Stress-Based Periodization

This is an excerpt from High-Tech Triathlete by Jim S. Vance.

In God we trust. All others bring data.

William Edwards Demming


Training for triathlon can be one of the most complicated things to master in perhaps all of sport, especially as the goals and competitive levels get higher and higher. Think about all the variables that can affect it, from those in our control to the randomness of sicknesses, non-sport-related injuries, stress, crashes, race mechanicals, and more.


It’s no wonder the chapter-opening quote discusses God and faith; I have seen plenty of athletes who use prayer to try to help their performance. It makes sense that with so many things seemingly out of our control, we have to use our faith that the things we can control are good enough to help us achieve our goals.


If you look at the top professional triathletes in the world, especially those chasing the Olympics, many of them train with a coach and some training partners on a daily basis. They travel to remote places in the world to train without distraction, with a group of similarly minded and skilled athletes who can push them. They have a coach watch all their moves to help keep them doing things technically excellent and also for telling them when to slow down and not push too hard.


In the world of elite endurance sports, we call this a daily training environment, or DTE for short. Not many athletes in the world can commit to a DTE that involves travel around the world, with everything devoted to training and racing, and eliminating almost everything else to be the best at the sport. Not many athletes want to give that level of commitment, since the sport is their escape and an outlet to be competitive and healthy. They have families, responsibilities, careers, and more.


But that doesn’t mean athletes don’t want to work hard or try their best to maximize their training time and commitment to the sport. They are fascinated with the challenge of long-course triathlon and want to compete at a high level, while still trying to balance all of life’s demands, stressors, distractions, and more.


Ask many triathletes what their biggest challenge is with doing triathlon, and they will likely tell you time for training. The time commitment to compete in a 70.3, or even just complete one, is enormous. The time commitment for a full Ironman is no less than 10 hours per week, just to finish. If your goals are well beyond finishing, you definitely need more time than that.


This time challenge only adds to the burden of getting training right, because there can’t be mistakes in training. And with limited training time, but a lot of time spent away from training involved with other variables in daily life, it becomes even harder to get the training right. Overreach in a workout, and you might lose a few following quality sessions because you’re too tired or possibly injured or sick.


But with applying numbers to efforts and intensities, you eliminate a lot of the guesswork. You don’t have to take the big risks in your training. In fact, you can dial in the perfect training stress nearly every time, whenever you need, based on your goals and history.


You can also track the numbers and prescribe fitness based on the numbers, instead of postscribing workouts to determine what happened. Once you know what event you’re training for, much like you can do with an annual training plan and breaking the year into cycles, with stress-based periodization you can begin to plot the road map to where you want to go. The road map and periodization cycle is written out by numbers, to define the load.


Traditionally, athletes set up their annual training plan (ATP) with the load distinguished by volume of hours trained. This is not a good gauge of training load because intensity, and the amount of training at specific intensities, is the biggest determinant of training success and stress load.


As mentioned in previous chapters, volume is a very overrated metric, and the more you use TSS to track your fitness, the more you will find that to be true. What you are training for in long-course triathlon is not the Tour de France. It’s not multiple long days of four to six hours in the saddle, going very hard for 21 of 23 days. That test requires a large amount of volume on a daily basis.


Long-course triathlon is a single-day event. Your ability to peak for that one day, making sure everything comes together, is the key to success. Come race day, you are all in. You have to get it right, and the numbers of stress-based periodization, using TSS to help plan and execute training, are what help you maximize training on that day.

Learn more about Triathlon 2.0.

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