Training Conflicts Fitness is complex! It involves a complex blend of strength and endurance, both muscular and aerobic. At different levels of intensity, the muscles utilise different fuel mechanisms. You have different types of muscle fibre in each muscle; some deliver explosive power, while others can supply a moderate level of power over extended periods. As an endurance athlete racing for more than about 2 hours your body will have to get good at using fat rather than glycogen and blood sugar as its source of energy.
It would be great if we could simply go out and run, ride or swim long distances and know that it would deliver us at the top of our form ready for the race. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
At its simplest level, we are trying to build the ability to deliver a high level of force, for as long as possible, effectively. We can think of these as shown in the diagram below.
We cannot build all of these in a single training session. Building force requires training at very high intensity for short periods. Endurance, in particular muscular endurance, requires long training sessions. Anaerobic endurance requires something in between. All of which tire the body but developing good technique is best done when you are fresh.
Arguably you could mix the session up over a week. The issue is that your body takes time to recover. You are unlikely to be completely recovered from long endurance session in a day, so following it with a pure speed session is likely to be unproductive. The demands of each form of training conflict with one another!
Removing the conflict
The answer is to periodise the training. You train certain aspects first before moving to others. But what do you start with?
The underlying principle is to start with the general and move to specifics of your sport/distance as the training year progress. So, strength and conditioning at the start of the training year should be a key part, building strength by running or cycling hills is another useful component. And it is also the time to focus on the long endurance sessions.
As the race season approaches, you should gradually move your focus from strength and endurance to speed with shorter more intense sessions. So, start with longer duration sessions and incorporate strength building and then reduce duration but build intensity.
The exception to this “general to specific” approach is technique. The time to look at your technique is early in the training year.
There are two excellent reasons for this. Maintaining proper technique as we tire relies on muscle memory. When the pattern of movement is deeply engrained it is easier to keep it in the later stages of a race, and if we continue to train with a poor technique, we are simply engraining it further. Watch almost any amateur training session, running, swimming or cycling, and you will see body posture and style deteriorate as the session progresses.
The other reason to focus on it now is that it will invariably involve demanding more strength from different muscles. If as a runner, you’re a heel striker and want to correct it, you’ll put more strain on your calves and Achilles. Raising your stride rate will impose other demands. Swimmers improving body position will impact core muscles and cyclists wanting to hold an aero position will find strains on back and neck.
If you start early, not only can you build the muscles, but you can do it gradually and reduce the risk of injury.
There are a couple of things you must guard against. Long endurance sessions or hill work tend to induce a “single pace” mindset. Introducing short bursts of speed helps to guard against this. You must also incorporate some longer sessions as you approach race season to ensure you maintain the endurance built at the start of the year.
Duration, Intensity and Fitness during the training year
The training sessions provided in the Savage monthly training guide are all built around a carefully developed periodisation programme.