Training Load - Specific Training

I have been hoping to find more time so I can start writing training posts for my blog as I like to use this venue to share some of my training/coaching experience and to address some of our athletes’ and coaches’ questions as a way to help other athletes use the information with their own training.  I had some of that time today so I thought I’d start with addressing something that has been on my mind a lot lately.

Recently I have received inquiries from athletes and friends about fabricated terms such as "critical volume" or the importance of "base training" for success in endurance sports. You can read my 'What's base training' post to learn my thoughts about it.

Anyway, these terms have become so recurrent, they have become a bit of an inside joke amongst our coaches/associates. But instead of simply criticizing why I think either of those concepts can be misleading, or somewhat useless for many age groupers, let me instead present to you, in an evidence-based manner, the logic behind my criticism which I'll do in the coming posts.

Some athletes/coaches will agree or disagree and that's ok! I am not looking for acceptance or validation.  At this point in my career, my focus is solely on the success for our athletes and coaches.  As such, my goal is to present the evidence and let people decide for themselves whether what I write makes sense (or if it shows I am simply nuts).

I like to challenge the status quo of what many assume is the traditional method of endurance coaching. That sometimes doesn't earn me new friends. This is partly because most “experts” don't like their beliefs to be challenged, and partly because it may criticize their coaching philosophies/methods. Again, I am ok with that. Like with many things, we all can have different opinions; that's part of what helps us to learn and grow professionally.

At E3 we are not married with our beliefs or 'methods'. We are constantly seeking ways to help our athletes. For some, that may include doing certain types of training, while for others it may result in a completely different approach. Coaching is about making your athletes better and helping them enjoy the lifestyle in spite of what your personal beliefs.

So now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I'll focus this post on how identifying your specific needs, goals and limitations, and doing specific training, varying your load and targeting different adaptations can yield great results.

After a forced training hiatus resulting from a knee surgery, I have finally been able to get back to triathlon training this year. My focus has been to be able to train, stay healthy and slowly get back into the shape I was in 2009. Around 12 weeks ago I felt I finally turned the corner and I could focus on specific training in hopes to race towards the end of the season.

With that in mind, the first step I took towards building myself a plan was to identify the three foundations of our programs: goals, needs and limitations:

1.    Goals - I decided I want to race a Half Ironman distance sometime in October, hence the need to develop my fitness to tackle the 70.3 miles distance
2.    Needs - I did some testing to identify what areas of my 'fitness curve' needed the most work, while targeting the 'specifics' of the distance along the way. (more below)
3.    Limitations - as a 2nd year small business owner, my schedule is rather hectic and more often than not, my training revolves around my athletes/coaches. They come first, so I have to find ways to balance it all, so I figured, I could realistically train around 10-12hr on average per week.

Once I defined my goals (70.3 race), the limitations train (10-12hrs per week), I performed some testing for all 3 sports.  I will focus on cycling in this post, though we follow similar methods for all 3 sports. The test helped me define my starting point (fitness baseline), my strengths/weaknesses, and, based on my goals, how far away (or not) I was from racing the distance.

The tests consisted of a 5 min maximal (5MP) and a 20 min maximal (20MP) tests to determine my Critical Power (CP).

What's CP and why do we test it? My friend Dr. Phil Skiba wrote a great article to understand the concept of 'threshold' -- please refer to that out as I he has done a better job at explaining it that I could. I also perform a 5 min test because, in my experience, I know it relates well with the power I can generate near VO2max and 20 min because I use the result of the test for a specific workout you'll see below.

The results were: 5MP = 310w and 20MP = 255; Critical Power 237w at 158 pounds, 3.30 W/Kg power:weight ratio (how much power I can generate at CP per Kilogram of body mass). Knowing those 3 points I could see my fitness curve and decide where to invest my time when training. 

Graph no. 1

In Graph no. 1 you can notice how my fitness curve (blue line) starts high to the left (5MP) and then drops significantly to the right as the duration increases. This meant that my ability to generate power near my VO2max (pVO2max) was pretty good, almost as good as back in 2009 when I was training! However, my ability to sustain power over longer duration wasn't very good. (yellow circle)

This meant that my needs revolved around 'lifting' my curve up (raise my 20MP and thus my CP) so the goal was to bring my curve up to where the red line is; the target, to bring my 20MP up to 285-290w to bring my CP close to 265-270w.

