Getting fitter is about balancing training stress with recovery. Far to many athletes believe training volume should be limited by the risk of injury and rarely consider the recovery cycles required for the body to compensate which make us stronger and fitter. The primary recovery is through sleep.
Elites and professional athletes generally have recovery nailed as training is their day job and recovery time is plentiful. Elites training for ultras, epics, 70.3 and IRONMAN often get 10 to 12 hours sleep and naps per day. Age groupers and hobbyist have day jobs generally limiting the time available for sleep. Limited recovery means keeping training volume proportionate to recovery. Cheat on recovery and the training time is wasted time.
Everyone is different but an Athlete doing 12 to 15 hours training a week at 85% aerobic intensity should be getting and average of 8+ hours per night.
Here are some rules to ensure you are getting enough recovery:
- Ban the alarm clock. If you are not waking up naturally, you are not getting sufficient quality sleep to realise the benefits of your training.
- Apply the 7 minute rule for running. If to are not feeling smooth and balanced in your running gait after your warm-up, you have not recovered, so go home and rest. 7 minutes into your warm-up running is generally a good time to check in.
- Apply the 1 hour rule for cycling. As with cycling, a good time to check-in with your cycling readiness to absorb a long ride is the 1 hour mark. Again here if you are not feeling smooth, strong and keen to continue, go home and rest.
- The Snap rule. If you find you are beginning to snap at your family or work peers for little reason, your are surely not recovering sufficiently to compensate and improve and your training is again wasted time. Reduce training for a couple of days or until you mood improves.
- Alternative stress rule. Psychological and illness stress also require recovery diminishing our ability to recover from training stress. If you are ill (including flu) or you are carrying psychological stress such as work, relationship or financial, back off on the training a resolve the root cause. This stress will hinder sleep, suppress recovery and hinder training effectiveness.
We can still train hard, putting together big multi-session days, weekends, big weeks or camps where we do intentionally overload, but the key is to take the recovery to allow the body to compensate and get stronger and fitter.
Efficiency and technique are the most under rated aspects of triathlon by most age group triathletes.
When working with athletes on technique change I sometimes get the immediate feedback that what I am proposing does not feel right, it feels awkward, odd. Quite often I find the athlete dropping back to the “comfortable” technique believing good technique should feel right immediately.
SURPRISE, change is never comfortable, it is always awkward. Top athletes get this, absorb and embrace the change, strive to achieve conscious competence as quickly as possible, then practice until it becomes unconscious competence. It isn’t easy, it takes focus beyond being strong and courageous, it takes dedication.
Efficiency is paramount in endurance sport. A lack of focus on efficient biomechanics to overcome resistance and optimise propulsion is a huge opportunity lost.
For swimming, stopping a cross over stoke, keeping the head down, keeping the wrist below elbow are adjustments that will feel unnatural at first attempt, it will not feel good. If it doesn’t feel awkward then you probably aren’t correcting enough. EXPECT AWKWARD!
Likewise for running, landing over the feet, landing with bended knee, leaning forward from the ankles will take getting used too. With running change needs to managed and progressive. Gait change needs to be gradual due to the impact nature of running. Fast change can lead to injury. It is recommended that new techniques and gait change is done at low volume while the muscular strength to support the landing stress is developed.
Video is a great tool for improving technique. The athlete can clearly see the faults, see evidence of adjustments, fulfilling the journey from unconscious incompetence through to conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and finally unconscious competence. It is a journey of change.
When training for endurance sport we expect discomfort, we expect to be pushed, we expect a little pain. Let me add to that!
Expect to feel awkward!
Training is the investment of time to improve results.
There are four basic components in endurance training:
- Aerobic training – 80% to 85% of training time in Zone 1 and lower Zone 2 (MAF)
- Force Development – 5% of training time (Maximal Strength – Zone 5+)
- Durability training – 10% to 15% of training time (Zone 3 – 4)
- Technique – Integrated into training and active recovery
- Recovery – Active recovery + 7.5 hours+ sleep average per night.
Any training session should be targeting these adaptations. The only session that have benefits if you have muscular fatigue are durability and active recovery.
Know what your session is targeting and stick to the plan. If you can’t nail it, go home and use the recovery time, don’t dig a hole!
Many athletes see learning to tumble turn in the pool as a waste of time as there are no turns in an open water swim. The reason to tumble turn is not about speed, pace or achieving a better pool swim time. It is about developing good breath techniques necessary for a sustained open water swim. My view is that the shorter the pool the more reason to tumble. Read More
Recently I did some analysis on an athlete’s sodium loss and cramping issue reminding me of an issue I had a couple of years back.
I had a sodium test done out of interest, even though I did not have a cramping issue. The recommendation suggested I take significantly more sodium than the norm due to my high sodium loss. I implemented this in my next race experienced severe cramping. In review we established my sodium intake was too high slowing my water absorption and causing bloating.
The issue was that the sodium test report did not show a relationship between exercise intensity and loss rate. My test was done at threshold pace, however my race was a 70.3 performed at close to aerobic intensity (Zone 2). Read More
As athletes we have all heard of mitochondria. They are the foundation of our endurance performance. Even though we might not get the biology, we should be aware of how to grow and maintain them! #Zone1Addict #HittAddict #Triathlon #IRONMAN #Primal #MAF #PeriodizedCarbs Read More
As an endurance coach one of my key messages is to slow down training to speed up on race day. Many don’t appreciate just how much aerobic volume is needed and emulate elite training pace rather than elite training heart rate.
Many athletes who join my program are surprised how slow I ask them to train for much of their training hours. The reason is that without a critical volume of aerobic training your heart rate over pace will not have enough head room to sustain race pace effort for the duration of a race.
For IRONMAN I recommend 75% to 80% of training should be below aerobic threshold in Zone 1, or below MAF pace with the remaining spread between zones 2, 4 and 5 depending on training phase. For Marathon the intensity distribution is 80 to 84% zone 1 (MAF pace) and 12% zone 2 (Marathon race pace).
For many experienced athletes who have been training at high intensity for years, dropping to MAF pace or Zone 1 heart rate will mean a lot of walking for the first few weeks while the aerobic system develops. This is tough for some but necessary of they wish to break through their inevitable current plateau. I say “Shelve the ego, suck it up buttercup and follow the proven process”.
Without this aerobic training the mitochondria needed to support the efficiency needed to enable sustainable zone 2 pace will not develop.
Below are two key studies showing evidence of success in aerobic training. It is also important to note that including this percentage of zone 1 with allow for increased volume of training due to the lower training stress per hour.
For new athletes joining my program a key indicator is the difference in their 5km and half marathon performance. Using the vDot predictions I take the athletes best 5km or 10km time and compare their predicted 21km to their actual. If there is a significant difference between the two this suggests an under developed aerobic system. This is then validated with a decoupling test for run and bike for triathletes.
The runners study also shows the aerobic volume is also key for shorter endurance distances.