In part 1 I wrote about a topic I’ve addressed here many times before: The limited value of training volume for the advanced athlete and the necessity of emphasizing event-specific intensity, especially in the last 12 weeks prior to a targeted race. This does not mean that volume is unimportant.
If I have an athlete who can train with either 8 hours or 16 hours weekly I’ll opt for 16 in most weeks. Once the athlete adapts to such a volume he or she will produce better results than would have come from the lower volume. But the difference will not be as great as if the athlete changed the intensity of training by a similar magnitude. Volume is not unimportant, it’s simply less important than intensity for the advanced athlete.
Are there other unique ways that an advanced athlete should train? Yes, there certainly are. The advanced athlete has unique circumstances regarding his or her capacity for improvement. I’ll explain.
As mentioned in part 1, the novice athlete can do almost anything to improve performance. A little stress in almost any form will cause a training effect. This athlete’s fitness is so low at the start of training that merely “exercising” in whatever manner will bring fitness improvement. As the athlete’s fitness improves over time this changes.
Recall the early days of your racing. You may well have had a personal best performance at every race you went to and this lasted for weeks if not months. Eventually, however, the rate of improvement slowed down and it became increasingly difficult to better previous performances.
When it comes to the advanced athlete this is the major concern of training. How can he or she get that last 1% of increase in performance? The closer one is to one’s potential in a sport the more difficult it is to make gains.
That brings us to one of my favorite topics: periodization.
Traditional, classic or linear periodization, whatever you want to call it, does not always work well for the advanced athlete. This is the periodization model I described in my Training Bible books. Writing a book is a very challenging task. You’ve got to some how accommodate a broad range of potential readers and at the same time not confuse them with a lot of “if-thens.” In other words, if you are a novice, then train this way. But if you are somewhat experienced train in this other way. However, if you are competitive do it like this. This would make for a complex and confusing discussion.
While I hope to some day write a book for the advanced athlete, given that this is a somewhat small segment of any sport, my Training Bibles were written for the largest or middle market: Experienced, want to be more competitive and modestly fit. So in those books I used the linear periodization model which works well for such a group.
But how might you periodize your training if you are an advanced athlete given the challenge of trying to eke out very small changes in fitness? One possible way is something called “block" periodizaton. I use this with the 67-year-old cyclist mentioned in part 1 and other advanced athletes of all ages I coach and consult with. I’ll try to explain briefly here.
Let’s start by going back to the challenge the advanced athlete faces: His or her fitness is very close to potential so positive changes are hard to make. In linear periodization the athlete trains several “abilities” every week (from the Training Bibles you may recall the 6 abilities are aerobic endurance, muscular force, speed skills, muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance and sprint power). In any given week of training the athlete following a linear periodization model may be developing or maintaining 3 to 6 of these abilities. For the advanced athlete that makes it very difficult to cause improvement in any of them. They are simply spreading their training time too thinly between several different demands. To get that last, small improvement requires a great deal of focused training which linear periodization does not accommodate. So the abilities may not improve much, if at all for the advanced athlete on a linear plan.
Block periodization changes this dramatically. Instead of working on 3 to 6 abilities in a week the advanced athlete with a block plan focuses on only 1 or 2. This means more workout time is devoted to each ability thus increasing the potential for improvement. The downside is that those abilities which aren’t being attended to may erode since there may be inadequate stress to at least maintain them. This matter is addressed in block periodization by estimating how long an ability can be maintained without specific training devoted to it. Then before the ability fades away workouts are inserted to stress the ability again generating enough adaptation to produce maintenance.
Stay tuned. In part 4 I’ll get into the details of how all of this is done and eventually I’ll provide a pattern of block training as an example.
(If you are interested in learning more about block periodization you might check out Vladimir Issurin’s book, Block Periodization. Be forewarned that it’s a bit on the pricey side at US$65.)