Training Principle #5: Systematic Approach to Training

A wise coach (probably) once said that if you prepare randomly, your results on race day will be random. Although this might not be a quote that can be attributed to anyone noteworthy, the basic idea is that if you want to have some idea of what to expect on race day after spending many weeks preparing, it is essential to train with a systematic approach. In this article, Team RunRun coach and exercise scientist, Maxx Antush, discusses organizing your training in a systematic way to set yourself up to knock your race day goals out of the park!

What is a systematic approach?

The beauty of using a systematic approach is that it integrates all of the other training principles: overload and recovery, progression, individuality, and specificity. If a workout is not hard enough to overload an energy system to stimulate adaptation, but not easy enough to facilitate active recovery, then you end up with fatigue that doesn’t provide a training benefit. If your training plan randomly jumps between energy systems without any system being emphasized for enough time to develop, then you end up working hard without setting yourself up to progress. A successful systematic approach applied to your training, must establish appropriate levels of overload and recovery based on your individual needs that are manipulated so that you achieve progression and are applied in a way that prepares you for the specific demands of your goal event.

Coach Sarah Forman getting it done at the Mohican 100

What are some common pitfalls for systematic training? How can you overcome them?

Because a systematic approach to your training necessitates a blend of all key training principles, focusing on any one of the other four principles while neglecting others will cause your training to go off course. A common mistake if you are super focused on the data, graphs, and numbers in your training log is that you master the overload and recovery and the progression principles, but neglect the individuality and specificity. The training data can have an excellent trend, but if you aren’t addressing your individual needs or the specific demands of your goal event, you won’t have developed the necessary skill set to perform at your very best on race day. 

It is important to remember that running doesn’t occur in a vacuum and the subjective aspects matter too! A great way to bring the individuality back into focus if you are highly data focused is to write yourself a list of all the dynamic and variable things that occur in your life outside of running. Most of the things on this list won’t be things that you can track or objectively quantify, but writing them out will give you a tangible list of variables to consider when you are planning and evaluating your training and will likely reduce the importance of having textbook trends in your training data. The best way to keep specificity as part of your training plan is to start the construction of your plan by determining what the unique demands of your goal event are and deciding how you are going to address each of those demands in training. A cool way to keep track of event specificity if you like to have objective data is to make a chart with each specific demand listed and track which demands you are addressing each day you train. This will give you a metric to evaluate your specificity and clue you in on what you might be neglecting.

Another issue that sometimes occurs for highly social runners who frequently meet up to run with all the local group runs is that individuality and progression end up falling by the wayside. This can cause your running to plateau or, in extreme cases, even collapse. That being said, social running can be great for maintaining a base level of specific fitness and staying engaged in the community AND it would be much better to reduce your focus on individuality and progression for a while to run with all your friends in the running community than to drop out of the sport or burn out mentally from the grind of solo training!

An ideal blend if you thrive off the social nature of group runs would be to organize them into your training plan in a way that compliments your individual goals. If you know the group run pace is going to be a leisurely jaunt, then you might plan to do a hard workout the day before and use the group run as a recovery run. If you find that you always end up running hard when you join your friends, then taking a rest day or going for a short jog the next day could be what best sets you up to be able to enjoy a social outing with your running buddies and still be successfully working towards your personal goals!


We all know that it is important to work hard if you want to achieve your goals. Applying a systematic approach to training will ensure that your hard work is productive and you are as prepared as possible to have a successful outing at your goal event! Being methodical in your approach to training and having fun while you run are not mutually exclusive, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box and include everything that you love to do as part of your pursuit towards personal excellence!

Maxx Antush is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Maxx, check out his coaching page.