Monday, July 21, 2008
Single Sport Focus Periods: The Key to Success for the Working Athlete
After my first double digit hour week on the bike in a while (no doubt motivated by watching Le Tour), I thought it might be pertinent to chat through one of the most under-utilized training prescriptions – Single Sport Focus Periods.
But first, I had a request from one of my athletes to complete the ‘black belt trilogy’ and give some data on what a black belt week in the pool might look like. Here goes:
31000m in less than 10hrs
* 5km FS timed less than 1:30
* 4x100 IM @ 2:15, 2x200IM @ 4:30, 400IM @ 9:00, 2x200IM @ 4:30, 4x100IM @ 2:15
* 40x100m descending swim @ 1:45, 1:40, 1:35, 1:30
* 4x (4x100 FS @ 1:20) w/200 swim down
* 10x25!FS + 75 recovery @ 2:15 (w/sprints less than 17s/25m
The more mathematically astute of you, will have put together that a ‘black belt week’ for SBR will put you somewhere around the 30 hour mark – beyond what is feasible for most top AG athletes. While, I think there is big value to sporadic ‘stretch weeks’ that are in that neighbourhood for a top AG athlete, to do so on a regular basis, taking into account the addition of work and family stress is a quick recipe for burnout.
My absolute favourite training principle for the working athlete has to be the maintenance principle, which basically states that:
It takes substantially less volume to maintain a fitness level than it does to initially achieve it.
Specifically, studies have shown that a drop in training volume of 20-35% will maintain performance for a period of at least 4 weeks (Anderson et al., 1992, Costill et al. 1985, Mujika et al., 1995).
Using this principle, the time (or energy) limited athlete can incorporate cycles in which one discipline is emphasized, while the others are held at maintenance level. This can be done on the macro level, by spending a period of a month or more focusing on a weak discipline, or on the micro level by alternating the focus of your weeks.
Rod Cedaro, coach of former world champion, Jackie Gallagher is a big advocate of the microcyclic approach of cycling Swim/Bike/Run/Recovery weeks as his short term periodization strategy. For our prospective Top AGer/Kona qualifier, this may mean one week each month of 15hrs+ on the bike, while the others are maintenance weeks in the vicinity of 10hrs.
On the flipside, an athlete with a weak run leg may spend 6 weeks or more building their run volume in preparation for a fall marathon while dropping their swim and bike mileage back to maintenance levels.
A combination of these approaches that I will frequently use with my athletes is a cycle of 2 weeks focused on the athlete’s weak event followed by one week focused on maintaining the athlete’s strengths. I have seen good results with this approach.
This method is not just for top AG athletes, based on what I have seen, most working athletes exceed their capacity to absorb appropriate SBR training volume within a week pretty early in the piece. If you are a sub 13hr IM, working athlete, you are going to have a hard time hitting appropriate (single sport) training volume each week. Generally, an ad-hoc single sport focus will result, with the athlete tending to do more of the sport that is convenient or the sport that they enjoy, rather than the sport that is limiting. There is tremendous value to most athletes in being deliberate in choosing what sport they need to focus on.
At the other end of the spectrum, many elite athletes will have a hard time summoning the energy levels to maintain appropriate training intensity while hitting appropriate training volume in all 3 sports simultaneously, even when time is not a limiting factor.
When we get down to it, for all levels of athlete, time and energy are much greater limiters than genetics or inherent ability in a sport like triathlon. Any way that we can eek out more training stimulus for a given period of training time is obviously worth consideration.