Setting Up The Season According To Your Needs
Every athlete has a specific training ‘recipe’ that works for them, and one of the joys and challenges of coaching is to find what works perfectly for each individual, but you can still make sound decisions to your needs for early season training relative to prior seasons and experience. If you have a lot of training and racing experience your needs may well be very different at this part of the year, compared to an athlete relatively new to the sport and training.
Unless you have completed multiple seasons in a row of endurance training, your ‘aerobic engine’ likely needs further development and improvement. The physiological adaptations that occur with lower-intensity and longer duration training are ‘long-term’ and take a long time to develop in the first place. There is no short cut to this development, and it is true that many athletes would be well served spending the early part of the year with a focus on lower-intensity training. Layering multiple seasons in a row of developing your aerobic capacity is important, but this does not mean that this should be your only focus at this time of the year. Newer, and even capable athletes, always need to balance this type of ‘winter training’ with a massive focus on technique, skills and even some speed work to learn simply how to operate at a range of intensities. There is little use simply being fit and slow, and while this is an aerobic sport in nature, I like to see triathletes be athletic. The focus is lower intensity work (building the aerobic engine) but this is supported with technique, sport-specific strength, and a sprinkling of higher intensity training to keep each system alive.
*Established endurance trainer
There are many athletes who have the benefit of multiple seasons in a row of endurance training, often following the classical progression of a period of low- intensity base training to set of a periodised progression of training. I meet many of these seasoned athletes, who seem to repeat the same process year after year, hoping for a breakthrough or radical improvement. It is often the case that these athletes have reached their natural development of aerobic capability, but never evolve the training approach to truly work on an area of weakness or take a major step up in performance. It should be noted that this is a natural situation to be in, after all, this athlete has seen improvements over the years with their ‘process’, so change becomes a scary concept. The problem is, change is exactly what is needed.
Following multiple seasons of applying low intensity training during ‘winter training’, the potential gains become less and less, and the situation now becomes that the athlete is very fit, but often without the ability to increase sustainable speed. If you are established and fit, but just cannot get faster in your race performances, it is very likely that you need to do just that – get faster. Don’t worry you don’t have to switch from being an Ironman to a 5K runner, but a pre- season truly dedicated to increase your sustainable strength, power and pace that you can operate at will surely provide a platform to move in 2012 as an athlete evolved. In circumstances like this I have often encouraged athletes to shift the lens that they look at themselves through for a few months. If you are an Ironman focused athlete, shift to performance at short course, or half-Ironman at least, for a few months. Go and find your power, increase your range of gears and base your weekly training around the pursuit of speed. It takes courage because you have to shift your focus, your athletic identity and normally a little of your ego.
By integrating two to three power/ strength focused sessions weekly to your overall plan you can expect to arrive in the spring as a faster athlete with a wider range of gears of intensities that you can operate at. The compelling component of this approach is that you’re supporting workouts are the two or three key sessions which have to, by definition, be of lower intensity. This allows your general conditioning and aerobic engine to be maintained, although not necessarily improved, over the pre-season months. You will arrive to the spring fit and fast, but the key will be what you do with this new found speed. Remember what your goal is; to perform at triathlon races, and therefore there should certainly be a shift back to your training approach that has worked for you in previous years. Specificity to the events you are preparing for becomes critical, and being willing to shift your lens to event-specific intensity, and volume, in the weeks leading up to the race will provide you with the new level of performance you crave.