Do you remember a time when you exercised simply for your health? Maybe you went to the gym and did whatever felt right for the day. Maybe you ran a few miles several times a week. Maybe you took group classes to push yourself and stay motivated.
There is no doubt that exercise, performed consistently several times a week, does a body good.
But, you know you’ve shifted from exercising to training when you start to think about dedicated goals for each workout session. That’s specificity training.
This is the moment you begin to think and act like an athlete.
When you are training to meet specific performance goals, every training session should have a clear purpose for helping you achieve those goals. If it doesn’t, then quite simply that training session isn’t worth doing. Furthermore, these training objectives should be appropriate to the particular training period you are in – prep, base, build, or peak. (Need information about the phases of training? Click here for a refresher on periodization.)
If you have a coach, then your coach should be doing that thinking for you. But, if you are self-coached, or are trying to decide the value of a particular training plan, then you’ll want to consider the role of some basic and advanced objectives for various types of workouts.
The basic objectives that any training plan should incorporate include endurance, force and technical efficiency. And, depending upon your performance goals, race distance, and athletic experience, you may also want to pursue some advanced objectives including muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance, and power. Let’s consider each of these in turn, starting with the most important, basic training objectives.
Endurance is the starting point for any runner or triathlete. Without it, there is no speed, no power, no efficiency. Throughout the training calendar, the majority of the workouts in your training plan should emphasize endurance. Keep in mind, however, that building endurance is not always about long runs, rides or swims. Building endurance also results from consistency and frequency in training routines. So, you can think about your total weekly volume, as well as the duration of any one workout, as an important element of endurance.
Endurance takes time to develop. You cannot safely go from running 3 miles to running 13 in a few week’s time. You must gradually adapt to the increased training load, both in terms of the duration of your longest workout and in terms of your weekly training volume. Base period is dedicated to building this volume in a systematic and safe manner, while the build period works on maintaining that endurance foundation to permit the development of other abilities.
It is also important to note that endurance is one of the first abilities to fade during prolonged absence from training. This is why we need to be especially careful not to begin a taper too early, or to cut off total volume too dramatically before it is time. (If you are interested, we’ve offered some ideas for an effective taper protocol here.)
To make the most of your endurance, you will want to introduce workout segments that allow you to enhance your technical efficiency.
Technical efficiency relates to your ability to move effectively and efficiently while engaged in sport-specific activity. This relates to your form and economy of movement while swimming, biking or running.
Examples of training sessions might include swimming drills, which should be incorporated into most swim sessions, or cycling cadence work or single leg drills. In running, you could incorporate various drills to help promote leg speed, as well as proper biomechanic form. In these examples, you are training your neuromuscular system to work effectively to optimal economy of movement. In other words: no movement is wasted energy.
Any time in the training calendar is a good time to work on technical efficiency, and many athletes and coaches will emphasize technical efficiency during the prep and early base periods. As you move into the late base and build periods, you can incorporate efficiency elements into a workout that focuses on endurance or force.
The third basic objectives is force, which involves the ability to work against resistance. Force is what