What is Training Load?

If you are a tri-geek like me you most likely spend time surfing triathlon forums on a regular basis. As an athlete and coach I usually do so to chat with friends, meet others who share my same passion about the sport, to give some training advice to beginners, debunk some bad information passed along (this usually leads to heated debates :)) and to learn from those athletes/coaches more experienced than me.

On these forums it is very common to find posts such as: how do I become a faster runner? How can I bike faster? How come I am such a slow swimmer? How many hours a week should train? How much time should I spend swim/bike/run? In general the answer to most of these questions is invariable train more. If you look around at the training plans from most athletes finishing at the top overall or your age group most likely those athlete have managed to become faster by training consistently and producing bigger loads of work. In other words in most cases the answer is rather simple; if you want to become a better/faster triathlete you have to do more training.

Paulo Sousa from PS Triathlon presented a simple yet excellent explanation titled “more is MORE” available through his website:

“There isn't such a thing as "efficient" training. There isn't such a thing as "less can be more". In training, more is MORE. The single most important factor that improves performance is increasing training loads. Even in swimming, increasing training load will make a bigger difference than all the technique work you can do. The good training plans are the ones that can fit the bigger training loads within the constraints of each athlete. These constraints can be genetics, family, work, etc, but what makes an athlete improve is adaptation to increasing training loads. Period. So for those of you out there worrying if they should be doing workout A or workout B, if they should follow Doug Stern or TI on the swim, FTP-all-the-time or LSD on the bike, Hadd or Daniels on the run, think instead on how you can increase your training load in each sport. You will be amazed with the results.” 1

By now you are probably thinking that it can’t be that easy and that I am full of it, in particular since you’ve seen sophisticated (or what I called complicated) advice from some coaches/athletes and cite specific key session that will make you a faster athlete. But Paulo mentioned the key factor here is training load, in other words while a good periodirized plan will follow a particular progression and will include key sessions to optimize training, in the end no one session will be as important as the sum of all sessions; all those sessions logged day in day out leading up to the A race will make or break your performance.

What is training load?

Before moving forward let me define training load first so you can better understand why it is so important. In order to become fitter and faster we have to stress our bodies over and over to produce specific training adaptations that will allow us to grow fitter over time. The way we achieve that is through our daily/weekly/monthly training loads. But what does exactly training load mean?

In a very simple way Training Load = volume (duration+ frequency) + training intensity (pace/power). Anytime you perform a training session, you will train for a specific duration (volume) and at a prescribed pace/power/zone (intensity) hence the sum of it will result the total training load for that specific session. The sum of all your sessions during a given cycle (i.e. 5 days) will result in a total training load for that period cycle and the total stress imposed on your body by the total load it is what will produce training adaptations that eventually will allow you to go longer and/or faster.

Even though when this equation is rather simple it is important to understand that one side of it will affect the other side. In other words, there is a relation between volume and intensity and in general when you increase one you have to decrease the other one. Keep in mind that the goal of a session will dictate the set up for the equation and not the other way around. For instance; if the goal of the session is adapt at your endurance pace/power then you will have to log a session in which you’ll train for a longer distance/duration at a lower intensity. On the other hand, if the goal of the session is to adapt and increase your lactate threshold pace/power then you will have to train for a shorter distance/duration at a higher intensity.

You always want to build your total training load in a way which allows your body to complete each session so you can repeat the same or a similar load during the training cycle. Some days, the load might be higher and some days it will be lower and the reason for that is to ensure that you recover from session to session, but also to change the stimulus and maximize the training adaptations. What will specifically define what side of the equation an athlete should focus more on for a given cycle will depend on the physiological needs, goals and training phase

Next post I will touch in the specifics about why focusing on volume works, why focusing on intensity works, why finding the right mix works and I will also discuss why planning training load in specific cycles will lead to better training adaptations… Stay tune!

“More is MORE” Paulo Sousa,

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