Volume versus Intensity

In my last article I spoke about polarized training and the importance of going easy on the easy and hard on the hard.  Before I go into the benefits of volume training and the benefits of training with more intensity it is important to discuss what is easy and what is hard. 

I believe in keeping it nice and simple. Many coaches will discuss 5 different zones of training from zone 1 being active recovery to zone 5 being faster than race pace. Each with a different heart rate range however from a programming perspective I find this to be confusing and unecassary. 

Easy, moderate and hard is all you need. Easy is aerobic training at under 70-75% of your maximum heart rate, moderate is 75-85% of your max and hard is 85% and above.  We should try and spend most of our time in the easy aerobic range and most of the other 20% in the hard range.  I am not a big fan of doing too much in the moderate range.

We don’t go hard enough or easy enough to get the physiological benefits required. These include improved fat burning and improved muscular endurance which in my opinion are the two key principles we should be look at improving.  The easy aerobic training predominantly improves fat burning while the harder anaerobic work improves muscular endurance. 

One thing we know with training is that volume works.  It gives us the required physiological changes we need to perform well.  When it comes to long course racing I think a level of 15-20 hrs per week is the ideal consistent range you need to be in if taking a volume based approach to your training or the 80/20 polarised approach. 

However not everyone has 15-20 hrs per week to train.  In that case an approach where the formula is changed to a more 70/30 of 70% easy and 30% can also yield similar results.  It should be noted however this type of training is very challenging both physically and mentally. There can be not any wasted training time. 

Shorter intense training can lead to a similar training effect to longer easier training. As am example a 4hr ride with specific interval work can give a similar training stress to a 5-6 hr longer aerobic ride. My experience and studies have shown that the longer aerobic ride will produce better results but not my a great deal. 

Where this type of shorter harder training comes into play is for an athlete that is time poor. The make up of the 4hr ride with intervals vs the 5-6 hr aerobic ride are different but depending on the athlete both have application. 

Hawaii IronmanI have tried both philosophies myself and also coached athletes in both ways and have found the longer rides to produce better training adaptations. An  example if Chris Bailey who has qualified for Kona twice on nothing longer than 4hr rides and also Stella Foley who went onto more longer aerobic rides of 5hrs plus. 

Another athlete I trained to Kona Scott Budd did more intense running due to time restrictions but longer rides so sometimes we mix it up depending on their available time. 

The underlying principle here is that while I have a guiding philosophy you need to be flexible and adapt according to the athlete. 

In the next article we’ll touch on the importance of building the solid aerobic foundation and going slow to go fast.