The Training Philosophy of Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching
Do you know what you’re really truly capable of as a human being?
What would you accomplish if you really gave your fitness everything you have within you with dedicated and consistent focus over a period of one year or more?
Why not try and find out!
Human beings are biologically designed to move their bodies in nature on a daily basis. We are primal beings living in a modern world. Human physiology hasn’t changed for thousands of years, but what has changed is how we have chosen to live. We have regressed in physical strength and stature, and so many people are functioning at a much lower capacity than they are inherently capable of.
You have been gifted with a body that is the ultimate tool for movement. Everyone is an athlete-by-design no matter how far that might presently feel from you now. Life is animation and movement; we are not designed to be sedentary. Sadly, most people only walk to get to their next sitting position. As a society, we have lost both a strong connection to nature and also to movement as a natural daily behaviour. It has been determined that a minimum of 2-hours a day walking is what our ancestors once performed.
Trail running is the endurance sport that captivated my mind 15 years a go. It's a niche sport, but yet, it is probably the closest sport that mimics our natural evolutionary behaviour. Perhaps this is one reason why trail running is one of the fastest growing sports on the planet as it continually captivates a wider and wider audience of people who are realising it’s amazing benefits.
Trail running in nature not only helps with fitness, but so many other components of health: including mental health, physical strength, stamina and also our innate human desire for adventure and exploration.
Trail running changed my life in so many ways for the better. In my 20’s I had a broken-down body in constant pain, suffering multiple injuries, and also, I had many health challenges including chronic fatigue. But I fought my way out of that battle to one day stand on the starting line with some of the world’s greatest endurance athletes. Trail running has taken me to the summits of hundreds of mountains all over the world, experiencing some of the most stunning scenery you could ever dream of seeing.
One of the biggest thoughts that play on my mind during these outings, is just how so few people ever get to experience the incredible places I have seen, and my hope is that more people can find the courage to take a step forward in this direction.
I'm excited to share with you my vision for health success and creating a life filled with great health and exciting adventure no matter your age or ability. I believe it’s never too late to start and I don't believe fitness is something you have to struggle with.
Developing greater health and endurance doesn't have to be a painful pursuit or require uncomfortable sacrifices. What really works is finding your fitness passion, some activity that fills you with joy. For many people they don’t really know what that is, but more often than not they find it once they start moving their body in nature and see how capable they actually are of doing more than they think they can. Sadly, most people never tap into the large reservoir of their fitness potential.
Are you brave enough to make the choice to start the journey toward awakening your body to its full potential as well?
Even if age is passing you by, it’s no excuse not to get started. I’ve seen many dramatic transformations in people in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s – and also helped some in these age brackets get there too as their coach!
Not only do I work with Trail Runners, but also Ultra Runners, Stair Climbers, Hikers (and mountain focused athletes like Mountaineers), and even Ski-mo athletes and Cyclists too. If you are focused on mountain based activities including vertical and uphill endurance in any sport, or you just want to get moving, I can help you!
Reaching the summit is about breaking through the mental prison we lock ourselves in, but it’s very hard to take the first steps off the couch and get started on taking action. I am motivated to assist people of all ages and fitness levels to develop an active lifestyle allowing them to truly experience the gift of movement in nature.
Improving your Overall Health
My coaching philosophy is built with your overall long-term health and performance in mind and is suitable for any person at any level of fitness including elite athletes, intermediate, beginner and novice/sedentary individuals. I customise my coaching approach specifically for the individual based on your health and fitness background. One of my major goals as a coach is to help develop my athletes overall health - not just solely focusing on improving fitness. Fitness and health are not the same thing. You can be fit but still relatively unhealthy. With my coaching process we do not sacrifice health at the cost of fast-tracking fitness. The best endurance outcomes come from a body that is low-stress, recovering optimally, strong, well-nourished and hormonally balanced. As an individual, you may not be willing to make all the sacrifices necessary, but I understand that changing habits can take time. I make recommendations on building up a healthier lifestyle, but the choice is still yours to make how deep you would like to go down that rabbit hole.
Invest in your Fitness and Start the Education Process
Maybe you’ve been trying to find your potential, but haven’t quite been able to make it work on your own. When it comes to success in business or your career, you wouldn’t just wing it on the fly and expect to achieve the best success. Most rational people invest in education to get specialist training from an expert before learning the skills they need to succeed on their own. We do it with our careers but rarely think to do it with our health and fitness.
Making a commitment to working with an expert can really deliver rapid and life-changing results.
