The Serious Athlete’s Guide To Building A Training Week

This article started with a Twitter Thread last Friday.

In that thread I explained how to:

  1. Build a habit of doing
  2. Add balanced training
  3. Instead of adding training stress, focus on removing poor choices
  4. Start collecting data
  5. Stay the course – the first 1,000 days is the beginning of your journey

#1 puts you ahead of nearly everyone

#5 can lead you to the top


To build your week, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve.

What is the One Thing you are trying to achieve?

  1. Win Ironman Canada
  2. Go sub-9 in an Ironman
  3. Lose weight
  4. Qualify for World Champs
  5. Break 3-hours for an off-the-bike marathon
  6. Break 54-minutes for an Ironman swim
  7. Finish an Ironman before dark
  8. Regain my freedom action on long days in the mountains
  9. Support outstanding mogul skiing
  10. Prepare for an Alaskan mountaineering expedition

The above have all been goals.

Each goal, required a different approach to creating my week.

Do you know your goal?

Write it down!

By writing your goal, you are (even) further ahead of the pack.

Most people either have too many goals, or no goals at all.

One goal, done right, will be plenty!


You are going to be constantly tempted to deviate from your goal.

If you find you lack the ability to stay focused then use sport to train your ability to not-react.


Let’s pull it together:

  • Daily action towards One Thing
  • Written down
  • Removal of distractions
  • Removal of poor choices
  • Building a habit of not-reaction

No matter the results… daily action, via negativa, capacity to not react

You are on a winning path


Let’s dig into the training week, itself.

There are four types of days:

  • Recovery – off from exercise, focused on life
  • Easy – light activity to promote recovery
  • Maintenance – training at your normal level of activity
  • Loading – training above your normal level, designed to create a specific adaptation

Recovery – weekly, I use two recovery days (back-to-back) to re-establish my positive trend and maintain stability in my non-training life

  • Work calls
  • Interviews
  • Shopping
  • Cleaning
  • Long mobility session
  • Connection with my spouse
  • Connect with two friends
  • Help my spouse in a visible manner

The two recovery days are a mental reset, leaving me keen to get back to training.

These days have no training stress, but are important days in my life.

By keeping my non-training life in order, tending my relationships and obligations, I am able to lower the total stress in my life.

Lower Total Stress = Faster Training Adaptations


What makes a “loading day”?

Since the company was founded, I have been using a website called Training Peaks. What follows is a framework used on that site.

The framework isn’t perfect, but it’s very useful. The foundation of the framework is to derive a stress score for each session done by an athlete.

Training Stress Score – a way to quantify training load – called TSS

Easiest way to think about it

  • Best effort for an hour scores 100 points (5th gear)
  • Threshold effort 85 points per hour (4th gear)
  • Tempo effort 75 points per hour (3rd gear)
  • Steady effort 65 points per hour (2nd gear)
  • Easy effort 50 points per hour (1st gear)

If you think in Fahrenheit then you probably won’t be that far off.

Exercise scientists spend their lives debating the different gears, the transitions between the gears and the best gear to use for where you want to take yourself.

It matters, and it doesn’t matter.

Why?

Because most people never stay focused long enough for their protocol to limit their performance.

What you need is a simple way to keep yourself from over-doing-it.

TSS works for this task.

++

Each day, I push my workouts up to TrainingPeaks and a TSS score is generated for the day.

My Chronic Training Load (CTL) is my average daily score for the last six weeks.

CTL is a proxy for fitness – it’s what you’ve actually managed to do for the last six weeks.

TIP: the speed your CTL increases is called your “load ramp” – a common error for athletes is too quick a load ramp.

++

CTL should be fairly stable – if it is not then look deeper.

Do you have unplanned misses? injuries? illnesses?

Your mind will try to wrap a story around the misses.

Don’t worry about why.

Instead, assume:

  1. Your training zones are set too high
  2. Your loading days are too big
  3. You have too many loading days

Two loading days each week, a stable CTL, a life that’s under control…

Gives you plenty to work with.

++

In the TP world, “fatigue” is measured by Acute Training Load, ATL. This is your average score for the last week (7 days).

