Training Volume: Is More Better?
By Alun “Woody” Woodward, ironguides.net coach
Training volume is a hot topic at any event with endurance athletes, but none more so than with triathletes. You would think at times the level of success is based off how many hours an athlete can train instead of the performance level of the athlete on race day.
As with all sports, we take the lead from the pros in ours. Almost every athlete interview I have seen features the question of how much and what training do you do—and the answers are pretty much always extreme. Again, with pros it’s a justification of being pro by stating how much training they do over the race performance!
I truly believe that all such interviews need to be taken with a pinch of salt. For example, Specialized produced a series of training day videos from their top triathletes—amazing to watch and see what these guys are doing in training but for sure they all chose the hardest longest days they could for the video. Something that was picked up in the final video of Simon Whitfield who joked about the crazy training of the other athletes and how he had to do more to try and look like a real pro!
These videos are great to watch but we have to keep in mind that the athletes are never going to show an easy week. When interviewed they will not let you know what they did on an easy day or week. They will always give you the biggest week they have ever done and then probably inflate it a little for good measure.
So, should we be following the pros? Is it going to lead to better results or worse ones?
We need to look at what the pro is training for in terms or racing, and what are we aiming for as a performance age grouper. We may be training for ironman and have a yearly ironman race or, as a performance athlete, we might have two, one as a qualifying race and then Kona.
A pro in the current system, on the other hand, needs to be racing probably 3 good ironman events just to qualify, plus Kona, and also several other races to secure points and make a living.
The big thing to consider here is recovery. A pro needs to race and recover fast to race again the next weekend, whereas a performance age grouper may have a good 6 to 12 weeks, or more, between key events. This ability to recover comes from superior fitness which is derived from training volume—it’s not always speed that volume gives you, it is fitness and an accelerated rate of recovery.
For a performance age grouper looking at Kona qualification, racing fast on the day is key—not recovering fast after the event!
A training week will be composed pretty much the same for a pro and a performance age grouper:
* LONG SWIM / BIKE / RUN
* BRICK SESSION
* RACE-SPECIFIC SPEED SESSIONS
Once these key sessions have formed the skeleton of a plan, easy volume can be built around this—but the easy volume must not impact the quality of the key sessions. This is the crucial difference in my opinion between a pro and a performance age grouper. As an age-group athlete with a 40-50+-hour-a-week job, it is going to be hard to add easy volume around key sessions, and doing so most likely will impact the quality of the key workouts.
A pro, who can use the time between sessions to sleep and recover rather than work, can fit in a lot of easy volume without it impacting on quality sessions.
So let’s have a look at volume in an ironman plan for a top performance age grouper:
* LONG BIKE – 5 hours
* LONG RUN – 2 hours
* BRICK SESSION – 3 hours
* LONG SWIM – 90min
* 1-hour speed workouts in each sport
The total training time for a week like this is 14.5 hours: I would expect a week in this range to produce some great ironman performances and a lot of Kona qualifiers fit into this volume on average weeks.
Many, many athletes train a lot more than this but we have to remember that that does not mean they are improving performance as a result. There are, I believe, many athletes out there who would see big improvements in performance by dropping volume and focusing on key workouts instead.
We have to remember at the end of the day it’s race performance that should define us, not training volume. Better to crawl a wreck to the breakfast buffet the day after the race with your Kona qualification, than to bounce around fresh with no qualification in your pocket!
Train to race, not to copy the training of the pros.
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