The SR Coaching Philosophy: The Unique Power of Training Pillars

by Jason Fitzgerald

Why is it that most people never even come close to realizing their potential?

Where Will Your Training Take You?

Compare two runners trying to get out of their rut and accomplish their goals:

Adam started running five years ago to lose weight. He likes to race 10k’s and half marathons, but hasn’t seen any improvement in two years. It seems that whenever he gets healthy from one injury, another one pops up. He tries all the conventional advice like RICE and taking more time off, but he can’t string together any consistent running.

As a result, Adam’s still 20 pounds heavier than he’d like to be. Wanting to revive his training, he set a new goal to finally break two hours in the half marathon. After a few weeks of hopping from one training plan to another, he’s frustrated that his running has no direction. His race is coming up in only 5 weeks and he’s not sure he’s going to be able to finish – let alone reach his goal of breaking two hours.

Lydia started running four years ago to lose weight. She had no real plan but knew running could help save her life. After a few months, she ran her first half marathon in 2:35. Tired of trying so hard but feeling like she wasn’t getting anywhere, she took action and got outside help.

Within three months, she was strong enough to stop wearing her custom orthotics and felt better (while running more) than ever before. Today, she’s lost a total of 80 pounds and her half marathon PR is a blazing 1:41 (54 minutes faster than it used to be).

What’s so different about these two runners?

Adam followed the conventional advice to “never increase your mileage by more than 10%” and “rest more to get healthy from overuse injuries.” He’s never followed a detailed training plan – with all of the ancillary work that keeps runners healthy – and just isn’t sure what to do next. He consistently succumbs to the “Try Everything, Try Nothing” approach to running.

Lydia invested in her running by taking action – instead of reading more and more about running (more information is not always the answer), she focused on only a few pillars of sound training. Small improvements snowballed into big fitness gains and now her running is automatic and something she “just does.”

Lydia is actually a real person – a former runner in my 1-on-1 coaching program. You can read her full story here.

There’s a reason why my runners – like Lydia, Ryan, and Rob – see big results like 80 pounds of weight loss, beating ITBS, or running an 18 minute PR in the marathon. Instead of focusing on foot strike or the best strength program for a person of their age, they focused on the key pillars of successful running.

Training Pillars: The Answer to Debating Minutiae

See, we love debating minutiae. Everyone does. We say things like, “Should I do a 15 minute tempo run or a 20 minute tempo run?” and “There’s too many details – should I do Standard Core or ITB Rehab? Ahh, I give up.”

We’re constantly worried about the details of training – the tiny wrinkles that make running fun, but aren’t the big wins of accomplishing goals. These minutiae are the training porn of the running world – the tabloids of training advice.

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

  • “What are some tips and tricks on half marathon training?”
  • “Do you recommend ASICS or Nike?”
  • “My IT band hurts – should I do acupuncture or get a cortisone shot?”

It’s just like with diet when people worry if eggplant has more vitamin C than squash (meanwhile, they eat processed food for every meal). Or with personal finance, people struggle to budget for every last expense… but haven’t contributed to their employer’s 401(k) plan.

Stop sweating the small stuff that doesn’t directly help you accomplish your running goals! Focus on what’s important – what will actually help you run faster, prevent injuries, and become a more consistent runner.

That’s why my training philosophy – the same philosophy that guides every single one of my training plans and coaching resources – is so damn effective. It prioritizes the important elements of running so you can get the results you’re looking for without freaking out about every little detail.

These are the Training Pillars of my coaching philosophy that maintain baseline fitness with far fewer injuries. This “baseline fitness” is key to being a good runner – it means you can jump down to a short 5k race or up to a marathon relatively quickly without an overly dramatic change in training.

Last year when I interviewed Dathan Ritzenhein, he explained the importance of this concept, highlighting that runners should stay in a moderate, base level of fitness all the time.

Move down to the 5k? No problem.

Want to run a 50k? We can do that!

The main training pillars in the Strength Running Coaching Philosophy include aerobic development, injury prevention, and variety – all three make specific training easier to accomplish when the time is right.

Aerobic development is the top training pillar for obvious reasons: without endurance, you can’t do much of anything. As Jim Butler, my former cross country coach from Connecticut College likes to answer (in response to what will fix any running problem), “MILEAGE!”

Over the long haul, endurance is built by a variety of training tactics:

  • High mileage (your weekly running volume)
  • Long runs
  • Density of running (the number of runs you do per week)
  • Aerobic workouts (tempos, progressions, marathon/half marathon pace runs, etc.)

Weaving these elements throughout a training plan using a sound progression is key. Do too much and you could get hurt. Do too little and you won’t get the training stimulus you’re looking for.

You want to adhere to the Goldilock’s Principle and plan your workouts just right.

Injury prevention is critical for consistency (which is why I focus on it for an entire week in the SR Boot Camp) and long-term development so it’s a close second in my philosophy. If you can’t run, how are you supposed to improve?

The basics include a good dynamic warm-up, core workout, and runner-specific strength exercises. That’s not all though – the overall training approach helps you stay healthy by avoiding the “3 Too’s” – doing too much, too soon, too fast.

