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Pyramid of Progress

Progress in fitness is usually more simple than we realise. It can be easy to get confused by a lot of noise about things like supplements, kit, trying out different fancy workouts or moves and those can be helpful. But you want to make sure you are working on solving problems in the right order. These concepts can be relevant to yoga, strength training, nutrition, but I'll use running as an example.


The fundamental layer to making progress is having an ongoing routine for training. Doing the workouts every week. Keeping that as a consistent habit over weeks and months. Any adaptations to the body from a particular workout only stay in the system for so long and then begin to fade. The more random your exercise routine is the less likely it is that any benefits will be long lasting or help you make progress towards your goals.


The next layer is how frequent the training sessions are and this overlaps a lot with consistency. One workout every week is consistent and definitely better than nothing but if you miss that one workout you have missed 100% of your training. The sweet spot for most is exercising anywhere between 2-6 days a week. This will likely vary depending on your goals, for example marathon or triathlon training is more intense and will involve 5-6 days per week, those exercising for general fitness will find that 2-3 per week is plenty.


Using a really crude example, if you’ve entered a marathon but the only type of training you do is swimming there’s a chance you’ll get round the course on race day but there will probably be a whole world of hurt involved. Assuming you’ve built up a consistent and regular routine you’ll now want to start adding in workouts designed to make improvements that are specific to your goal. For marathon training this means building up endurance on longer and longer runs as well as intervals and threshold efforts focused on increasing speed. For a 5km distance race the plan would include even faster efforts and not so much overall distance. To get stronger at lifting weights you need to lift weights regularly. To improve at yoga you need to practice yoga regularly. The fancy term for this in the personal trainer training manual is the SAID principle: specific adaption to imposed demand.


This is where training plans start to need to be customised to the athlete. Template training plans might prescribe runs or interval efforts at “5km pace” or “marathon pace”. To train at appropriate intensity for the desired adaptation it’s worth calculating what those paces are and assigning target zones for your workouts and then reviewing how you perform against those targets. If paces are calculated correctly and training is executed well you should find that you need to adjust the target paces as you progress through the training plan.


This could include accessory work to supplement your main training or specific rehab work following an injury. For example, hip mobility to help with running, or deadlifting. It’s the small details that on their own don't add up to much but layered in with the bigger work could make the difference between a PB or not. Nutrition might come into play here, looking at macronutrient (carbs/fats/protein) ratios and timings of meals to best support recovery. It could include things like looking at specific types of running shoes, some of which have been found to improve performance by a small percentage. However, taking it back full circle, if you're only running once a week fancy shoes are not going to make much of a difference but increasing frequency and goal specific workouts will.

In reality these elements all overlap rather than stack neatly. There is benefit to fine tuning technique even at the early stages of training. But without a solid foundation of consistent routine the more detailed work will have less impact. Which element do you find you struggle with most?

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