The concept that there are “need to do’s” vs. “nice to do’s” in training is one that I learned by reading Vern Gambetta’s work. Vern is phenomenal coach and educator and his blog is a gem.
It’s a simple question, but one that many runners – especially well read runners who have a great deal of knowledge about training – don’t answer very well.
Let’s look at strength training.
For collegiate athletes, Strength and Mobility should come first, then, once they have a good foundation of general strength, they can move to things like kettlebells. After that, time to do some squats, weighted step simple leg step ups, dumbbell work, etc. They need to follow a simple progression of general strength to light external load (the kettlebells) to greater external load.
Those are “need to do’s” in my mind, assuming the athlete is motivated and there aren’t any odd injury patterns going into this type of training.
I think Olympic lifting is a “nice to do” for these athletes. If they a) have a coach who can teach them the proper technique and b) have the time in their day to get it in, then do it. But may college athletes lack one or both of these must haves, so Olympic lifting becomes a “nice to do.”
For the adult runner, an example of this choice is a speed development workout, which I wrote an article on for Running Times a few years back – click here to read it.
I currently only have two clients – both in their 20’s – for whom this workout would be appropriate. It’s a “nice to do” for them, and they’re young.
Could runners in their 30s, 40s or 50s do the speed development workout and get some benefit out of it? Sure, but for most busy adults with hectic lives, the speed development workout doesn’t fit due to time constraints. Also, this workout is only appropriate if the athlete has good levels of general strength before they tackle a workout with a lot of fast running.
Finally, for the adult running 5k, 10k, half marathons and marathons, race-pace work done at the end of the training cycle is a “need to do.”
5k race pace workouts are difficult and some people don’t want to do them, but you must if you want to race to your potential over 5,000m. Thus, race pace work is a need to do.
So the important question is, what will your “need to do” list be this year and what elements of training will you put in the “nice to do” category?