Managing a ‘Hard’ Training Block

We’ve just moved into our final training block leading in to the Mooloolaba Triathlon. This means that we’ll complete these three weeks of our hard build training phase, have a recovery week, a peak week, and then a taper week. What this means, is that you’re going to see an increased volume of training done at your race specific intensity. I find myself having similar conversations with many athletes surrounding how to correctly approach this increase in training load intelligently, especially in a club program. So I thought I’d put together a little ‘blog’ post about how best to manage your training load during these tough training blocks.

Working Through the Training Week

We always put a fair bit of thought into constructing a really thorough program to keep you training and improving. We also recognise that not everyone can attend every session, so we really try to make each and every session really high quality, so that you’re getting value from any session you decide to come to. As such, if you’re someone who maybe doesn’t always have their ears switched on to the session instructions, you can very easily train way too hard throughout the week. Here are some quick tips to managing your weekly training load.

Listen to the session instructions:
This one should be pretty obvious, but we do realise it’s not always that simple. If you’re told to run at 90% of threshold, and there’s someone just in front of you, what’s the harm in coming up just a bit faster to show that you can run with the next person right? Obviously this is just a recipe for disaster when that person decides to try to run a bit faster too, and suddenly the whole squad is running at their limit trying to hang on to the next person. I think everyone has gotten better at this over the last 6 months, but it’s really important to remember – it’s ok to finish the session, and not feel too tired. Not every session has to be super hard, and if the instructions seem to give an easier session, take it. There might be a really hard day tomorrow, or maybe we’ve noticed cumulative fatigue amongst members. Either way, following the pace/speed that you’re given will end up in a much higher quality of training than going flat out every session.

Be honest with your fitness level:
This ties in to the session instructions, but it’s important to realistically evaluate where your fitness level is at to follow the pacing strategy. Also, if you’re returning from injury, or maybe raced on the weekend, or didn’t sleep well the night before, these are all things that affect your ‘effective’ fitness, sometimes referred to as your form (even described as fitness minus fatigue). All of these things might affect your speed in a session, and that’s to be expected. Even in an easier session, going even slower than normal means that you’re getting the right benefit out of the session.

Pick ‘key’ sessions:
It would be impossible to give your best every day of the week. You should instead, pick sessions to go slightly easier, and slightly harder on. Ideally, you’d look to pick a key session for each triathlon discipline of swim/ride/run. This means that if you miss a session, you can still get your key workout in for that discipline in the week. For example, you might choose to pick Tuesday Brick, Wednesday Swim, and Friday Run as your 3 key sessions to focus on for the week. However it works best for you is fine, but just don’t pick 2 runs as your key sessions, as these have the most muscular load.

Strength & Conditioning – Your Ticket to more Resilient Muscles:
It might take a while to perceive the benefits, but the best way to manage muscular load, is to have strong muscles. Strength and conditioning is a really commonly overlooked area of people’s training, but time and time again, scientific literature and professional training practice prove how invaluable it really is. Trust me, even if you get some serious DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), your body will thank you in the long run.

Other Stressors Impact your Body:
We like to talk about physical muscular stress in training, and the balance between fatigue and pushing training benefits. What many people fail to consider, is that mental stress and fatigue are literally interpreted by the body in the same way, and will cause substantial central fatigue in your body. This is totally normal though, and requires simply recognising your body’s responses, accepting those responses, and then making changes accordingly. This might mean taking an easy run instead of a higher intensity session, or taking a rest day completely. Importantly, we (as coaches) recognise taking a rest day as a positive response to stress – i.e. you never need to feel bad about taking a rest day.

Optimising Recovery

This is really an area that it’s hard for us as coaches to help you manage directly, but it’s just as important as your time spent at training. All of the muscular benefits that you develop only happen after your training, not during, and you can really impact your capacity to train effectively with good or bad recovery strategies. At the end of the day, these don’t have to be massively complicated, but there are some good general guidelines to follow to make sure you’re as fresh as you can be the next morning.

Increased Protein Requirements:
Everything that you’re looking to improve by training requires your body to make changes, and those changes require proteins. A typical non-athletic person should consume approximately 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight per day. An endurance athlete might need anywhere from 1.3 – 2.5 g/kg of body weight per day, with 1.8 g/kg being a number commonly seen in literature (so 126g of protein for a 70kg athlete). This is a lot. More than you think. And I guarantee that if you’re not actively sourcing increased levels of protein, you’re not hitting it. There’s also not much point consuming an enormous steak just for dinner, as in a single sitting, you’re unlikely to get more muscle protein synthesis from 40 g of protein as from 25 g. So your target should be to consume ~25 g of protein at 3-4 hr intervals throughout the day, containing 3 g of leucine and 8-10g of essential amino acids.

Replenishing Muscle Glycogen:
In periods of rest your body synthesises glucose and other carbohydrates into muscle glycogen. It’s then stored locally in the muscles and liver, ready to be used for ATP production (or ‘energy’ production if you skip a step or two). Strength training or endurance training will then deplete those muscle glycogen stores, leaving the body without an immediate source of energy availability. Once an athlete has significantly depleted these stores, muscle glycogen resynthesis can take between 24 – 60h to fully replenish. The rate of this replenishment is bi-phasic, meaning that the rate of replenishment is significantly higher in periods immediately following exercise. For an athlete engaged in high intensity training, the recommendation is to consume 1.0 – 1.2 g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight, per hour, following training, until you consume a full meal. Consuming this with your protein serving immediately following training will serve to further improve your recovery. On any double session days, or any training longer than 1.5 h, you should aim to take in carbohydrates during exercise as well, at a rate of upwards of 60 g/h (with some research going as high as 110 g/h).

General Energy Availability:
This is more a question bordering on ‘see a dietician’ in terms of specific numbers, but general energy availability throughout the day is important for that continued muscle glycogen replenishment. In general when training, you should be aiming to be eating regularly throughout the day, every 3-5 hrs. As well as consuming your serving of protein, these meals/snacks should be rich in carbohydrates in order to counteract the substantial increased energy requirements of triathlon training.

Lots of Sleep:
Not much to say here. Probably most of us don’t get enough sleep to really get the most out of our training. Only real suggestion other than ‘sleep more’ is to make sure that your body is able to continue that muscle glycogen resynthesis while you’re asleep. This means consuming carbohydrate at dinner in order to allow you to train well the following morning (especially important if you don’t have a large breakfast before training).

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