Training Time: Plan vs. Flow

I shun father and mother and wife and brother when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, “Whim.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Now most people won’t think of Emerson as one of the more recognizable athletic training gurus; another Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau, with his penchant for long, strenuous walks, might be at least be a “stretch choice” for some knowledgable of American Literature. And, maybe I’ll write about Thoreau in that context at another time, but today it’s that quote of Emerson’s that penetrated my mind and my training.

How does that particular quote apply to athletic training?

A training plan can be a wonderful thing–providing structure and guidance to achieving a very specific athletic goal. Two of my favorite books on sports training are by periodization wizard, Tudor Bompa–Theory and Methodology of Training and Periodization for Sports. They are academic and thorough and lay out detailed plans (multi-year, yearly, monthly, weekly and daily) that can help you achieve great things in sports. I used such detailed plans during my collegiate coaching career (crew) and throughout my own post-collegiate athletic career (marathon kayaking and adventure racing).

But, a training plan–if too rigid–can sometimes sap the life out of your workouts and your desire to achieve. And, simply, it can take the fun out of a sport that you love. This is where Emerson comes in. Sure, he’s talking specifically about intellectual pursuits, but I’m fairly certain that he would be happy to see his thoughts applied to other aspects of life–even to sport.

The morning workout today was at the Total Air Gym–good, straight-forward upper body work. But, after a little recovery time, I was feeling good and looking for more–something with some good cardio and a warrior twist. Sure, I really should have been mowing the lawn (I can do that tomorrow, right?) or getting ready for a Labor Day pool party to which I’ve been invited, but sometimes you just have to listen to your body.

Now, most of us talk about “listening to your body” in regards to needing rest, but sometimes you also have to listen to it when it’s asking for more–ride 50 miles instead of 40, run two hours instead of one, do fifth round of your circuit even though the plan only calls for four. When you are in the flow of the workout, when your legs are responding every time you ask for that extra power to climb another hill, when the glide of the kayak across the water is so smooth you can’t help but paddle out to and around that island on the horizon, like when nothing else in the world seems to matter, don’t be afraid to tap into that feeling–that energy–and do a little more.

The little more I did today was:

1. Row: 2 minutes

2. Web Pikes

3. Row: 1:30

4. Tire Whack: yes the tire and the sledge-hammer were feeling neglected!

5. Row 1:00

6. Web Frozen Mountain Climbers: pausing in with one knee to chest and holding for five-count before switching.

7. Row: :30

8. Explosive Box Jumps

I went through this workout three times and put in maximum effort. And, I was glad that I took advantage of my gung-ho gut feeling to do more!


Now, I’m not suggesting you completely abandon your training plans–macrocycles and microcyles have their place! You don’t want to go out and hammer an extra sprint or two on the bike or crank out another strength training session the week before your big race–when your plan explicitly says you should be tapering. But, I do want to encourage you to have fun with your training from time to time–to follow your “whim” and take advantage of those times when your legs, lungs or head feel awesome.


~ by kipwkoelsch on September 4, 2011.

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