This past weekend, I escaped to Florida for a little sun and learning at the Lydiard coaching certification program in Tallahassee.
you don’t know who Lydiard is, chances are at some point you’ve been following
his approach with your training. Originated
in New Zealand, this legendary approach is built upon five principles;
aerobic base development, response regulated training, feeling based training,
sequential program and correct timing. It's all about maximizing your aerobic capacity by building a “base”
and then moving through a sequential progression of training to
improve your fitness and speed just in time for race day.
Time and again, the presenter reiterated that while there are quicker
ways you make yourself faster – the Lydiard approach seems to be the most
safely managed and predictable way to time your peak performance for when it
certification program was put together by the Lydiard Foundation, clearly
staffed by those who are passionate not just about Lydiard but about sharing
their joy for running. Part basic
physiology, part program design, part application – it was a quick and
informative way for coaches and athletes to learn about a longstanding and logical way to train. We were a group of 20 – some
new coaches, some who coach beginners, some who coach high school teams, some were just recreational runners. The information was presented by way of lecture, video,
discussion as well as hands on learning in actual workouts.
most of the program was information that I’ve heard before, it makes
sense to revisit the basics of training. Often it seems that coaches forget basic
physiology and how it pertains to the demands of triathlon performance. Lydiard’s principles seem especially relevant
in today’s world of triathlon as many coaches have fallen prey to what I call
the “McDonaldization” of training – faster for less (but it doesn’t always take
you very far). Let’s make one thing
clear: even at the shortest distance, triathlon is an aerobic event. Even an 800 meter race on the track is
predominantly aerobic. It's important to note that any speed of training (fast or slow) will indeed improve your aerobic fitness. But what most
athletes lack is not speed, its stamina (or strength).
Lacking stamina or strength is especially true of adult-onset
athletes. They simply do not have the
endurance, strength or durability it takes to excel at triathlon. The longer the distance, the more this holds
true. Coaches must remember that these adult-onset athletes were not
athletes when younger (and let's face it - these athletes make up the bulk of our rosters). And they, like
most of us, lead otherwise sedentary lives (unfortunately, doing 1 to 2 hours
of exercise a day while sitting another 8 to 12 hours a day does not make for an active lifestyle!) For those reasons (and more), taking the time
to properly develop your aerobic capacity, strength, some call it fatigue
resistance, will go a lot further than rushing into working on your speed – and
likely keep you much healthier and longer involved in the sport. Keep in mind this
doesn’t mean there is no place for speed in training. This just means that before you get there, you
need the basic fitness or foundation to benefit from it. You also need the capacity, skills and
coordination to benefit. Benefit means
you can gain from it without it setting you back due to illness, injury or
Now, the best athletes and
coaches know that we indeed do “speed work” all year round but it comes in
different disguises. Early in the year,
it might be drills. It might then progress
to strides where you focus on what Lydiard calls “feeling fast, feeling
good.” From there it progresses to
plyomteric work through hill resistance.
Next, interval training. For many
of you, this is a progression you’ve followed and one that you know takes time. For others, you’ve followed the “give ‘em
what they want approach.” Fast training
is fun, sexy and much more interesting to post on social media than “I spent
time on my feet improving mitochondria.”
But the problem with fast training is that often you’ve gone too fast
too soon and while you might be fast for a month or two, at some point you
breakdown or regress to the norm by falling injured or flat in your
performance. Even worse, by doing too
much, too fast, too often you can actually lose your fitness.
Lydiard approach emphasizes doing the right
workout, not necessarily the most impressive workout. Triathlon is filled with a lot of senseless
boasting about impressive workouts from what I call flash in the pan athletes –
they might excel for a season or two but before long they ether injure themselves,
blow out their thyroids or burn out. To
me, the point of hiring a coach or following a plan is to protect your
investment in the sport – your body, your time, your longevity to be active and
healthy for as long as life allows. The most impressive training doesn’t allow
that. Instead view impressive as consistency, repeatability of progress (or greatness)
year after year. This comes from doing
the right workouts at the right time.
Not the workouts to make you fit right
now. Big difference. The right workout also means finishing the
workout always saying “I could do one more” or “I could do that again
tomorrow.” Never empty the tank. Never
test yourself in training. Never leave
your race in a training session just to build confidence. In those instances, you don’t need
confidence, Lydiard says you need faith and discipline in your training
believed that with his training approach, by properly building up, it was quite
possible to run many miles per week (and the actual miles for "many" depends on you and
your goals). If you properly build someone
up, even a walker to a jogger – by getting them to run at the proper pace,
usually much more slowly than they want – they can run more often, run every
day and in turn, run more miles. There
are no junk miles. In fact, that “junk”
is often the glue that holds your fitness together. Lydiard also believes that the training you
do today is for next year. Training
needs to be viewed as a long term progression.