As human beings, we are at mercy to our overall health and vitality - everything else in life suffers if our health declines. Investing in your health will always be the most important investment you ever make.
Working with a coach can be a really transformative step for an athlete who has never worked with one before, just because you tend to perform as well as your weakest links -- and sometimes you can't see the forest from the trees. A coach can help with uncovering your weaknesses and take you to the next level without necessarily having to make radical changes to how you currently train. Often your weaknesses exist because you avoiding training those areas. A coach really helps to hold you accountable and gives you a push to start working on those areas you’ve typically neglected.
Coaching an athlete in any sport is a combination of art and science. The science applies to training principles, but the art comes in matching the science with the uniqueness of an individual. A coach acts also as part mentor, educator and psychologist. I aim to find the right style of communicating with you that is the most motivating for you. I also aim to teach you, rather than dictate to you.
The coaching I offer is a process of educating you about how to train more in line with elite standards. It's definitely not a process of me just scheduling what to do and you not understanding why we are doing what we are doing. Coaching saves you a significant amount of time from trying to figure out how to train effectively yourself and potentially making a bunch of mistakes along the way.
My coaching style is focused on developing true multi-dimensional athleticism that allows you to do any activity, on any day of the week. Over the past 15 years as both an elite athlete and a coach, I have committed myself to learning about endurance training and also health and longevity. I've faced many setbacks in my career and made all the mistakes you can make. I wish I had the knowledge I have now when I was an emerging athlete. My mission now is to help athletes avoid the mistakes and wasted time that plagued my journey, and get athletes healthy and hitting the ground running with longevity in athleticism as a lifestyle.
I aim to offer a wider net than most coaches who may potentially only focus on improving your aerobic fitness.
I focus on developing athletes to be multi-dimensional athletes through 20 distinct and separate attributes that you should be working to develop simultaneously as an athlete.
After four years of coaching athletes, I have established a clear understanding of the various challenges athletes face and have developed my unique and comprehensive FAST-PROTOCOLS to help athletes uncover and improve their weakest attributes. Many athletes focus exclusively on only a handle of these attributes, and subsequently are missing an incredible opportunity to grow and develop as an athlete.
The biggest improvement in my coaching philosophy has been objective testing and benchmarking, taking the emotion and guessing out of the equation and letting the tests tell the story about where an athlete is at and how they can improve. That's why I created the FAST-PROTOCOLS, to lay out the pathway for developing an athlete from beginner, to intermediate to elite in all these attributes if the athlete so desires. This requires a multi-year approach with consistency, dedication and application to training only a few athletes can muster. For this to be successful the protocols offer clear workouts that are continually customised to the individual, the equipment they have available and also the time they have available, and their recent committment to training. The custom platform I've developed for the FAST-PROTOCOLS, takes the stress and anxiety out of planning and managing this comprehensive training, keeping an athlete focused on the task on hand each day without too much thinking and thought. I've taken all the hardwork out of this for the athlete, and I am immensely proud of the platform that has been established for building high performing multi-dimensional athletes.
While you may be tempted to put more priority on some of these components - or entirely neglect them - in your regular fitness and training regimen, the truth is that none is more important than another. They are all equally important. If you are at a low standard in any of these capacities then you are hampering your potential to varying degrees.
Neglecting any capacity for a long period of time is no longer going to be your training paradigm with Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching. Stop-start training vs consistency is what we’re looking to avoid. Consistency is where all the gains and major transformations arise from. If you can do just a little bit every week on each capacity, then by the end of one year you’ll be so far ahead of where you once were.
This is why trail running is such a fantastic sport. Sports like trail running involve functional movements that require coordination of multiple muscle groups and help to develop many of these functional capacities. The functional protocols I’ve established help to build strength and coordination in your muscles while also exercising your nervous system to better prepare your body for everyday movements. It’s all about feeling great and having more confidence in your physical capabilities.
My coaching service has been designed to identify where you are falling short and give you a clear progression pathway to improve these 20 qualities. The goal is to maximise athlete performance and ability, having the athlete aim toward developing toward world-class standards at different levels. For example: Beginner, Intermediate, Elite, and World-Class.
It can take many years to progress through the standards to reach the elite and world-class levels – but at least with the protocols I have, you’ll know what you need to do to get there if you so desire it! You may not have the will or ability to get all the way to the world class level, but there are multiple levels and just progressing to the next level up should always be a goal to work toward. For most athletes we’ll be working to attain at least the Intermediate standard in every capacity, but most athletes will need to begin and spend a lot of time at the beginner levels.
