To Plan or Not to Plan

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
-Adapted from "To A Mouse" by Robert Burns


I have a love-hate relationship with plans. Maybe it’s just me, but when I first make a plan motivation and inspiration start welling up inside: “Look at this amazing plan! I am going to progress perfectly and do all these killer workouts and be awesome!” But I haven’t actually done a single thing yet. My tendency is to skew to the side of setting over-the-top unrealistic expectations for myself, try to do it, but eventually experience symptoms of overtraining and have to pull it back a bit. Then, discouraged from not successfully completing my schedule, I say “screw schedules!” and start training haphazardly without any direction.


Others may have other issues when it comes to scheduling. Some keep to a demanding schedule whether it injures them or not, others err on the opposite side and don't sufficiently challenge themselves (or challenge themselves in the wrong way) and get frustrated with why they aren’t improving even when they stick to the schedule.


Blessings and Curses of having a plan:

  • if you do it, you feel good about it -> increased motivation to continue
  • if you don’t stick to it, you feel bad -> decreased motivation
  • but if you stick to it when you shouldn’t -> injury/burnout risk


There’s got to be some way of trying to get all the potential benefits of planning, while avoiding the problems with it.

Schedule or Not_.png




I like to think of our mid-short term training (meso-cycle, for those familiar with periodization language), a period of typically 3-4 weeks, as short-term experiments aimed at improvement. As an experiment, it is as much about learning as it is improvement. If you feel overtrained and can’t stick to it, you have learned something. If at the end of it you haven’t improved, you have learned that what you’ve been doing isn’t working for you, and you need to change something to see results (change intensity, duration, amount of rest), or perhaps you just need to do what you’ve been doing for more weeks in a row, or change/add something else about your training.


For the scientists, these mini-experiments are far from perfect (n=1, no control group, too many variables to control), but hopefully you can mix these personal tests with your understanding of exercise physiology to gradually learn and improve over time.


Keep mid-term and long-term goals always in mind


  • If you are training for a race, keep in mind what you need to do to prepare well (like running long to prepare for an ultra-marathon).
  • Also, don't loose sight of the really long term vision: there will be many more races and challenges ahead, and successful improvement over the long term might be a better idea than risking big setbacks for short-term gains.


A suggestion for your toolbox

Your schedule is a tool. Use it to challenge yourself appropriately and to plan for gradually increasing challenges, and to feel you have a sense of direction/purpose ahead. Don’t detail your plans too far ahead.


Something like this:

Flexi-schedule instructions.png


If you like the above schedule style, either...


And if you make any schedule versions that you really like, please let me know!