In the Build period focus on key workouts, not weekly volume numbers. Quality, not quantity, determines performance now.
I posted the above comment to my Twitter account yesterday and got a response from a follower: “What is quality training?” Good question. That’s one which gets at the heart of periodization. I like Twitter but answering complex questions with 140 characters is not easy. This one takes a few more. Let’s start by putting things in perspective.
Training quantity is simple. It’s just how many miles, kilometers, hours, meters, yards, TSS or kilojoules done in a week. Your volume. All you need is an adding machine. This is the focus of the Base period – accumulating general fitness by doing lots of non-specific training. “Non-specific” means the workouts aren’t necessarily like the events for which you are training. For example, you may be lifting weights. At no pint in your races this summer will you have to stop and pound out a few squats. Weight lifting is non-specific. Drills to improve technique are non-specific since you don’t do them during a race. In the Base period you may be training on hills even though the race courses are flat. Another non-specific.
Here’s one that is a subtle variation on this theme. Training at an intensity that is not race goal pace or power is non-specific. That means going well above or below race pace or power. Training intensity is where athletes tend to get confused about periodization.
Periodization of intensity does not mean going really slow in the Base period and then going faster and faster each week in the Build period. It doesn’t work that way.
While the purpose of the Base period was general fitness, the purpose of the Build period is specific fitness. This involves individual workouts that simulate the intensity and the duration of your next A-priority race. You can stop being concerned with volume at this point. If you did a good job of raising it during the Base period then you can maintain it quite easily now. In fact, in the Build period it’s not unusual for volume to be reduced a bit as the focus shifts to unique training sessions. If you are an experienced athlete whose goal is to perform at a high level relative to your ability then continuing to increase volume will not give you the desired results. Quality training will.
Once again: Quantity is not the key to performance; quality is.
So that brings us back to where we started: What is quality training? You should have a pretty good idea of how to answer this now. Quality training involves doing workouts that simulate the intensity and the duration of your goal race (and other unique variables such as race terrain). Some of the Build period workouts will focus on the specific intensity. Others will focus on the specific duration. The highest quality workouts will include both specific intensity and specific duration.
Workouts for specific intensity only or specific duration only are simple to do. It’s the third category which is the most challenging. Combining them makes for a very difficult, but very affective workout. How you do that depends on the event for which you are training. For example, road cyclists training for a road race will typically do a fast group ride of about race duration. An Ironman triathlete may do a Big Day of training involving a long swim, long bike and long run with each done at race intensity (I have IM triathletes rest for 90 minutes between each leg of this workout). A marathon runner may do a 20-miler with the last 8 miles at race pace. Another option with this specificity goal in mind is to do a low-priority race in the Build period. The details of this race (distance, terrain, weather, pacing, etc) all need to be considered relative to your limiters and your A-priority race.
So that’s quality. I hope this sinks in as it’s the single most misunderstood area of periodization. If you understand and apply it in the last 12 weeks before your race then the chances of having a successful race are greatly improved.