This Saturday I was out running hill sprints and doing some calisthenics and I had a moment of clear insight. As those are few and brief for me, I scribbled down a few notes as soon as I got home.
What I realized is that while I think planning is great, too much planning isn’t. You don’t get bonus for the most detailed plan, just because it’s detailed. You get better from having a better plan, not a more detailed one.
While limiting your choices is often a great way to allow yourself to focus on what’s left, OCD really isn’t doing you any favors.
So what actually happened out on that hill on a Saturday morning? Well instead of aiming for a fixed number of sprints, I stayed within the overall plan, but without aiming for an arbitrary number of sprints. Instead I did a bunch of 5-10s sprints, started when my heart rate was 130 and kept going until I felt I’d done enough. To keep things within the overall plan, I’d also set a hard cap at 500kcals burned, to make sure I didn’t get carried away. Simple as that.
Maybe I did more sprints than I usually do, maybe I did less. I kept quality high and went home when I felt power was declining.
For me, these weekend sessions have no measurable end goal – I do it because I like it and to keep my cardiovascular capacity at a decent level. For no particular reason other than I like to. There’s no point in over complicating that.
The same principle can be transferred to training. Ask yourself this question: “why am I doing sets of 3, 5, 8 or 10 repetitions?” “why am I doing 3 or 5 sets?” Why not stop at 4 sets if you’re having a bad day? Why not do 7 reps if you’re firing on all cylinders? Or an extra set? Why not skip the assistance work if you’re dragging yourself around the gym?
Most of the numbers we use for training programs are based on part science and part trial and error, but many of them are also based on OCD.
I suggest you worry more about quality of your reps and sets than quantity. Auto regulating is an essential part of a successful training career.
Training programs are templates, nothing should be set in stone.