Game-Changing Training Rules? Not really.

As a member of USAT, I receive the e-news letter like a lot of people, and I usually skim the articles, because many are generally good, or at least reasonable (I’ll admit, I’m picky). Like most articles, advice is general, but not too overblown. However, recently, I read an article on Game-changning training rules that sounded outlandish enough to be interesting. Well, as it turned out, nothing in this article was “game-changing” and some sent my bullsh!t detector into red alert; as a caveat, if an article ever states the “research shows…” and does not actually reference or link to actual research, it is probably bullsh!t. Below I’ve listed the eight rules in the article and offered my critique on the veracity of their claims.
Rule 1: Make one out of every two workouts a hill workout.

What? Why? Reading this rule I immediately thought of my core workout 30 sec sprint intervals up a steep hill, but that’s not what this workout calls for. First, it suggests that half of all workouts should be uphill, which is utter nonsense and impractical. Second, the length of the intervals, the rest period and the intensity make little sense. And third, low cadence intervals are just dumb because the high force and low cadence likely add little “strength” and actually prevent you from activating high threshold motor units (ie, big fast twitch fibers) or significant cardiovascular stress. While I believe low cadence workouts have their place, they do not make sense for rule 1.

Rule 2: For training races (races other than your peak races), take one rest day after a sprint-distance triathlon, two rest days after an Olympic-distance triathlon and three rest days after a long-distance triathlon.

Huh? Really, just a blanket recommendation on recovery? Like rule 1, this is not based on reality whatsoever. You should take as many days to recover (I say recover vs rest, because rest = nothing but rest) as you need, which is usually more than you think you need and probably double of the above recommendations. Another option is to actually train, even at a reduced level for a day or two or three (depending on your ability) after a race, then recover. This is akin to a training camp stimulus, and can be effective near the end of a block of training. Bottom line, recovery, like train needs to be individualized!
Rule 3: The longer your peak race, the longer the race-specific-endurance phase.
Not to be a real downer, but this rule has no scientific or applied basis whatsoever. This comes largely from outdated models of periodization. What we do know, is that the more time you have to build up, and the more peaks you have have (I’d say at least two), the better your ultimate peak (ie, A+ race) will be. The thought of spending nearly 6 months building for one race is not only unmotivating, its unnecessary.
As recommended in the article:
 Race Distance Duration of Race-Specific-Endurance Phase 
 Olympic Distance  15 weeks
 Long Distance  19 weeks
 Iron Distance  23 weeks
Rule 4: The longer your peak race and the longer you’ve trained for it, the longer your break is.
See rule 3. The article states:
“We’ve developed formulas to determine how long a transition phase should be.” 
In other words, they have just fabricated some nonsensical math to sell their program. Again, individuality is key here. Crunch enough numbers and you’ll get an average formula that will predict things, but no math formula can or should determine your break. Further, I stated above that your recovery after a race is probably longer than you think it should be, and your break is likely less than this formula recommends.
Rule 5: Don’t exceed six training races in your race-specific endurance phase and don’t do races longer than your peak race.
Can you race too much? Yes. But you probably already knew that. Should you run a marathon to prep for a 10 k or 1/2 marathon? Of course not! Ignoring the fact that the longer race will be at a pace lower than your goal race, its also going to drain more from the tank. That said, there is no magic number. As a former competitive cyclist, training races are often a staple of training in season, so the number is much higher than 6. But for running and triathlon, that tax and damage the body more, it will be much less.
Rule 6: Take your bodyweight (in pounds) and drink half that amount (in ounces) of water per day — as a minimum.
OK, I’ll give them this one, but again, these numbers they’re coming up with are not based on any scientific data. Small people can sweat way more than big people and simple rules cannot be used for everyone. A better way is to determine sweat rate and sweat losses and aim to add that on to the old 64 oz of water rule. That said, I will agree that people need to drink more water, rather than fluid.
Rule 7: The bigger you are, the more simple carbohydrate you ingest while racing.
This one really annoyed me. Beyond the fact that my bullsh!t detector nearly blew a fuse, its plain wrong and bad advice; recall when I said be weary of “research” claims without citations? Research actually DOES NOT show this; I’ve provided one recent paper below. As with everything, there are individual differences, but the real issue is their body weight recommendations which actually contradict the fact that like sweat rate, individual rates of CHO absorption have little relationship to body size; very small people can oxidize more CHO than big people. A better ballpark to start with is one that we already know works for nearly everyone, 50-60 g/hr (200-240 kcal).
Rule 8: While racing, consume 500 milligrams of sodium for every 20 ounces of water you ingest.
1.5 g of sodium per hour! Really?! What basis do they have to make that recommendation? While I will admit there is still some debate over specific hydration and electrolyte amounts during competition, there is little evidence to support this recommendation.
My objective here is not to poke fun at this article, but to highlight the need for critical analysis of training advice that lacks specific support. While you’re unlikely to die or be injured following this advice, do not be fooled by magic formulae or uncited research. If there is research that supports an approach, do you due diligence and include it. But most importantly, every athlete is an individual where rules rarely apply.

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