TRAINING: One Program To Rule Them All

Fans of the Lord of the Rings (and I am one) will recall a line much like the title above. I am using it because I have found one programme, finally, that serves exactly my purposes and leaves no detail untouched in explaining how to design your own training programme from scratch.

This programme is the SERIOUS programme by Rob Sleamaker and Ray Browning, first brought to my attention in Noakes' "Bible of Running", the "Lore of Running", in his chapter on walkthrough of the many different training programmes out there.

On one thing, Sleamaker and Noakes agree, telling me that they are wise men is this sentence: "Don't trust anyone who tells you that his or her method is the only way to achieve success."
(their heavy use of references for their claims, ability to consistently represent opposing and contrarian points in the literature tells me same).

Noakes already concludes well, after having analyzed several researchers programmes as well as the programmes used by the world's foremost athletes from the mile to ultras, several points on how you should train. These are not rigid training programmes, but rather general principles that should be incorporated into an individual training plan. While Noakes' has 15 Laws of Training, here are my favourites, and those that led me to Sleamaker et al.'s work:

1. Train Frequently, All Year
2. Start gradually
4. Don't set your training schedule in stone
6. Achieve as much as possible on a Minimum of training (a no brainer, but as Noakes demonstrates in his book, a lot of athlete's seem to train only so they can train harder, and there is an endless list of great runners who faded before their time due to overtraining, most notably Ron Hill, Buddy Edelen, and Rafael Salazar).
9. Incorporate base training and sharpening

The other 10 laws are equally valid, and I'll probably talk about them at some point, but for the moment, these serve to demonstrate what I was looking for in a training program. So when I saw Sleamaker et. al.'s model, I immediately chased down the last copy in Hodges and Figgis of "SERIOUS training for Endurance Athletes".

SERIOUS is an acronym employed by Sleamaker et al. to create a universal translator between training programmes. It stands for:

Endurance (Half-tempo or slightly slower)
Race-Pace (Tempo)
Overdistance (LSD)
Up/Vertical (same as intervals just uphill)
Speed (fartlek, body-speed, strides)

These are the base components of any training programme but will be found by slightly different names in different works.

The greatest advantage of Sleamaker et al.'s programme is not this clever acronym (althought their walkthrough on how to design the exercises within each component is very useful), instead it is the many templates in the book as well as the separation of the year into five basic cycles:

52-week version
1. Base (16 weeks)
2. Intensity (16 weeks)
3. Peak (4 weeks)
4. Race (12 weeks)
5. Rest/Regeneration (4 weeks)

As the mathematically gifted will notice, everything is build around 4 week cycles, so you can usually move this around to a two, three, or four peak season (rather than the above).

Sleamaker gives us the exact percentage of time that:

1. We must perform of each component in each week of each cycle
2. How much of the year's total time must be spend on each 4-week period

Also, they provide multiple templates, worksheets, logbooks etc. to allow you to enter the data and do your calculations (I created a spreadsheet), so creating each four week period is a breeze, and I still have a lot of freedom on how to design my sessions.

This variety is the real beauty, you pick the total number of hours (there are guidelines in the book on what would be right), you cherrypick the exercises you need for your sports inside the components, and you put them on the days that suit you (remembering core principles such as alternating hard and easy days). The weeks are also never the same, generally the volume in a 4 week period is split like this:

1. 23%
2. 26%
3. 29%
4. 22%

This combines well with the research in Lore of Running that shows that repetitive training is one of the biggest causes of injury and it also incorporates the principle of periodisation in an elegant manner.

In racing season, if you had a race every second week, you would be better off splitting like this:

1. 20%
2. 30%
3. 20%
4. 30%

Finally the book provides exact guidelines as what to do with your overall plan if you get injured, if you have a race so long that it uses up all your "race time" for a period etc. , meaning you can always take the necessary steps (e.g. staying flexible) without jeopardising the overall integrity of your training programme.

I'd be happy to send my spreadsheet to anyone who's interested, but remember that you may have to adapt the calendar to your needs.


Anonymous said…
Hello, I am also a big fan of Sleamaker.
I would appreciate a copy of your Excel Spreadsheet being the only thing missing from his book.
My email is and I live in Canmore, Alberta.