I am not even at the top standards in many of these protocols myself and it’s something I continually work towards!
There is never one fixed way to train that applies to all people - so it’s definitely about understanding you first and then applying the concepts to steer you in new directions that might challenge you to grow more. This is why just following a standard cookie cutter training plan doesn't really work very effectively and where coaching really stands apart.
A period of 1-3 years under an experienced coach can set yourself up with the tools and principles to make health and fitness an easy and straight forward reality for the rest of your life.
If you’re feeling unsure what to look for in a coach – and also how to choose a coach from multiple options - I’ve written an article that might help you understand what to look for. As a coach I try my best to embody everything I discuss in this article: What to Look For in a Trail Running Coach.
What I Offer
I offer a specialised online coaching program specifically focused for individuals who are (or want to be) mountain or vertical orientated. If you're new to running or the mountains, I can also help you get started too! You don’t have to just be a runner, many of my athletes start out as hikers/walkers and eventually become functionally capable enough to start running at some point when they are ready for it. You may have another sport you focus on and this is ok too.
Be prepared to be flexible with your thinking over what endurance involves – it’s a full body development program and we ultimately work to identify your weakest links and begin to solidify the entire foundation. As the famous saying you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and endurance sports quickly expose your weakest link over time. Thus, the areas we focus our time will be highly specific to your circumstances. Some people need more focus on strength training, some more time on mobility, others on aerobic training. All these areas matter, and as stated early we seek to maximise development on all 20 FAST-PROTOCOL attributes because this leads to the quickest and most improved outcomes.
My training program has been developed using the foundational scientific principles underpinning elite world-class endurance athletes bringing together my own diverse 15-year experience as an endurance athlete across multiple paradigms of the sport, and also my years adventuring in the mountains without a racing focus. Half of my career has been spent competing and half spent adventuring – this also gives me a different perspective of how each style of training impacts and benefits the body.
For most athletes, the biggest impediment to performing better is a lack of basic work capacity. Athletes with a strong endurance base can perform well just off that base, allowing them to race very frequently, but also allowing them time off from training without rapidly losing their conditioning. I’ve had long periods of time away from training and come back reasonably strong and still in condition after a few weeks of blowing out the cobwebs. You want to become this kind of athlete, one with a strong aerobic base capacity, but also strength in vertical/uphills – and ability that sticks around for life.
As an uphill focused coach, I understand intimately the demands that ascent and descent have on the body- and not many coaches have backgrounds with this specific focus. I almost entirely train in the mountains, and I specialise in developing fast, efficient and economical climbing. If you train with me long-enough, you will be able to climb all day. We also work hard on building your mechanical resiliency which helps you on downhills and running fast on flatter terrain.
Some training programs take a seasonal short-term approach, typically focused on rapidly increasing fitness for an upcoming race or event. While I can definitely help you to prepare for short-term goals, my training methodology is designed to help you achieve your ultimate fitness potential with a long-term perspective in mind: typically 3-5 years and beyond. There is no shortcut for unlocking your endurance potential. The reality is that the more years of progression you have under your belt, the higher the level of fitness you can attain. If you have not been progressing and expanding your capacity each year - building upon the last - for at least the last 7 years, then you still have a lot to gain.
The most important thing for an athlete is to work hard and learn to be very patient by looking at training as a fun weekly process. Enjoyment of the process is crucial, because if you're only motivated by the end goals, it’s unlikely you will be able to sustain making training a key feature in your weekly lifestyle. Structured training doesn’t gel with everyone, but I can try multiple ways to train you that focus more on what you find fun personally.
Through my coaching process, you will learn how to train different systems in the body, at what thresholds to train, when to push and when to pull back, how to progress your training, and peak when you need it to happen. You will continually learn how to manage your body, balance fatigue, correct body imbalances, release muscle tension and prevent injury. There is no silver bullet that will necessarily prevent things like injuries happening ever again, but we do our best to do things right and head in that direction. On any given day you can still over-do it – and building wisdom and discipline is a prime objective. As you become more functional, you’ll be able to achieve harder and harder adventures and races.
If you don’t understand all this—or it sounds too overwhelming—I am here to help guide you through the process.
My endurance training process is strongly science backed. I’m also a UESCA Certified Ultra Running Coach.
Many of my coaching influences are the likes of Dr Stephen Seiler, Jason Koop, David Roche, Scott Johnson, Travis Macy along with many other leading world-class athletes who have I studied closely or worked with myself (Travis Macy was my first coach). I try to pick the best ideas from the better coaches out there and merge it with my own experiences to form my own coaching style.
