In recent posts I’ve been describing how you can alter periodization to allow for better recovery and higher quality training at the same time by altering the length and design of your microcycles and mesocycles.
If you’ve read my Training Bible you may recall that there are six mesocycles in a season. It starts with the Prep period and progresses through Base, Build, Peak, Race and culminates with the Transition period at the end of the season. In the following posts I’m going to specifically show you how to slow or even reverse the aging process by doing workouts for aerobic capacity and strength training in each of these periods. This calls for high-intensity training which increases your risk of injury (as I’ve said soooo many times here). How you can reduce that risk and still improve race performance is our focus today. In this post we’ll examine the Prep period. Since it’s fall in the northern hemisphere you may well be in that period right now or about to start it. In the southern hemisphere it’s spring so your current period is likely late Base or early Build. The remaining five periods will be covered in the next several posts.
The Prep period is the start of the new season when you return to training after a well-deserved break from structured workouts (the Transition period, which was the culmination of the previous season). Prep starts very roughly 6 to 7 months before your first A-priority race of the next race season. The Prep period’s characteristics are minimal structure, mostly low intensity and cross-training along with the early stages of gym-based strength work. After about one to six weeks of Prep you are ready to enter the Base period. How long it is depends, in part, on what you’ve been doing in the previous weeks. Of all the periods, Prep has the least-defined duration. For example, athletes who took a long Transition period may have morphed it into a Prep period and so don’t need a lengthy Prep, or they are ready to immediately start the Base period.
The serious senior athlete should consider doing one aerobic capacity and one or two strength sessions (the Anatomical Adaptation phase – see my Training Bible books or go here and scroll down to “Training Workout”) in a microcycle, such as a week or nine days as I explained in a previous post.
As I have suggested before, as a senior athlete who is new to high-intensity workouts such as intervals or fartlek, especially if your family has a history of heart disease or you are taking any medications, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor before beginning such training.
Also consider that if new to high intensity training and have a history of injuries related to exercise then you need to consider how to reduce your risk before starting to do such workouts. I’ve always had athletes I’ve coached see a physical therapist who is experienced working with athletes before starting the Prep period. The visit is to get a head-to-toe examination to find what the causes of such injuries may be and how to prevent them in the future. This may involve certain strength or flexibility exercises, a bike fit, shoe selection, orthotics or other modes of correction.
Once you have a clear bill of health, in order to start building your aerobic capacity, unstructured fartlek workouts are preferable now as explained here. These don’t have to be in your primary sport in the Prep period. Since these workouts now have a central rather than peripheral focus, maintaining the heart’s stroke volume (blood pumped per beat) is the purpose of such training. Your heart doesn’t know if you are running, cycling or climbing stairs, so cross training is now an option for aerobic capacity training. Later in the season the aerobic capacity training focus shifts to the peripheral muscles of the arms or legs, depending on your sport. Sport-specific workouts are necessary then. Cross training will no longer be advantageous.
In the Prep period keep the aerobic capacity work intervals very short, less than a minute, and the recovery intervals long, at least as long as the preceding work interval. How long they both are depends on how you feel at the time. Always stop such workouts well short of failure. Don’t try to find your limits. Be patient. Do only a small amount of total high-intensity time, perhaps 3 to 5 minutes in a workout, once in a microcycle.
With aerobic capacity and strength training don’t try to test your limits in the Prep period; don’t even come close. Train very conservatively. In fact, think of it as “exercise” or even “play” instead of “training.” That’s why an unstructured fartlek workout is so good now. “Fartlek” is a Swedish word for “speed play.” That’s exactly what you’re doing. The only aspect of your routine now that should resemble training is strength development. But, of course, this is also cross training.
Avoid accumulating fatigue over several days during this period. You should feel quite fresh and rested every day. One of the low-key, aerobic capacity sessions described above and two "AA" strength workouts (see my Training Bible) in a microcycle are the only times in this period when you do what could be called “hard” efforts, and they are quite limited to prevent injury and weariness.
A five-day R&R break isn’t necessary at the end of Prep as it is in the Base and Build periods as the training is not very challenging. Once you feel you are physically and emotionally ready to start structured training go immediately into the Base period. I’ll discuss how seniors may consider training for that in the next post.