How do you adapt your training to the ‘shape of the day’?
The shape of the day, that is an elusive concept. One day you feel great and another day the workout can just be too much. How do you know if you are ready for your planned workout? Hardlopen.nl expert Rob Veer explains how to adapt your training to the shape of the day.
Listening to your body is not always easy. Your body rarely expresses itself clearly. And when it sends a signal that for once is not ambiguous, it generally falls on the deaf ears of the avid runner. After all, the schedule says its time for a workout and the fear of deviating from it is great.
Listening to pain signals
If you stop at every signal of pain, it is better to stop running altogether, or as an acquaintance once said to me: “If I listened to my body, I’d be lying on the sofa all day.” Moreover, the pain signal tends to go away “on its own”. Sometimes, however, things go badly wrong and you suffer an injury or become overtrained, which means you will literally be out of action for weeks and sometimes months.
Your body never lies, but it remains difficult to deal adequately with its signals. This is why the search is still ongoing for a tool that can correctly evaluate the signals and set the traffic light to red, green or yellow at that moment. Despite frantic efforts, that tool has yet to be found.
There are no handy devices to measure the risk of injury. You must rely on your own common sense. If your pain persists for more than a week and does not subside, see a physiotherapist. When in doubt, choose the safest option; it is better to make a slight adjustment now than to apply the brakes later.
If fatigue lasts too long, you may find yourself in a situation of being overtrained. You can compare it to physical burnout. Full recovery from a state of overtraining can take several months to more than a year. Bear in mind that other things are also involved, such as stress, poor eating habits or sleeping problems.
There are some devices that help you check whether you are sufficiently rested for the next workout. These are based on (among other things) the HRV, the heart rate variation. They are pricey and not yet 100% reliable. Another, less reliable method is to measure the resting pulse, the heart rate before getting out of bed.
As a trainer of a cycling team told me, “I don't need a device like that. When I see how my riders arrive at the breakfast table in the morning, that tells me enough.” Of course, you do not have to depend on devices or an attentive and empathic coach.
In my book The ten, the half and the whole: Handbook for the performance-oriented runner [De tien, de halve en hele, handboek voor de prestatiegerichte hardloper’] (published in early 2018), I describe a quick test that enables you to quickly and easily determine each morning whether you need to adjust the training planned for the day. It works as follows:
Ask yourself these three questions every morning and give your answer in the form of a numerical score:
- How high is your resting pulse rate? Normal = 1 point, add 1 point for every 2 heartbeats higher
- How tired do you feel? Rested = 1 point, very tired = 5 points
- How much are you looking forward to your workout? Very enthousiastic = 1 point, Reluctant = 5 points
If your answer to any of these questions is 3 or more points, adjust the training for that day.
Depending on the aches and pains or the fatigue, it is best to adjust your training as follows: First, reduce the speed. Run the endurance runs at a more leisurely pace than usual and omit any speed work such as interval training and tempo runs. Does that not improve things? If not, shorten the next training sessions and consider adding one or two extra rest days. If you are dealing with an injury, look for alternative forms of training such as cycling, swimming or the cross trainer.
You often hear that, in hindsight, athletes could have avoided an injury or overtraining if they had taken their body’s signals more seriously. Don’t let that happen to you!