Alex Thompson Blog: You Are What You Are

  • By Alex Thompson
  • Published February 19, 2013

Train for who you are not for who you’d like to be.

A couple of weeks ago I promised an explanation for the differences between pro and age group training plans. The easiest way to make a distinction is to re-label AG and PRO to developing and developed. A developed athlete is a complete athlete in that they are excellent all round and then have a world class ability in their chosen sport. I’m betting chris Lieto or Norman Stadler would out sprint almost any 2nd cat ‘sprinter’ in a road race. Just in the same way Colin Jackson could have beaten pretty much all the county level 800m or 1500m specialists in the country.

It is because of this all round ability that developing athletes need to make sure they are balanced for themselves. For me I’ll never swim 45” for 3800m but 55” is attainable so balance for me would look slightly different than balance for someone with a strong swimming background. I look at my body and understand that for me to excel at Ironman racing I need to excel on the bike. So for me I need to address this limiter. This is where periodisation comes in, progressing from general conditioning to race specific conditioning.

The pro’s are different, to be world class at Ironman you’re not going to have huge imbalances in your performance and the differences between general training and race specific training are going to be less pronounced than the average age grouper.

What is more, there is the subject of load. There is a finite amount of training stress the body can absorb, for training to develop the athlete it needs to be above AeT (aerobic threshold/bottom of friel zone 2), for a complete beginner this bar may be so low it is impossible to go easier than this, for more advanced athletes it is possible to cruise under this level especially when tired. Training above AeT requires the use of glycogen of carbs from the stomach. There is a hard limit to how many carbs you can absorb through energy drinks when exercising, and the stored carbs have a finite level as well. Not only that the body can only convert sugar into glycogen at a finite rate (quicker just after exercise hence all the talk about smart recovery) this is why there is a finite amount of weekly TSS which is sustainable. For the age grouper they are unlikely to hit this barrier as it is a LOT of work; around 1600TSS a week depending on the size of the athlete.

The developing athlete would add a little to their weekly load each block as they get fitter, up until they hit this barrier. The next season they would start with a higher weekly TSS than the previous season (this is why we expect to get fitter each successive season) and as a result would spend more time at the limit. As the seasons progress more and more time can be spent at this limit. This is why Pro triathletes often talk about having a more basic repeatable week over the traditional Bompa/Friel esque periodisation approach. It is because they are that fit!

So why do I say this? Too often athletes look to the way the pros train and try and emulate it, however this approach is short sighted. Developing athletes need to look at what they need to develop and develop it, and make sure they are developing their capacity to train and training with a quality control on their sessions, rather than chasing the pro level volumes. If they manage to train to that volume rest assured it would be at an intensity which would fall below AeT and making all those hours count for less than someone who spent less time training but more time training steady. Train smart and remember you are what you are and train appropriately.

You can get more information about Alex on his Facebook page or on Twitter: XIronmanAlexX

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