I have put in almost a decade of dedicated research in training science and trail-testing before I took onboard my first clients in 2019. I have experimented with many different training approaches on myself through the hundreds of hours I spend in the mountains each year, and working with many athletes over the past four years. I have been able to narrow down into simple terms what is effective and what isn't. I’m constantly learning and educating and don’t pretend that I know everything. I keep up to date on all the latest improvements in training from like-minded coaches and athletes and steadily improve my coaching offering each year.
I’m still working out the kinks in myself – even today – but that is the journey we all go on in life. Not everything is a success, but self-education, self-discipline, consistency and applying one’s self is something we all have more control over. Coaching other people has also made me a better athlete, and I hope to return the favour to my own athletes. The most successful people have a never-ending growth mindset to learn. I adopt this habit.
Signing up, Cost and the Onboarding Process
I go into more specifics about the onboarding process and coaching process I offer here: How Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching Works and Your Responsibilities as a Coaching Athlete is here
How I Build Your Endurance
I have written a 12-part series helping to educate my Performance Coaching clients -- and to educate prospective ones -- on understanding more about my aerobic-base focused training approach. I highly recommend you read this series if you are interested in signed up for coaching with me, or if you simply want to gain greater knowledge on training yourself.
Begin with Part one here: Training Science Series #1 - Why We Focus On Capacity Training…To Eventually Go Really Fast
I use a strong focus on vertical (or uphill training) as a core training approach because it is a great way to strengthen and tone your lower body and is also one of the best ways to burn fat and increase your metabolism. It can sometimes be more time efficient than aerobic training on flat terrain. Climbing also trains your body to use oxygen more efficiently and convert it to energy quicker. This results in more rapid improvements in aerobic capacity, which means you perform better for longer durations.
The inclusion of vertical into a running program is also designed to develop proper running form and technique, build a strong biomechanical foundation and lower the risk of injury, while also building explosive leg strength and power.
Uphill hiking is a fantastic place to start beginner athletes rather than trying to get them to start running directly off the couch. I don’t consider running as a good place to start but uphill hiking and a lot of walking hills certainly is. Once a beginner establishes a strong foundation of uphill hiking then we consider implementing some running intervals into the training program.
For intermediate and elite athletes, the stronger the climber you are the greater your capacities as an athlete will be, and the stronger advantage you will have over your peers in races. The example of this is my experience in the 2015 Mont Blanc Marathon (42km with 2900m elevation gain) where I finished 21st out of 2000 people, off the back of only Vertical KM focused training (Distances less than 5km but steep uphill focused).
My process typically focuses on periodization with blocks of weeks to months focusing on distinctly different training aims. I work on developing your VO2 capacities, your Threshold capacities, or your Base capacities during different phases depending on your level of ability and the timing of your race goals.
It has been determined that athletes achieve better results when their training is organized in a way that focuses attention on only a few physical qualities at a time. Trying to get better at everything all at once (which is a typical approach in running), can sometimes overcomplicate matters and slow progress. Many self-coached runners fail to achieve their goals, or get injured or fatigued because they attempt to increase many factors at a time, such as increasing both volume (distance or time training or elevation) and intensity (the speed at which they train) at the same time, and often making the progression too rapid.
The purpose of the Base building phase of training is to increase your overall endurance capacity and improve your fatigue resistance through various techniques of progression and overload. I implement modulated training phases to allow for necessary supercompensation and to ensure an athlete has time to recover both mentally and physically from the ongoing demands of training. The aim is to slightly exceed your work capacity across many workouts, then recover and repeat this process for months on end. Ideally, your body slowly adapts to the increasing volume without a growing fatigue debt, then you can handle more work (for the same perceived effort) and eventually more intensity work. The progression must be gradual so your body can adapt and be continuous without long breaks in training. An unbiased coach is vital in monitoring this progression and pushing too hard in this process is the major stumbling block for self-trained athletes.
This model of training also constantly keeps your body guessing which prevents plateauing. We very rarely train a single week exactly the same as any previous week.
The typical best practice approach in endurance training science is to structure your year in different cycles or stages, where we add more focus on improving specific qualities in the body, rather than trying to increase all abilities at the same time. As we move throughout the cycles, the goal will be to sustain the previously built adaptations and ensure they don’t diminish to any great extent. It takes much less training stimulus to maintain a capacity than to build it in the first place. When we focus on specific quality, I ensure we maintain the other qualities in your training progression through specific maintenance activities.
