My first job in a big-box gym was as part of a training staff that was really unusually effective.
Seriously, one of the biggest questions was “What do you do with your clients after they hit their fat loss goals?”
Marathon training was one of the things that was trendy to do in that gym.
So, first clients would hit their fat loss goals. The process of doing that was usually, a year or a year and a half.
Unsurprisingly, the trainers there tended to work with clients on food habits first, and then really smart, periodized strength and conditioning programs.
So, in that 18 months people would:
- Strength train and get stronger
- Work on mobility and fix movement issues
- Practice effective food habits and get down to a fairly lean body fat percentage
- Work up to 3 hours per week of cardio
First off, that’s a really solid base of strength training. Second, it’s a really solid base of cardio. Third, most people could use really a fair amount of work on correcting basic movement patterns before running, which is going to reduce injury risks from just straight-up terrible running that you see at every city park on Saturdays. Third, if someone is a leaner runner, that’s a lot less pounding on the joints each footfall.
I think it’s pretty easy to see three things:
- It would be really smart to build that kind of a strength and conditioning foundation before starting to train for a marathon
- It would be really smart to hit your fat loss goals before starting to train for a marathon
- Training for a marathon IS NOT a fat loss program
After that, the trainers would typically split people up into one of two categories: People who wanted to run a marathon (work on endurance) or people who wanted to work towards a fitness competition (muscle gain and leanness). Neither a marathon or a fitness competition are what I usually do with clients, I feel like there are other, better ways to work on muscle gain and leanness or endurance. Still, it’s interesting that that was how they did it there and then. We’ll of course talk about the marathon training group:
The people who chose marathon would usually follow a progressive program that looked something like this:
- 12 weeks training for their first 5k
- 16 weeks training for their first 10k
- 20 weeks training for their first half marathon
- 24 weeks training for their first marathon
Add that up.
That’s 72 weeks.
That’s 16.5 months of training for their first marathon… after they’d already put in 18 months working on leanness, strength, endurance, and movement quality.
So what you’re talking about is 34 months total – almost 3 years.
If someone wants to run a marathon, this is a really smart way to do it: Strength train, work on your food habits, and build endurance for about 3 years. You’re setting yourself up to run a strong, well prepared marathon. You’re drastically reducing the amount of injuries from just straight up being unprepared.
Running is not a very smart entry level activity. The average american is more than 40 pounds overweight, and would be far better serviced starting with strength training and a lower impact form of cardio, like rowing, biking, or kettlebell swings. A marathon is a very high level endeavor for a runner, and a totally ridiculous first goal for someone out of shape.
If you want to run a marathon this summer, I think you should totally plan to run a marathon three summers from now.
This shouldn’t be taken as discouraging. On the flip-side, I think it should be tremendously encouraging! It should be great to have a long term and intelligent outlook at what it would take. You have all these great events to train for, and you get to have all of these great milestones (losing 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 15 pounds, and so on, and then running a 5k, 10k, and a half marathon) to see your progress!
Essentially, you’d have a really good idea of how to keep your fitness on track for the next few years, which is totally amazing.
Personal trainers reading this might be notice a few things reading this:
- All the trainers there were so good at fat loss, they had to find something to do with their clients afterwards.
- They were regularly keeping clients for 3+ years.
- They built in smart training programs and were really patient with goals. This was partly because it was the right thing to do, and… partly a way to sell more training.
So, that gym was a tremendously effective gym. Honestly, the most effective big box gym I’ve ever seen: All of the trainers got their clients results. All of the clients kept their trainers for years. Interestingly, the Fitness Manager cared enough to notice when a long term client was getting stagnant with one trainer, and would talk about switching them to a different trainer who specialized in something else.
More than anything else, “long term” was a perspective that was baked into the whole gym. And clients got, relative to the industry, completely extraordinary results. It’s amazing how fit someone can get, being really focused for a few years.
ATHLETES AND CLIENTS
It works both ways. It can be really helpful to think of your fitness in multiple 12 or 16 week blocks. Have an idea of where you want your fitness to go in the next few years. And then put together some 12 or 16 week blocks that move towards that.
The downside of not working with a coach is that people tend to lose focus. They either fall of in consistency, or they jump from program to program or goal to goal. If you switch programs, change programs, or change goals all of the time, it’s awfully hard to get anywhere.
People who make progress are always focused and consistent. Your mission, if you chose to accept it, is to put all of your energy into focus and consistency.
The smart play, is to work towards a goal for 12-16 weeks, then reevaluate. It’s ok to work on a totally different goal for the next 12-16 weeks. Then maybe come back to the first goal. Goals tend to stack well on top of each other! It’s just a matter of putting in the time to make some progress on one, before you put it away and move on to the next one.
SHOULD *YOU* RUN A MARATHON?
Lastly, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time at all, you know that I actually never recommend marathon training/racing to my clients. I’m a huge fan of running 5ks. It’s amazingly cool when people run a 5k, then train to and run a faster 5k. And then train and run a faster 5k. And then train for and run a faster 5k.
If you’re noticing a theme, it’s that I recommend running faster races, instead of longer.
Training for 5ks and 10ks is just a lot less mileage (and pounding) than training for marathons and half marathons, so I lean towards getting faster at those for injury prevention. If you are really consistent doing 5k training for a year, you’ll be in better shape than if you trained for a marathon but had to keep dropping off of training because something started to hurt.
And that’s where I’ll leave this: Earn the right to do whatever training you want to do. If longevity and consistency are the most important factors in your fitness, you should make those your primary factors for choosing training programs and goals.