Everybody, myself included, makes this way too complicated.
12 hours a week.
Table stakes for becoming athletic.
And being athletic is more useful than being fit.
I’m going to break it down for you.
Endurance - Metabolic Fitness
Strength - Lean Body Mass & Work Capacity
Agility / Balance / Skill - Applied Endurance & Strength
Mobility - Range of Motion & Prehabilitation
A rule of thumb:
Your true time commitment is double your training hours.
Let’s dig in.
30 years ago, we thought easy training was done to improve our fat burning and spare our glycogen stores.
Then the better coaches noticed athletes seemed to be getting really fast from going relatively easy. Easy in this context being linked to the first lactate turn point (LT1/LTP1/AeT).
Thanks to the work of George Brooks and Iñigo San Millán, it appears there is much more happening than we realized.
Endurance training is the foundation of our cellular health and metabolic fitness is a component of all types of athletic success.
Easy/Steady training is powerful medicine and highly effective for performance adaptations.
5 for 5
As a top elite, that was my standard answer when athletes would ask “what’s it take?”
Five hours a day, five days a week, most weeks
Completely impractical for most.
There’s the first lesson of elite sport.
Most people can't fit the training into their lives.
Let alone complete it.
Recover from it?
Create a life to fit in the work, you’ll be ahead of most.
Invert what I just said.
Your optimal training program is the one that fits comfortably into your existing life situation.
Want more training? Start by creating more space.
Remember my advice from above… your true time commitment is double your training hours.
5 for 5
With a long run on Day 6
And an easy day on Day 7
Being an elite triathlete is equivalent to a 60 to 70-hour work week. Elites let most everything else slide, often including their close relationships.
Fortunately, you can make solid gains with a far smaller time commitment. One that enables success in other areas of your life.
Start with 12 hours
Allocate 9 of those hours to endurance.
Target your metabolic health with 8 of these hours.
The other hour can include all your “peppy” work in the Heavy and Severe Domains.
Be honest with yourself. If you are a new runner, or swimmer, then you are getting plenty of “peppy” without trying. This article gives you five strategies to avoid beating yourself.
Never trade volume for intensity.
“Peppy” will change based on the seasons and the event you are targeting.
There will be times when you need to allocate more time to your specific preparation.
Understand that you must replenish your metabolic fitness, frequently.
Here’s another reality.
If you are a 12-hour a week athlete then focus on races under two hours duration.
You will have enough volume to perform well at these.
You will be at much less of a disadvantage to the higher volume athletes.
That said, the time you have to train does not impact human physiology and what happens when you’re not training has a big impact on your performance.
How might we allocate the 9 hours for a triathlete?
Start with 3-3-3 in each sport.
Swim: 3 x 45 minutes
Bike: 3 x 90 minutes
Run: 3 x 45 minutes
By combining workouts, your week might look like this:
Four days of 90 minutes
One day of 3 hours
Where’s your long run? You could create a long session by placing it at the end of:
Swim 45 Minutes
Bike 90 Minutes
Run 45 Minutes
That’s one heck of a Big Day for most people.
You may find you need to run first, or second.
You’ll almost certainly find you need to adjust your definition of “Easy” downwards.
All training is a compromise. My outline is a proven starting point.
Start Up Resources to get you going. Before you start, consider…
Strong for what?
Lean Body Mass Preservation
Connective Tissue Strength
Force Production At Various Joint Angles
Work Over Time
So much to think about.
Don’t Think, Do
30 minutes, twice a week.
Mix it up.
Always include a compound leg exercise.
When the weather is awful for training outside, consider a Stregth Block:
Cut your endurance volume in half
Triple your allocation to strength
3x a week for an hour
With a six-week Strength Block done once a year, and year-round maintenance, you will be ahead of 99% of the population.
Don’t get cocky.
The next two sections tend to humble endurance athletes.
To be athletic, requires more than endurance and strength.
Agility / Balance / Skill
Agility helps you avoid the accidents that accelerate age-related declines in performance
The possibilities for lifelong learning are endless:
Classic & Skate
Uphill & Telemark
Cope With A Wobble Board
Brush Your Teeth
On One Leg
On The Other Leg
With Your Eyes Closed
Learn To Unicycle
With Flip Turns
All Four Strokes
Hop, Skip, Jump
An average of one hour a week:
Don’t Keep Score
Build New Skills
Once a year:
Cut your endurance volume in half.
Triple your allocation to agility.
Learn a new skill.
3x a week for an hour.
Learning a new skill is nice way to stay engaged in the Fall while you work on the non-training aspects of your life.
Personally, I increase my agility allocation in the winter when I ski with my kids.
As you age, lack of agility will limit you more than declining VO2max.
Injuries are what causes a step-down in VO2max and strength.
Enhance your performance by avoiding accidents and injuries.
This also has implications for:
Moving Downhill At Speed
Choices With A High Risk of Ruin
Certain environments come with a high risk of injury.
If athletic longevity is a goal then you'll need to adjust your approach.
Start with ten minutes a day.
Every Single Day
I started with this progression, three cycles through:
My barefoot routine was combined with the Hip Progression I developed as an elite athlete.
Then I added the Couch Stretch from Ready To Run:
Realizing I had a biomechanical limiter:
To achieve my desired TT position
To increase my running volume
I added easy, floor-based yoga to improve the range of motion of my posterior chain.
Whatever your protocol:
Mobility supports the rest of your week
Your mobility program should enhance recovery & relaxation
These sessions should not increase fatigue
Make time to do a little, daily.
Mobility skills can assist with active recovery strategies. Put plainly, it’s nice to having something to do when you need to back off the training load.
The Importance of Snacks
When you can’t hit your normal routine, have a snack.
Take the furthest parking spot
Walk a flight of stairs
Do a dozen bodyweight squats
Pull up a mobility short on YouTube
The lower your volume, the more useful a little dose, of anything.
Be long-term greedy.
The optimal program is the one you are able to do this year, and next.
These ratios are an effective starting point:
Endurance, an 8/1 split
Scale upwards, and downwards, based on your goals and life situation.
As I outlined above, and in this article, be willing to change the allocation across the year and between years.
If you are over 40 then make time to get really strong every 3-5 years.
A balanced program is essential to keep you in the game for the long haul.
We win by staying in the game.
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Back To Table of Contents
If you don’t have 12 hours then change your goal to health. Take this article and cut everything in half.
I recommend you listen directly to Dr. San Millán. This document has links to a few of his podcasts and my notes. Finally, his recent article, The Key Role of Mitochondria Function in Health and Disease.
To help you get started, I wrote the The Ambitious Athlete’s Guide to Allocating Intensity.
A squat, dead lift or leg press.
Lots of good stuff in this one. Very good framing of perspective on “peppy” and agility. As a middle aged man, I often lose sight of the benefits of agility training. This article is a good reminder to do that work before I fall behind the curve.
This content is in my wheelhouse. The 12h/wk &3x3x3 multi sport will work great. I’m concerned this won’t b enough for my commitment to a half iron tho. Classic me. Biting off too much.