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Article - 27 March 2011

The 10 Laws of Endurance Training

1. Train Frequently, All Year-Round
The human body thrives on physical activity. Little and often always outweighs heavy training sessions interspersed by lots of days off. Our physiological systems adapt to the stress placed upon them consistently not sporadically. New or improved movement patterns are engrained by doing them frequently not sporadically.

2. Train, Don’t Strain
Many favourable adaptations to our aerobic systems can be derived from training at low intensities - improved heart and lung dynamics, capillary density and metabolism to name but some. In fact, numerous research studies have shown that elite endurance athletes across a range of sports carry out as much as 90% of their training at low to moderate intensities. This not only reduces long term fatigue but ensures that hard sessions are sufficiently hard to induce an adaptive response.

3. Distance, then Speed
The greatest gains in performance come initially from building a strong endurance base through long, slow distance training. Only when our average power or speed stops improving for no apparent increase in effort, are short, timely doses of speed work needed to further improve.

4. Plan Training Sessions Weekly, Never Daily
Because our individual physiology is never constant it is sometimes hard to know how we are going to feel on any given day. It is therefore better to build flexibility into your schedule to allow for easier (or harder) training sessions according to our condition. Training when genuinely fatigued just doesn’t work.

5. Alternate Hard and Easy Training
Hard training causes muscle damage. In measured doses this, and more specifically, the body’s response to this, is a good thing. But muscle damage requires 1-2 days, longer as we age, to fully recover. For this reason it is better to alternate a day of hard training with a few days of easy.

6. Train Just Enough, No More
It is generally agreed that moderately trained athletes can continue to benefit from increases in training volume up to around 10 hours per week. The figure may be lower for pure runners as the impact forces generate more muscle damage than say, cycling. But even for triathletes, who spread training load across three disciplines, the law of diminishing returns becomes very real above the 10 hour mark. There may be specific periods when volume goes up for short periods of time - a training camp for example, but a re-appraisal of training intensities and recovery are almost always better ways to break through plateaus than merely adding volume ad infinitum.

7. Train The Individual
What works for some, will not work for others. We all react and adapt differently to the stress of training. Therefore ‘bespoke’ is the key. Avoid general training plans and instead learn what works for you. Comparing ourselves with others is part of sport but to consistently get better, the key is to know what we ourselves are capable of and whether that is improving each session.

8. Train Specifically
Cycling will not make you a faster runner. If you want to be a good swimmer, only swimming will do it. Equally if you want to run faster, you will need to incorporate running at faster speeds than your current average in order to achieve that goal. The challenges of triathlon transitions such as running hard off the bike require very specific sessions which replicate those demands in order to optimise performance. This is what is meant by the specificity of training and it would also include environmental considerations such as training in the heat, at altitude or in the hills - whatever condition is likely to be encountered during the target event.

9. Incorporate The Latest Knowledge
As an example, the latest research on sprint interval training suggests that it may be very beneficial for even long distance athletes to incorporate very high intensity sessions with long rest intervals into their training at certain times of the year. This challenges the dogma that endurance performance can only be improved through sub maximal training. Moreover, these high intensity sessions can be designed so that they generate very little residual fatigue and so can be manipulated to keep an athlete in peak condition at times when shedding fatigue before a key race is the principle objective.

10. Train 24 Hours A Day
Understand that everything we do over the course of a day can affect the quality of our training. Poor diet, lack of sleep, work stress all conspire to sabotage carefully laid training plans. Therefore, where possible, control the controllable and don’t fret over the rest.

Read the previous article: The Importance of Regular Fitness Testing for Triathletes.

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