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Big Week Training

You may have the opportunity to increase your training volume substantially from your normal level every once in a while due to life circumstances. Maybe you’re on vacation, the family is out of town, or you’re stranded in a strange town with just a couple business meetings during the week. Whatever the reason, here are a few issues to consider when you’re ready to ramp it up.

Total training load is a calculation of effort and duration. A 2 hour easy ride is not as stressful as a 2 hour ride with a 1 hour time trial in the middle. The day of or the day after the easy ride you could still do a pretty hard run, but a hard run the day of or the day after a tough bike is less likely to be a quality session and increases your chances of injury. When you’re planning out a big period of training, you need to consider how the overall increase in volume will affect your body. In other words, in a big period, it is a generally good idea to decrease your effort within the workouts as the duration of most workouts increases.

In the triathlon world, it is much safer to undertake a big increase in your bike and swim volume then it is to make a big increase in running volume. Running is more stressful on the body due to the impact with the ground and adding 50 or 100% to your normal amount of running could be a catalyst for an injury, even if you decrease your effort substantially. Cycling and swimming are weight supported exercises (no impact) and a 100% or more increase in time for a few days is realistic, provided you adjust your effort levels accordingly.

Those of you familiar with intensity factor (IF), training stress score (TSS) other values in the performance management chart of Training Peaks might consider how many points you accrue in a given week and plan your big week around that – for the most part you could double up on your swim and bike and make a small increase if any in the run. For example, if within a normal training week you have around 500 TSS on the bike, you might go to the 800-1200 range in a big week while keeping the IF of each ride on the lower side (under 0.85). Advanced athletes could include 1 or 2 rides breaking into the 0.85-0.95 range. The swimming calculation is not as exact (since creating a wearable swimming power meter has yet to be done) but increasing your yardage by 50-100% should be fine. Skip the 25s all out and be aware of how your shoulders are doing.

For the run my recommendation is to keep the volume the same or just slightly more than usual and limit any intervals to ‘tempo’ or sub-threshold effort levels. The risk/reward calculation from increasing your run training load substantially at the same time you’re increasing bike and swim training loads is just not worth it. If you want to do a big run period, make that the primary focus and use swimming and cycling purely as recovery sessions. That’s a different article.

A real world example for a big week is to sign up for a guided bike tour. Some tours are tougher than others but a lot of them last about a week, and cover 50+ miles per day with 1 or 2 planned easy days within. As a triathlete, you’re already meticulous enough to plan out some runs and check the tour locations for adequate swimming facilities to round out your big training week.

Another way is to join in on any of the spring or summer triathlon camps that many coaching organizations put on. These are great because the organizers understand the three sport mentality of triathlon and can help you adjust to your personal needs.

If you decide to do your own big training week, here is a sample plan:
Day 1: mid distance ride and big swim
Day 2: mid distance run with a few light intervals, easy ride
Day 3: long ride, short t-run, short swim
Day 4: big swim, optional easy ride or run (this is the easy day)
Day 5: long run, short swim
Day 6: mid distance ride, big swim
Day 7: long ride, t-run

The week after a big period like this you’ll want to use as a recovery week, dropping your training load to 50-75% of normal levels. That would include skipping threshold or over-threshold type intervals and not racing that following weekend. You’ll be tired and your body will thank you for the recovery time. In the second week, you’ll start to feel better and competing in a race or doing some testing should yield positive results.

The fitness impact of a big week like this will stay with you for a while, provided you don’t just sit on the couch for weeks after. Most age group triathletes won’t be able to do this more than 2-3 times per year, but if you have the chance, take it. Like anything in life, there is a bit of risk involved in pushing outside your current limits, but doing so with realistic planning is a great way to boost your fitness and increase your long term performance.

Coach Marty Gaal is a USA Triathlon Coach and NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. He has been coaching endurance athletes since 2002.

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