No training program should be designed without first determining proper
training zones and intensities. The more specific the better. Raise your
eyebrow when a training program simply instructs you to go at "race pace",
or "long easy effort". Instead, each recommended intensity needs to include
This means that your cycling hill interval workout
should not just be "6-8 long hill repeats", but should also prescribe power
or heart rate training zones; such as "6-8 hill intervals of 4 minutes at an
average of 300 watts", or "6-8 hill intervals of 4 minutes at a heart rate
of 154-165". In order for a training program to prescribe such intensities,
it is necessary for you to take baseline measurements.
The most common
baseline measurement is a series of time trials that allow you to determine
your approximate anaerobic or lactate threshold, or what is sometimes called
the "maximum lactate steady state" effort.
Basically, this just means that
before designing your training program, you must spend 20-30 minutes in each
of your sports (i.e. swimming, cycling, and running) determining what your
maximum *sustainable* pace is. Generally, this corresponds well with the
point at which your body is removing lactate as fast as it is accumulating,
and you are beginning to breath rapidly to "blow off" carbon dioxide in the
Your training program's intensities, or zones, are then based
off the heart rate or wattage at which this state occurs. If there are no
baseline measurements, the success of your training program will be
sub-optimal, at best. During the first two to three weeks of taking on a new
athlete, your coach or program should run you through a battery of tests
that help determine these training zones, so that I can write their workouts
to be biologically specific.
* 2. Periodization
Periodization is the process of breaking a training program year into
smaller periods, or units of time duirng which the training occurs at
specific volumes and intensities. By arranging these periods in the correct
sequence leading up to your races, peak performance can be achieved without
overtraining or injury. A training program that has you at the identical
training intensities and volumes, week in and week out, is not a periodized
A very basic example of periodization would be "base
training", during which you build your aerobic system and teach the body the
work more efficiently in the presence of lactic acid; followed by a "build"
in training intensity and volume as you become fitter and stronger; then a
"taper" as you approach race season, where your body absorbs the benefits of
the "build" cycle; and finally a "recovery" period after racing season, in
which you joints heal and your body recovers from the season.
There is no
perfect periodization scheme, but any good training program needs to lay the
groundwork for training in a structured and periodized format, as opposed to
training the same way the entire year, then "laying off" for a week or so
before the race. Periodizing a training program is difficult and time
consuming. Remember, no basic periodization is "perfect" - and it usually
still needs changes as the season progresses!
* 3. Training Specificity
Your training must be race specific. If you're preparing for a marathon with
3 weekly tempo sessions, 1 weekly speed-work track session, and 1 long
weekend run, you're spending way too much time in an anaerobic, carbohydrate
burning zone, and your body is not learning how to work in an efficient
This means you're going to be full of lactic acid and high
blood acid during your marathon and have a very uncomfortable race, if you
even finish. Beware of any training program that doesn't have you "training
like you race". This means lots of practice with race specific fueling, race
specific intensities, and race specific courses or topography. If you have a
flat, fast race approaching in three weeks, you shouldn't be wasting much
time with hill intervals, and vice versa.
* 4. Holistic Philosophy
Your training program can't just prescribe workouts and nutrition. It must
take into consideration stress levels, amount of sleep, resting heart rate,
weight, fatigue levels, etc. Your training program must listen to your body.
If you try to "push" through a prescribed workout, just to follow the rules,
this may not be the best idea. It's also nice to be able to look back and
see how the resting heart rate was leading up to a bad race, versus a good
race, or how the weight fluctuates before signs and symptoms of overtraining
* 5. R&R
Rest and recovery must occur! While for those of us with busy lives, this
may mean that your rest week takes place during the visit to the in-laws at
the end of one month, and happens during your long week of deskwork in the
middle of another month, your must decrease training intensity and volume at
regular periods throughout the training year. Some training programs might
include every 4 weeks and some every 3 weeks, but all programs must allow
your body to stop, then soak up like a sponge all the benefits of your hard
work. Otherwise, you're just chipping away at yourself until sickness or
overtraining forces you to stop.
I hope this information helps you in choosing your training program!
Ben Greenfield is the Renaissance man of the sport of triathlon.
He's a fast triathlete, a coach, a personal trainer, and much more more.