Training Points and Self-Coaching

When I was a young athlete I had lots of coaches. A swim coach and assistant coach, a soccer coach, a track coach. They’d tell me what to do, how hard to push. A team sport, like soccer, often involves everyone doing the same training unless you reach an elite level. But in an individual sport like swimming or track, my coaches almost always had a training plan just for me.

Today I’m my own coach. That means I have to manage my own training. A simple points system helps me do that.

Have you heard of Sally Edwards?

She’s professional triathlete who has completed 16 (!) Ironman races, most of which she won for her age group. She’s a world record holder. And then there are the 75 Danskin triathlons. And those? Yeah, she came in dead last in everyone of them. She comes in last so that none of the other women, many of whom have never done a triathlon before, have to worry about straggling in alone at the end.

She’s written lots of books. The one I bought last week is Triathlons for Women. I guess I thought I’d read the book and review it for you. But I’m finding that I need to read it slowly and assimilate the information. Not because I can’t understand it, but because I don’t want to miss anything. So, a full review is coming, but not today. (However, if you want a book about triathlon, I think this is a good one.)

There is one part of the book though, that’s close to the beginning, that I’m really excited about. Sally describes heart rate training, which is basically figuring out your maximum heart rate (instead of using a generic chart) and then focusing on being in one of five training zones while you work.

Zone 1 is 50 to 59 percent of your maximum heart rate.  The zones move upward to 5, which is 90 to 100 percent of maximum heart rate.

And then she provides an easy way for assigning points to your training, based on the number of minutes spent in each zone. I had to really think about this: is assigning points to training different from counting calories or fat grams or carbs?

I think it is. Sally doesn’t present it that way, even remotely, in her book. You give yourself one point for each minute in zone one, two for each minute in zone two and so forth.

Counting points has nothing to do with trying to lose weight. It’s a self-coaching strategy, and I think a rather good one.

I did adapt Sally’s plan a little. Her book assumes a certain level of fitness in its readers that I don’t yet have. And that’s okay. (I did not feel judged in reading the book for not being that reader, either.)

I’ve been keeping track of my heart rate during exercise for the last five weeks, which helped me come up with my own training points plan.

My zones are as follows:

Zone 1: Anything that is not sitting at my desk. I also don’t count one hour a day of cooking or housework as zone one. Anything above that is above my normal. (I’m the cook and Kevin is the main housekeeper around here. Don’t hate me!) Grocery shopping gets a zone 1. So does light stretching and slow walking at 2.0 mph. Zone 1 for me is a heart rate of between 110 and 119. Zone 1 takes little effort and feels good for as long as I want to do it.

Zone 2: Strength training and yoga are generally zone 2 activities for me. Eventually I might buy a heart rate monitor so that I can really know which zone I’m in–but at the moment I don’t feel the need to micromanage. Walking at 2.5 mph with no hills brings me into zone 2. So does a more active family activity, like bowling. Zone 2 for me is a heart rate of between 120 and 129. Zone 2 takes a little more effort and is sustainable for a long time, although I might get tired after a while. (Think walking around Disneyland. You can do it for hours, but at the end of the day you’ll feel it in your muscles.)

Zone 3: Walking at 3.0 mph or at 2.5 mph with hills takes me to zone 3. So does the stationary bike. Harder strength training or core-related yoga bring me to zone 3 as well. When I’m sweating, I know I’ve reached zone 3. And I love it! Zone 3 for me is a heart rate of between 130 and 139. I can sustain it for a while, at least 45 minutes to an hour, before I start to get too tired to continue.

Zone 4 and 5: The elliptical and jogging at 4.2 mph bring me to zone 4 or zone 5. I can only sustain zone 4 (heart rate between 140 and 49) for about 10 minutes and zone 5 (above 150) for 1 minute. Going into zone 5 is difficult for me to recover from and so if I’m going to push that hard, I do it at the end and then cool down. I can do 10 minutes in zone 4 in the middle of episodes at zone 3.  Zone 4 actually feels pretty good, even though it’s really hard. It feels like I’m pushing myself and getting stronger. Zone 5 sucks. It hurts. If I push faster on the elliptical or jog for more than one minute, I move into this zone and need to stop quickly. (There is nothing wrong with being in this zone, but your body just can’t maintain it very long.)

