I was recently asked “what are the advantages and disadvantages/risks of adding an additional training session per week”. I am sure that readers will attest that this is a common question in some form or another.
In any club that caters for differing levels of experience and ability, it is likely that there are athletes training as little as 2 days a week and as much as as 6 days per week, and some even 9-11 sessions per week. At every level of experience, it is probable that athletes will ask the question ‘should I be doing more?’
The simple answer is of course that it depends on the ‘circumstances of the individual athlete’ but an answer of this nature does not really help. What’s really needed is a number of criteria that the athlete and the coach can consider to determine whether circumstances permit an additional training day.
Here are some suggested criteria for increasing training frequency:
|1|| Does the athlete manage their present training load well?
The athlete needs to consistently demonstrate: (i) a high level of attendance at training (above 95%), (ii) missed training sessions are largely made up, (iii) completion of the prescribed training load in each training session unless modified by the coach, (iv) a positive state of mind about training and (v) an ability to train without chronic injury and soreness which affects performance.
For the average athlete training 3-4 days per week, these factors are relatively easy to understand. A simple answer of ‘YES’ to all elements of the criteria provides evidence that the athlete is ready to step up their training. But what if the the athlete is already training 5 or more sessions per week and doing very well? The greater the level of the athlete’s training input, the more cautious the decision must be to increase it further. The coach and the athlete must consider whether the athlete is getting the best out of their existing training before they should step up another session. But if the situations seems that they are, then it is a case of thinking about additional criteria as below.
|2||Has the athlete identified and given sufficient thought to the threats to holistic well-being that may arise from additional training time?
Athletes may well see the advantages in adding extra training time but often they fail to see the issues and problems that will likely arise. An additional training session per week will likely mean: (i) Less homework or study (for students) and more angst from parents, (ii) less time meeting family responsibilities including doing chores and jobs around the house, (iii) less time for social engagement (iv) greater feelings of fatigue which may effect work and study commitments.
Additional training time also means reduced recovery time between training sessions but the situation is not all bad! It could easily be the situation that (i) the athlete’s socialisation activities are a problem, (ii) more training time could mean less time slumped over laptops and tablets, (iii) the athlete appreciates the value of training and learns to order their priorities and take greater control of their lifestyle.
The point is that athletes should be encouraged to think about advantages and disadvantages not just from a training perspective but realize that they must be able to manage their everyday life in order for extra training to be a benefit.
|3|| What are the athlete’s long-term goals?
In answering the question about additional training, much will depend on the athlete’s self-belief and their long-term goals. It would be good to know and compare the athlete’s goals at the start of the training and at periodic intervals of, say, one year. This would be a great study! But seriously there would be few athletes, at any age, that would start sport training with the deliberate intention to be a national champion or go to the Olympic Games. It is more likely that athletes will begin sport training because it looks like fun, or they perceive a health benefit, or it helps to widen the social network. As the training process ensues, the athlete will receive environmental signals about their ability. These signals may come from the results they achieve, the comments and encouragement received from the coach or team mates and/or the emotions that they experience as they pursue training and competition. Sport, after all, is highly emotive. These experiences tend to cause the athlete to revisit their goals and to consider whether the investment of more time and energy will bring a likelihood of greater success.
Therefore, when an athlete asks the question “should I add another training day” (or words to that effect), thought must really be given to the athlete’s psychological attributes and in particular their own self-belief. It is sometimes the case that an athlete will espouse goals along the lines of what they wish for (“I would like to . . . “) rather than what they intend firmly to pursue (“my goal is to . . .”).
The coach must seek to understand their athletes, interpret their goals and evaluate the level of their self-belief in order to provide advice as to whether more training will have a beneficial effect. The coach needs to be cautious in this regard. The athlete needs to carefully consider their goals, and to identify the advantages, disadvantages and risks of pursuing higher levels of training. As a practising coach, I tend not to make the first move but instead wait for the athlete to ask the question, as they inevitably do.