Why some training days are better than others?

A chat I recently had with one of my athletes inspired this post. It is normal for us tri-geeks to go through the ups and downs during training and often fight our minds with motivation, self doubt, no to mention the normal stress in our daily lives and and it some cases it can be so powerful that it can derail us from our training. Since I start tri-ing I think one of best qualities I’ve learned as an athlete and coach is to have a better perspective about the big picture and understand that endurance sports are exactly that: to be able to endure in our case training for a extended period of time in hopes to reach our athletic goals.

That been said, we have to understand that our training is composed by all the sessions we log from the very 1st session we do in the training season to the last session we perform the day before our main event. Many of us are used to expect instant results to the point we might fight constant frustration when we don’t see positive results every day. But that is the wrong approach to have when it comes to endurance training; we always have to remind ourselves that the work done today will return benefits down the road and the more consistent our training is, the better our chances to reach our goals will be.

For my athletes we follow the annual/season training plan and it serves at the outline to guide the athlete’s training through different phases moving from general to specific training. With this in mind it is easier to break down the specifics of the training and devote specific cycles for specific training adaptations. Andrew Coggan once posted at ST:

Half-life of numerous physiological adaptations to endurance training (e.g., increase in mitochondrial respiratory capacity, reduction in blood lactate, reduction in submaximal heart rate) = 7-10 days

Number of half-lives required to achieve >95% of full adaptation to a given training load = 5 days

Minimal frequency at which training load must be increased to drive further adaptation = 7-10 days x 5 days = 35-50 days = 5-7 weeks

Number of years that I've personally been building my training around 6 wk cycles = 30+ years"

A simple way to understand this is to take our training for instance: if I do a run today I’ll be imposing certain stress on my body (depending on the load) and the end of the session I won’t be fitter than before per say because it wil take for my body to realize the adaptations and I'll need timeto recover from the session. In other words, at first the accumulated fatigue from it will be greater than the fitness gains. However after 7 to 10 days my body will produce a series of physiological adaptations gaining the benefits from that session. By repeating this let’s say 4 x a week I’ll continue with the same process but there will be an overlap between the time it takes for my body to adapt and the chronic (accumulated) fatigue. Since the time it takes for our bodies to almost completely adapt to a given training load varies between 5 to 7 weeks it means it will take my body that long to completely experience the full benefits of training and increase my fitness level before I need to change the stimulus.

For that reason, the first week or two I might be feeling good with my training, however as I progress through the following weeks/months the accumulated fatigue will make some of the sessions more challenging affecting my daily performance at some degree (unlike it would be if I was fully rested). That’s why in the middle of a training cycle some sessions can/will feel tougher and our pace/power might be slower; that is part of the natural traning cycle. Still as we adapt and gain fitness towards the end of the 5-7 week cycle those similar sessions will become easier and our pace/power should improve which indicates is time to changes the stimulus.

This is overly simplified as we have to consider specific training loads and recovery periods between session (recovery does not necessarily mean time off), but I hope this simple explanation gives you better understanding of some of the things we go through training. Also it should help you understand why I aproach the training in certain way (incudling my own) and why sometimes we place more emphasis in certain training aspects than others.

Now you should know that as long as you follow a well design plan specific to your goals, current fitness level, time availability, strengths/weaknesses, etc. the natural progressions of these cycles we’ll cause you to some days feel awesome (in particular after unload days), yet some others day you will feel not so great but remember: that's ok! The key is to follow consistent training and adequate recovery which in the end should allow you to become faster coming up your main event!

You don’t want to be fast today: you want to be fast the day of your race… (I don’t know who said that or where I read it but if I knew I would give fully credit for sure!)

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