Triathletes: Stop Base Training

150 150 Rich Strauss

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“Base Training” is a common theme in the triathlon world, especially in the November through about March time frame. This is how the season of most triathletes shakes out:

  • After their final races of the year, triathletes often take a significant time away from training, losing a great deal of that end-of-season fitness.
  • Improving or maintaining their body composition also becomes less of a priority and waistlines often reflect this.
  • Easy but relatively high volume “base training” in the winter then becomes a necessity, with many athletes having to largely rebuild their fitness and restart their body composition game altogether.

This approach fails to leverage end of season fitness on which to build additional/future gains. Think about it: you put in a LOT of time, sweat, and hard work to achieve seasonal peak fitness. Wouldn’t it be better to figure out how to leverage that peak fitness for additional gains to be applied to next season?

Also, this approach doesn’t account for the significant, high mental cost of high volume training in the winter. That high cost is very often paid for in the form of mental burnout mid-season or in the final weeks before their A-races.

How Endurance Nation Doesn’t Do “Base Training:”

  • At the end of their season, we encourage our athletes to take a brief mental break.
  • We then encourage them to”keep it rolling,” making themselves faster by building on end-of-season fitness, often by considering a fun, single sport block of training after this mental reset, and before starting our…
  • OutSeason training plan. Here we build FAST on top of the FAR they already have, that they didn’t really lose much of because they didn’t really have an OffSeason. Instead, they took a quick mental break before committing themselves to building next season’s performances on the base of fitness they already have, at the end of their current season. They are not “Off” from training but rather “Out” of training for a specific race…but they are training within a very targeted process designed to build directly on their existing base of aerobic fitness.

At the end of their OutSeason, we may then transition our athletes to one or more of our other training plans, depending on my analysis of how to best prepare them for their season, given their race calendar. Out toolbox of training plans includes:

  • Swim Camp: a swim technique focused training plan designed to jump start their swim in advance of carrying on with the rest of their triathlon-specific training.
  • Get Faster Plan: while not designed to prepare the athletes for a specific race, this plan continues and builds up on the work they did in the OutSeason and is an excellent tool prepare them for the Race Preparation Phase of their training.
  • Bike or Run Focused: used in special circumstances, these plans place one sport in maintenance mode so we can focus on making significant gains to the other sport.
  • EN*Half Training Plan: prepares athletes to race a 70.3 distance triathlon
  • EN*Full Training Plan: prepares athletes to race a 140.6 distance triathlon
  • We also have several running-specific training plans to prepare them for half and full marathons, ultra-marathons, etc.

The training volume-specific keys we apply to all of these training plans, and in fact to everything we do with our athletes, are:

  1. This is all just a game. If it’s fun, do it. If it’s not fun, don’t do it.
  2. Your training should fit within the Box (ie, time to train) that your life gives you. Attempts to cram more training that will comfortably fit, week after week, into this Box will inevitably backfire. Therefore…
  3. Keep your training volume a low as you can for as long as you can. Again, determine the size of your Box that is repeatable, week after week. Then keep the size of the Box fixed while carefully managing the return on investment (ROI) you get from every minute inside of this Box. Too often athletes consider training volume to be their only tool for increasing fitness. Instead, wee’ve learned it’s better to keep that volume fixed and then closely manage the details of each individual training session.
  4. Keep your head out of a space where you are training “for” a specific event for as long as you can. You only want your head to be in that space for no more than 12 weeks, if possible. Then, within this 12 weeks…
  5. Rather than nickel and diming your life and your family week after week for an additional 30-60 minutes here and there, go really big closer to your race. In our experience, high training volume opportunities are more valuable and have a greater return on race day when they are applied closer to your race. That is, while a big cycling weekend 8 weeks from your race can be valuable, that same big cycling weekend applied three or even two weeks out from your race will be valuable.
  6. Finally, throughout everything, consider yourself to be creating a fitness lifestyle. Swimming, cycling, and running long distances, eating well, etc, are simply expressions of your fitness lifestyle, which is currently focused on triathlon. You’re not so much training as you are just doing what you do. Then you wake up 12 weeks out from your race and get to business, but with a fresh and healthy perspective on what it’s all about: to have fun!

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