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I asked ChatGPT to be my running coach. This is the plan.

One day soon, in an artificial intelligence powered future, everything you’ll need to do to plan your workouts is say something like this: “I want to run a marathon in less than four hours, what should I do?” And your phone will present the perfect running plan in seconds.

In the last few months, artificial intelligence has gone mainstream. AI art generators, such as DALL-E 2, can create incredible images of unthinkable worlds or design unimaginable products. ChatGPT, the AI chatbot developed by OpenAi, seems to have an answer for everything. In just a few seconds, AI technology can generate a running plan, but will it make sense? Will it be effective?

Like most runners, over the years I’ve trained many different training methods: books, podcasts, running programs downloaded off the internet, self-coaching, professional running coach… So the idea of experimenting with AI to build a training program piqued my curiosity. I opened my browser, log into ChatGPT and started chatting with the intelligent bot. 

What follows is a 10k running plan as designed by ChatGPT. But before I lace my running shoes and start following the chatbot’s instructions, it’s probably a good idea to verify the plan with a running expert. Read on to discover a AI-generate 10 training plan and what Jussi Peltonen, Polar’s Senior Research, thinks of it.

The prompt: Get to know me, AI coach! 

Before building any training plan, running coaches will always discuss with you your goals, fitness level, running history, current mileage, and other aspects that help personalize the plan. If ChatGPT was to be my coach, I had to give it the opportunity to get to know me as a runner. A solid prompt would result in a better answer.

This is what I told ChatGPT:

I am a regular runner, who runs four times a week. My weekly mileage is 30 miles a week and my usual pace is 8:42 minutes per mile. I can train three or four times every week. Create a training plan, based on heart rate, to run a 10k race in less than 50 minutes. 

10K Running Plan created by ChatGPT

Based on my background, the AI generated the following 10k training plan:

Great goal! To train for a 10k race in less than 50 minutes, you’ll want to focus on increasing your speed and endurance. Here’s a 12-week training plan, based on heart rate, that will help you achieve your goal:

Week 1-4 (Base Building Phase):

  • For the first four weeks, focus on building a strong cardiovascular base by running at a comfortable pace that keeps your heart rate in Zone 2 (60-70% of your maximum heart rate).
  • Aim for three runs per week, starting with a total weekly mileage of 12-15 miles.
  • During this phase, your focus should be on building your endurance and developing good running habits, such as proper form and breathing techniques.

Week 5-8 (Speed Building Phase):

  • During weeks 5-8, start incorporating speed work into your training plan to build your anaerobic capacity.
  • Begin with one speed session per week, such as intervals or tempo runs, where you push yourself to run at a higher intensity than your normal pace.
  • Increase your total weekly mileage to 18-21 miles, with three runs per week.
  • Focus on keeping your heart rate in Zone 3 (70-80% of your maximum heart rate) during speed work and Zone 2 during your other runs.

Week 9-12 (Race Preparation Phase):

  • During the final four weeks of your training plan, focus on preparing for your 10k race.
  • Continue to incorporate speed work into your training, but reduce the intensity and duration of your workouts.
  • Aim for a total weekly mileage of 21-24 miles, with three runs per week.
  • During this phase, start practicing race-specific pacing, gradually increasing your pace during your long runs to build your endurance.
  • In the final week before your race, reduce your mileage and focus on tapering to ensure you’re well-rested and ready to race.
  • It’s important to note that this is just a general guide, and you should listen to your body and adjust your training plan accordingly. Also, be sure to incorporate strength training and stretching into your routine to prevent injury and improve your overall fitness. Good luck with your training and your race!

AI-Generated 10K Running Plan: The (Human) Experts weigh in

On a quick look, the AI-generate running plan looks solid and the words of encouragement were appreciated. But to make sure this training plan would lead me to achieve my goals—or worse, cause me injury, I asked Jussi Peltonen, Senior Researcher at Polar to verify and comment the plan. 

My first impression is positive. This AI generated running plan covers well some of the requirements of a good training program and it’d be a solid starting point for many runners,” says Jussi.

That’s encouraging. In less than 90 seconds, I got a suitable training plan to get me started on my chase for a sub-50 10k.

I want to find out how to improve this quick-fire training plan, so I ask Jussi what ChatGPT got right and what got wrong. 

“To answer that we need to consider the four golden rules of training – progression, specificity, overload, and reversibility – and see how well the AI addressed these areas.

Progression is an increase in distance or intensity over time. The AI generated training plan has both. The initial milage (12–15 miles a week) is high for casual runner, but probably a little bit low in this case, someone who habitually runs 30-mile weeks. The plan doesn’t include any increase in frequency. That’s unusual; the bot is sticking to the frequency the runner said in the prompt.

Next is specificity. That means that a training plan will only develop the skills or qualities that are specifically trained. The AI included some faster running at heart rate zone 3, probably presuming that will be race pace. Zone 3 is typically moderate-to-hard effort at 70-80% of maximum heart rate. This tempo pace might be good to complete a 10k, so if the bot’s assumption is correct, the training plan might work. Still, if the runner pushes on to zone 4 during the race, this training plan would fall short. 