All forms of training theory are not cast in stone, open to interpretation, and can be individually specific. Not every successful athlete uses a periodization approach with their training, instead they include all types of training throughout the entire year – but typically that is only a productive approach once an athlete is very well-adapted to physical training. Most athletes do far better with a periodized approach and that is what I use in my coaching process.
Periodization is crucially important for intermediate and advanced runners who are looking to achieve race goals. For beginner level athletes new to running, we may not do much specific periodization while we simply work on developing your aerobic foundation and focus slowly on getting you to spend more time training without injury or overt fatigue. Thus, our main focus is on mechanical resilience over VO2 or Threshold style training. You have to earn the right to run fast. It could mean 1-2 years of base training before we add in more focused training in these areas. The most important aspect of successful training we want, is to be slowly increasing the amount of volume/time training, with steady fitness improvements, avoiding injury, and to a level where you don’t get bored of running.
It’s typically obvious when training is not working and the main sign is you are losing the enjoyment or desire to get out the door or your performance suddenly declines. Sometimes the best solution is simply taking a short break, but sometimes a different training approach – or reducing the training load – might work too. The human body works its mysterious wonders in some people – and in the end, the best style of training is going to be the one you most enjoy doing, energizes you mentally when you think about it, and gets you out the door each day.
I work closely with you to establish your goals and discover the personal style of training that motivates you the most.
Flexibility in the Training Process
Many athletes find difficulty following fixed training plans because as soon as life gets in the way and a workout is missed, it completely throws out the entire plan. The other aspect athletes have trouble with is knowing how much elevation gain or what steepness or technicality of terrain to train on. If the training plan says 10km run and nothing much else (which is common with marathon style programs, which aren’t well suited to mountain-based athletics) – there is significant difference between a 10km flat run compared with 10km on steep terrain. One workout is going to be much longer and impose far more stress on the body than the other. And then there is consideration of pacing and intensity.
As an athlete tries to navigate and manage these supplementary training decisions, they can tend to make a lot of mistakes and start making decisions based on how they feel during the day of training or what their schedule on the day allows. This can be a mistake because there isn’t enough thought going into managing the training load effectively and planning the right training load progressions.
One solution to this – which is common in mountain sports – is to schedule workouts by time instead of other metrics. This is a solution, but it can also lead an athlete falling short of other targets, or not being clear of distance and elevation targets which are still helpful for an athlete. A 10km run with 300m elevation gain is still more motivating to an athlete than just a 1-hour trail run.
I manage this process by giving athletes a weekly training load goal to aim for. Athletes are also educated on how to calculate training loads for specific activities. If they have to move activities around or fall behind on the training loads during the week, they know how to make adjusts to the plan to meet the targets on the weekend (for example). This helps an athlete make adjustments to workouts that might call for 10km and 300m of elevation gain, and they might not be able to achieve the elevation or distance during that workout (maybe the conditions are bad, or they are short on time, or can’t find the terrain that works). In this situation, an athlete knows whether to add more distance or elevation gain to hit the training load target for any workout – or to add training load to future scheduled workouts to make up for any missed.
If the athlete ends up going over or under training loads during a week, then as a coach, I can use that data to plan a harder or easier week the next week and keep them progressing and being consistent as an athlete.
My athletes have reported that this flexibility is very helpful for them, and gives them greater clarity for how to meet training targets in terrain that is constantly changing and difficult to get the scheduled metrics exactly right.
But Trail Running is Bad for My Knees, Joints and Bone Health
This is a popular myth that has little empirical evidence when studied across wide numbers of people. It is true that some athletes suffer injuries of the above nature when running. This is largely due to dysfunction in their biomechanics (caused by other factors – hello sitting all day!) and also neglecting some of the Ten attributes discussed above (either before they started running and/or while running). These are resolvable issues in almost all people.
Running can aggravate those issues, but it is a symptom, not the cause.
Running is definitely an impact exercise that will expose your weaknesses pretty quickly. That’s why caution and care MUST be taken to progress properly. You must respect where you are at, both with your fitness and your mechanical resiliency. I’ve seen it over and over, many people are unable to pull this transition off on their own successfully.
Most people fail because their fitness improves much faster than their mechanical resiliency does, and they force their progression beyond what they are ready for. A coach will prevent you from your ego taking over once things start going well. It can all unravel pretty quickly – even for the most experienced athletes.
Running as an impact exercise is crucial for bone health. Studies on aging people who only cycle as their exercise, show marked decay in bone health compared with age-matched peers who run.
