Have you ever wondered how the pros train? What type of workouts do they do, and how they plan their training? Well the answer can be found in the form of training blocks. Sometimes referred to as phases, segments, or periodization, training blocks are a series of cycles used by professionals to enhance their triathlon season. However, pros and elite athletes aren’t alone anymore, as this method of training can be applied to any athlete’s season.
Let’s start with some basic terminology and components associated with training blocks:
Macrocycle: Large period of time determined by the athlete to fit the needs of their goals and key races. Usually this encompasses an entire race season, with a gradual progression from small “C” and “B” races, to the ultimate “A” race at the end of a great season. However for some athletes, a macrocycle can be anywhere from one year to multiple years, such as age groupers looking to qualify for the Ironman World Championships. Within a macrocycle their are multiple mesocycles.
Mesocycle: These periods of time, which generally last four to six weeks, are the bread and butter of training blocks. Each mesocycle (training block) is focused on a specific training purpose. Within each macrocycle their should be a combination of these four important training blocks:
Microcycle: A small period of time, typically only one week long, in which the athlete focuses on individual workouts and accomplishing each one. Make each workout and day special, something you plan before hand and succeed in finishing. The key to keeping motivated is to create short term goals, and continue to accomplish them.
“A” Race: Athletes should always be working towards an “A” race, which is the ultimate reason for their training. Not only does it give athletes motivation to train, it also allows athletes to develop a long term plan for a specific distance. Every athlete is different! Maybe your “A” race is a marathon in February, or possibly an Ironman in November if you’re an experienced athlete. It could be a sprint triathlon or a 5k for those who are just beginners. Either way, all athletes can benefit from having an “A” race each season.
“B/C” Race: Races in which the athlete may focus on a specific aspect or discipline, or possibly a race done to determine the progress made towards the ultimate goal of an “A” race. For instance, triathletes may have an olympic distance race (“B” race) scheduled four weeks in advance of a half iron distance race (“A” race), in which they will push harder on the bike than any other discipline to determine their ability to maintain a specific pace.
Nutrition: For most athletes, this may be one of the most difficult parts of training, but it could be the difference between an average finish and a top ten finish when racing. Nutrition should be seen from the big picture, and not focused on weighing your food or counting out exact amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat each meal. Instead focus on eating well balanced meals that supply the body with nutrients that it needs. Just as your training progresses throughout the season, so should your food demands. Each training block places specific demands on your body, hence your body needs specific nutrition to accommodate those demands.
Remember that calories are necessary for the body to replenish energy lost during exercise, and help rebuild muscles that breakdown. Total calories eaten per day should reflect the athlete’s body weight and training volume. Hence smaller athletes should eat less than larger athletes, and those who train more should eat more.
Beyond the common perception of fat and carbohydrates as negative nutrients, it is absolutely necessary for athletes to consume these to refuel! The body utilizes mainly glycogen (carbohydrates) and some fat when you begin to workout. As long workouts progress, your body begins to rely less on glycogen stores and more on fat for energy.
Protein is another nutrient necessary for the body to run properly. However, for years protein has been overly abused by athletes, due to the belief that it will produce energy and strength in their muscles. Scientific facts have proven that protein in fact is non-beneficial when more than 0.9 grams per pound per day are consumed. Extra protein is simply converted to fat for storage within the body. Proper amounts of protein provide amino acids and enzymes which enable cells to metabolize carbohydrates and fats more efficiently within our muscles.
These of course are only the main components of a proper training plan! Be sure to stay tuned for a more in depth look at each training block (mesocycle), in the days to come. Details for each block will be revealed, to ensure you plan your next season properly.