The third rule is overloading, which means that our workouts must include periods of working harder, longer, or more frequently than normal to induce training adaptation. As positive adaptation usually occurs after initial drop in performance, many programs alternate between heavy and easy weeks. That’s something the AI didn’t consider. Furthermore, the plan doesn’t have any intervals at faster than race pace that would cause adaptation. Without a few high-intensity workouts that include segments at a faster pace overloading won’t happen and as a result, I think it’s unlikely that the goal of running a 10k in less than 50 minutes could be achieved.

Finally, there’s the importance of reversibility, which most programs neglect. In real life, not everything goes always according to plan. Injuries, work and family commitments, bad weather, or just holidays happen, forcing us to change our training plan. Skipping a training session isn’t a big deal, but if it happens more frequently, adjustments to the plan are needed as training adaptations are reversed during rest. A good training program should have offer instructions on what to do when the unexpected happens. The AI generated training program, like many others downloaded off the internet, doesn’t tell us what to do when we need to modify our plan,” Jussi concludes.

This last point is particularly, so I resumed my conversation with ChatGPT and asked for instructions on what do if I was to miss a few training sessions. This is the answer:

If you miss a few training sessions, don’t panic. Here are some steps you can take to get back on track:

  1. Assess the situation: Try to determine why you missed several training sessions. Was it due to a busy schedule, lack of motivation, or an unforeseeable circumstance? Understanding the reasons behind your missed sessions can help you prevent similar situations in the future.
  2. Re-evaluate your training plan: If you’ve missed several sessions, you may need to adjust your training plan to ensure you can still reach your goal safely and effectively. Consider speaking with a coach or trainer to help you develop a new plan that takes your missed sessions into account.
  3. Gradually resume training: Don’t try to make up for all the missed sessions in one go. Instead, gradually resume your training routine, starting with shorter and easier workouts before gradually increasing the intensity and duration over time.
  4. Stay positive: Remember that missing a few training sessions is not the end of the world. Stay focused on your goals and don’t let setbacks discourage you. Consistency is key, so focus on getting back into your routine and staying committed to your training plan.

In summary, missing a few training sessions is not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world either. By assessing the situation, re-evaluating your training plan, gradually resuming training, and staying positive, you can get back on track and continue making progress towards your goals.

The answer made me feel comforted: the AI admitted its own limitations: if you need to re-evaluate your training plan, consider speaking with a coach. 

A detailed AI-generated running plan

By now, I knew that an AI-generated training plan wouldn’t be perfect and. Thanks to Jussi, I was aware of its shortcoming, but still, I wanted to see what type of workouts the technology would suggest. I resumed my conversation with ChatGPT and ask for a detailed weekly plan. “Based on the plan above, create a detailed weekly plan,” I asked the chatbot.

Here’s what my silicon coach replied:

Sure, here is a sample weekly schedule for each of the three phases of the training plan:

Week 1-4 (Base Building Phase):

  • Monday: 3 miles at Zone 2
  • Tuesday: Cross-training (such as cycling or swimming)
  • Wednesday: 4 miles at Zone 2
  • Friday: 3 miles at Zone 2
  • Saturday: 7 miles at Zone 2

Week 5-8 (Speed Building Phase):

  • Monday: 4 miles at Zone 2, including 6 x 400m intervals at Zone 3 with 90 seconds recovery
  • Tuesday: Cross-training (such as cycling or swimming)
  • Wednesday: 5 miles at Zone 2, including 3 miles at Zone 3 tempo pace
  • Thursday: Cross-training (such as cycling or swimming)
  • Saturday: 8 miles at Zone 2, including 8 x 200m strides at Zone 3

Week 9-12 (Race Preparation Phase):

  • Monday: 4 miles at Zone 2, including 4 x 800m intervals at Zone 3 with 2 minutes recovery
  • Tuesday: Cross-training (such as cycling or swimming)
  • Wednesday: 6 miles at Zone 2, including 4 miles at Zone 3 tempo pace
  • Thursday: Cross-training (such as cycling or swimming)
  • Saturday: 9 miles at Zone 2, with a gradual increase in pace to Zone 3 for the final 3 miles

Remember to adjust the pace and distance to suit your fitness level and listen to your body. Also, be sure to include proper warm-up and cool-down routines in your training sessions, and don’t forget to incorporate strength training and stretching into your routine to prevent injury and improve your overall fitness. Good luck with your training!

A promising start

As expected, an AI chatbot won’t replace a running coach any time soon, but it can already provide an adequate starting point to our running journey, making us reflect on the different aspects we need to consider when getting serious about running.

Generative AI is insanely useful and has the potential of transforming the way we access information. The technology is impressive, but we can’t forget it’s early days.

Regardless of its primitive state, the AI can point us in the right direction when we need to build a training plan and tells us the different aspects we need to consider. This small experiment of an AI generated 10k training plan proves it.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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