When it comes to knees, running can actually have a protective affect on knee health. Most pain people suffer when running or walking downhill is due to mechanical dysfunction placing shearing forces on the knee. Running didn’t cause those shearing forces to occur in the first place. Knee shearing is resolvable through the tissue release protocols I teach my clients.
Vertical terrain—including both going up and down—helps you build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints. Load-bearing exercise is actually really good for you, but has been demonised unfairly and actually unscientifically by many ill-informed people. If you are worried about your knees – don’t be – I can help improve your knee problems and other biomechanical issues impeding your progress. The joints in your body actually have the capacity of close to handling two life-times of load, and the erosion of joints is often borne from poor lifestyle and dietary choices as well. Your body can heal to some degree and daily movement is critical to the healing process. Use it or lose it!
When people walk or run-down stairs or hills, their knees are going over their toes placing their knee joint in a potentially compromised position. Most people have little to no strength when their knees are over their toes. We have been told wrongly for many years never to train strength in this position, but when we land from a jump or run downhill often our knees are constantly going over the toes. If we build more strength here, then the problem can be solved.
Did you know that the biggest predictor of functional knee and walking ability decline in seniors is their ability to walk backwards? In other words, seniors who are more capable in backwards walking have less decline in their ability to walk forward into older age and less risk of falls. Falling is the leading cause of injury related hospitalization and death in the elderly population today and backwards walking (also known as retrolocomotion), has been proven to be a simple and cost-effective way for older adults to maintain functional stability and keep up an active and healthy lifestyle.
The tests were done on people who didn’t actually do any backwards walking. These elderly people were just more capable in doing it when they were tested on it, because their calves, hamstrings and quad muscles were stronger – thus their functional ability was naturally superior and thus their chance of falling decreased compared with their weaker peers.
On an anatomical level, what’s happening when we go backward is that we’re stimulating muscles and tendons in the areas that protect the knees. The vastus medialis muscles (a.k.a. the VMO) are the lower, teardrop-shaped quadricep muscles closest to your knee joint and also have the most fast-twitch of your four quad muscles. This means they react faster to protect your knees and add that bounce factor we lose as we age.
Many athletes with strong quad group muscles may still be lacking strength and definition in their VMO teardrop muscles. You can often tell how biomechanically functional an athlete is simply by looking at their VMO definition. They tend to be better performers than other athletes. The reason being is that it’s tough to build strength in the VMO unless you are actually doing functional strength training. Backwards walking quickly puts loading and a burn on the VMO – and its primarily why it’s such a protective exercise.
Ultimately, the science here is showing that the better you are backwards the longer you can stay moving forwards. The more ability you get backwards the more protected you get going forward. The current findings from research provide evidence supporting backwards running for athletic performance, including improved lower body strength and power, decreased injury prevalence, and improvements in change of direction! A 2018 study found that a backwards running group improved sprint speed 33% more and vertical jump 4 times more than the forward running group.
This kind of idea is an example of just one of my coaching protocols that are designed to correct and treat muscle imbalances and injuries. The above discussion is a key example of an unconventional exercise that has an exceptional performance and longevity impact, yet barely anyone does it. Once you start training on exercises like this and others, it really elevates you toward the top 1% of your peers.
Now you might not want or have the capability to be a world-class athlete. Maybe you’re too old for that now, but the story above shows why developing functional full range of motion strength is so important for just general health. No one truly wants to be that frail elderly person struggling to walk. The reason people decay is because they lose strength as they age naturally but they never fight back against the aging process and work to maintain the strength.
Centenarian Mike Fremont is still running at age 100 and if you google him, its just one example how you can remain functional well into old-age if you remain dedicated to it.
Functional strength training benefits all people at all ages and ability.
I’ve Tried Running but it Doesn’t Work for Me
Don’t give up. Its likely you’ve tried to progress into running before your body is truly ready for it. Many newcomers to running become discouraged by the uncomfortable and difficult nature associated with the activity because they start too fast and push too hard. Their bodies push back and they end up resenting running.
Many people who try running for the first time (or after a huge break) start from a place of completely sedentary to then trying to run for 30-60 minutes. The gap is too wide. Even 5 minutes of running might be too wide for some people. You’re just setting yourself up for failure, misery, and injury trying to run. Running isn’t always the starting point.
You should not even start trying to run until you walk and hike at a strong level first. I start many beginners off with a regime of walking and hiking with lots of mountains and hills to build up strength in their body first before they start to throw impact into the mix.
