Monday, February 1, 2016

Patience and Improvement

by Dave Latourette

As performance minded athletes transition into their winter training, most come back highly motivated to strive towards new goals. At this time of year, our brains and mentality are usually ahead of our bodies in terms of what we can handle. Because of that, it’s crucial we manage our energy early in the year/season so that we can do our best and most difficult training when it matters most with relation to our key race(s).

As a coach, one of the biggest challenges I face in the winter is making sure athletes are getting enough training stimulus to engage improvement, yet still leaving some room for us to add volume and load when we hit peak periods of training so that improvement continues.

What follows are just a few ways that I keep the training stimulus coming, while allowing some room to elevate fitness later in the season. The assumption here is that:

  • An athlete has established, over a three to five week period, a foundation of fitness that supports training load changes
  • There are limitations of daylight and weather because if winter season
  • The athlete is not preparing for a key winter race

In the winter season I’m apt to add swim load by increasing volume and intensity more than I would cycling and running as the winter training block moves along. We all tend to be able to recover from swimming a bit quicker than cycling and running and I believe it’s a good idea to have your swim foundation established early while cycling and running volumes stay lower. Plus, when the weather is poor swimming is always an option!

Therefore, if you are ready to handle more overall training load than you have established it’s not a bad idea to start with swimming.

Taking into consideration that most athletes are on the indoor trainer for at least 50-100% of their riding during this time of year, it’s possible that it can take a mental toll along with the physical. Different from swimming, once we have built up to a certain amount of cycling hours for the week in the winter, (this may be four to six total hours for many) the volume may tend to hold while intensity increases

  • Example 1: If a weekday indoor trainer ride is capped at 80 minutes then increasing the amount of quality work or specific intensity increases while recovery decreases. If a normal main set is 6x6 minutes at 85% of functional threshold power with 3 minute recovery, your next step might be 6x7 minutes with 2 minute recovery; eventually progressing the main set so you are doing 6x8 minutes with 1 minute recovery. Using the same warm up / warm down your session still comes in at the same volume.
  • Example 2: Taking a long ride that is capped at three hours with somewhat steady riding. Consider increasing the vertical feet of climbing over the ride or simply increasing your power output by 2-3% over your normal loop.

My suggestions in running are similar to cycling in that once we get up to a certain amount of volume and frequency I’d rather add pieces of intensity before adding any more volume.

  • Example 1: Let’s say you are capping weekday runs to 45 minutes and most runs have been steady cruising type runs on the flats or hills. A great way to change stimulus is by adding hill repeats. You might start with 6x30 seconds on the opening week during the 45 minute run, then every other week you hold the 45 minute session but you add three repeats until you hit 12 in week 5. Training load increases over the block but volume holds.
  • Example 2: During your long run (let’s say it’s capped at 90 minutes), you can simply add more steady running (mid-steady or mid-zone 2 effort) across the run.

It doesn’t take a lot across a week to continue to add appropriate amounts of training stress while actually being patient and see improvement in fitness. I say the following to many athletes this time of year as they start getting those whiffs of improvement from their first block of training: “Don’t get greedy with your fitness.”

Stay patient and improve!

Dave Latourette is a full time triathlon coach living in Santa Rosa, California, who works with athletes from newcomer to elite. His top athletes have won USAT Age Group National Championships and raced in World Championship events that include the ITU World Championship and the Ironman World Championship. You can learn more about Dave and follow him at:, his blog, or on twitter @dklatourette.
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