Training is like a mad science experiment
As I round the corner to Ironman Wisconsin (and build out more training programs), I’ve been thinking a lot about the formula for success. If you’re new to my approach, the platform I use to communicate with athletes and prescribe workouts is called Training Peaks. This is one of the most effective platforms I’ve come across and the company does a great job at helping coaches help their athletes. One thing they do is something called Training Peaks University. This is a 2-4 day seminar where you learn the ins and outs of their system along with helpful coaching advice from master coaches and athletes. One of their biggest principles is that when it comes to workout prescription, coaches have very two main variables to play with: duration and intensity. At first glance this looks fairly simple and the obvious thought comes to mind- more of both is better. On the whole this might appear to be true, but the dose makes the poison. Training is an act of working from where you ARE to where you WANT TO BE. This isn’t in terms of physical location, but rather tolerance to both duration (aka endurance) and intensity. Your body uses these two things to make micro adjustments in your physiology, not only in muscle size and strength, but mitochondrial efficiency, capillary density, fat-oxidation, and more. The good news is that most people adapt similarly to training and the optimal ratio of both endurance work and intensity is very close to 80% endurance and 20% intensity. Of course, even with this known, we still have the total volume to play with, along with the breakdown of endurance into aerobic/recovery and intensity into power/VO2/threshold etc. To add even more to the equation, you have differences between swim, bike, and run fitness! Your threshold heart rate is different running than biking because you utilize different muscles, don’t (really) move your upper body while biking, and have different efficiencies in movement patterns and the same is true for differences in swimming. You also have to factor in things like confidence, mood, and motivation that can have a surprisingly profound effect on training metics. Just think, how much more willing are you to execute your workout after receiving positive feedback from your coach on your effort during last weeks hard workout or you've put together a string of good workouts in a row?
The point I’m trying to make here is that training is a little like a mad-science experiment. As coaches (aka mad-scientists) we play around with the correct dosage of these variables with hopes of creating a formula for success, but that formula looks different for every person. What works for one person might not work for the other. So while people do respond to training in a similar way, this doesn't mean they respond the same. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, so even if our goals are the same we approach the sport from a different angle. Finding your right formula (or working with a coach to find it) is critical for long term success. But like any other dosage - the your success formula also comes with certain side effects. For example: training 20hrs a week might make you incredibly fit, but it might also bring on unwanted injuries, illness, or stress due to time management (or lack thereof). As I mentioned last week, I’d encourage you to record and report your “side effects”, tune in to how you feel both mentally and physically. You can do this on a weekly basis but ideally it works best after your workouts when things are still fresh. Write it down in a training log and/or the comments section on Training Peaks (or your digital platform) so that your coach can look at and make any necessary changes.
Ultimately, there is a lot involved with a seemingly simple sport of swim/bike/run! We can be quick to assume that training X amount guarantees Y result, but it's much more dynamic than that. As you approach your training or approach a coach, make sure they view the sport as a science experiment and treat you like the unique individual you are. Choose your training dosage wisely!