A goal is a goal. Whether yours is to finish a marathon or to PR in a 5K, to summit Mount Everest or make it to the top of your local ski hill, it’s awesome that you’ve chosen one. Now, you just need to get there.
That, my friends, requires a training plan — a daily framework for your runs from week to week, no matter how lofty or small your goals are. Your plan could be as simple as writing out basic workouts on a calendar (30-minute run on Monday, yoga on Tuesday, 1-hour hike Wednesday, etc.) or it could be massive and more involved with heart rate goals and specific paces. If you’re not ready to work with a coach on developing a training plan, MapMyFitness has a library of pre-made training plans for everything from a 5K to a marathon.
Here are several benefits to sticking to a training plan:
It Gives Your Workouts New Meaning
Sometimes, the general goal to staying in shape gets stale. Even if you’re not necessarily interested in smashing a 10K or winning an obstacle course race, adding a specific goal can turn your exercise from a ho-hum workout to training. However, putting a race or a goal on a calendar won’t automatically change how you’re exercising. That’s where a training plan comes in. If you just jump into a 5K randomly, the experience is nowhere nearly as satisfying as racing one that you’ve been training for — one that’s been circled in red on your calendar for months. Many racers will admit, in hindsight, that the race wasn’t nearly as fun as the process of getting ready for it.
It Encourages You To Do What’s Good For You
You might love going out for runs. That’s fantastic, but a plan will encourage you to mix things up. If you have a goal of running a 5K and beating your personal record, you’re going to need to do intervals and speedwork. Training plans force you to do the parts of running that you wouldn’t want to do normally — or the parts you don’t necessarily love, but that will help you improve. Who knows, you might even find that speedwork is not as bad as you think!
It Opens You Up to Different Workouts
Often, a training plan made by a coach features workouts or exercises you didn’t know before. You might find yourself adding yoga to your weekly routine, starting a run with a different set of warmup drills or taking a hill hike instead of doing long run on a weekend. That’s the beauty of getting outside of your own head: There are always different options.
It Emphasizes Improvement
Training isn’t about repeating the same exact workouts week after week. A training plan helps you periodize, so that some weeks are building towards your goal race, while other weeks are focusing on recovery so you’re ready to get even faster. For those who are used to the traditional model of exercising four days a week just for the sake of exercise, targeting a goal changes how you need to approach exercise. Instead of a constant regimen, training intensity will ebb and flow, which means your day-to-day and week-to-week training won’t be the same-old, same-old.
It Helps You Avoid Overtraining (or Undertraining)
A training plan will help you strategize your workouts so you train just right — not too much, not too littler. Without a training plan to remind you of much-needed rest days, or to vary your workouts, it can be surprisingly easy to find yourself fatigued, unmotivated, sore and injury-prone. With the structure of your training plan — along with proper periodization — you can stay on top of your game with surprisingly little effort.
One last piece of advice: Don’t feel as though you have to conform to any one training plan perfectly. You might want to add cross-training workouts (like yoga or strength training), or you might need to modify long runs to match your available time, such as splitting a 4-hour run into two 2-hour runs before and after work.