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Consistency is key to getting faster, stronger

Well-designed training plan will improve performance, avoid injury
September 7, 2017

Consistency. It's a term I'm sure you have heard from a coach or training partner, but do you fully understand its significance? Consistency may be the most important aspect of any training program, especially for triathletes. Getting a better understanding of how to implement a consistent training program may be the catalyst to help any athlete stay healthy and have their most productive season.

Endurance athletes have to increase their cardiovascular system in order to go farther and faster. It is a process that takes a great deal of time and energy, and it is very specific to the athlete's goals and races.

I like to think of an athlete's body as a race car, while the engine of the car is the athlete's cardiovascular system. Ideally, you want to build a stronger engine that can be supported by the frame of the car. The stronger the frame of the car, the more demand can be placed on it, and the faster it can go. If the frame of the car is not strong enough, it will break down and need to be repaired.

The same idea applies to the human body. There has to be a good balance of training that is specific to the athlete's sport. Consistency is the aspect of training that allows the support structure to handle the overload placed on it.

Summary of adaptation process

When an athlete participates in a strenuous workout, an overload is placed on the body. Microfiber tears will occur to the muscle system; connective tissue that surrounds the muscles will be damaged, and ligaments and tendons can be stretched. All of this is a natural effect of the overload process.

The next phase is the recovery phase.

It takes place when the body repairs all the damage that was done from overload. Most of the work is done by white blood cells, or WBC, which go into the damaged areas to help rebuild the microfiber tears and remove any waste products. When you see your muscles swollen after a workout or injury, this is what is happening; it's a natural healing process of the body. This process will allow for the final phase to occur, the adaptation phase.

The adaptation phase is the phase we all like. This is when we get faster and stronger or we can go longer. This whole process is a delicate balance because you never want to place too large an overload on the system or have too short or too long of a recovery phase. If any of those happen, optimal adaptation will not occur, and the risk of injury will go way up.

So what is the magic word to make sure you get optimal adaptation? The magic word is consistency.

Having a well-designed training program that fits your busy life and daily requirements can be a challenge and often requires a great deal of dedication and time management. A training plan gives an athlete the road map needed to maintain a consistent training regimen.

In order for the adaptation process to work and for the athlete to get faster or go longer, the body needs to have overload placed on it. If there is a long period in between adaptation phases, the body is most likely not improving; it is just maintaining – and that is not what athletes want.

However, the biggest issue with prolonged inactive segments in an individual's training program is the increased risk of injury.

All of those microfiber tears to muscles and connective tissue during workouts allows the body to handle future workloads. The recovery phase cleans out and rebuilds after the damage. Consistent exercise also increases the amount of elastin in the muscle which, in turn, maintains the shape and elasticity of the muscles during eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) movements.

The connective tissue is also strengthened through consistent exercise. If the body goes through prolonged inactive segments, it will begin to produce more collagen.

You can think of collagen as denser repair structure. The human body will naturally produce more collagen as it ages, but as athletes, we are looking to maintain as much elastin as possible to allow for faster recovery time and greater performance levels.

Consistent training will also allow the body to continue building on top of the previous overload. If an athlete has just finished a 10-mile run as their long run, then the next week, the body is prepared to handle an 11-mile run, as long as consistent training and proper adaptation have taken place between the two long runs.

If the same athlete is not consistent with their training between the two long runs, the body has lost the optimal adaptation phase and will not be prepared to handle the added overload of the 11-mile run.

An example of not being consistent would be running 10 miles for the long run of the week. Over the next seven days, if the athlete only got in a 4-mile run before doing the next long run of 11 miles, the weekly run volume of 14 miles (2 runs: 10 miles and 4 miles) consists of 70 percent of that volume being the long run. That means there is no consistency to allow the body to maintain a continual adaptation and recovery phase on a day-to-day level.

Prolonged inactivity will greatly increase the risk of injury and limit the athlete's performance levels. An athlete's long run should be only about 30 to 35 percent of their total weekly volume. So if you have a long run of 15 miles, your weekly volume should be about 45 miles that week.

I highly recommend any athlete to hire a qualified coach to design their training plan. There is a scientific approach to training, but if an athlete is training improperly, their training can very easily be counterproductive.

  • Kevin started Tricoach in 2007 after racing professionally for eight years. An endurance coach and personal trainer with a master's degree in exercise science and coaching, Kevin works with athletes of all ability levels, novice to professional. Contact Kevin at Tricoach.us.

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