Training > Ready to Race

Ready to Race

By Scott Armstrong [Post date: Nov 22, 2012]

As a masters athlete, you face different training challenges than the ones you faced in your college years. The intent of this article is to lay out various principles and impart information so that you can create your own year round training program. I know some athletes prefer a highly specified regimen, but I believe an adult will be more successful if they learn to adapt a flexible program to their own situation.

You will have to do some kind of training all year round to maintain or improve your fitness. If you take large chunks of time off (I mean weeks, not days) you will definitely lose fitness. All it takes is 3 workouts a week (if they are vigorous) to maintain, so during those rough periods, be sure to get out and do something.

Surely, you want to do more than maintain your fitness; you want to improve! Frankly, it's not so easy to improve as we get older. First, understand the cycle of stress, recovery and adaptation. You stress your exercise systems with a workout, you recovery over the next day or two, your body adapts to the stress by improving the systems you stressed. If you run 5 miles every morning at the same speed, you will maintain that fitness but not improve significantly. Your body has adapted to the 5 miles/day load (which is pretty fit!) but to improve you will need an additional stress - run longer, run faster, run intervals. So the first principle to understand is that while the general steady state workouts are important to maintain your fitness, it is the "challenging" ones that will make you faster.

Every week, set goals for number of workouts, total minutes, number of hard workouts and quality of those hard workouts. If you miss a day, be flexible and change your plans so that you still make your targets for the week. 'Make hay while the sun shines' means you do some really solid workouts on the days you have time and energy, making up for the inevitable bad days. Have trouble finding time this week? Work hard in the time you do have, then make up for it the next week. You don't have to cycle your training perfectly to advance. Sometimes you improve in 'spurts', doing really inspired weeks or months, then simply hanging on to that improved fitness during more difficult periods.

Thinking in terms of spurts helps. Consistency is important, but I think that you make your biggest improvements in your 'special' workouts. Specials are the really challenging workouts that you take the time to get psyched and prepare for, then execute with your full focus and determination. You set your goals to accomplish something that you know will be hard, and push yourself to achieve a new level of performance, like a PR. Certainly an erg test or timed run would be a Special, but it doesn't have to be strictly timed. Going longer than you are used to counts, or doing more sets/intervals. The mental component is important here - it should be something aggressive, challenging and fun. A one-way 12 mile run home from work, that killer workout you read about in a magazine or you remember from college, beating a teammate's erg score or your 'over 30 PR'. Shoot to do a Special about once a week, but you can do more on the weeks you feel highly inspired. A few well-executed Specials can make up for a spotty week or month of workouts.

I recommend including strength training in your weekly program. If you are really tight on time, I would prioritize aerobic and fitness training, but work some kind of circuits and power into your aerobic training to get some kind of muscular work. See my article on "Weight Lifting" on this EGBC site for more info.

I believe that crosstraining is more important as we age. I suggest learning to train in a variety of forms – rowing, running, biking, skiing, weight circuits, swimming, Stairmaster, elliptical, the list can go on and on. Variety is good for your overall balance and development. Plus when you hurt something, you can usually switch to another exercise and rest the injured knee/back/shoulder.

How much should you row? I recommend shooting for at least 2x week of rowing or erging, more as you get closer to the Head of the Charles or other race. Getting on the water is worth extra time and energy to do, especially preparing for a race. But know that if you are generally fit and strong, can sustain hard effort and good power on the erg, and have some recent experience with an oar in your hand, you can probably perform well in a head race.

OK, here is how to start planning your workouts. Each month will have a theme to help guide your planning. Below are goals for each week. See my article on "Minutes" and "Hard Work" for some more info.

November, December - Basic Training

theme - get generally fit, prepare your body for the next phases

  • 200-240 minutes per week

  • 2-3 hard workouts typically (but not always) in the medium to long distances

  • 2-3 weight, resistance or power workouts

an excellent time of the year to work on strength and build muscle mass

January, February - Distance

theme - teach your body to go long, be fit and sustain decent effort for a long time

  • 300+ minutes

  • a few times each month, do a really long 90-120' workout

  • 2-3 hard workouts, but one should be long as in 40-60 minutes of effort

  • 2-3 weight, resistance or power workouts

OK to train for erg races or CRASH-B, do 2 shorter interval workouts chosen from 'The 2k" article

March, April - Stroke Length and Power

theme - see article 'Stroke Length and Power' article

  • 240-300 minutes

  • 2-3 hard workouts, but one should be long as in 40-60+ minutes of sustained hard effort

  • choose 1-2 from the 'Stroke Length and Power' article

  • 2-3 weight, resistance or power workouts

May - June - July - Race Distance Adaptation

theme - keep some workouts on Stroke Length, but start adding more intervals at 5k race rating and power output

  • 240-300 minutes

  • 2-3 hard workouts,

  • choose 1-2 from the 'Stroke Length and Power' article, others at 5k pace

  • 2-3 weight, resistance or power workouts

another good time to work on strength and build muscle mass, but emphasize power/speed instead of slow lifting

August - September - October Race Preparation

theme - see 'The Last 2 Months' article

  • 200-300 minutes depending on intensity

  • 2 or 3 hard workouts at race speed (5k pace) or faster

  • Can do some stuff from “The 2k” article

  • 1 or 2 workouts to develop specific power in the rowing form

  • 1 or 2 general strength workouts to maintain strength

For some of you who are in excellent training shape, these minute totals are too low. You may certainly bump up the numbers if you can tolerate the load. If you have very limited time and can’t hit the recommended minute totals, do more hard and Special workouts in your week.

Here's a sample week of mine, where I struggled with some ugly days but got the overall week done:

  • Goals - 5-6 workouts including two hard ones and two weight lifts, total 240 minutes, break 8300 for 30' piece

    • Monday - good 45' run, pushed it last 2 miles, not quite a 'hard' workout but close

    • Tuesday - had to work late, only had an hour so did 10k with power 15s and some pushups, crunches and pullups

    • Wednesday - biked to work and back total 70'

    • Thursday -off, too busy

    • Friday - got psyched up, planned and did 30' erg and got 8323 meters

    • Saturday - too busy driving kids around but squeezed in a minimum weight lift for 30'

    • Sunday - run/erg/bike 20' each - moderate push all of them

  • Totals - 5 1/2 days (count Sat as only 1/2), 2-3 hard workouts (the erg for sure, Monday's run and Sunday's tri are close), total 260 minutes, only one weight lift but Tuesday workout is a good substitute. A pretty good week, with a Special on Friday.

Now that you have some guidelines to shoot for, go out and design a training program that fits your schedule and facilities. And remember the most important thing of all – stay psyched! Feel free to email me with any specific questions.