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Holistic Training: Why Your Training Plan Should Include More Than Running

Woman doing yoga for runners.

When I first began my running journey, I did nothing but run. I used generic training plans that I found online, and they only included running, so that’s what I did. I found myself with recurring injuries and definitely felt burned out by the time I got to race day.

What I didn’t have was a well-rounded training plan that included other important aspects of training. I refer to that now as holistic training.

I’m going to share what holistic training is and what elements to look at as you look to improve your running journey.

Holistic is a word that is often thrown around the health and wellness space. If you’ve heard it but are unclear on what it means, I think of it as meaning “whole” – not just focusing on one aspect of something but every aspect.

But let’s actually define it – according to, holistic means “encompassing the whole of a thing, and not just the part.”

When it comes to running or a training plan, my coaching philosophy is that you can’t become the best version of yourself without taking a holistic approach. There should be more than running in your training plan to ensure you are making improvements and crushing your goals. And the best part (in my opinion) is that naturally when you make improvements and hit your goals, joy will follow.

It’s also important to take a holistic approach to issues or struggles that come up while training. For example, you did a run earlier in the week and it went great; you felt strong and met your goal for that workout. Then, the weekend came around and your long run was terrible; you were fatigued early on, your legs were heavy, and you ended up cutting it short. First, we’ve all been there! Second, it’s easy to experience this and think your training is suffering or your fitness is declining. Most of the time, that is not the case.

In this situation, I would ask a few questions to help us look at the bigger picture, including:

Woman stressed at work
  • What did you eat the night before? For breakfast?

  • What was your activity a day or two prior (work, activities, etc.)?

  • How much sleep did you get before the run?

  • What did you eat for breakfast?

  • What’s your current stress level (work/family/etc.)?

If we get hyperfocused on one thing and don’t take time to step back and look at the whole, big picture, we can easily get off course. This is where working with a running coach can be valuable, as they can take an objective look at the problem and help you see something that you’re not, which can help solve problems in the right way.

Here are the five aspects to incorporate into your plan now to ensure you’re maximizing your potential and taking a holistic approach to your training:

VARY YOUR RUNS for holistic training

It’s not uncommon for runners to run every training run at the same pace, which is usually at their race pace. Race pace is defined as the pace at which you will run your race. This, however, is too fast for most runs.

When working with runners, the first part of our time together is typically spent helping them understand that most training runs should be run at a slow, conversational pace. This is also referred to as low-heart-rate-zone running. There are numerous benefits to slowing down and you can read more about how slowing down can help here.

The best training plans will have diversity when it comes to run types and should include easy-effort runs as well as speedwork.

Examples of Run Types

  • Easy effort, low heart-rate

  • Speedwork (intervals, tempo runs, etc.)

  • Long runs

Make sure your training plan includes a variety of types of runs to ensure you’re maximizing your potential. If you're looking for a customized training plan to meet your individual needs, I offer customized training plans that take a holistic approach.

STRENGTH TRAINING for holistic training

Strength training can feel intimidating for some runners which can lead to it being left out completely. However, there are real benefits to adding strength training to your training plan. Strength training can decrease your risk for injury, improve your muscle activation and improve biomechanics and running economy, allowing you to meet and crush your goals more easily.

Woman doing a plank.

The great news is you don’t have to get a gym membership or start lifting heavy weights to become a better runner. There are a lot of body weight exercises or even dumbbells or resistance bands workouts that you can do at home. You’ll want to focus on exercises that are running-specific to get the maximum results for your running.

STRETCHING/FOAM ROLLING for holistic training

More than just stretching after a run, it can be beneficial to include dedicated stretching or yoga into your training. Most of us recognize that yoga improves flexibility, but it also can improve range of motion and muscle strength as well.

You don’t need a fancy yoga studio to get the benefits of stretching. I do most of my yoga at home with the help of Yoga with Adriene. Adriene is a yoga teacher who helps make yoga accessible for all through her YouTube channel.

One of my favorite routines to do on a rest day or after a challenging run is her Total Body Yoga: Deep Stretch which focuses on the entire body.

Foam rolling is another great practice to add to your training. It’s a self-myofascial release technique that you can do in the comfort of your home daily or a few times a week (frequency up to you!). When running and strength training, it’s typical to feel muscle tightness. The foam roller is a great tool to help loosen tight muscles without the expense of a massage.

Woman using foam roller.

Just as with a massage, some of

  • Lessen muscle pain and soreness.

  • Reduce muscle inflammation.

  • Increase range of motion.

  • Increase blood flow to muscles.

  • Aid in muscle recovery.

Foam rolling is great to do before and/or after running or strength training, or even on a rest day. Foam rollers come in different textures as well as firmness levels. It’s best to spend a few minutes on each muscle group. I often go from my upper back all the way to my legs, spending time in each big muscle group along the way. Find what feels good for you!

NUTRITION for holistic training

Let me begin by letting you know that I am not a registered dietitian. I am a certified running coach with a background as a registered nurse and a long-time endurance runner. I’m not here to give you specific nutrition advice but to discuss the overall role that nutrition plays in a running routine.

Healthy breakfast before running.

I want to share a coaching story with you. During a first coaching call with a client, the athlete shared that despite running 6-7 miles, she often felt fatigued after mile 3 and her pace suffered. We discussed pacing strategies and potential speedwork runs, but then something she said earlier in the call came back to me. I asked about her diet. She shared that she tends to not eat breakfast and even when running in the afternoon, sometimes doesn’t have food at all before her run.

Fasted running, and even fasting in general, is a diet strategy that I see a lot right now. I’m not here to tell you that it’s bad, or good. I’m here to tell you that when you are participating in an endurance sport such as running, your body needs fuel to move and keep going.

And the most important fuel source for endurance running is carbohydrates. This is what your body uses as energy, like gas in a car, to keep you moving. A balanced diet, including carbohydrates, protein, and fats, can lead to performance improvement as well as maximum recovery. You can read my blog post about carbohydrates for runners here.

I highly recommend evaluating your own nutrition and hydration strategies as well as the impact they may have on your performance. If you’re looking for more specific nutrition advice, you may want to consider working with a sports dietician. Here are a few I think highly of and would recommend:

SLEEP for holistic training

While I may not write sleeping into an athlete’s training plan, it’s certainly something I talk about with my clients.

I’m sure you’ve read and/or heard repeatedly how important sleep is. I’m here to tell you it’s true! While you’re sleeping, your cells and tissues are in repair which is important for both recovery and performance. A study of male runners and volleyball players showed that sleep deprivation reduced time to exhaustion – meaning, it takes less effort to reach exhaustion.

Woman sleeping.

It has also been proven that sleep is important in preventing illness. Poor sleep habits can lower the immune system, making one more susceptible to illnesses such as the common cold.

A well-rounded training plan will include more than running to ensure you reach your maximum potential.

If you’re interested in becoming a stronger and faster runner, sign up for a free discovery call to learn about how I help runners embrace holistic training through 1:1 coaching. We will discuss your goals and strengths, as well as any challenges you’re facing. I’ll share strategies you can start using to make your training more holistic and if it feels like a good fit, we'll discuss what it would look like to work together.

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