If we take your CTL (fitness) and subtract your ATL (fatigue) then we can see how “fresh” you are. TP calls this your “form.”

Each athlete will have a personal tolerance for how negative they can take their form.

When you get “too tired” have a look at your “form” score and see how negative it was before you tipped over the edge.

We ALL make mistakes – the framework gives you a way to see if there is a pattern to your loading mistakes.


How it comes together – Blue Shaded is CTL, Red line is Acute Load and Yellow Line is Form – this table is called the Performance Management Chart
I’ve been working my CTL upwards so my form has been negative in the last 28 days

If it the above seems too much then you can simplify your approach!

Use HRV4Training and taking a morning HR measurement. Marco’s app will help you decide if it is a good day to load, recover, or rest.

Green light (load), Yellow light (maintenance or easy), Red light (recovery).

For now, I don’t recommend other company “readiness metrics” – they don’t work, yet.


To show how the week comes together, let’s dig into a case study – my current situation

My CTL is ~75 points.

  • Easy day – 25-50 points (below CTL)
  • Maintenance day – 75 points (around CTL)
  • Loading day – 150 points (2x CTL)

The key error here is one you’ve heard before…

Keep your easy days easy

In order to give yourself capacity to absorb your Loading Days, you need to recover from them!

This means you need to limit:

  • Number of loading days in a week
  • The size of the loading day, relative to CTL (your “average” day)

Many athletes load themselves into the ground, go stale, recover, then repeat the cycle, perhaps with injury/illness for variety!

This pattern will leave you undertrained because you are doing too much training.

More Tips:

  • When I was younger, I tolerated bigger Loading Days – start with two days a week at 2x CTL
  • The game with CTL is to gradually build sustainable load – that’s a superior game to seeing how hard you can smash yourself every single weekend.
  • CTL will seem like a long game to you. Six weeks is NOTHING – barely enough time to create an overuse injury.
  • 1,000 days is the shortest cycle you should be thinking about. Amateur athletes should be thinking on an Olympic Cycle – 2 years base building, 1 year performance-focused, 1 year health-focused – repeat forever!
  • The majority of your load should be Moderate Domain aerobic load (Zone 1 and Zone 2). This is very different to what you will think you need. You are going to be battling your urge to “go hard” and self-sabotage.

Training Peaks helps make mistakes visible – it’s up to you to address your mistakes.


Now we are ready to discuss the week, itself.

Similar to the Big Picture, write down what you are trying to achieve. From my week just past:

  • Elevation change run
  • Hill sprints
  • Bike long ride (2,000kj)

Those were specific workouts I wanted to include.

Why?

  • Something important I didn’t do last week
  • Something I want to add
  • Correcting an error from prior week (2,800kj was too much)

All the other sessions stay the same: (a) endurance training focus; and (b) strength sessions.

The Basic Week might look like:

  • D1 Bike, Run, Swim
  • D2 Bike, Strength
  • D3 Longer Day
  • D4 Bike, Swim
  • D5 Bike, Run

The size of the sessions (the load) depends on my metrics.

I know I am going to train each morning (other than my recovery mornings).

What I don’t know is “how much” load I am going to give myself.

  • I prioritize bike load because it’s the safest way to train my metabolic fitness (my One Thing).
  • Running is frequency based – “just run easy”
  • Swimming is short sessions when I have loading capacity
  • Strength is maintenance level, I’m strong relative to my stamina

As a coach, I have a loading hierarchy for each athlete.

TIP: write down your loading hierarchy – it will help you allocate your time.

Here’s my current hierarchy, it changes across the year:

  1. Ride every day, load when metrics are green
  2. Run as often as tolerated
  3. Get an elevation change run every 14 days
  4. Strength at least once a week
  5. Short swims for active recovery and to make it safer to ramp load, later

I do a ten minute HRV4Biofeedback session every evening before bed. It’s a 10 minute session that gives me a look into how much my day took out of me.

I have a 10 minute daily minimum for my mobility work – this has been transformative.


Take your time figuring everything out.

You win by staying in the game.