Training Concepts - Part 2 – Training Load

Continuing article part 1 where I discussed what Stress/Strain/Adaptation, in this part I’ll focus on defining what training load is and why it is important related to structuring a training program.

As a brief reminder of part 1, it was mentioned how training is considered a “stressor” and how much of it we do, it will place different levels of strain which ultimately will produce different adaptations (positive/negative) that can lead performance improvements, overtraining and/or injury.

The main goal of any training program is to constantly strain our bodies enough to produce positive adaptations without placing so much strain that instead of allowing the body to adapt and get stronger/fitter/faster, it can't cope with the strain level and the result can be a decrease in performance or injuries.

In order to keep our bodies positively adapt following a progression which will allow each athlete produce specific adaptations particular to the main event, athletes need to pay attention to their training load. This concept is defined as the sum of all the training we do:

Training Load = volume + intensity + frequency

Volume – refers to the duration/distance of a particular training session.
Intensity – relates to the level of exertion at which an athlete performs a particular session
Frequency – relates to repetition of volume + intensity over many training sessions.

Frequently athletes talk about how much training they do, and more often than not they only refer to volume and rarely to intensity. i.e. when athletes discuss training load, the usual response would refer to number of hours or miles per week.

Considering the training load formula, then  expressing load in terms of volume only represents half part of the equation and considering training load is relative to the fitness of each individual, it is difficult to make assumptions whether running 'x' miles or 'y' hours per week is an adequate load for an athlete or not. But, quantifying volume it is simple, while it not the same with intensity hence it is common to refer to load only in terms or hours/miles.

Still, any athlete knows that running 45 min at an easy conversational pace is not the same as running 25 min at or near his/her 10K pace; the latter in general will produce greater DOMS, accumulated fatigue, etc. In addition training at different intensities will result in different physiological processes that will induce different training sessions.

In coming articles I’ll discuss in more detail the type of training adaptations our bodies experience at different intensities and why optimal training load will vary based on individual’s needs. For now, remember that our fitness will improve based on how much (volume), how easy/hard (intensity) and how often (frequency) we train.

Why is load Important?
Understanding the concept of training load will allow an athlete their coaches to design training programs based on the specific needs for each individual. There are many ways to set a program and some of you probably are familiar with the different approaches often discussed in books, magazines and online forums such as high volume/low intensity (commonly referred as ‘base’ training), low volume/high intensity (often referred as HIIT), or a mixed training load.

The discussion of these approaches can result in passionate arguments defending or criticizing the benefits of each approach, but that’s beyond the goal of this article. In the future I’ll discuss each approach in detail and let the reader interpret the information presented to and make up their own minds.

Still, the reality is that different approaches based on different training loads can and indeed work, and all have a place in a training program. Certain individuals will require a greater focus in a given training load, but that’s more specific to the individual’s needs such as: current fitness level, time availability, racing goals (distance), athletic background, gender, age, etc.

In any case, training load is important to allow our bodies to constantly adapt and improve our fitness, but in order to know how much we need to do, we need to determine how we can quantify intensity and for that is necessary to discuss the energy systems and how training at different intensities / durations result in in different adaptations. 

In Part no. 3 I'll continue addressing Training Concepts and I'll focus on Specificity/Overload which ties into training load. After I complete talking about training concepts, I'll  move to discuss energy systems, physiologic parameters and how we can define intensity to be able to manage intensity; the often neglected part of the training load equation. For now the take away message is – we need to strain our body so it can adapt; to manage how much strain we induce we can use training load which is the sum of all the training we do.


Harvey L. Gayer said...

I appreciate you writing this up Jorge. Basic but solid information. I got a question about whether the typical longer course age grouper can get the most bang from the buck by manipulating intensity on the bike. IOW does the harder Vo2 and LT sets provide you with the lift you need to improve your longer course performance if you cant ride long? I think its a comprehensive package that would be short the adaptation that comes from long rides. Is manipulating intensity in the absence of volume enough? I don't know but I suspect not based on what you are writing.

JorgeM said...

Harvey - while you can certainly manipulate your load via intensity in the absence of volume, still for long course distance racing endurance training is the specific adaptation you will need if your want to maximize your performance.
If time availability is your biggest limiter, you can increase your return on investment by adding intensity focusing primarily on your Critical Power (aka LT). Still, that will take you so far for 70.3 and IM.

Harvey L. Gayer said...

totally agree. Thanks.