How to avoid training mediocrity

Quantity and quality can coexist in your training plan, says Professor Greg Whyte. But planning and commitment are required to avoid mediocrity and optimise adaptation. Here’s how…

Determined athletic woman jogging on the road in foggy forest. Copy space.

The winter months are traditionally the realm of high training volumes across all three disciplines, where we focus on gaining positive adaptations in a range of performance areas, such as: aerobic capacity, strength, economy, and technique, to name but a few.

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While high training volumes are a necessary part of a periodised training programme, it does come with risk. Throw in busy work schedules, family life, and the increased risk of infection, illness and injury over the long, dark winter months and this can lead to an enforced reduction in training volume.

How to avoid injury and illness

In addition to injury and illness risk, an obsessive drive to increase training volume can often lead to chronic fatigue that leads to a loss of training quality. So it’s really important to avoid this drive to mediocrity, to ensure you make the most of winter training.

Over-reaching – the use of high-volume training blocks with sub-optimal recovery – to increase adaptation through the process of supercompensation, is an important part of training. Combining fatiguing blocks of training with inadequate recovery for short periods results in greater adaptation following a period of recovery.

Of course, this approach comes with important caveats: firstly, prolonged high-volume training without appropriate recovery can result in maladaptation leading to injury and illness. Secondly, the same prolonged high-volume training can result in a drop in training quality.

The target of high training volumes while maintaining quality is best delivered through a carefully-planned, individualised training programme that can adapt in response to the changing circumstances of life (remember, a structured plan is the foundation of a successful season but it’s not set in stone).

Monitor your performance regularly 

Monitoring your performance and health (physical, mental, and emotional) on a regular basis will help identify when ‘over-reaching’ is becoming ‘over-training’. In addition to a tailored programme, optimising your recovery will allow you to push harder for longer and maintain training quality.

There are a host of ways to improve recovery including: optimising sleep (sleep quality, not just duration); optimising diet/hydration (targeting pre-session, during-session, and post-session nutrition, as well as a healthy balanced diet); reducing stress; and maintaining flexibility/mobility/stability (dedicated sessions plus, soft tissue therapy i.e., massage).

In addition to recovery enhancement, the interventions outlined above will assist in improving immune function and, combined with some simple behaviours including washing hands regularly, avoiding touching eyes/nose/mouth, avoiding over-crowded environments etc. will help reduce the risk of winter illness.

Optimise your recovery 

So to conclude, high training volumes during the winter months are a fundamental part of a periodised training plan. However, it’s important to create a programme and adopt strategies and behaviours that optimise recovery and reduce the risk of injury and illness. Quantity and quality can coexist, but the combination takes planning and commitment to avoid mediocrity and optimise adaptation.

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Top image credit: Getty Images