How to ensure optimal adaptation in your triathlon training

Professor Greg Whyte explains why planning your training is key right now and how to schedule the right sessions at the right time to maximise the performance benefits

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The combination of strength/power alongside endurance training is an integral part of training programmes for most sports.

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But, it’s particularly true of multievent sports where the development of strength and power is crucial for performance and injury prevention. 

This combination of strength/power and endurance training at the same time is called ‘concurrent training’, and the pressure to deliver both determinants of performance simultaneously is heightened as we approach the competitive season. 

How to programme training to ensure optimal adaptation

Experience and research have taught us that training for strength/power at the same time (often on the same day) can have a negative impact on endurance adaptations, and vice versa.

This potentially negative affect has been termed the ‘concurrent training effect’ (CTE). Accordingly, much debate surrounds the question of how best to programme training to ensure optimal adaptation. 

Training results in fatigue, which, through a complex cascade of molecular pathways, results in positive adaptation following sufficient recovery (known as the ‘training supercompensation model’).

It would appear, though, that high-volume, moderate-intensity and frequent endurance training can alter the molecular pathways leading to a suppression of the adaptation to strength/power training. And the same is true for the effect of strength/power training on endurance adaptation. 

When should you perform resistance training?

Of note, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) appears to minimise the negative effects of concurrent training (helpful during the pre-season and competitive phases). To that end, planning training to minimise the CTE is important if we’re to optimise adaptation and performance. 

There are several rules which will help ameliorate the CTE. Firstly, if, on any given day’s training the priority is to improve strength/power, the resistance-training session should be performed prior to the endurance session and vice versa for endurance enhancement.

How many sessions should you do in a week?

Of course, the priority of the determinant of performance will dictate the weekly frequency of sessions. E.g. improvement of strength/power is often the goal of the ‘winter phase,’ which is characterised by a greater number of resistance-training sessions. 

In contrast, strength/power maintenance is the goal in the competitive phase, which is characterised by as little as a single resistance-training session per week (supported by supra-maximal, power focussed, interval sessions).

If possible, separate the strength/power and endurance training sessions by at least six hours to enhance the adaptive response. 

Importantly, the development of a periodised training plan allows the enhancement of different determinants of performance during different phases of training, resulting in a reduced requirement for concurrent training. 

Why planning is key to ensure optimal adaptation 

It’s important to note that the CTE appears to be greater in the highly-trained compared with the novice athlete. To that end, planning becomes more important in athletes with a longer training history. 

Periodised training plans targeting different determinants of performance during different phases; the prioritisation of sessions to deliver training goals; the frequency of strength/power vs. endurance sessions; and the timing, intensity and duration of daily training sessions can all be used to reverse the negative effects of CTE and boost performance.

Basically, it’s all in the planning.

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