Doctors measuring life expectancy found how fast we walk correlates strongly with how long you end up living. Walking speed is actually a more accurate predictor of life expectancy than the age or sex of people. People who walked one meter per second (or faster) consistently lived longer than age and sex matched peers who walked slower. This test was especially accurate for people older than 75.
The ability to walk fast reflects vitality and health because the proper functioning of multiple body systems, such as the cardiovascular, nervous and musculoskeletal systems, are needed to provide energy, control and coordinate the movement.
You need to start from the ground up and progress in small steps when trying to get fit. This is why you need to work with a coach, because there are so many steps and so many potential traps and mistakes. It’s not worth the years of wasted effort and time trying to figure it all out yourself. I’ve seen all the errors, made all the mistakes, and helped people through this process before.
Why Not Just Train Myself? The Self-Coaching Trap
If you know how to do it, then yes go right ahead! However, knowing and doing are two different things. The knowing part takes a lot of time, effort and research. Running has been my main focus for the past decade. Yes I mean it! I have spent over a decade studying and trail-testing various coaching/training approaches until I have personally settled on an approach I feel is sustainable and efficient. After quitting my desk job in early 2012 to spend more time travelling and adventuring in the mountains, I've spent most days in the past ten years out in the mountains understanding how different approaches affect the body. That’s a lot of mountains I’ve explored!
And when I wasn’t out in the mountains, I’ve been nerding out on training science, reading, writing and also constantly working on improving my health and biomechanics to keep myself healthy and functional. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this time, and learnt a lot about what to do to save you all that trouble figuring it out for yourself!
As humans we like to mimic others in all things we do in life. It’s how we are as children and we carry over that into adult. We see the top athletes or people out exploring the world and we want to be like them. Our first step in doing that is often to start doing what we see those people doing.
Each person is at a different level of fitness, and what might be an easy workout for one person, can be a very hard one for another. We cannot simply follow what other people do and expect to remain healthy, to make the fastest progress and to achieve sustainable growing results in the long-term. The problem is understanding someone else’s training process and the intensity impact their workouts are having is very, very hard to do unless you have a strong understanding of sports science and coaching fundamentals. That is what a coach does for you, so all you have to do is execute what is asked of you. Eventually you will learn where your limits are and how to one day coach yourself as you learn how to train effectively and what to look out for to avoid overtraining.
Many athletes understand how structured training works; the types of workouts there are and a general sense of how a week should look; however, there is so much more to the equation. There is nutrition, biomechanical considerations, recovery considerations, strength and structural considerations, how to phase training, how to design progressions, how to choose the right intensity on specific days of the week, how to choose the right volume, psychological factors, how to know when you're overtraining and so forth… There is a great art to developing a program and it’s well-worth working with an experienced coach, because it will save you time and it will curb your enthusiasm at the times you most need it: that is when the training stimulus starts to make you feel really good and the desire is just to spend all your winnings all at once on some big adventures! A coach can push you when you need it, and hold you back when you become over-excited.
The big problem with self-trained athletes without sufficient experience is they tend to push too hard when they are feeling good. When you invest a lot of time into training, you want to reap the rewards when things start to go well. You might make a whole lot of race plans thinking how you feel now will last or continue to improve into the future. Things will only keep improving right? I hope so, but not necessarily. Because optimal performance involves a delicate balancing act of knowing when to push and when to hold back. There is a tendency to over race, to over train, to model one’s training or race schedule compared with your role models, all before your body might be ready for such a thing. A core foundation on how I train people is "pick your winnable battles", but also to keep seeking goals that are difficult to achieve, but still realistically achievable.
When an athlete overreaches, they will often keep pushing and pushing until their results start to suffer and the fatigue lingers a bit longer than usual. Self-trained athletes tend to spend far too much time training above the aerobic threshold (AT), the transition point where your body predominantly fuels itself from lipids (fat) versus muscle glycogen. Run too fast too often, and you’ll actually get slower over time. This is the training paradox that has led to the downfall of many athletes. The science is clear cut, seasoned pros in endurance sports spend most of their time training beneath the AT and by doing so they build a massive base of fitness that keeps them going year after year. Everyone else puts it down to superior genetics. Well, they are not actually training hard most of the time which is a common misconception due to their training speeds that always seem so fast to the average individual. You cannot model yourself on the training intensities of someone more experienced and with more training time "in the bank" than you.
There is also an added peril for over-reaching: uphills. Many athletes find it difficult to stay below aerobic threshold on climbs, even when trying to take it easy. With Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching, you may spend quite a lot of time training slower than you will probably want to be doing, but it will be very beneficial in the long-term if you learn to trust the process. This is why an experienced coach with uphill experience is vital because its very easy to overdo it when you get out into the mountains regularly.
