I wanted to cover some of my thoughts on how to safely increase your training load without over training or exceeding your recovery. First lets go over the phrase “over training” this is the definition:
“Overtraining can be described as a point where a person may have a decrease in performance and plateauing as a result from failure to consistently perform at a certain level or training load exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness.” – Wikipedia
For athletes finding that magic balance between how much stress your body can take vs when you need recovery time can be the hardest thing to master. For people like myself this is why having a coach is so important because they can interpret training data and help make sure you are not over reaching or over training. If you don’t have a coach or just want to track your fitness another way I would suggest a online program like Strava – Premium Membership or any online tool that has pre-made plans and help you stay in the “optimal training zone” for your goals.
Increasing any athletic training load is traditionally done by choosing your sports distance or requirement and building a plan off of that, for me Duathlon has three distances of focus: Sprint, International and Powerman. Following with again a more traditional way of advancing things I started racing sprint and now hope to step up to the longer international distance so I will focus on stepping up from sprint to international.
- Sprint Duathlon (5k Run, 20k Bike, 2.5k Run)
- International Duathlon (10k Run, 40k Bike, 5k Run)
Sprint distance is exactly as its title states an out 120% effort for that sub one hour race, there is no time for relaxation, tears of catching your breath. Check out this article I wrote where I describe how insane a Sprint Duathlon actually is. Training for sprint racing involves a lot of speed work, muscle activations and high intensity shorter duration workouts. International distance incorporates more endurance work into both run and bike training. With the jump being exactly double the distance you may think that doubling your workouts would work, not the case. Doubling does not directly transfer into workout training, and who has double the time? The actual structure to the workouts has to change to incorporate slightly lower intensity but increased duration to be done safely. Lets talk about the basics because otherwise this will go off on a tangent and I will get in to far too much detail…
Taking a existing training plan and modifying it is the best place to start. Slowly increasing milage or the duration of your runs for example over 5-10 weeks will provide you with a safe and gradual increase in your fitness. Taking an endurance run that is say 45:00 and simply adding 02:00 minutes a week to the end of it is a good start. After 10 weeks of running that means you would be running 1:05:00. By doing this slowly you will adapt to the milage gradually keeping your risk of over training at a minimum. Please remember I don’t claim to be an expert in this but from my experience taking things slow and steady will provide you with the best and healthiest results. Another example would be to take a speed workout that involves 400m track repeats and is 6k total distance, add one extra lap every two weeks for the next ten weeks. That equates to and extra 2k of speed work and after 10 weeks you should be able to run 8k of repeats without too much trouble. This may sound simple but remember there is no perfect strategy and everyone is different but slowly increasing milage over time is a surefire way to bring your fitness level up.
When it comes to the bike there is no secret to increasing milage it just means more time in the saddle. One of the most common things people have problem with increased training load on the bike comes from discomfort or improper fit issues. Adding 1:00:00 to your endurance spin is not a good idea, I can’t stress that enough!! Don’t do it!!!! Slowly adding 05:00 on the end of your weekly endurance spin for 10 weeks is a great example of safely increasing your milage and allowing your body to adjust to the pressures and strains that come for more time in the saddle. Another great way to increase your training load and increase overall fitness is to add a spin before or after one of your runs. Start to incorporate “BRICK” training into your weekly schedule if you haven’t already. Everyone should try adding a 15:00-30:00 spin after their weekly endurance run, I guarantee that if you do you will see increased recovery times between workouts (active recovery). For me personally there is nothing better after a along run then hoping on my bike and spinning to flush my legs and stretch them out, not at high wattage just spinning to aid in muscle recovery and flushing the legs. Try it this week after your long run of the have your recovery nutrition or shake on your bike, followed with a foam roller session and your muscles will thank you. Mastering what works best for your body is the key with this kind of increase to training load, like I mentioned above for me the bike after a run works best for you it may be the opposite.
Recovery is something that is very person specific, some people use a training schedule that is 3 weeks on followed by 1 recovery week others may go as high as 5-6 weeks before having a recovery week. I say do what works best for you and if you find that while increasing your milage you need more time to recover then take it. Using the track workout as an example again if you were taking 02:00 rests between every 400m increase you rest by 00:20-00:30 accordingly so you can accomplish the longer distances week after week. If you find yourself over reaching and you increased your distance too much, back it off. As you grow your training load over the course of may weeks you need to factor in extra rest and recovery but give it time you may be surprised. As mentioned above add a recovery spin for a few minutes after a run and you will increase your overall training time but aid your recovery all at the same time. Training smarter is a good way to look at it, and trust me it never gets easier you just get faster.
Taking my own advise want to show you a inside look at my fitness growth from October until now. You can see from the chart that by following the slow but steady increase in training load while maintaining adequate recovery times I have been able to see a steady upward growth in fitness. 19 weeks ago when I started on this higher volume training plan I was worried that it would mean dedicating more free time that I had available. My biggest worry was that my body would let me down and I would not be able to recover day to day. I have noticed a much faster recovery period as my fitness has grown and a more consistent and predictable energy level than I ever though possible. After 6 weeks I could tell my fitness was growing and by training smarter, utilizing active recovery and making sure my nutrition was spot on the results speak for themselves a steady upward trajectory in my fitness. My body can tolerate much higher stress levels and recover complete enough to allow me to train back to back days with little to no loss in performance. As fitness increases the required time needed to recovery shortens, there is no app for this and it can’t be bought it is learned through hard work. The best suggestion I can give is if you have wanted to increase your millage of step up to the next distance in racing I say don’t be afraid to try it, besides you may surprise yourself and realize you are more of an endurance athlete than a sprinter anyways.
I am looking forward to the start of race season that is now just 2-3 months away but I am most excited to see just how much I will benefit from the overall increase to my fitness as a whole. Gone are the days of collapsing on the couch after a 2hr spin and napping the afternoon away, my body has adapted to allow me to workout for a solid 3hrs and not falling asleep from exhaustion. This gives me more time to get everything on the “honey do list” done and spend more time with family and friends.
Leave a comment and let me know what strategies you might have to increasing training load or recovery secrets.