QUESTION: I have repeatedly heard discussions, most recently used as an example in the latest podcast about feedback, over the importance of hard sessions being truly hard and easy sessions truly easy. I understand the thought behind this and want to try and follow that methodology. However, I'm struggling to consistently identify sessions as hard/easy within the postseason Baseline program, and adjusting the plan to my life in a way that preserves that concept. Maybe I'm really just that out of shape and/or unused to a routine where I'm doing multiple workouts a day / long workouts.... or maybe I'm just too hung up on this whole concept in general. Either way I'd love some insight, specifically:
- What constitutes the challenge level of a session within the baseline plan? Initially I'd thought it would be the "key" sessions but some of the supporting ones look hard to me as well. For example, almost all the swims have repeated "strong"/"very strong"/"fast" type efforts which I'd consider grounds for a "hard" session. Many of the bikes and runs do too. How do I determine whether a session is hard or easy?
- If we are paring down the baseline plan to accommodate a postseason reduction in hours/time-starved life, how do we incorporate this principle most effectively? As an example, I want to do 6-8 hours a week of workouts. If I trim the plan down, that leaves me with mostly what I'd consider "hard"/key workouts. Do I try to give myself "off" days in between those by trying to do multiple hard/key workouts on one day? Or do I spread them out so I'm doing less total hours per day but not giving myself an "easy" day in between?
- Is there a general recommendation you have on how to schedule hard vs. easy sessions for a lower-level athlete on a day-to-day basis? 2 days of hard sessions in a row then an easy? 5 days? 1 day? etc
A Key Session doesn't necessarily mean a Hard session
We have many key runs during the post season that are Z2 and endurance focused (trail runs etc) that call out moderate paces. This is still Key as it is the backbone of endurance training: Resilience and Time on Task.
On the flip side we call out some very fast swimming within supporting sessions: Ex: 6 x 25 FAST with 300 easy pulling. I would compare this to strides in running. We ask you to go fast but the stress doesn’t accumulate and we stimulate neuromuscular coordination.
Part of the key to success for any athlete is listening to your body, and even within 1:1 coaching we try to teach athletes when to back off, and when to go hard. This isn’t a science but an art, and one that athletes must master, no matter their coach or program.
I might ask my athlete to do 5 x 4 min Z4+ but a good execution of that session would not necessarily be success but a comment: "I didn’t have the legs, so I backed off and made the intervals successful. I ramped up power through the interval." That would be a successful moderation of a key session- just as if the athlete had done them all at Z4.
The truth is most sessions have a mix of intensity and durations at specific intensities. I would encourage athletes to execute the best they can given the workout, and modify the effort if they feel they’re going too deep. It’s rare that we have a session of swimming that doesn’t ask for at least some intensity.
There are sessions that contain very hard sections but then ask you to go easy for the remainder of the session.
For example The Shirley is HARD but there’s only ~15 mins or so of Hard work, the rest is easy. So simply having hard and easy days is over simplifying the session.
Pairing down the Baseline Plan:
I would generally ask my athletes to go very hard on 2-3 days, with the the majority of the rest of the work being supportive and easier.
This may look like:
Tuesday: Hard swim
Wednesday: HARD brick
Thursday: Easier swim, easier run
Friday: Easier bike with some prep intervals.
Saturday: HARD brick
Sunday: Hard swim + easier longer run
The key is to give yourself 36 hours or more between very challenging sessions so your body can adapt. BUT if you can only train 8 hours a week, you might need doses of intensities in more sessions, and less recovery time. This is where managing yourself comes into play.
I would say most athlete struggle to really adapt to easier training days and settle into doing most of their hard sessions not hard enough (because their bodies aren’t fully rested) and the easy days too hard which causes them to be fatigued for important work to come.
When pairing down your week aim to target 3 key days where you go hard, and use other sessions that are easier and supporting in nature, and even modify those sessions to be more endurance focused if you’re truly fatigued.
- This might look like 2 hard swims and 1 hard bike (including bricks)
- Or maybe you’re focusing on running so you want to do 2 hard days of running with 1 hard bike and the swimming is more supportive.
One thing to note with swimming is that it is the least corrosive on the body, so you can get away with swimming harder more of the time. It’s why we have intensity in most of our swims.
A good rule of thumb is HARD then 36-48 hours of lighter work, then rinse and repeat.
I like the approach of small blocks of work:
- Monday is recovery.
- Wednesday and Thursday contain some harder work.
- Friday is easy
- Saturday or Sunday is hard. Pairing 2 hard days does yield good benefits but remember, you just can’t chase fitness gains at every turn.
A typical week for our pros which can be used on a smaller scale is:
- Monday - easy
- Tuesday - HARD BRICK
- Wednesday - Endurance focused longer swim, run, or bike
- Thursday - HARD swim, endurance run
- Friday - a good day to clean out the pipes with easy prep work for the weekend
- Saturday - HARD BRICK
- Sunday - longer swim and longer run, endurance focused. Or maybe a lighter endurance ride on tired legs
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