An overtrained athlete will eventually be forced to pull back—typically from fatigue or an injury—which halts progress for a while. The overtraining cycle can go on for some time before athletes realise what is going on. Often when athletes finally bite the bullet and reach out for coaching, they are at the inflection point of feeling run down and injury-prone and having it happen over and over. Many novice athletes struggle with this cycle, especially early in their fitness journey.
Doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result is not a good position to find yourself in. The best fitness and performance results come from following a well-structured long-term plan - this also helps to keep you accountable, to moderate your intensity, and to motivate you to get out the door on the days when you're not quite motivated enough, or the weather is bad.
However, this is not how most people train their body. Typically, most people train "on a whim", based on what they feel like doing on the day, but the sad reality is most novice and self-coached athletes invariably suffer limited fitness progression, or even worse, they suffer injuries or fatigue because of their "stop-start" or "doing workouts they aren't ready for" approaches. These issues are normal for athletes who train with inappropriate training programs or the lack of one entirely!
Coaching helps you to push through your feelings on days where you don’t always want to train.
Self-coached athletes typically train too hard, too often, often following similar workouts as those of their peers or elite-athlete idols. This approach invariably ends in disaster. Modelling your training on others rarely works because the intensity impact of a certain running or hiking speed, can be drastically different depending on your aerobic capacity and the metabolic structural strength within your body to handle specific workloads. Overtraining often leads to a plateau or decline in performance over time - and worse an athlete may suffer dire health challenges that suspend their fitness regime entirely.
For example, lets consider the case of one aerobically conditioned elite athlete (Athlete A), who does regular training activities at a certain high training speed that has a low-intensity impact on their physiology and has successfully taken them to achieve certain achievements that catches the eye of another less aerobically conditioned novice individual (Athlete B). Athlete B begins to copy the high speed/volume training of Athlete A thinking the same style of training will eventually get them the same results. However, that training ends up having a highly fatiguing impact on Athlete B's physiology because his aerobic base is nowhere near as well conditioned as Athlete A. If both athletes A and B trained with the same volume over time (let's say 6-12 months) but with different aerobic base starting points, Athlete B is likely to end up becoming burnt out and overtrained compared with Athlete A who remains fresh and still improving month by month. This confuses Athlete B who is frustrated, always tired, and likely rationalising that Athlete A has superior genetics, which is not necessarily true. Athlete A is just training smarter and has built to a high level off of years of consistent progressive training. Moral to the Story: Training stimulus and improvement is highly relative to one's endurance level (aerobic base). Elites actually train very fast in comparison to novices, but their perceived levels of effort during the bulk of their training intensities can be pretty low on their physiology. The maintenance low-intensity load of a world class athlete can still be above the abilities of a novice athlete working at maximum high intensity capacity.
What did Athlete B do wrong? Athlete B incorrectly copied the training volume and intensity of Athlete A, when they should have instead copied the training principles used by Athlete A, but altered the intensity and volume of the workouts to match their starting fitness level (aerobic base). In other words, the training principles being used by Athlete B weren't necessarily incorrect, but they failed by not slowly progressing up to Athlete A's training volumes over a long period of time. It's not that the workouts were wrong or Athlete A was genetically superior, Athlete B just needed to slow down and train more intelligently.
Athlete A is only superior because they followed a properly structured training program tailored to their level of athletic endurance over many years. That is why it's rarely genetics. This process cannot be rushed, it doesn't take months, it takes years. You should not be increasing your total time training each year by more than 10% each year. By training more in alignment with their present aerobic base, Athlete B would have actually achieved a higher level of fitness over those two years with less training intensity effort than just trying to work super hard and do a lot of training (well in advance of their previous years). In fact, its quite common that years become wasted of time and Athlete B is little to no fitter years later than when they started despite ALL the hard effort they put in. This happens all the time with self-coached individuals. It's quite sad when someone pushes their body so hard, and puts in so much effort, only to make little to no progress. Training correctly doesn't mean you have to suffer all the time. If you're not improving noticeably each year, then you need to change how you train.
Novice athletes will always benefit from expanding their aerobic low-intensity capacity before they think to work on expanding their high intensity capacities. You will always run faster at high intensity off of a larger aerobic conditioning base. Set the foundation in place first and the speed and performance comes off the back off that with some short periods of selective high intensity "peaking" training. It's that simple.
Conditioning your aerobic base correctly is where the money is, but its a delicate balance of doing too little and doing too much.