This is the time of year when most endurance athletes are
starting to think about and perhaps even plan for the coming season. That makes
it a good time to remember what’s most important when it comes to training for
peak performance – the basics. Here are five fundamentals I frequently remind
myself of when designing a training plan. There are certainly more than five concerns,
but I believe these are the most basic. I’ve linked each of them to a previous,
more expanded discussion in case you want to learn more.
1. Train with
moderation. Frequently doing extreme workouts that leave you tired for two or more or days
afterward do more harm than good. If you’re not recovered from most of your training sessions within 48
hours of their completion then you’re not training with moderation. This will
eventually catch up with you. Over the long term, the body responds best when the
adaptive changes required are slight. This is not to say you should never do
extremely hard workouts. In fact, it’s been shown that a block of several days
of pushing one’s limits results in a greatly increased level of fitness once
adequate recovery has also had time to remove the resulting fatigue. In my
Training Bible books I call this “crash” training. For most athletes this should not be done more
frequently than once every six weeks.
2. Train consistently.
If you follow the first fundamental in your training then this one probably won’t
require anything more of you. It will more than likely take care of itself. Moderation
usually results in consistent training. That means you don’t miss workouts. In
training, zero is a big number. If you have a lot of them in your training log
then you are giving away hard-earned fitness. Sometimes zeroes simply can’t be
avoided. With the holiday season now in full swing it’s likely you’ll miss a
workout or two. The good news is that it’s probably several weeks until your
first A-priority race of 2013. Zeroes in the last 12 weeks prior to your race significantly
3. Make workouts
increasingly like the race. As the training year progresses your workouts should become increasingly like
whatever it is you are training for. What you’ve done in the last six weeks of build
period training before the race has a greater impact on how well you will
perform on race day than what you did in the first six weeks of base period training.
If those last six weeks were devoted to race-like sessions then you will be
ready to race well. If the workouts were unlike the race then you are giving
away performance. That seems apparent to most athletes and yet this time of
year I read of a lot of athletes following what they call a “reverse”
periodization plan. What this means is that their workouts are race-like in the
base period but not like the race at all in the build period – training becomes
less like the race as the season progresses. It’s reversed. That’s what true reverse periodization would be
(periodization is correctly based on what you are training for, not the
modulation of absolute intensity and duration). What I think most of them mean
is that they are training with high intensity now and will do more miles later
in the year. For events like an Ironman that is not reversed at all. That’s
becoming more race-like. But for a cyclist who does crits that could be
disastrous at the first race. Lots of miles done slowly in the last few weeks
before such a short, high-intensity race is a sure way to race poorly.
4. Intensity is the
key. Sports science hasn’t been around very long as compared with the other
sciences. There are only a few things we have definitively learned from it
about training. Perhaps the most common lesson is that the key to performance
is how you modulate the intensity (power, pace, speed, effort, heart rate) of
training. Performance is not
dependent on how many miles or hours you do in a week – volume. Unfortunately,
most athletes seem to think volume is the Holy Grail. For the experienced and
serious athlete, in their order of importance, the keys to performance are 1)
race-like workout intensity, 2) race-like workout duration, and 3) weekly
volume. In fact, #3 is a distant third. I think the reason volume is so revered
by athletes is that it’s easy to measure. Just add up the daily miles.
Intensity, on the other hand, is hard to quantify. Now I should point out that
this holds true only for the experienced and serious athlete – those who have
been training with a performance focus for three or more years. Novices do
benefit remarkably by focusing on duration and training frequency (volume).
That’s because any intensity – including very low – will prove beneficial for
them. They just need to get to the finish line.
5. Rest when needed. If you employ an appropriate training load you will frequently need to reduce
the stress of training in order for your body to recover and adapt. Continued
stress without rest eventually results in a breakdown of some sort –
overtraining, illness, injury, or mental burnout. How often you recover and
what exactly you do to enhance recovery is an individual matter. Some athletes
recover quickly, others slowly. Some recover with light exercise; others need a
day off. So there is no set pattern that all of us should follow. For some the
best plan is to have no plan – recovery on demand. Recover when your body says it’s time and until it’s ready to go again.
Unfortunately, many athletes are extremely poor at listening to their bodies
and are likely to disregard the common indicators of fatigue thus pressing
ahead in order to get their weekly miles number in the training log. These
folks need a plan for when to rest. Such a plan should include weekly, monthly,
and annual rest periods.