It takes time to build up your tendons, muscles and mind to handle more
training. And if you do so slowly, next
year you’ll be training faster which means you will be doing more training. More miles covered in the same time.
this sequential approach? Lydiard
recognizes that aerobic capacity takes the longest to develop and the longest
to lose. Speed is quick to develop,
especially if you have the strength and skills to coordinate the movement. In their words, you can’t coordinate
something you haven’t developed. You
can’t go fast on the track if you’ve never learned how to properly sprint (or
stride). Spend time building the biggest
foundation possible with the skills and fitness to support the highest
peak. You’ve heard this before – we all
have. It’s training theory at its most
basic (and long standing). It works
because it’s built on sound principles.
The presenter acknowledged that while there are many ways to get fast – this one
has worked over time. Don’t discount it
because it takes time or it forces you to run slow. Again, most people are not limited by their
ability to run fast. They’re limited by
their ability to hold that speed over the distance. The ability to run a great distance with ease
at a steady speed. Think about that –
when was the last time your fitness allowed you to hold your speed for longer
periods of time, at ease?
part I really appreciated was one of Lydiard’s five basic principles: feelings-based
training. It’s a good point to make for
today’s technology obsessed athletes. In
Lydiard’s view, don’t become so reliant on technology that you ignore your
inner technology. In other words, a
body’s got a brain so use it. Learn your
body’s response and language. Understand
what you’re doing – the why and when of each workout and how your body
responds. Along those same lines, they propose doing
what you can do. Right now if you
can run more miles at a slower pace –
do so in order to run more consistently and, in turn, run more. Don’t force a speed and risk an injury
because you’re doing what you want to do or what you think you can do. Don’t do what you can barely survive. Don’t base your training on magical numbers. Base it on current fitness that you’ve
demonstrated. Of course there is value in gathering data to
look at your workouts and races to understand your weaknesses – stamina, speed
or pace judgment. Yet also recognize the
need to disconnect to enjoy running and develop your inner GPS.
got into some specifics of workouts in each phase; hill resistance, interval
training, coordination, freshening.
Though I did not participate in the two workouts (hill bounding and
50/50s on the track), I learned the proper form and purpose for each
workout. We did not go into too much
detail about individual running form.
The presenter did mention something I’ve heard before: by simply running
more, you improve your efficiency. We briefly
watched proper run form in a few elite and non-elite athletes on video, looking
for a circular motion in their stride.
But as the presenter said, good form will find any speed. Just because you’re slower than an elite,
doesn’t mean you can’t (or don’t) have good form.
any approach, this one has its critics.
Lydiard has been criticized for running too slow or (in some cases) too
much. Most of Lydiard's athletes were running 100 miles a week and training overdistance for even 800 meter races on the track. But it goes back to one of his basic principles: aerobic capacity. Again, run races at 800 meters ore more are increasingly aerobic. Improve that capacity and you'll improve performance. This doesn't mean that you, however, need to run 100 mile weeks or run only an easy pace. You can follow this approach without running big miles and at some point you – of
course - progress on from running easy.
The approach includes speed work, track work and intervals. So the point is not to think that Lydiard
means all slow running. To me, it means
following a logical progression with a big picture in mind. Not sacrificing tomorrow for getting
gratification out of what we’re doing today.
It takes patience, trust and time. It’s a way of increase your odds of
being ready to go fast when it matters most.
Certainly, it needs to be tweaked for an individual athlete’s physiology
and psychology. And while it may work
for many, the art of being a good coach means that for those it doesn’t work
for – finding an alternative approach.
criticism is that it’s been around a long time.
It must be outdated! Just because an approach has been around a
long time or seems too simple doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. This is why simple isn’t always easy to
do! It’s tempting to look for the next
greatest, latest thing in training.
Recognize that the basics of human physiology have not changed. If you can coach from those basics and tweak
a program based on our experience and the unique physiology and psychology of
an athlete, you will have the foundation of good coaching and deliver your
athletes to a higher level of performance.
this was a beneficial experience. Not to
mention that I got to run outside – in shorts!
But more importantly I learned why I trust what I know – because it
works, because it’s stood the test of time.
To me, the Lydiard approach makes sense because it is a lot of common
sense. As a coach, I spend a lot of time
telling people things they don’t want to hear; slow down, hold back, warm up,
be patient, pace yourself, eat, rest.
Whether this applies to speed, workout details, training approach or
performance. What it all comes down to
is that more often or not, people pay me for common sense. Sure, over the years I’ve learned some tricks
but the real magic or “secret” lies in these three things: be consistent, stay
healthy, enjoy your training. If you can
combine those three factors in such a way that they resonate – daily – then you
have the secret. It’s that easy. To me, Lydiard approach has plenty of easy to
understand and easy to implement program ideas that allow coaches to coach in
such a way that cultivates those three factors.
line: if the certification class comes to your area, I recommend it for any coach or athlete.