Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Basic Training Assumptions

Even though I just said below to expect a gap in posts here, while on the plane today I had some thoughts about basic assumptions regarding training for endurance sport. These certainly aren’t earth-shaking thoughts but they lead in a direction that perhaps you hadn’t thought of before. So I thought I’d share them with you before my next flight.

1. Training must be physically stressful. The whole purpose of training is to physically and appropriately challenge the body. From this challenge the body adapts and becomes more capable of handling a given level of stress. To be effective the training challenge should be specific to the stress anticipated in the goal event for which you are training.

2. Adaptation to a specific physical stress is called “fitness.” This puts to rest old arguments about who is more fit - a golfer, weight lifter or marathoner. Each is equally fit for the unique physical demands of their sports. For example, if you want to define fitness as the physical skill required to hit a ball a long way with a stick then the golfer is the fittest.

3. Another product of stress is fatigue. If you challenge the body many physiological changes other than fitness can occur. You may have depleted carbohydrate stores, damaged muscle cells, altered body chemistry, etc. Taken as a whole these changes are called “fatigue.”

4. Fitness and fatigue trend similarly. You may not have thought about this before, but it is important to understand. There is a strong link between fitness and fatigue. If you are fatigued from training then you stressed the body adequately enough to create the potential for fitness. If the workout did not cause any fatigue at all then it also did not produce the potential for fitness. So, when fatigue is rising you can expect the same thing from fitness.

5. In order to race well one must reduce fatigue. This is what tapering before a big race is all about – reducing fatigue. You don’t want to go into important races tired. There is no benefit from doing that. Racing when tired most assuredly will produce less-than-stellar performances.

6. Reducing fatigue is called “coming into form.” The term “form” came from late-nineteenth-century horse racing. Before placing a bet you would check the form (sheet of paper) provided by the bookie which showed how each horse had been racing recently. When a horse was racing well it was said to be “on form.” Bike racing which started in the late nineteenth century adopted this term early on. In recent years other endurance sports have begun using it.

7. Coming into form requires losing fitness. This is where I was taking you with the above assumptions. Don’t believe me? Then go back to #4. The bottom line is that you must give up some fitness in order to shed fatigue and therefore race at the highest levels. The trick is to limit and control how much fitness is lost in the tapering process. I’ve probably put more time and thought into this single aspect of race preparation than any other. But what I do is far from perfect. Peaking is as much an art as a science. The protocol I use isn’t 100%. This is described in my books. It may work for a given athlete for one race but not as well for the next. That’s because we are humans and not machines. There are many variables in our lives. Actually, I’m glad it’s that way.


At February 4, 2009 5:57 PM , Blogger GRIESE.JASON.A said...

Thanks Joe"Mr.Friel"
That little tid bit gave me a much better perspective for the idea of not training before a race. As well to give me perspective on my tired state today. May I copy this post to my new blog so as to not lose it?

At February 4, 2009 6:26 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Jason--Yes, so long as you provide a link back to my blog. Thanks.

At February 4, 2009 6:47 PM , Blogger OilcanRacer said...

thanks also. i have a great taper program(being used for this saturdays "frozen hog race"), but to hear it in those terms helps to solidify how and why.


At February 5, 2009 7:38 AM , Blogger Bob Kaplan said...

I have been training and racing as an endurance athlete since 1958. Over these 50+ years of competition as a cyclist, long distance runner, and triathlete, I have found that so called peaking is for me, very unpredictable. I have had great races immediately after hard days and weeks with little recovery; and conversely, relatively poor showings after following more regimented deliberate resting before a big event. I just think that the biological psychological systems we are trying to manipulate are to complex to be controlled down to a specific event. What I have observed however, is that living in the north east, I tend to have my best performances and "peak" experiences in Aug. and Sept. This tells me that while I can't predict or manipulate my peaks and valleys, there is a long term response to consistent training and work which is very predictable.

At February 5, 2009 9:23 AM , Blogger Bill said...

Nice blog. I have forwarded to a couple friends. I specially like #7 ... I preach your views often to my racing buddies! Thanks for your contribution. For some of us struggling (money wise) cyclists, its all the coaching we get.

At February 5, 2009 12:48 PM , Anonymous max said...

How best to judge fatigue? General tiredness, sore legs, elevated resting heart rate, or suppressed heart rate during training? Should you always rest after a block (2 or 3 days) of training or continue until you feel fatigued?

At February 5, 2009 2:16 PM , Blogger Wade Wallace said...

Thank you for the excellent post. One of my favorites. I hope you don't mind, but I've posted this on my blog as I could not resist sharing it with my readers. I've obviously given you the proper credit you deserve and provided a link.


At February 6, 2009 4:55 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Max--All of those fatigue indicators and perhaps more depending on what you discover are the best markers for you will work fine. If fatigue does not show up after 2 days of challenging workouts then the challenge/stress was not very great. So either continue to add stress or next time increase the stress of the 2 day block.

At February 7, 2009 8:08 PM , Anonymous Rob said...

Thanks Joe. I’ve read and studied many of your books, and I still learned something new from your blog. Concerning fatigue, some of my workouts will cause minimal fatigue which only last perhaps for 4 to 8 hours, while others cause a deeper, longer lasting fatigue, which last up to 24 plus hours. For example when I perform the P2: Hill Sprints, I can perform 10 to 12 of them with minimal fatigue afterwards. But when I perform an M2:Cruise interval of even 8min x3, I will feel the fatigue for 24 hours. So, my question is: should all workouts provide about the same level of fatigue if they are performed correctly, or does each type of workout provide inherently different amounts of stress?


At February 7, 2009 11:55 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Rob--Not all workouts or people are same so fatigue will differ. That's normal and to be expected.

At February 16, 2009 7:35 PM , Blogger NGarcia said...

Mr Joe Friel!

For me one of the most important things in my workouts is: Consistency in Training or Consistency of Training.

I would like to see an topic about this very very IMPORTANT subject. I have a hard time understanding this and i still dont understand at 100%.

I am recovering from one Achilles lesion, I can stand now one hour in the bike riding, but I dont know how to grow weekly my time in the bike. I am thinking about 15' peer week in two rides. I am riding every day 1hour. ;)

Best Regards,


At February 16, 2009 7:47 PM , Blogger NGarcia said...

I found something about what i was asking for :

But if you can awnser my little question would be very good.

Thank you.

At March 4, 2009 1:50 AM , Blogger Richard said...

hI jOE,
I found these tips really useful. I have recently started to use cycling peaks software and find the PMC chart really good at tracking fitness etc. My CTL is slowly starting to raise with consistent training. I have a question. My coach keeps advising me to stop having two days in a row without training, but i find that i can train much harder with as few sessions as 3 per week

At March 4, 2009 11:44 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Richard--When it comes to recovery there is such a wide range in capacities that I really can't comment on your unique situation. But realize that having some fatigue is normal and to be expected so long as it is completely shed periodically.


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