The ABCs of a Systematic Training Program

BY Adam Hodges

The following is excerpted from The Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Systematic, Recovery Based Training by Adam Hodges.

The following is excerpted from The Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Systematic, Recovery Based Training by Adam Hodges. The training guide equips you with fundamental concepts and tools needed to train more effectively, explaining how to create your own customized training program and how to set up your individual training zones based on heart rate and pace. Available to complement the guide is a comprehensive set of pre-written workouts—the Alp Multisport Workout Library—available for purchase on TrainingPeaks.

The ABCs of a Systematic Training Program

Armed with concepts from exercise physiology plus a way to measure your workout intensity, you are now ready to put together a training program. This section lays out a method for building your fitness from the ground up. The aim is to provide you with a simple framework for creating your own systematic training program. Once you have designed an individual training plan, you can pull detailed workouts from the Alp Multisport Workout Library available on TrainingPeaks (or design your own workouts based on the guidelines provided in this guide) to put that plan into action on a weekly basis.

Building Fitness From the Ground Up

The basic components of my approach to training can be summarized with the ABC mnemonic provided below: 

  • A – Aerobic before anaerobic
  • B – Build endurance along with neuromuscular speed
  • C – Consistent supplemental work (drills, strength, preventive care)

Aerobic Before Anaerobic

Aerobic before anaerobic refers to the need to establish a strong aerobic foundation before moving into the higher intensity anaerobic training zones that utilize the lactic acid system. Just as building a house requires starting with a solid foundation, so does building your fitness. Higher intensity activity is like the upper floors on a building that require a solid foundation to withstand their stress load. The more solid the foundation, the higher the building can rise. Likewise, the more solid your aerobic foundation, the faster you will eventually be able to go.

Even if you are training for short distance events that utilize a greater percentage of anaerobic energy pathways, it is important to remember that you still predominately rely upon your aerobic system as an endurance athlete. In this way, anaerobic endurance is superimposed upon one’s aerobic capacity. To use another analogy, the speed you generate from tapping into the anaerobic lactic acid system is like the layer of icing on top of a cake where the cake represents your aerobic capacity. Frosting without the layers of cake beneath it does not make a complete dessert. In the same way, focusing strictly on anaerobic training without attention to establishing a solid aerobic foundation does not make an effective endurance athlete. You may make quick gains in the short term, but at the expense of long term development. It is better to build your fitness from the ground up, establishing a strong aerobic base before moving into serious anaerobic work.

Underlying this approach is the fact that endurance athletes are fundamentally aerobic animals. To consider this point, compare the aerobic versus anaerobic energy system requirements in typical running events, as detailed in table 8. Even for events as short as 3,000 meters, a distance that takes as little as seven to nine minutes for elite runners to cover on the track, the aerobic system predominates. With this in mind, it becomes clear that “sprint” distance triathlons—typically consisting of a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run—are endurance events that primarily utilize the aerobic system.

Build Endurance Along With Neuromuscular Speed

The second component—build endurance along with neuromuscular speed—refers to the need to develop the ability to move quickly and efficiently as you develop your aerobic foundation. More specifically, by neuromuscular speed, I mean the firing of fast-twitch muscle fibers and coordination of proper movement patterns required for economy of motion. Note that this is different than the conception of “speed” as it is sometimes used to refer to activities of a few minutes in duration where the lactic acid system is tapped.

Neuromuscular speed is achieved through short, alactic bursts—what might be viewed as “true” speed. Short sprints or hills less than 30 seconds in duration are called “alactics” because they are not long enough in duration to tap the lactic acid system. Although alactics do utilize anaerobic energy pathways, they do not stress the body the way the lactic acid system does and are therefore appropriate during base building periods. Alactics develop the body’s supporting structures (e.g. muscles, ligaments, tendons) that need to be in place for higher intensity aerobic and anaerobic work down the road. In addition, alactics condition the fast-twitch and intermediate fast-twitch muscle fibers that even endurance athletes utilize during prolonged activity, and this work (along with form drills) plays an important role in improving one’s economy of motion. If you can move more efficiently over a given distance, you have effectively accessed an important source of “free speed” to make you a faster athlete. This needs to be developed right alongside your aerobic endurance.

Consistent Supplemental Work

The third component—consistent supplemental work—refers to the need to dedicate time to activities that complement your normal sport specific workouts. This includes form drills, functional strength exercises, and preventive care. These supplemental activities need not take a great deal of time. After all, the bulk of your time is already dedicated to working out in your primary disciplines (e.g. running, cycling and/or swimming). Yet even a little supplemental work can go a long way toward making you a better athlete as long as you are consistent with it.

Learn more about The Endurance Athlete’s Training Guide at or visit Adam’s coaching website at

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About Adam Hodges

Adam Hodges, Ph.D., is a USA Triathlon certified coach and American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer. In addition to coaching multisport athletes, he has coached high school cross country and track runners in California and masters swimmers in Colorado. As a USAT All-American triathlete, he has competed in the ITU World Triathlon Championships, the ITU World Duathlon Championships, and the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. As a masters runner, he has won a series title in the XTERRA SoCal Trail Series. Learn more about his books and training resources at

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