Train Smarter: Quality and Quantity
Author: Tim Lofthouse Date Posted:2 March 2017
I am sure you have heard them all before; “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, “Pain is temporary”. Yes, you will be uncomfortable at times during your training, you are not going to improve if you avoid reaching this state during exercise, and you should push yourself to a point that you would identify as being ‘painful’. All these sayings do have merit, within context.
As a cyclist, I found it hard to come to terms with the importance of understanding pain thresholds and the importance of the time you spend not training for a very long time. I was completing huge amounts of training, and found myself constantly frustrated by the fact that riders who were training half as much as me per week, would still ride away from me at the pointy end of races. Not to mention the constant state of fatigue, and thus the high probability of falling sick, which happened often...
This type of training ‘rut’ is frequently encountered by athletes who are new to a sport and want to begin taking it more seriously. It becomes very easy to slip into the mindset that more is always better, particularly with ‘slow-twitch’ aerobic sports.
It is important you have a good understanding of your body and the way it reacts to perceived pain. Gauge where and when it is necessary to be uncomfortable in training, and more importantly how you get to this state (this is a scenario where a coach becomes very helpful).
Endurance plays a critical role in the performance of an athlete, and training session duration (particularly in cycling) is a central element of this. However, if your concentration of training is intense for too long, you do not allow your body to recovery appropriately before your next session. It is impossible for your body to positively adapt to the level of training, as you will simply not have the strength to train at a level which exceeds your previous physical limitations.
This was exactly my problem. I attempted to supplement making myself uncomfortable (with 1-5 minute high intensity efforts) during training with consistent 4-5hr sessions at a low intensity. Because the Pros do that, right? Yes, but they do this because their bodies have adapted to the change which has only come about because of years of experience and a BALANCED training program.
Quantity has its place in all training programs, and it is indeed essential to becoming a well-rounded athlete, but you must maintain a healthy balance of these longer, lower intensity efforts, and short, high intensity sessions. (For the purpose of this comparison, referred to as ‘Quality’)
Consider pain, or “training discomfort” as having several thresholds, ranging from low (important for recovery), to high in a way which is effective and necessary, to excessive or extreme. When you are trying to work more ‘quality’ based training sessions into your program, it is necessary that you understand how hard you need to work during these sessions to reap benefits from them. Typically, a good way to gauge whether your training discomfort is effectively high, or detrimentally high, can be determined by the amount of time it takes to recover from the exercise.
To become stronger for example, an athlete must increase the factor of muscular stress to a level which it has not reached before. However, if you overload your muscles with too much stress (weight), or for a period which is prolonged excessively, you will have challenged your physiology to a point where your body is unable to replenish and repair efficiently enough for the training to be beneficial.
Being tired immediately, and several hours after a training session is to be expected, and is a good sign of quality training. But if you are still feeling the delayed onset of fatigue and muscular soreness 2-3 days after a session, then perhaps you pushed your body a little too hard for a training session (race situations are a different story of course).
High density training programs must be constructed with variety - in training load and specificity. There should be days where you are aerobically tired (fatigued from duration, best described as exhaustion), and days when you are anaerobically tired (fatigued from intensity, muscular soreness a fatigue). This variety is crucial, as you will need to be able to cope with both types of fatigue and discomfort during a competition. Just as you cannot train consistently at a high intensity for short durations and expect your body to hold up over a period of 4-5hrs, you can’t expect your anaerobic system to cope with a high intensity effort at the pointy end of a race if your training leading up to the event has consisted purely of long ‘sub-threshold’ (low-intensity Maintainable effort) sessions. Again, your training should always be constructed with a healthy mix of quality and quantity. With all this in mind, DO NOT neglect the fact that there should be days where you come back from training feeling fresher then when you started!
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