Train Smarter, Not Harder
Train smarter, not harder. This is the core of my training philosophy. I will admit that I may have appropriated the concept from my stepfather while working with him doing some construction work. One of his favorite sayings is "Work smarter, not harder". The concept is even truer for training for endurance events than it is for carpentry.
The reason this holds true for endurance training is that we have a limited amount of time, effort, and volume that we can handle. Just working harder isn't going to get it done. If we think of these variables as “budgets” it makes it a lot easier to maximize the return on investment we get for the work that we do. Even professional athletes are limited in the amount of time, effort, and volume they can put in. We mere mortals have to figure in work and home life into that time budget as well. Assuming we’re actually trying to train (i.e. get fitter and faster) and not just exercise, then it means we need to get the most amount of physiological gain for we can for every minute and drop of sweat we spend training.
Our bodies are machines. Each part of the machine needs to be operating as well as possible in order to get the best performance. The catch is that we’re only going to perform as well as the weakest part of the machine. The real meaning behind “Train smarter, not harder” is identify the how much improvement we’ll gain from a particular workout. If our workouts need to be getting us the most bang for our buck, we need to focus on the weak link in the machine. If our turnover is the weak link, we can probably get more improvement by doing some striders than getting an extra 10 minutes in on our easy run. If it is our endurance that is the limiting factor, we probably will get more out of stretching our long and easy runs a little bit than by doing more gut busting 400’s. If we’re capable of running 100 miles without stopping but we’re trying to set a 5k PR, we probably need to be doing some work to increase our speed instead of getting a longer run in.
Good biomechanics and proper recovery are essential to training smarter. Better mechanics enable us to take less wear and tear with each step, resulting in a greater volume and quality of work we can put in. Proper recovery techniques allow us to recover from the physical toll of training harder, allowing us to get more work in over the course of a week without getting injured. By spending time working on our mechanics, we can increase the speeds and volume we can safely handle, as well as our actual speed at any given effort level. And let’s be honest, if we’re working hard we want to actually get to that finish line faster.
As athletes and people, we don’t have the time, energy, or training volume to waste on pointless effort. Bigger, harder, faster only gets you so far before you get hurt.
If we want to safely and consistently get faster, we have to spend our resources in the most efficient way possible. We have to identify what our own weak points are, and then spend our precious time and energy working on those.