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Triathlon training plateaus and when to pull things back?

Triathlon Training

If you are an Endurance athlete training for a Triathlon, long training weeks must be a norm. Being an Ironman 70.3 triathlete, I train in a range of 10-20 hours per week. I usually do not go more than 20 hours a week because I don’t have a big training age that a lot of elites have. They have been swimming, biking and running since they were kids whereas I was playing cricket and football. So my body cannot handle too much volume before crashing after a few weeks. 10 to 20 hours is my sweet spot.

I usually do a 2 week load with 1 deload week or sometimes when I am trying to induce some more fatigue, I do a 3 on, 1 off split.

The offload weeks usually are similar workouts with lesser volume and lesser intensity than the load weeks. If my load week were 14 hrs & 16 hrs a week, the offload week would be 8 to 10 hours depending on how fatigued I am. The key is to not use the offload week as a full rest week or reduce frequency of the workouts too much.

Even after planning carefully like this, I do reach a point in 16 to 20 weeks time where I start to plateau and need to pull things back. This is completely normal and is not because you are becoming worse. Like how there is a rest day in a week, offload week in a mesocycle, you need a recovery week in a macrocycle. If you allow yourself recovery here, your body recuperates and comes back with better baseline performance.

Pushing the limits and Fatigue is key to improvement. The fatigue should be followed by enough recovery to reap the benefits of training.

Here are a few learning lessons on how to approach these scenarios.

  1. Training Plateaus can mean that your body has reached homeostasis with the current load, volume or training phase. Given that you are not 6 months or so into a macrocycle and fatigue is not high, this could mean that you need to induce a different stimulus to the body. it could mean doing different types of workouts targeting different energy systems (Vo2 max heavy weeks to threshold long intervals), increase volume or increase overall intensity or even total number of workouts in a week(frequency).

  2. If fatigue level is high, I take a week or so completely off and then probably do some warm up workouts for the next week. I also try doing some other exercise modalities to keep myself active. This could be weight training or doing some unstructured bike and swim drills. I avoid running. So this amounts to about a 2 week offseason break.

  3. Usually during this plateau, I generally sense a higher than usual RPE in my swims, losing motivation to get into the water and lethargic push off from the wall. I also notice a dip in run performance and inability to sustain high end HR. In the bike, I see a higher HR to power ratio.

  4. I used to think progress and improvement is linear. This is furthest from the truth. The general, overall, big picture trajectory should be linear, but will contain ups and downs in fitness. This is necessary and healthy if the downs are planned and recognized and much needed recovery to reach a higher baseline in the next training block.

  5. Understanding that feeling low in energy and motivation after many training blocks is completely normal. A temporary loss in motivation can feel like a loss in love for the sport. I used to feel the same way. But it’s just temporary and a sign from your nervous system and body that it needs some break.

  6. Do not attach your mood and self worth to how good you are training. This will be fruitful when you feel fit and crushing the workouts, but will lead to depression and a big lull during these recovery weeks. Instead, recognize that sport is just another part of your life and not the only thing. Enjoying the sport comes first.

  7. Stop feeling guilty for taking time off. If you have put in solid, dedicated effort in the past training cycle, taking time off will be beneficial to you. You will feel the itch and motivation to crush the workouts again.

  8. After these off season weeks, I usually feel very rusty in my first week back training. Here I don't force myself or rush into hard efforts as my threshold and fitness is lower than it was. I use the first week as a warm up week where I gradually ease into the workouts and my diet. I don't keep the workouts too long either. A few hard efforts and keeping the bike to a max of 45 to 60 min for example.

  9. During the recovery weeks, do not go off track and eat shit food and get into bad sleeping habits. This will take a longer time to get back on track. Try to stick to the same routine but substituting the workout hours into something else you like.

These are all lessons I have learnt first hand through experience. So I hope this can help fellow athletes chill out a bit more and enjoy training and recognizing that endurance athletes are not machines!

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