My goal right now is to get to a point where I can log 800 points per week, which Sally says is the minimum for training for a spring triathlon.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in recovery from years (decades) of forgetting that there is a point to movement beyond getting skinny. I like that using a point system reminds me that I’m in training while giving me a way to track and log my training without using weight. It lets me set a goal and then places zero judgment on whether or not I meet it. No one is yelling at me that the consequence of only logging 400 points is that I’m going to be a big fat lard ass for the rest of my life.

Understanding heart rate zones lets me monitor my body and what it needs. It is shocking to me how out of touch with my own body I’ve become. I forgot what it feels like to feel my muscles or to enjoy making my heart pump harder. I’ve walked a marathon in the last five weeks! How cool is that?

One of the best parts of being an athlete is riding that edge between what you know you can do and what you hope you can. Guess what? That edge belongs to you. It might be training for a marathon. But it might also be walking to the corner everyday, and then going around the block with your cell phone in your hand in case you need to call your husband to come pick you up.  And then logging more training points than you ever have with a silly grin on your face.

Is the block walker less of an athlete than the marathon runner?

Hell, no.

Someone asked me in comments the other day if you have to be good at sports to be an athlete, because they’ve always been poor at sports and so they don’t think they can call themselves an athlete no matter how defiant they are. I don’t know if they came back to see my answer. I keep thinking about it though, so I’d like to address it here in case anyone else is feeling the same way.

You are an athlete if you decide you are.

I want to be fit enough to join a roller derby team. I also want to run a 5K, participate in a sprint triathlon, kayak and ski. That doesn’t mean your goals have to be the same as mine. For you, being an athlete might mean joining a bowling league or even having the ability to walk a mile. But maybe you just want to feel good–that’s a fine goal.

It is, in fact, a very fine athletic goal.

Every time you move your body, you’re training it to feel good.

There is no universal mold that all athletes must fit into. No one gets to tell you that you aren’t good enough or fast enough or strong enough. No one gets to tell you that you aren’t an athlete.

Repeat after me: No one gets to tell you that you aren’t an athlete.

On the flip side, you are under no obligation to be an athlete either. You don’t owe the world athletic ambition, or even the desire to feel good. No one, including me, can tell you that you are one if you don’t want to be.

But, I’m telling you this, and I believe it so strongly to be true: whether you choose to train to be a roller derby girl, a triathlete, a kick ass miniature golfer or the World Champion of feeling good, you are an athlete as soon as you put that desire into motion with purposeful movement.

You are an athlete the moment you decide that you are. And no one–absolutely no one–can take that away from you.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Training Points and Self-Coaching

  1. But, I’m telling you this, and I believe it so strongly to be true: whether you choose to train to be a roller derby girl, a triathlete, a kick ass miniature golfer or the World Champion of feeling good, you are an athlete as soon as you put that desire into motion with purposeful movement.
    Amen!
    I never knew I was an athlete until I realized that what makes me one is “putting desire into motion.”
    I’m an athlete because today I took my dog out into the wood and for playtime on the beach, and played with my daughter in the pool. My body has the nice buzzing tired feeling of having exerted myself (mostly in zone 2, but occasionally going into zone 3). I’ll have to think about the idea of a points system and if I would find it motivating or annoying. But it’s a good stretch for my mind about this stuff.
    Thanks!

    • Yes! Oh, yes, yes, yes! This is what I mean. Exactly.

      You just gave me goosebumps.

      I was a little afraid that the points would feel like calorie counting, but they don’t. I also feel zero guilt when I don’t log any (like today) or don’t log as many I thought I might (like when I was sick last week.) To me anyway, they feel totally neutral and just a way to keep track. In a way it elevates movement away from ‘working out’ to lose weight into training. Athletes log their training so they understand what they’re doing and don’t hurt themselves. Training is neutral, working out (for me) is so not. I’d love to know if you give it a try and what you think.

      • I’ll think about it for a while before I formally try it, but it’s already influenced how I think about movement. I’ve been tracking minutes on and off for a while, counting intense activity as 2x the moderate activity, so I’m familiar with the idea, but I like the overall converting into points. I like the concept and I think it might help me venture into zones 3 and 4 more often because I become very competitive once I start paying attention — but this is a great way to channel it. For me, the goal is to maintain a level of fitness that allows me to try new things or take a really long hike without being exhausted the next day. I would love to do more strength training, and I might put yoga in level 3 for me because I really need it — so that might make it more “valuable.”
        Thanks for introducing me to this idea. It’s very cool.

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