The Simple Principle of Training – Science of Running

The Simple Principle of Training – Science of Running


There’s a simple message that I learned from a grad school professor, Charlie Casserly, about coaching. Learn a lot but then simplify.

People often use the old coaching adage of “keep it simple stupid,” to mean that too much information is bad. That you shouldn’t complicate the act of coaching. There’s a crucial mistake in this line of thinking. It’s not that too much information is bad, it’s that overcomplicating the message can be detrimental.

In fact, a deep dive on understanding a topic is necessary. It gives you the ability to trim the fat and see what is important and what is not. Without a full understanding, you don’t know what to keep simple. Take running form for example. We could simplify the message to “Lift your knees and don’t land on your heel.” It’s simple and easy for an athlete to understand. Give those instructions and just about anyone can follow them. But did we select the right cues? While lifting your knees and landing on your mid/forefoot might look like something that elite runners are trying to do, the reality and research points otherwise. Only if we have a full understanding of the biomechanics of running can we then pick out what in the world matter to the athlete standing in front of me.

In other words, we need lots of knowledge in order to simplify. With that in mind, below are two examples of simplifying training to what actually matters.

The goal of training is simple. We are trying to fundamentally change the person we are coaching.

That’s it.

The individual you are coaching now, will not be the same person you are coaching a year from now. They will have fundamentally changed. If they didn’t, the training failed. This is an important concept, that means the training you do today, may not work tomorrow for the same athlete, simply because he or she has changed.

The goal, therefore, is to mold the race or competition you want. We determine the “shape” we are trying to build with each athlete. What does this mean? We aren’t training for a certain race; we are molding our athlete to perform a race in the way we want them to. What we are trying to build depends on the athlete. We need to take into account their strengths, weaknesses, and goals. These provide the roadmap for the route we need to take the athlete.

Our goal in training is simple; we need to:

  1. Decide a direction to take
  2. Understand what training stimulus accomplishes this goal
  3. Apply an appropriate training stimulus for that INDIVIDUAL athlete
  4. Allow for adaptation to occur.

These simple steps serve as the foundation of training.


Complex to simple is one of my rules on coaching. So if we take this mess of understanding and try to simplify it, what does a coach really need to know?

  1. What adaptations are you trying to get for this individual?

Step one is knowing what training adaptation are you trying to cause. In what direction are you trying to get this athlete to adapt? Is it aerobically, anaerobically, specific endurance, strength, etc.? It doesn’t matter what model of training you are using, you need to know what changes you are trying to get.

  1. For this individual, what types of workouts cause this adaptation?

Remember back to our training model (athlete + event). You need to understand what training stimulus causes this adaptation for the athlete

  1. How much stimulus do we need to “embarrass” the body?

Simply, how much stress do we need to cause to get the adaptation. Are we trying to press this adaptation or are we simply trying to maintain it? To decide how much is needed, start with what they’ve done in the past and handled and gradually push that boundary.

  1. How much and what type of recovery?

After the training stimulus is applied, how much recovery do we need before we attempt our next workout of any kind, and how much before we attempt a similar workout? In other words, we need to know in general how long it takes for the body to come out of the stress to do a workout in a different direction. Can we only do a recovery run the next day, or can we do a sprint workout, for example? Additionally, do we attack the same system in a week, 10 days, or 14 days? Knowing how much space we need before we attack again is key.

  1. What’s the timing?

By timing, we mean, how does it fit into the grand scheme of our training plan. Do we really need to do 10x400m at mile pace when we have 16 weeks until our peak race?  In other words, we need to know the timing of when we are trying to bring that particular system to peak force.


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