In a previous post, I outlined the four basic principles of endurance training:
Today, I'd like to spend some time discussing Frequency.
On it's surface, the concept of frequency seems rather simple. It's just the number of times that you train during any given period of time. We runners typically speak in terms of days per week, but elite runners will likely talk about sessions or runs per week. For example, when I was younger and fit (and brash and foolish), I would train 8-10 times per week. That would include 8 or 9 runs, plus a bit of cycling or swimming. Of course, that meant that I was training more than once per day on a few days each week, thus the need to talk about frequency in terms of sessions per week.
Frequency is the baseline measurement for endurance training. You can't build any endurance at all without at least a moderate frequency of training sessions. Once per month won't do it, even if you think you can force yourself to do some kind of incredibly hard workout. The stress-response cycle that I have discussed here simply needs repetition in order to be effective.
To build your training program, you begin by holding both duration and intensity at a specific level, and work only on frequency. There is no exact formula for how to build up frequency, nor is there a perfect rule for the number of training sessions per week. Your experience will likely be your guide (but having an experienced coach would be the best approach). Even without specific instructions, the rule of thumb is to build any kind of training slowly and gradually. Let's get specific.
I am currently not running at all, as I work with doctors to correct and heal my injury. My frequency is zero sessions per week. When I begin running again, I will probably start by doing some very low-intensity, short-duration runs 2-3 times the first week (I anticipate running about 2-3 miles at (8:30 to 9:00 per mile pace). Assuming those go well, I will then proceed to add one more session per week, each week or two, until I'm up to six sessions per week. Full disclosure: for me, I'll probably aim to run 4-5 times per week, and cross-train (cycle or swim) once or twice per week. This formula should work for me, in part because it is based on my 31 years of consistent running (that is, I should bounce back fairly quickly). In contrast, if you are just beginning a running program for the first time, I'd recommend starting with only 1-2 sessions per week (even shorter and slower than me), and changing the frequency much more slowly, perhaps by adding one session only after keeping frequency steady for 3-4 weeks. Please note that neither I nor the hypothetical beginner will change the duration or intensity of our runs during this early build-up phase. We will keep our runs at low-intensity and short duration while we work solely on increasing frequency.
But how frequent is "frequent enough"? I wish I had a simple answer. It depends in part on your goals, and in part on your body's capacity to adapt to a training load. If your goals are based purely on losing some weight and pleasing your physician, one session every two days is probably adequate for your base frequency. If your goals are to run races up to and including the marathon, you are simply going to need to set your frequency at 6-7 sessions per week, with at least 5 of those as running workouts (the others can be cross-training). If you are looking to win your state championship, or aiming even higher, then you are going to need the dedication and capacity to train more than 7 times per week. Whatever your goals, your first step is to set your frequency at the level you need, before changing anything else in your training.
Frequency is the foundation. Next up, we'll talk about how to make changes in duration, building upon the groundwork of your frequency.