Many of us see a new year as a time to come up with new resolutions. But sometimes, old, established, tried-and-true goals, and routines, are better.
One of my main sources and models for any structured training plan is Dr. Stephen Seiler, Vice Rector for Research and Innovation (and previous Dean of Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences) at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway. Seiler, who has also worked for the Norwegian Olympic Federation and is Executive Board of Director at the European College of Sport Science, is famous for his studies on cross-country skiers' training methodology and for the 80/20 (or polarized) trainings. Long story short, he bloody knows what he’s talking about.
Seiler, who I met in Manchester at the 2018 Endurance Coaching Summit organized by Training Peaks, summed up his 20+ years of research in endurance sports physiology in what is known as the “Hierarchy of Endurance Training Needs”.
The idea is to focus on the three most important principles Seiler thinks need to be at the base of any endurance sport. This not only makes things easier, but these principles also been proved fundamental by a large amount of scientific literature.
1) At the base of his pyramid (the most important layer of all), Seiler puts Frequency/Volume of Training. "It’s not sexy, folks," he says: you must train frequently, constantly and you must put the volume in if you want to see results! In other words: more hours on the bike, more days out running, more lengths in the pool. As simple as that. But of course depending on the discipline, you can spend more hours on the actions that have less impact on your body (swimming compared to running, for example), AND be careful about how you push the volumes up.
2) The second layer of the pyramid is intensity training. Although the most of the training you do (the total amount of hours) should be at a “low intensity” (read on to principle n.3 to understand why), you still want to put in some higher intensities here and there. That is not just to make things a bit more fun, but to get the best physiological adaptations for your goals. And it doesn't matter what you may hear or read periodically: “interval training” was not invented in the 1990s, but has been going on since at least the 1930s/40s.
3) The third layer is training intensity distribution. Once you've found out your specific training zones through baseline tests (the 3-zone model, 5-zone model and even the 7-zone model from lactate, aerobic and speed tests all are good), the distribution should always stay more on the “green (easy) side” (80% of the total number of sessions), and much less in the “red zone” (20% of the total number of sessions). Why? Again, because triathlon – at the end of the day – is an aerobic sport (particularly true of long-distance triathlons, but even sprints and Olympics), and because physiological adaptations in these zones will be more effective for the n-goal.
Seiler’s pyramid is a little more complicated than that, of course. For the upper layers of the endurance hierarchy, remember that: periodization’s benefits are unclear, but likely overrated;sports specific and micro-periodization schemes are not established, but likely modestly helpful; training stimuli like altitude training and heat are potentially important, but it depends on the individual and the conditions; race and pace training are potentially decisive IF EVERYTHING ELSE IS DONE RIGHT; and finally, tapering is also potentially decisive if you have one isolated competition and again, IF EVERYTHING ELSE IS DONE RIGHT.
So, the best way to train in 2019 is the same as every other year: train more, train easy and train hard, train smarter, stay healthy, don’t skip training (or skip as little as you can), train again, train longer and repeat.