The coach and athlete work together to determine the point of diminishing returns. Coach Arthur Lydiard and Runner Peter Snell made a great team. Snell won three Olympic Gold Medals and set several world records.
Photo Credit: Andy Yelenak
Every runner has individual training limits. The challenge is finding the proper training that works best for each athlete. Training too much and a runner is more likely to get injured (poor shoes and other factors like poor biomechanics can impact potential injuries too). If a runner trains too little, they will miss a personal best.
I joke that finding the right amount of training for each athlete is like the three little bears' story. "The training porridge can't be too hot or too cold. It has to be just right". You should do just enough training to reach your goals. Not too much and not too little training is the goal. This is what the point of diminishing returns is all about. You don't want to overtrain.
Finding the point of diminishing return in your training will take you to a new personal best. It will also make you a happy runner. Doing more than you need to do in training is a recipe for injury and burnout.
Shouldn't I pile on the miles, tempo runs, and intervals like the champion I read about in the latest running magazine, you ask? Of course, the answer is a resounding no.
The point of diminishing return is different for every runner. I would go so far as to say that the point of diminishing return is an immutable law of training. If you go over the edge of your limits, you won't even make it to the starting line. You must find the type of training that works best for you.
Finding The Point Of Diminishing Returns Takes Time
Finding the point of diminishing return for each runner takes careful analysis and time.
No coach in the world can develop a plan right out of the gate that perfectly suits a runner. It takes time to know and assess an athlete's strengths and weaknesses. And, I am not just talking about physical strengths and weaknesses. I am also talking about mental strengths and weaknesses.
As coaches, we have our formulas and evidence-based science training calculations. However, no one should rely on formulas alone. You have to get to know each athlete as a person and their unique personality and physiology before dispensing advice.
The Best Running Coaches Are Also Life Coaches
An excellent running coach is more like a life coach in many ways.
One of the best running coaches globally, Dr. Joe Vigil, makes this point in his seminars. Even though he is a great running coach, he considers himself a life coach first.
The goal of a great coach is to help each person reach their potential in all aspects of life, not just on the track. If things are going well in other parts of life, a runner is more likely to do well in their running goals.
Transparency Between Athlete And Coach Is Vital
To find the sweet spot of diminishing return in training, open dialog and honest communication have to occur between the athlete and coach.
Transparency and honesty about how training is going are essential topics between the coach and athlete. Transparent training conversations are mission-critical to every runner's success.
For example, one athlete may not be responding well to VO2 max interval work. The athlete may need to have a higher concentration of lactate threshold training in their weekly workouts instead. This means the athlete and coach must have the courage to cut back on intervals even though others may thrive on this kind of training.
Some runners may need more VO2 max work to reach their potential. This may require the runner to cut back threshold work (this scenario is infrequent). Other runners may adapt better to faster than race pace efforts earlier in the season than others.
The coach and athlete must sit down together and assess what needs to change in training based on the results of race performances or how the athlete recovers from a particular type of workout. If a runner is not recovering well from workouts, it is likely they have done too much hard work in too short of a time.
Low iron, a lack of sleep, poor nutrition, muscle soreness, or the athlete's mental state can also come into play if the athlete is not recovering well. However, the first and second place to check for problems in the training process is the "overtraining hood" and the "wrong type of training hood."
Immediate corrections to training problems are best. The sooner the problem (s) are identified and addressed, the better the runner will be when the big races roll around.
Summing It All Up
In summary, the point of diminishing returns is different for every athlete. Finding the right training mix for each athlete takes time and analysis. However, coaches and athletes must establish open communication about what's working and what's not in training as soon as possible in their relationship.
Once the point of diminishing return is known, the athlete is much more likely to run a PR and reach their potential.
One of the world's best coaches, Dr. Jack Daniels, is speaking with student-athletes at the Jim Ryan running camps. Transparency and two-way communication are hallmarks of great coach-athlete relationships.
Photo Credit: Jim Ryan Running Camps