B78 Coaching, Victoria
The best thing time-crunched athletes can do is to apply stress at higher intensities for shorter durations. Intervals of one to five minutes at, or above, your lactate threshold are some of the most valuable sessions that a time-crunched athlete can do. These intervals are intense and require appropriate rest, but you only need 15 to 25 minutes at that effort to elicit a training response. The trap most athletes fall into is not going hard enough during these intervals. Two to four of these sessions (one or two swim, one bike, one run) every week will make a big difference.
Ideally, even if you are time crunched, you are hitting three or more sessions in each sport every week. This becomes tricky with time-crunched athletes who may only have time for one session daily during the week. Brick, or transition, workouts can be a good way to hit two of the sports in one session when time is tight.
It’s more important to focus on time spent at specific efforts than it is to focus on overall mileage every week given that mileage can be affected by terrain, weather conditions and other factors. I encourage athletes not to get too hung up on mileage. The exception is if they are preparing for a long-distance race where the distances can be daunting and the mental confidence gained by hitting certain distances is important, especially on the bike.
An athlete who has lots of time to train can engage in training blocks that focus more on volume as the primary stressor. But even timecrunched athletes need to be able to commit one or two days every week for eight to 12 weeks leading into a full-distance race where they can do four-hour (or more) rides and runs of two hours and longer. That said, the ability to handle this type type of training load can be developed in other ways that don’t require as much time: hill running, for example, is a great way to develop this area without long mileage.
Time-crunched athletes always need to be mindful of how they are applying stress to their bodies. Stress triggers a training response and subsequent adaptation to a new level of fitness. Time-crunched athletes need to home in on what those stress loads need to be and get rid of any “junk mileage.” They should also incorporate strategies to maximize their time in workouts. A short, specific core strength workout can be incorporated immediately before or after swim, bike or run sessions. Five- to 15-minute sessions are enough to activate specific muscle groups and will make a difference. Brick, or transition workouts, allow two of the three sports to be targeted in one session, too.
For time-crunched athletes the biggest challenge is to work hard enough for a long enough time period. A 45-minute ride at full-distance race pace isn’t long enough to get a training response, so you are probably better off doing intervals at a higher intensity. But high-intensity intervals require more rest, so you can’t simply do those every day.
Focus on being as consistent as you can. Time-crunched athletes usually do well with a set weekly routine. Maximize the time you can spend swimming, biking and running and don’t miss workouts. Stop looking at other people’s data and focus on applying specific types of training stress, with as much consistency and appropriate recovery, as you can.