ll go more into training structure in other articles!
Stress and recovery are independent for each athlete, but the premise is there. Some athletes require more recovery while others require less.
I look at repeating workouts within these 2-3 weeks of stress, and then possibly across two sets of 2-3 weeks of stress.
Let’s look at a very simple example of hill reps in a training cycle over two sets of 2-3 weeks of stress.
Stress 1: 3 x 1 minute w/ 1 min recovery 4-6% grade
Stress 2: 5 x 1 minute w/ 1 min recovery 4-6% grade
Stress 3: 6 x 1 minute w/ 1 min recovery 4-6% grade
Recovery: No hill work
A simple progression. I’m repeating the type of hill workout, but I am changing the number of repetitions.
Now, for the second set of stress, I can change a few things. I can change the duration from 1-2 minutes.
Stress 4: 5 x 2 minutes w/ 1 min recovery
Stress 5: 6 x 2 minutes w/ 1 min recovery
Stress 6: 8 x 2 minutes w/ 1 min recovery
Or, I can change the hill grade.
Stress 4: 6 x 1 minute w/ 1 min recovery 8-10% grade
Stress 5: 8 x 1 minute w/ 1 min recovery 8-10% grade
Stress 6: 10 x 1 minute w/ 1 min recovery 8-10% grade
In the above example, I’ve kept the type of workout the same, but I’ve changed the structure within the workout based on adaptation.
Repetition for comparison
Repetition is the only way to get a true apples-to-apples comparison of your current success. For instance, in Joe Friel’s Your Best Triathlon, he advocates for very frequent time trials to judge improvement. You can look at repetition as a benchmark for success in your daily workouts, even in easy runs. If you run a familiar course for a 1-hour easy run, and run the same course 10 weeks later, chances are, you will run longer over the course of an hour than you did 10 weeks prior. You can test this theory against all sorts of workouts. Fartleks, time trials (30 minutes at 10k pace), 3×15 minutes at half-marathon pace, etc.
Repetition for easy runs.
The majority of your training cycle is made up of easy running. It is inevitable you will be repeating a litany of easy runs. as the cornerstone of your training. I’m sure you will run more 60 minute easy runs than you know what to do with.
Once you hit the ceiling on easy run time, you can add a second run to your daily schedule to increase mileage. Another example of repetition.
Easy run repetition is where I see many new runners get bogged down. If you are feeling sick and tired of running in the same place, take some of your easy runs to new trails or roads. Make a left at the light instead of a right and see where it takes you.
Repetition as a mental exercise
Sometimes, I’ll repeat the same exact run or week for an athlete as an exercise in mental toughness. If I see they hated a particular workout, and depending on that athlete, they may get another crack at it the following week. Or, if a particular week netted some big gains, I won’t hesitate to repeat it exactly as is.
Consistency and repetition allows for psychological momentum. Repeat your weekly schedule and alter the workouts that appear within the schedule based on your goals. Repeat key workouts to judge progress and, sometimes, to challenge yourself mentally.
Questions for discussion:
How do you use repetition in your training? Do you like to repeat workouts or do you stick to your bread and butter workouts throughout the year?