By achieving this, I should be able to race at a faster pace. That is, if in May I was in theory able to race at 80% of my CP for a 70.3 race, that meant I could only shoot for ~190w for 56 miles to still be able to run well off the bike (assuming proper training). But, by increasing my CP to 265w I then could race at ~210w. Of course the caveat to remember here is the specific training. Therefore, in addition to increasing my CP, I needed to do specific training with longer 2-4hr rides at 80-85% of my CP to be able to sustain that power over time.

Once my goals, needs and limitations were established, I set up a targeted program for myself. I started doing a weekly Tuesday session of 6x1 mile repeats (~4:30 to 5 min long each) above my CP to improve it by targeting my 'slow' glycolysis system (work slightly above CP and keeping intervals rest shorter than 2:30 min).

In addition, I started doing a Thursday session which in mid-June became a weekly 2x20 min set at 100% of CP. Finally, to address specific training, I scheduled a weekly weekend long ride (50-80 miles) between 80-90% of my CP. Since I could only train on average 10-12 hrs per week, the total rides (3-4 per week) yielded around 5-6 hrs of bike training, leaving 5-7 hrs for running, swimming and strength training.

The Tuesday workout is pretty simple to do, complete 6 sets of roughly 5 min duration each at 105% of CP (the same as my 20MP test average) and keeping the rest less than 2:30 min. Repeat this for sets 1 to 5 and the last set, I try "blowing it up" and average 5-10 watts higher. Then I add all sets, divide by 6 and the result will become my target for next week. That way, each week I have a slightly higher target (at least that's the idea). 

The location I do hills repeats works great as each set takes me roughly 5min (+/-) and descending while resting takes me around 2:30min. My initial 20MP was 255w, though since I didn't have the fitness to complete the workout at first, the progression went as follows:

Week 1 - 255, 255, 257, 258, 265, No 6th set = 258 average power (AP
Week 2 - 258, 258, 256, 265, 265, 268 = 261AP
Week 3 - 265, 263, 268, 270, 275, 280 = 270AP
Week 4 - 270, 270, 275, 281, 285, 302 = 280AP
Week 5 - 270, 280, 282, 283, 282, 301 = 283AP
Week 6 - 284, 281, 285, 280, 278, 283 = 281AP*
Week 7 - 288, 279, 285, 281, 285, 304 = 287AP
Week 8 - 277, 289, 284, 287, 283, 300 = 287AP
Week 9 - 285, 286, 289, 289, 282, 313 = 290AP
Week 10 - 286, 288, 290, 299, 297, 309 = 295AP
Week 11 - 299, 302, 299, 299, 298, 302 = 300AP
(sick and work jammed, spotty training)

The progression of my 2x20s min @ 100% CP sets has been:

Week 1 - 235, 241 = 238AP
Week 2 - 242, 248 = 245AP
Week 3 - 248, 252 = 250AP
Week 4 - 252, 254 = 252AP
Week 5 - 254, 258 = 256AP
Week 6 - 258, 260w = 259AP

Graph no. 2

Finally, you can see on graph no. 2 my progression of my long rides (over 2 hrs) and see how almost every week, I've been able to avg a higher percentage hitting a best of 222w a few weeks ago.

2 weeks (or so) ago, after the above block I re-tested and my 5MP increased to 339w (my best ever), and my 20 min power increased to 275watts (10w lower of my best ever) and my CP is up to ~255w. (still 15w lower of my best ever). Hence, the 6x1 mile workouts helped me increase my 5MP and 20MP while at the same time, the 2x20min and longer rides helped me increase my CP. And, since I was able to lose 12 pounds in the process, my power:weight ratio now is up to 3.82 W/Kg. 

You can see my progression on graph no. 3, the blue line represent my power values from May, the green line represents my latest values after 12ish weeks of training and finally, the red line is the target I would like to hit over the next 10 weeks before my October race.
Graph no. 3

With another 6ish weeks with this focus, I should be able to get my CP closer to 270-275w (at least that's the goal!). Since I still have 10 weeks until my goal race, I should be able to get there while still addressing my specific training.

I still have a lot more work to do but the above example is a way to illustrate that by mapping your specific goals, needs and limitations and with: consistency, specific training and a mixed training load you can achieve great gains in fitness even with seemingly 'little' training.

In my next post, I'll revisit training load and why only targeting one variable of the equation (i.e. volume) is an incomplete approach. Cheers!

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