Is more training better? How much is too much? How hard is too hard? I’m feeling good so I should push myself hard today. All common questions or statements that I deal with as a coach. What are the answers and the science behind these?
The other day an athlete was telling me how much they suffered doing an event. They wanted to be feeling fresh at the end of the event (like the faster athletes do). If you finish an event feeling fresh, it is very clear that you didn’t push yourself as well as you could. No-one should finish an event feeling fresh and I mean no-one. Even the fastest athletes finish shattered. There are two differences between front of the pack athletes and back of the pack athletes. The first is the speed of recovery from their state of exhaustion and the other is that back of the pack athletes aren’t at the finish line to see the state of exhaustion that front of the pack athletes are in when they cross the finish line (trust me they don’t finish feeling fresh).
The more efficient your aerobic energy system is, the quicker you can recover from any effort. It is this aerobic energy system that removes waste products and replenishes the biochemical compounds within the muscle that allows contraction to occur. Faster athletes have bigger capacity in their aerobic system, hence why they perform better in endurance events. It is this capacity that allows them the quicker recovery.
The biggest issue most recreational athletes have is that they do their easy training too hard and their hard training too easy. What I mean by this is that people push too hard in their easy training sessions and this leaves them too tired to be able to push themselves hard enough in their hard sessions. Both types of sessions get done at the wrong intensity and you don’t get the training effect desired from each type of session.
I read an article yesterday about the 80/20 rule with training for endurance athletes. This indicated that you should do 80% of your training at an easy intensity (this is what builds the efficiency and enhances the aerobic energy system) and the remaining 20% should be hard (which will give you your top end speed and race performance). This aligns with the training of elite athletes, with what I prescribe for my clients and what the likes of Arthur Lydiard got his athletes to do.
Yes, Arthur Lydiard is known for his long, steady distance runs for the great athletes he coached, but he equally got them to do very gruelling speed sessions at the appropriate time in their build up. The more efficient your aerobic energy system is the greater the benefits you can get out of your speed sessions. Arthur Lydiard took the time to ensure that his athletes had enhanced their aerobic system to it’s maximum potential before he gave them their speed sessions and even then he only gave them 2-3 speed sessions per week with the other training sessions all done at the slow aerobic pace. This allowed them to enhance their recovery and ensured they were on top form for the speed sessions that gave them the speed to win Olympic medals.
How do you know how fast is too fast? There are a number of ways to measure intensity, in order of priority I prefer:
- Pace for swimming and running, power for cycling as a priority;
- Heart Rate (HR) for running and cycling comes in next;
- The subjective Borg scale, if and only if nothing else is available.
As a coach, if you are training with a GPS and/or HR watch, we can measure and monitor precisely your exercise effort and intensity. We can take data from specific workouts and calculate the exact training zones that will optimise your results and then give you feedback after sessions ensuring you maximise the time in the appropriate zones (without wasting your training time by training ineffectively with sessions conducted too hard or too easy).
With the subjective Borg zone it is very hit and miss. What you think is easy is often not easy enough and when we start looking at hard training intensities there are a few different options. Is the training intensity the pace you would sprint 100m? Is it the pace you would run a kilometre? What about the pace you would run 5km or 10km? How about a marathon? All are hard, but they are at different intensities and I would never expect you to hold your 100m pace for 5km, the same as I wouldn’t expect you to hold your 10km pace for a half marathon let alone a full marathon.
I don’t put all my training onto Strava (I like to keep some secrets), but this week I’ve loaded up two sessions on two back to back days to allow you to look at my run training and I’ve also linked a third session of some hill reps I did on Saturday.
Firstly look at this easy run that I did: https://www.strava.com/activities/290663574 5km and nearly 37 minutes. Most of you reading this can cover 5km quicker than that (this is the type of session I would normally be too embarrassed to post publicly, but I am out there doing them). This was an easy session designed to allow for recovery and I had a few key aspects I was focusing on with this session. This session had a TSS of only 27.
Next look at the session I did the day before: https://www.strava.com/activities/290039100 a touch under 16km in 75min. A bit of a contrast to the session discussed above, as this session involved a 3.5km warm up, then running 10km pretty solidly prior to cooling down. This produced a TSS of nearly 150.
Saturday’s Hill Reps can be seen here: https://www.strava.com/activities/287323013 This session involved doing four repetitions of five minutes running up a steep hill, prior to jogging down for my recovery (obviously this was after a warm up and prior to a cool down). When we break down the workout my IF for the up hill sections were 1.03, 0.93, 0.93 & 0.86 and the IF for the downhill jogs were 0.15, 0.14, 0.15 & 0.17.
So what does TSS & IF actually mean? TSS is Training Stress Score or how much stress I put my body under. Running solidly for an hour will give a TSS of 100. My session on Wednesday gave a TSS of well over 100 after only running for an hour and a quarter, so this was a very solid run which put the body under a lot of stress. Conversely Thursday’s run was only 27 so it was clearly a very easy recovery run.
IF is Intensity Factor and is a look at how hard individual portions of a workout were actually conducted. A value of 1.00 is a hard intensity. The amount of effort I put in over the four reps slowly decreased with each repetition due to fatigue and I suspect the effort of the first rep being a touch too hard for me to maintain it. My recovery jogs on the other hand, with them being very low, confirm that I was right down, maximising my recovery prior to the next rep.
How are TSS and IFs calculated? It is a complicated algorithm that is imbedded into the coaching software Training Peaks that we use. It takes into account your speed/pace (or power for cycling), HR and change in altitude to see how hard you were working. Unfortunately without a GPS/HR watch we can’t utilise this technology to see how your sessions are developing.
It is important if you are to get the most out of your training that you conduct the sessions at an appropriate intensity. This ensures you get the desired aims out of each and every session. Just like Arthur Lydiard did with his athletes, we need to spend our time training at lower intensities, prior to incorporating speed sessions. Without the time taken to develop the aerobic engine in our bodies we won’t be able to optimise our top-end speed.
If you would like further advice feel free to contact Coach Ray.
Coach Ray is the Head Coach & Director of Qwik Kiwi – Endurance Sports Consultant.
Coach Ray specialises in assisting first timers and recreational athletes to achieve their sporting goals. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and 021 348 729. Make sure you sign up to his monthly informative newsletter.
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