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Developing Your First Training Plan

By now you should understand your current fitness level and have developed your fitness goal. If you're just jumping into this beginners Getting Started series, you might want to check out the first two articles about Finding Your Current Fitness Level and Developing Your First Fitness Goal.

Read those and come back here. You'll be all caught up.

Even though you have the best goal ever, what do you even do with that goal? Starting working towards it obviously.

But how?!?

Why Make Your Own First Training Plan

That's where developing your first training plan comes to the rescue.

Go google “5k training plans”. You'll see you don't have to work hard to plenty of ready-made training plans.  From beginner level Couch to 5k programs to Jeff Galloway’s elite training plan, you can find a calendar that lists what to run, when to run, and how much to run.

Go ahead and use these resources. Just make sure you're following reputable advice so you don't get injured trying to do too much.

But if you have ever stopped and wondered “How do they come up with this?” or if you want to take greater ownership of your training you can develop your first training plan all by yourself.

And once you know the pieces you can put this puzzle together pretty easily.

Does it take lots of experience? To refine an elite-level training plan, yes. Coaches knows how to develop a quality training plan through years of competing as a runner before becoming a coach themselves. But to craft your first training plan at a beginner level, not at all.

You don't need to have read all the great running books. You don't even need to be a great runner. My father’s high school running coach, Jim Gardiner, led his team to 2 state championships and 2 state runner-up finishes. He was a quadriplegic. But he knew how to get the best out of his athletes.

All you need to understand the basics for your first training plan is to understand how one is formed.

These basic elements are periodization, safe workload progression, and race specific workouts.


Periodization refers to the systematic planning of your training regimen.  The idea behind periodization is to reach “peak” performance precisely at the most important competition.

It is a progressive, year long cycle that divides the conditioning program into different phases of training. Each phase of training has it's own goal.

The three cycles are:

  • Macrocycle
  • Mesocycle
  • Microcycle


A macrocycle is usually a year-long plan made up of three phases: preparation, competition, and transition.

Preparation usually lasts two-thirds to three-quarters of the macrocycle. This is where the majority of the training takes place.  As you can guess, it's the time used to “prepare” for competition.

Competition is exactly what the name says.  It’s the period where the main event or goal race takes place.

And finally, you have transition.  This is when you finally get some rest and time off.  The athlete is getting ready to “transition” to the next macrocycle by giving their body a break.


A mesocycle represents a shorter phase of training lasting anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks.  Each period has a specific focus on a single physical adaptation.  For example, a mesocycle may focus on building an aerobic base or increasing muscle mass.

The different mesocycles combined to form the macrocycle.


The final cycle refers to the individual and daily activities that work towards the goal of the mesocycle.  The microcycles typically last a week and includes training sessions like a long run or hill workout.

Making a Safe Progression

In a quality training plan these microcycles and mesocycles slowly add more and more to the workload.  If done correctly your body will adapt to the increased workload and you'll see an improvement in performance.

This must be done carefully though.

Adding too much, too soon will cause your body to breakdown under the increased stress. This leads to injuries. On the other hand, if you don't increase the workload enough, your body won't be forced to adapt. This leads to a performance plateau.

The key to your first training plan is finding the right balance and progression.

A popular guideline most coaches recommend is don't increase the workload by more than 10% week to week. If you ran 25 miles last week, next week don't run any more than 27.5 miles.

Race Specific Workouts

Would a runner train for a marathon by running 100m sprints? Probably not.  Just like how a sprinter won't train for the 100m dash by running a marathon. The training must match the goal.

The final component of your first training plan is the race specific workout training that make up microcycles.  It is important that your first training plan, and every plan thereafter, contains workouts that are specifically designed for your goal activity or distance.

There are many different types of runs. Each improves a particular aspect of your running performance, such as aerobic threshold, leg strength, and lactate threshold.

From the marathon to the 1500m, nearly every race distance will use each style of run.  The difference is how often the specific run is performed and how far the athlete must go.

The 9 different styles are:

  • Interval run                  
  • Base run                      
  • Progression run
  • Fartlek run                          
  • Long run                      
  • Hill run
  • Out and Back run            
  • Tempo run                    
  • Recovery run

We won't take the time here to explain the ins and outs of each specific workout. But if you're interested in learning more we will be posting detailed explanations.

What you should take away is that a quality training plan will tailor these types of runs to your goal.  Marathoners will naturally perform more long runs while a miler will naturally run more intervals.

This is where training plans begin to differ the most.

Forming Your First Training Plan

We've just thrown a lot of information at you. But lets try to bring it all together and see how the pieces of the puzzle fit.

Once you've decided on your goal you'll first plan out the training periods using those nine workouts.  Each period has its own sub-goal, such as improving leg strength, increasing VO2 max, or letting the body recover.

It is important that each of these training periods follow a safe progression as to reduce the chance of injury.

The best way to think of it is like this:

A quality training plan will use different periods of time to safely progress your race specific workouts to ensure you reach your peak performance at the time of the race.

For best results you should consult a coach or personal trainer when constructing your first training plan.  A good coach will be well aware of these components and will help you successfully reach your goal, injury free.