With the exception of professional players and undergraduates, most sportspeople are time-poor. Travel, work, study, family, and competing all take up time in strangely inconvenient blocks that mess up your meticulous training routine.
If the plan says, “90 minutes”, then it is easy to become disheartened when you only have 60 available. Or, for the ultra-committed, you become sleep-deprived as sleep is what “gives” in order to “make it”. This is a short-term solution that comes back to kick you in the backside as you underperform in your sport or life.
Micro-dosing is a simple method of re-framing your perception of time that allows you to work within frequent, smaller periods. It solves some of the problems and may enhance certain aspects of your training. I shall outline some of the pros and cons in this article and how I have used them in the past.
Re-framing your goals
Roger Bannister was a med-student when he broke the 4-minute mile. He only had an hour to train each day and his sporting goal matched the time he had available.
Compare that with recreational runners whose goal is to run a half-marathon: big mileage is required and if you are running slowly then this takes up more time. Distance is king and everyone is trying to do more. But running 80 miles a week leaves you too mentally and physically tired to do much else.
If you are genuinely time-poor then the first thing to do is set a goal that matches the time you have available. This reduces anxiety and you are more likely to achieve your new goal. For example, the recreational runner who jogs 8-minute miles might try this:
- The previous goal: run a half-marathon.
- New goal: run a mile in less than 6 minutes.
For this runner, the overall volume would decrease and the type of training would change: more sprints and intervals rather than long runs. This could be accomplished in less training time.
Setting up your training plan
What are your essentials?
Write down what you need to do compared to what is nice to do. Imagine you only had 15 minutes a day, what would you do? I use 15 minutes because it focuses your mind on what matters most (N.B. If you write down, ‘foam-roller’, try again).
For example, it might be for a weightlifter:
For the 8-min mile runner who is trying to get to 6-min miles it might be:
- 1.5-mile run
- 3 x800m @3:45 pace with 1-minute rest.
- 6 x 200m @ 45-second pace with 1:45 rest
Once you have this, ‘need-to-do’ you can expand from there. It might be that you have a couple of 15- minute chunks a day rather than a 30-minute block and so the weightlifter
might do snatch in the morning and squats in the afternoon. This is simply a matter of changing your mindset from, ‘I need an hour to train,’ to ‘what can I get done?’ This is more easily written than implemented.
Office working and student runners beware of high-speed running in a short time. I have seen many people get calf injuries after spending a morning sitting at a desk with their legs tucked behind them and then trying to run fast. If you can, move around your office or sit in a different position before running. You might try starting with walking to jogging to running rather than straight into running.
It is unlikely that 15 minutes a day will lead you to improved performance, so, at some point, you will need more time. This might be at the weekends or on alternate days. The important point is to not squander that time with fluff. Use it to do your maximum lifts, your long runs, or the speed session where you need long rest intervals.
However, if you are in a busy period such as exams, work deadlines, or having a newborn baby, doing 15 minutes a day might not improve performance but it can definitely prevent a precipitous decline.
Can you micro-dose at home?
The second element of micro-dosing is the ‘homework’ aspect of training for the recreational athlete. Many sportspeople train twice a week with the club and play a match at the weekend. The coach is limited in time in practice and so devotes 95% of this time to technical and tactical work. Fitness and individual skills are left out.
I have used many variations of micro-dosing to help athletes work on what is left out in training, but they all come back to two questions
- Does the athlete want to train?
- How can I make it accessible and interesting?
I am still working on the latter.
As my knowledge of exercises has improved alongside the improvement in technology, filming short exercise clips and sharing them, has become a lot easier. I still recommend 5-10 minutes a day and give a list of exercises to complete each week.
I don’t like the ‘Monday; lunges, Tuesday: Heel slides,…’ prescriptive approach, because every athlete has a different schedule and life throws curve balls that often scupper Monday’s plan.
If I give 6 ‘micro-sessions’ to complete, the athlete can do one-a-day, or two for three days.
My best guess is to give some structure to athletes that allow room for adapting to their individual schedules. They must be coached through the exercises and be familiar with them. Barriers and obstacles to getting it done should be discussed. I always get the athletes to give me a when and where and describe how they will do it.
Most people fail on the ‘how to fit it in’, not the ‘what should I do?’
Here are two micro-dose sessions and you can see how I am coaching the athletes before giving it as homework.
‘Strength and flex’:
Remember, the point is not to impress our peers with what we do, but to help our athletes improve. A handwritten note with a stick man drawing, that the athlete does diligently, is better than the 20-page document that gathers virtual dust.
Life is tough and we need to realize that we can’t do everything all of the time. But, if we reframe our goals, narrow down what is essential and build some adaptability into our training, we can make out sporting life a little easier.