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Taking the Confusion and Worry About Starting or Modifying Your Training Program....The Plan

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

As endurance athletes and active adults, we understand if we wish to compete in a sport which we love, we have to train. This includes not just our bodies, but our minds as well as we need to be mentally prepared for whatever may arise during any given season. Part of that mental preparation involves considerations and awareness of past events in previous races, lessons learned from others, mental toughness, and of course the actual training program commitment.

Everyone has their own way of going about formulating a training plan, with some athletes taking it more seriously than others. This is one of the reasons why you may be seeing so much content out there currently about injury prevalence in endurance athletes and the best ways to prevent it. Triathletes are involved in such a young sport (it only began in the 1970's believe it or not!) and unfortunately, the research has not yet caught up. So, where do we need to pull our information from regarding the most effective training to help us get o our goals while preventing injury? Well....for right now.... there is no perfect approach to triathlons as far as training (this also includes the separate disciplines as well).

As I have said in the past, because everyone is so unique and different, they respond differently to stimuli when training. Nothing has changed!!! What is omnipresent is the fact that we do need some sort of plan that does follow specific guidelines of training to help us get to our goals. If you look on the internet, I am sure you will find tons of training programs from tons of experts in the field, touting that theirs is the best approach. I am here to tell you that just like everything else...what works for some, does not always work for others. This is part of the reason why there are so many different programs available.

I specifically do not have my own training program for triathletes and endurance athletes (yet...stay tuned haha) but as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I can tell you that at a bare minimum, we do need to have the following: 1) A plan and 2) All of the basics needed to be an "athlete." (Side note: I use the term “athlete” loosely as I do not want to put a label on anyone or make anyone feel awkward should they feel they do not deserve the term. When I refer to someone as an athlete, I mean someone who is skilled in sports or exercise of some kind, but this definition is incredibly broad. Whether you are just starting out or a seasoned veteran, you are ALL athletes, just at different skill levels. The more skills you have, the better you will be at your activity). What I hope to explain further breaks down the two points above.

Having a plan, although not 100% necessary, does help to keep you on track and allows you some level of accountability for what you are doing. When a plan of any sort is lacking, it can lead you down a road of feeling lost, disappointed about not reaching your goals, and unprepared when you show up for a race. Whether you are getting formal assistance from a coach or creating one yourself with the help of a few veteran friend, having some sort of plan (especially at a beginning) is key.

The second point is you are an athlete tried and true, whether you are swimming, cycling, and/or running for "X" number of miles a week. You are doing more activity than be proud of yourself and be comfortable with calling yourself an athlete.

Combining these two points, we get an athletic plan. Now, this is not a specific plan attempting to make you the best athlete ever. However, having the individual components of this locked into your training will not only provide marked improvement but also prevent injury …as long as your training program does not over stress and strain your body. This athletic plan I speak of was created by Hall of Fame strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil and adapted by co-owner of Professional Physical Therapy (here on Long Island, NY) Robert Panariello.

As you read this blog (and I recommend you do an internet search on both men and their accomplishments) you must be asking the question "what does power and olympic weightlifting have to do with us endurance athletes????"...To be honest, everything. Just like us, they too are athletes and the Hierarchy of Athletic Development created by these men does just that. It DEVELOPS ATHLETES in a hierarchy of levels that requires each person to attain the mastery of one level before moving onto the mastery of the next level.

Therefore, if you are just starting out with no idea of what you’re doing or a seasoned veteran that is struggling with your current plan and staying injury-free, this is a perfect starting place. Using the Hierarchy of Athletic Development will allow you a "take a look in the mirror” by testing and retesting yourself at different levels, thus allowing you to step back at points during your training. From there, you can fill in the holes if you are not getting the results you hoped for or your body is not feeling all the greatest before, during, or after training. For some, this may require you hiring a professional to help guide you but, in the end, you will be able to implement this yourself easily. The basics are below:

The image above is taken from both of their training regimens. I’m sure you noticed the one by Panariello on the right is slightly larger and rightfully so, as this larger, extended hierarchy allows you to check and recheck yourself. I should note that this is the same principle that Physical Therapists use in the clinic to ensure patients are on the right path. The levels of the hierarchy include:

1) Evaluation/testing - simple moves used to determine where you are on a continuum of difficulties requiring attainment of each hierarchy level before onto the next one. When starting out with a plan, this is a great way to find out where you are before implementing the plan. For veterans, this is a good way to recheck yourselves during your plan to see how you are progressing.

2) Mobility and Movement - this is taking how you move during essential movements for your sport and comparing to them to what is most efficient in your sport.

3) Work Capacity/Muscle Re-Education - this is making sure you have the foundations to perform in your sport and to ensure your muscles are working the way they should. This includes ensuring your joints have the appropriate stability to prevent excessive impact and you are having the appropriate movement mechanics.

4) Strength - as endurance athletes, we need to have strength to help push up hills, get through a race intact, and withstand the amount of forces our bodies no brainer here

5) Explosive strength - this is being able to go through a movement against resistance faster = POWER - we measure it all the time!!!

6) Reactive strength - plyometric style activities essentially as a lot of what we do is a plyometric activity (running, jumping, bounding) in some form during sport (especially my runners out there) - we still need other exercises and movements that help for support.

7) Speed - we all love it and we all need it to show that we are performing better in our sport, finishing in a faster time than we did before. This can be in the same race as the year prior or a race of a similar distance. However, we cannot have this without the rest of the pyramid as I mentioned and stay injury free at the same time.

There you have it! A plan to a plan that you implement which will take you to newer heights in your sport and goals. Hopefully, by reading this, you will be able to take confusion and worry out of your training program.

I will be going over each of these levels of the hierarchy and how to implement them in your life over the coming weeks along with other supporting information on my other sites and social media including my Website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube (maybe snapchat...I still have to figure out how to use that one…..haha) so check it out.

Snapchat: ascentptny

Youtube: Ascent Physical Therapy, PLLC

If you have other questions about modifying your training, please let us know! We would love to hear your goals and assist in any way to make sure you achieve them healthily. If you would like to learn more or speak with a Doctor of Physical Therapy, please give us a call at 516-387-4669 or email


Panariello R. Designing a Program Using Vermeil's Hierarchy of Athletic Development. SimpliFaster. Published April 14, 2020. Accessed May 9, 2020.

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