Joe Friel on How to Choose a Training Plan That’s Right for You.
I’m frequently asked by athletes which of my plans they should select. It’s really a hard call for me to suggest a training plan based on just a bit of info. There’s so much about you I don’t know. I’d only be guessing and could get it wrong. This helps to explain the dilemma. I can try to help you make a decision, though.
There are several key decisions athletes need to consider when choosing a training plan. Let’s look at them. But, first, go to my training plans on TrainingPeaks.com to find a list of my plans. Note that each has a “Preview” button just to the right of the titles. Be sure to read the preview for each one you are considering, as this will help you know the details of the plan including the type of athlete it was intended for. Look for weekly training volume that you are sure you can do, workouts that you believe you are currently capable of doing relative to duration and intensity, and a routine that would fit your lifestyle (of course, you can rearrange workouts if you want, by dragging and dropping them on the calendar).
Here are several things to consider in making your choice (all of this is also covered in detail in my Training Bible books):
- What is the priority of your events/races? You can’t be in peak form for every race that comes along. Pick 3 (at most) races and assign them as priority A. Never pick more than 3 in a single season. These are the most important; you’ll train primarily for them. This then narrows down your options for choosing a plan. The other events are either B priority—important, but you can insert them in your prep for an A priority with only 2–3 days of rest before (A priority gets a couple of weeks of recovery and tapering)—OR C priority (e.g., races that are treated like hard workouts). [Note that if the 3 A races are in different sports or even significantly different distances within the same sport and are close together in time then you won’t be in top form for each of them. The athletic body thrives on specificity (same sport, same distance, same intensity) when it comes to performance. For example, you can’t become the best runner possible by riding a bike.] This should help you to narrow down the plan options.
- Determine how many hours per week you can train. Be realistic. Use this to help choose the right plan from the ones you narrowed down to in #1 above. This is perhaps the most important decision. (Note that all of the plans also indicate the approximate TSS by week on the Preview pages.)
- What is your level of ability/experience in the sport? Some plans are intended for novices (first year in the sport), others for intermediates (2–3 years in the sport) with some race experience, and others for more advanced (3+ years of serious training and competition) athletes. The titles of my plans usually indicate this and it will also be noted in the Preview.
- How old are you? In my plans specifically for over-50 athletes, there is a recovery period every third week. For those under 50, the recovery period comes every fourth week (the exception is that many of my “long-distance” triathlon plans are based on 3-week periods regardless of age). “Young” athletes (under 50) recover fairly quickly compared with older (over 50) athletes. So “older” athletes often need more frequent rest and recovery (R&R) to match their slower rate of recovery. Note that some “young” athletes recover slowly for many reasons and so should select an over-50 plan. The reverse is also true for older athletes who recover quickly. I’ve seen it both ways, so this is very individualized. Just because you are over 50 does not mean that you must have more frequent recovery periods. But age-related considerations should help you narrow the choices. Age is often indicated in the title of the plan.
- What’s your weekly schedule/lifestyle like? Look for plans that come fairly close to your normal routine (for example, days of the week when you can do long workouts). You still may need to rearrange workouts to better fit your lifestyle. That’s common and quite all right to do. Just drag and drop.
- What equipment do you have? Some plans call for power meters on the bike (“Power” is in the title). There are also heart rate–based (“HR”) plans. My running workouts are mostly HR-based running with some sessions based on pace. Swim workouts are pace-based. Some workouts, especially those that develop skills, are “effort” based.
- What time in the season is it? If you have less than about 12 weeks until your A-priority race, then you need a “Build-Peak-Race” plan. If you have more than 12 weeks remaining, then start with a “Base” period plan. If you have more than 24 weeks until your event, start with a Base plan and repeat the last 3–4 weeks (or a portion of them) of that plan enough times to get you to the start date for your Build-Peak-Race plan.
I hope this helps. But if not, please let me know. Good luck!