“I feel the need, the need for speed”
- Lt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Top Gun)
It’s been a while since my last post on one of my favourite topics – periodization and long term planning. So, first, a recap on the story so far:
I am a big advocate of long term periodization, however, I firmly believe that for all but elite athletes that the progression through the typical phases is a multi-year rather than a multi-month progression. This runs counter to most of the popular literature on the topic, including that of folks like Joe Friel and Gale Bernhardt.
That said, I do like the general phase delineations advocated by Friel and I find them more definitive and practically applicable than those proposed by the periodization ‘forefathers’ – Bompa and Matveyev.
In a nutshell, the progression is as follows:
Base 1 (General Prep):
An emphasis on progressively habituating the athlete to achieving and then consistently hitting their ‘basic week’. At all times during this phase intensity is completely incidental and falls way down the list of priorities when compared to volume and consistency. Throughout this phase, constraints are minimal. So long as the athlete is able to get the heart rate above 60% of their max/AeT-10 (with a cap of 80% max/VT1), I’m a happy coach.
Base 2 (Specific Prep I):
So, the athlete is hitting their basic week on at least 3 of every 4 weeks. Next step is to begin observing and then pushing the aerobic quality of the training. This means that I start to ‘tighten the screws’ and move from my “whatever Brah” coaching methodology closer to my goose-stepping Nazi persona that my athletes will be familiar with when they reach Base 3 and beyond. In practice, this means we introduce the following concepts:
- Training on measured courses (less important for my athletes who use Power)
- Observing and improving average training speed over said courses
- Adding back-end loaded steady state main sets to each of the longer days.
Base 3 (Specific Prep II):
When we reach a point that the athlete is achieving a majority of training in their steady zone, I will begin to add more challenging mod-hard (and in some cases, hard) main sets to the shorter days, so long as (and this is important) the quantity and average speed of training are not compromised with the addition of this intensity. The amount of mod-hard that each athlete can tolerate is incredibly variable and is related to such factors as gender, size, muscle fiber composition and general constitution and can range from 10-30% of the athlete’s basic week.
So, that’s the story so far.
Now, as we go along, after we have established some measured courses that we perform regularly from phase 2 on, I become more and more aware of what a ‘good time’ is for each of the sessions/courses. It is only after a multi-month plateau on said courses that I will even think about introducing a dedicated speed phase.
The exception to this would be if an athlete has targeted a short distance race as an “A race” for this season. However, I strongly advise developing athletes against doing this. In the long run, what you give up for the 3-5% of extra speed that you may gain by specifically preparing for your short distance ‘A Race’ is quite simply not worth it and, IMHO, the emphasis on regular (short course) racing is the primary reason that we have seen a significant stalling in the times of World Championship events from Ironman to National Track Racing over the past 20+ years. E.g. Peter Snell’s 800m time from 1962 would still place him 2nd at the 2008 US National Championships (in an Olympic year)!! Mark Allen’s winning Ironman time from 1989 would place him 1st at the 2007 Ironman (and has only been beaten by one athlete in the 18 years since)!!
But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that you are one of those athletes who:
a) Has hit your target volume for 40/52 weeks for the past year.
b) Is doing the bulk of their training at or above their AeT
c) Has incorporated mod-hard to hard training within their basic week to the limits of their individual tolerance without compromising training volume.
d) Has witnessed a plateau in the aerobic main set times from his key weekly sessions.
What’s the next step?
I feel the need….. the need for speed.
The primary purpose of speed-work is (arguably) to improve central
(cardio-pulmonary) adaptations by providing added
stimulus to increase blood volume and consequently increase stroke
volume and VO2max (Seiler, 1991). By improving these factors,
greater oxygen is made available to the muscles for aerobic energy
production at all submaximal (aerobic) intensities. These adaptations
are the opposite of those peripheral adaptations sought with long, slow
Numerous studies have shown that the desired adaptations plateau
after a period of 10-14 weeks (e.g. Fox, 1975, Cunningham, 1979).
This duration of speed training has been confirmed in the field by
coaches such as Lydiard (running) and Carlile (swimming).
Intensity of training is a key component and should range from
90-100% of VO2max (3K-10K pace).
3-4 sessions per week are required to elicit improvement in well
Trained athletes (VO2max greater than 50 ml/kg/min). 2 times per week is
Sufficient for athletes with VO2max less than 40ml/kg/min.
For well trained athletes, total training time at 90-100% VO2max
should tally 30-45mins per session. Time trumps intensity and even
if the athlete cannot maintain 90% VO2max for 30-45mins, the session
duration should remain (Wegner and Bell, 1986).
During this phase of training, overall volume is reduced as necessary to accommodate intensity. Total volume of 66-80% of max volume is sufficient to maintain long term peripheral adaptations. Reductions greater than this should be avoided due to the time it takes to re-gain peripheral vs. central adaptations (Mujika et al. 1996).
If a speed phase is warranted/used within the annual plan, I would still recommend a return to a high volume Base 3 cycle (with 2 maintenance speed sessions each week) prior to tapering for an Ironman race.
I’ll chat through my thoughts on the taper in my next instalment on Real World Periodization.