April 28, 2016 - Everyone knows that training leads to better race day performances, but do you know why this happens? It's important to understand exactly what a training program is designed to do and what will give you the best return on your training investment!
To swim, bike and run longer and faster, you have to swim, bike and run longer and faster, right? Maybe it's not quite that simple. To maximize an athlete's training efforts, we need to know exactly how the training will make an athlete better: it's all about the adaptation process. So, what does that mean? When an athlete trains, the goal is to add a level of stress to the body that it is not comfortable with. Once this level of stress has been added, the body will do what it does very well: ADAPT! Via numerous processes, the body monitors its insufficiencies and works quickly to make up for them. The key is to hit that stress “sweet spot” with your training. If not enough stress is placed upon the body, it has no reason to change or adapt. If too much stress is placed upon the body, it will begin to break.
How much stress do you need? That’s a very tricky question. Luckily, the human body is an amazing machine that is quite durable and very responsive. This means that we (as coaches and athletes) don’t have to hit it right on the head. The window of responsible and effective stress application is unique and individual to each athlete. Unfortunately, the “athlete mentality” also includes a drastic overestimation of the level to which an athlete believes their body can handle. This basically leads to abuse and consistent abuse leads to injury. Having an outside perspective, a good coach will have a much better chance of applying the correct stress levels to an athlete that will lead to increased fitness, while also keeping them healthy – this is much more difficult than most triathletes like to admit. While there are some athletes who are very successful at self-managing, it’s increasingly rare to see elite athletes, in any sport, not utilizing the benefits of an outside perspective of their training.
How does this stress get applied? In its most basic forms, training stress can be added via three ways: volume, intensity, and a combination of the two. The key is applying these increases in responsible doses. At its most elementary level, a 5-10% increase in weekly volume is considered safe. The main reason for this mild increase is for safety and health of the athlete. This is of particular interest for running volume since it, by far, carries the most potential for physical damage due to its high-impact nature. Swimming and cycling can typically be built more aggressively since they are low-impact sports. If volume is being increased at the upper end of the responsible limits, then any intensity increases should be extremely small or non-existent. Here’s an example: Joe Triathlete has been training at a weekly volume of 5 hours. In order to remain responsible, he pushes his volume up to 5.5 hours (a 10% increase). Since he is increasing by 10%, he does not add any additional speed work to his weekly regimen. Now, Jill Triathlete has been training for 5 hours per week alongside her husband, but she is training for a super sprint and wants to increase her speed work. So she stays put at her weekly volume, but adds additional intervals to her weekly speed work for swim, bike, and run. Both examples would increase the training stress load applied to the athletes and can result in increased fitness, assuming adequate recovery is also included (that’s a whole other topic…)
Again, this article only touches on some of the most basic ideas of building a successful and safe training program. The real information that should be taken away is understanding the concept behind the training and how it turns into increased fitness; it’s all about the body’s adaptation. If you’ve been training with the same basic schedule for weeks on end, then your body has no reason to change or adapt. But remember, injuries are rampant in this sport and the vast majority of them are due to athletes who don’t safely build the stress load. If this is a topic that is important to you (that should be EVERYONE), but you don’t want to navigate these waters alone, talk to a coach! This is what we do and we would love to help you!