Developing a weekly training template isn’t motivated by laziness, it can save time but in practice I rarely coach an athlete who perfectly matches the template – everyone brings unique requirements. The real motivation is consistently developing an athlete’s fitness and performance while avoiding injury; it’s a balance of training load and fatigue. When it works the athlete progresses week on week, fatigue always within manageable level, but even the most careful plans cannot predict the life stresses of age group athletes. A weekly template is a starting point, a way to develop the basic building blocks of a complete schedule.
Each week the aim is for the athlete to execute their key workouts as prescribed – hitting targets where it matters. I place sessions to allow sufficient recovery, but what seems reasonable on paper won’t always work; recovery and life don’t go well together. I’ve already adjusted one athlete’s mix of intensity and volume this week to see if it makes their sessions more manageable. There are compromises with my template – it tries to make the best use of available time assuming that time is limited. For those fortunate enough to be less restricted more options are open, while for others I place the emphasis on a few key weekly sessions.
Once logistical requirements are met, a plan normally needs adapting for the time of year. Periodisation is a topic for another time, with most athletes I focus more on the training they need than sticking to a prescribed order. The macro is as individual as the micro. A traditional high volume, low intensity base for an experienced Ironman athlete seems redundant; besides, for those of us in winter, volume is a challenge. I shift the balance of intensity and volume towards bike or run (and very occasionally swim) depending on an athlete’s strengths and their season goals. When recovery is often influenced by work and life, it’s hard to progress well across all disciplines at once.
Sufficient recovery is the biggest issue within a plan. I don’t want to give too much, I want to adjust recovery to fit an athlete’s needs. Two easier days within each week may be more than enough when overall load is low, but fatigue can still accumulate block after block. Experience shows that given an optional workout my athletes usually do them regardless, they don’t choose more rest. It’s understandable, I’m a terrible judge of my own condition and have pushed myself too far on a few occasions. Training is a compulsion. Allowing an athlete flexibility in their recovery is unreliable, it’s better to schedule recovery blocks and lighter days to ensure it happens. Motivated athletes have a habit of wearing themselves down until they come to a halt.
Over multiple weeks certain blocks are lightened to allow more recovery. The largest cut backs are at weekends – it works well for working athletes and I prefer to maintain the intensive sessions. Replacing a midweek block with pure recovery would effectively gives a full recovery week, excessive in view of the overall schedule. Instead I regularly scale back an intensity block and potentially use the period for test sessions; testing early in the block, then a few moderate sessions to keep the block useful while the overall load is reduced. Managed correctly it should produce a stepped progression in fitness similar to the chart below.
Fabricated data in Excel is much smoother than real world results, but a good number of my athletes follow this trend. Life tends to get in the way of the perfect progression – illness being a prime example – a few unplanned rest days affect fitness like a scheduled recovery block. Ideally the schedule should be adjusted with an easier block to return to training, then continue as normal. Subsequent recovery blocks can be delayed to allow fitness growth, there needs to be fatigue to recover from. At this point feedback is a vital part of the coaching process.
One weekly template can cover a lot of bases. Finding a routine that fits with life so you steadily progress your fitness is the starting point, being able to adapt that routine throughout the season and maintain your progression finishes the process off. Reviewing my own training diary it’s clear this year that routine was often lacking; when I strayed from steady progress long-term goals suffered.
From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.