Friday, August 1, 2014

Hard weeks and not so hard weeks

For optimal results a workout plan should alternate between hard efforts and easy efforts. Exactly how this is done depends a lot on the individual. For a novice runner it can be as simple as running three days a week with at least one rest day between run days. As fitness builds, one of those runs can be longer, and it is common practice to put two rest days after the long run. For someone who does not want to run on Sunday this might be

Mon rest
Tue short run
Wed rest
Thu short run
Fri rest
Sat long run
Sun rest

Rest days are sacred!

As fitness increases the time will come when running everyday feels right. Even then, one day a week should be set aside as a rest day. This is to give the body plenty of time to adjust to the workload. But, not every day should be the same. There should be hard days and easy days. Ideally these will alternate, but real life is never that simple so the perfect plan may require a few little wrinkles here and there.

Just enough hours in a day.

Triathlon makes even more demands. It is hard enough to fit in workouts for a single discipline. A triathlete must somehow squeeze in three.One way to do this is to double up. On a three workouts a week schedule, pair them up, something like this:

Tue swim run
Thu swim bike
Sat run bike

This is fine if the goal is modest, or the athlete is already fit and skilled and just wants to maintain their level, but serious improvement requires more time. For average folks with a full time job and family obligations, finding the time is not easy.

What I have been doing is at least one workout per day and often two, one in the morning and one after work, creating the effect of alternating hard days with easy days by adjusting disciplines. Biking and running use similar muscle groups, basically the legs, but biking is much easier on the body than running. Swimming is so different that it almost counts as rest, when viewed from the aspect of legs. (Keep in mind that triathlon style swimming minimizes kicking.) In contrast, the transition from bike to run is so hard on the legs that it must be practiced as if it were an event all its own.

There are at least three more cycles longer than the weekly plan we have been considering. At the next higher level is the hard week easy week cycle. Young adults can easily manage three hard weeks followed by one easy week. As we age we need more time to recover, so a two hard one easy cycle is better. At the highest level (well, there is the year above that) is the training cycle level. I just finished a ten week Olympic triathlon training cycle, and am starting a twenty week marathon training cycle. A training cycle usually culminates in a race. In between the training cycle and the weekly cycle is one that rises and falls something like the tide. Rather than plan out a single long continuous volume increase over twenty weeks, a good plan will have one or two high points along the way. The overall trend is up, but the body gets some ups and downs along the way.

In future posts I will describe how I came up with my twenty week plan, which starts Monday.

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