The Belgians call them Fleur du printemps or 'Spring Flowers.' Joe Friel calls them 'Christmas Stars.' I like that one. You know the type; they turn up at EVERY training session, tell you, 'rest is for the weak' or 'eating's cheating,' constantly ride off the front of the group; they're still racing in December and January, and by May.....they've hit their peak and have nowhere left to go.
"What if this is exactly what's holding us back?"
I know, I know, it's hard to tear yourself away from the turbo, track or pool in the winter (honestly, I know!) but what if this is exactly what's holding us back? As training junkies - addict since 2009 - it's all too appealing to distract yourself from the bitter cold outside by sticking to routines and training every night or morning (sometimes both!), but what happens if you're sacrificing your fitness gains by doing too much?
Building in rest phases and training smart is just as important as training hard. It's that simple: rest more and train smarter. If you're sitting there thinking, 'But professional athletes train every day, so can I.' No they don't. Successful athletes train to fitness peaks too, and unlike us when they say they're going for a 'recovery run,' they actually mean it. They don't train at the same intensity every day, they build high-intensity and low-intensity sessions into their weekly schedules, and recover.
TOP 5 TRAINING TIPS
It wouldn't be a fitness blog without the obligatory top 5 training tips now would it?
1) Make a plan
What is it they say, to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail? You wouldn't start training for a marathon a year before it took place, so why train for fast Olympic distance all year round? Keeping a good level of fitness is important but the big gains should be made close to the event. So plan it out, 8-10 weeks before your race, including the taper, so that your speed and endurance culminate on race day.
2) Build in high-quality sessions
If you're completing 2 high quality, tough sessions a week you will perform better than if you trained 7 days a week at the same moderate intensity. This is because high quality sessions at, and above your threshold, will push that level upwards, making you fitter.
Your threshold is roughly your 10k pace or the pace you could sustain for 1h before collapsing in a heap. For more information on threshold and/or FTP read trainSharp's blog here.
3) Recover weeks
As well as quality, being careful about quantity is important. If you're having to put in high volume in a month, make sure one week out of that is spent doing a lot less than in the previous weeks. We suggest you have a 'recovery' week every 3 weeks where the quantity is slightly reduced. If you have a great few weeks of training don't be tempted to keep up the volume in your recovery week, you'll regret this later on.
No 'recovery ride' in the world is going to be better than actual rest. The small tears your muscles naturally experience through the course of exercise is part of the process of developing stronger muscles. But the big improvements in performance only really come if those muscles get a chance to repair themselves. If you don't allow them time to recover you'll miss out on all the fitness benefits you have already worked so hard to achieve. So make time.
Straight after training (within 20 minutes) you should re-fuel. That way you won't experience a dip in your glycogen levels, which could affect your cortisol balance (this is bad). Later on in the day you should eat high-protein foods to rebuild those lovely muscle fibres that are so important. Milk is a really good post-work out fuel because of its carbohydrate to protein ratio, but I understand that a lot of people don't want to drink milk so there are alternatives, such as protein powders or bars. If you want to read more about nutrition for triathlon, I recommend Fast Fuel by Dietitian Renee McGregor, or for a quick overview; this blog here.
For information about the science behind high intensity workouts read this summary by researchers at the University of Sterling.