Monday, 26 October 2015

Reverse Periodisation for the Winter

What if intensity and not volume is really the key for unlocking your endurance potential?

The conventional approach for endurance athletes seeking new personal bests is to build an aerobic base using large volumes of low-intensity training, then to sharpen up to build speed and competition fitness. Or so I thought until I recently read a blog by Joe Friel (Training Peaks Founder and The Triathletes Training Bible) and Brett Sutton (Coached multiple Ironman World Champions and renowned greyhound trainer) about Reverse Periodisation and it got me thinking. So after a few more articles and hours of research I have decided to write this one.

Reverse periodisation is all about training to be fast, and unlike traditional plans there isn’t such an emphasis on long, slow training miles. You may already know that periodisation involves splitting your year into separate blocks of time, with each block focused on improving a specific area of fitness. It’s a proven way of improving your performance and has traditionally involved spending your winter doing long, low-intensity workouts and drills before upping the pace and shortening the distances as race season approaches. These days many coaches and sports scientists argue that if you’re already capable of completing your race distance, you should focus all your time on getting faster instead. This new season planning strategy is called reverse periodisation. You can start a reverse training plan at any time of the year but if you want to do an entire block of it you would typically kick off in early winter by focusing on technique-based workouts and low intensity sessions to find your legs.

Following this adjustment phase you would begin an eight-week period where you do regular high-intensity sessions that build a solid base of strength, power and technique. Muscular strength and perfect high-speed technique are first to benefit from these short, high-speed efforts but your aerobic system is boosted too. The rest of the time would then be dedicated to short easy-paced workouts, which allow recovery and allow you to progress faster, with fewer injuries.

TURN UP THE VOLUME. After a couple of months of explosive training, you would spend time teaching your body to sustain a high intensity for longer periods of time by increasing the length of your efforts. Your newly built reserves of top-end speed mean that these longer efforts can be performed at a pace which is right at the limit of your cardiovascular system. The maximal reps would be swapped for four-or-five minute reps to develop your muscular endurance. That just leaves the final training phase which involves even longer efforts (15 to 30mins) at or near race pace. During this time you would gradually increase your total training volume as well. This maintains your power and speed whilst developing your endurance. Then as you approach your key races you should taper off in the last 10-14 days to allow you to recover in time.

TRAIN LESS IN WINTER. There are many benefits to reverse periodisation, not least that you’ll spend less time training in the winter, and more in the summer when the weathr is generally better. That’s not to say it’s an easy ride. High-intensity training can be tough on your body, so you should ensure hard sessions are only performed when you’re feeling 100%. And if you’re new to triathlon, or you’re training for your first Ironman, this speed-focused approach probably isn’t for you. It’s better suited to improving and experienced triathletes, who are looking for a new way to boost their speed without having to spend more and more time in training.

This is not a new concept. It has been around since the 80's. Like all training plans and ideas they will come full revolution and back into fashion once more but not everything needs to make a come back.