Finally, the SR coaching philosophy centers heavily on variety to move along the adaptation process (i.e., to get you in better shape!):

  1. Rotating 2-3 pairs of shoes to vary the stress on your feet and lower legs
  2. Using 4 or more different paced workouts every week to boost your fitness
  3. Training for different races throughout the year to work on different “types” of fitness

Of course, all of these principles are related: variety can prevent injuries. Injury prevention improves consistency so you can build more endurance. A higher aerobic fitness means you can do a wider range of workouts.

Focus on these training pillars – the key elements of running – and you’ll easily run past your peers year after year.

The SR System: Curing “Shiny Red Ball Syndrome”

But for most runners, this is nearly impossible. The average runner has “shiny red ball syndrome” and chases the next new thing: insoles, Yasso 800’s, or the latest fitness class at the gym. So many runners think that they just need to give up meat… or try different shoes… or start P90X…

Yet six months later, they’re in the same position. A few years later, they wonder how some of their peers have seen huge improvements and ask things like:

“Why isn’t Sally running the 20×400 workout with the running club this week?” Because that workout is too advanced for her and isn’t appropriate for her fitness level or goals.

“How come Mike isn’t running a 5k this weekend? He used to race every weekend with us!” Over-racing is a sure path to doing too much, too soon, and never realizing what you could accomplish with more focused training.

“Lindsay used to pace me for my spring marathons but this year she’s not doing any easy marathons…” Marathons are never easy. Lindsay should only run a marathon after specific training and run it to her potential.

“Why is John taking a full two weeks off after the marathon? He’s never going to get his speed back!” Respect the damage a marathon inevitably causes and stay patient – recovery is your #1 goal after 26.2 miles.

When I work with runners, my coaching follows a philosophy that revolves around these training pillars. I’ve developed these guiding principles over the last 14+ years, through my USA Track & Field coaching certification, and after helping thousands of runners finally get healthy and run faster.

It’s this philosophy that’s so important – critical, even – to ensuring consistent progress for the runners that I help. It influences everything I do on Strength Running and holds me accountable to results instead of silly posts about non-systematic training that don’t make you a better runner.

The Strength Running Coaching Philosophy allows me to provide well-rounded coaching instead of the advice that floats around the internet:

Bad Training

Speed-Work

Ugh – is this seriously “professional” coaching?

The next time you see this garbage floating around the internet, ask yourself, “Did this help me in the past? Where did I end up after following this ‘expert’ coaching?”

The SR Training Pillars help you avoid these mistakes and finally accomplish your big goals – like losing 80 pounds or running a PR that you previously thought was impossible. It’s the same philosophy that’s helped hundreds of thousands of runners for years.

Runners who invest in my programs – the PR Race Plan (a custom training plan), 1-on-1 Coaching (full coaching with unlimited support), or the SR Boot Camp (a 28 day course on becoming more consistent) – know that they get the exact strategies to implement this coaching philosophy.

It’s also weaved throughout the nearly 300 articles on SR. Use it to crush your goals and get faster. I hope it helps.

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{ 12 comments }

Stacey

Jason,
I don’t mean to get too specific (like you mentioned most runners do), but I need to get new shoes and wanted to rotate between 2 pairs like you said. Should the pairs be the same? Or should 1 pair be slightly more minimal, ect? to help strengthen the feet.

Jason Fitzgerald

No worries, this is a good question! Try using one pair that is your “standard” pair – in other words, what you’re used to. The other pair can be a little more minimalist and wear that for 1-2 shorter runs per week (or faster workouts). A few pairs I really like are on the Resources page: http://strengthrunning.com/running-resources/

Stacey

Great! Thanks a lot Jason!

Greg Strosaker

Good post Jason, I wrote similar thoughts recently on how too many runners sweat the small things and let them end up getting in the way of the big things, or the pillars as you say. The specifics of what we do aren’t as important as doing something – some strength training is better than nothing, more mileage (when ready) is better than less. What I like about your training approach is that you don’t make things too complex, yet you can still tailor it to meet individual runners backgrounds, goals, and needs.

Jason Fitzgerald

So true. Getting lost in the weeds can be a runner’s downfall. Simple is usually best, but of course, the faster you get the more details you need to worry about!

Chuck Swanson

Thanks for this information Jason. I am a Run Your BQ member but will be contacting you for a fall marathon plan of some type. Thanks for your information you provide and your expertise with all the training items. Your stuff is so helpful and makes 100% sense.

Jason Fitzgerald

Many thanks Chuck :)

Mark McKnight

I have been guilty many times of over analysing my statistics and researching various techniques. I still don’t know if I’m on the right path. I use a HRM and train within a specific zone. The problem is that I don’t stick at it long enough to interpret my results. I go through a spell of running for about 3 weeks then get lazy for a week or two, then back at it again.

Mark Eichenlaub

Jason,
I know this isn’t what you meant but three days a week for a starting runner, especially one that is older, isn’t a horrible idea … As a start but long term if they really want to improve obviously six or seven is ideal .

Bob

Having a good strategy is the key I believe. I had coaching and it was the smartest thing I ever did to help me figure things out.
Thanks for the post.

John Lockwood

Jason,
I want to start running and be more active to lose some weight, about 20 pounds. Can you answer a few questions? What shoe do you recommend? What should I do to prepare for running? And how long should my runs be. You did say just run 3 days a week, correct? Any help would be appreciated.

Jason Fitzgerald

John, you should email me. This is getting very specific.

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