Being a coach and athlete I’m always looking for different drills and sessions to add variety to training. A very old painter once told me that “variety is the spice of life,” and maybe it is. If you’ve had a ham sandwich everyday for 20 years, you’d go nuts for some vegemite occasionally. In any number of circumstances we could choose variety over repetition on training days.
Though it’s important to remember that strict routine and repetition is be just as beneficial to a training program. The secret of training and coaching is too get a good combination of both. I like to call it my ‘footy team’ approach.
Every ‘footy team’ has a mixture of characters. Anyone who’s spent time in the rooms at a football club before and after games will know that there’s – the larrikins, the serious types, the show pony’s, the quiet achievers, the staunch captain, the rugged coach (who has a head like a catcher’s mitt). All these character’s comprise the team, a team of ‘bold personalities’ all working towards the common goal. Team success.
When undertaking your training program it’s important to adopt the ‘footy team’ mentality. Your training program should mix variety with discipline, fun with fatigue, winning with battling. Don’t run around aimlessly thinking your killing it.
It’s important not to do the same ‘hit-out’ every saturday but it’s also important to revisit particular sessions, same course, same distance, same everything. This way you can mark improvement or decline and look at the reasons why. Mixing training sessions up helps to keep you invigorated. Why run around the park five days a week when you could run – the park, beach, hills, track and get on the bike in those same five days? The monotony of training can be enough to kill some athletic endeavours.
Conversely, the cat that is forever chasing a new workout is not as accountable to the measurement that only comes with repetition. They can let themselves off the hook and pretend the work is just as hard, but this is rarely the case.
The running squad that I attend will revisit the same sessions monthly. This gives me an idea of whether I’m improving or going to the dogs.
At Nudgee College in the 1980’s, the distance running squad would practice their intervals in alternating directions. Number one ran anti-clockwise (traditional), and number two ran clockwise (unconventional) and so on. The coach’s belief was that this was an easier way to break down the huge track sets, each opposite effort had a feeling of being somewhat fresh. Moreover, this method evened out the stresses placed on the young bodies of his athletes. Important point: they were still getting the same amount of work done, same distance, same intensity, just slightly tweaked. This is an example of great ‘mix.’
Former undisputed Junior Welterweight World Boxing Champion, Kostya Tszyu, was a master of training variation but never neglected the ‘must do’s’ of the training cycle. In any year you could walk into his gym and find Kostya well overweight and practicing basic one and two punch combinations. The ‘musts,’ the fundamentals, the building blocks. Three months later, you could find him with a body you could rock climb on and sparring with other world-rated opponents.
What’s important about Kostya is that his preparation was thorough. Before he could become the ‘show-pony’ in sparring he had to do the work of the ‘quiet achiever’ on the heavy bag bag in his sweat suit. Before he could laugh like the ‘larrikin’ and drink beer after the fight he had to be the ‘serious type’ and get the job done first.
Kostya had a stringent 3 month plan that lead up to each big fight. 6 weeks base training in Sydney, 2 weeks at the A.I.S. in Canberra, followed by 2 weeks training back in Sydney, then 2 weeks in the city of the fight, usually Las Vegas. This program provided variety by undertaking training in different cities but held a rigid schedule that would allow Kostya to measure his fitness, weight and performance levels against his previous campaigns.
Both Kostya and Nudgee had variety in their training plans that provided the “spice of life” to keep them motivated but they never relinquished on the quality or volume of the training.