The Problem with Multi-Targeted, Mixed Training
Juggling three sports is not easy. For the untrained athlete, any type of training can have cross-over benefits, but at the highest level other training modes have little transfer and in some cases even conflicting adaptations.
A single sport athlete can maximize training stimuli with a reasonable training load. For example, an elite distance runner might consistently run 80+ miles per week, that might only be 9-10 hours per week. They may also be able to hit nearly all intensity zones in one week with a long run, tempo run, threshold intervals and/or VO2 max intervals. If a triathlete tried to do the same across all three disciplines, the training load would be through the roof and the frequency of high intensity sessions wouldn’t allow for sufficient recovery, resulting in maladaptation, overtraining, or injury.
It is not practical for a triathlete to swim like a swimmer, bike like a cyclist, and run like a runner due to the high training load. There may be some endurance freaks that can match the volume, but not the quality. To work on all fitness components simultaneously will spread you too thin. So stop trying. Limit your focus and direct the workload at one or two fitness components at a time. Multi-targeted, mixed training does not produce enough stimulus or workload targeted at a single specific fitness component to make a positive change.
The solution is to limit the number of training targets within one week and within a single training session to maximize adaptation. It means the opposite of the random training methods that are so appealing to the masses. It means structure. On paper, the workouts have a simple pattern and repetition. If there is an ideal interval length for a specific adaptation, then work that interval length for the entire session. Remember, variety is for the weak minded. The goal is the most effective and efficient training strategy, not something to keep you interested.
With today’s short attention spans and the overwhelming amount of training information available on the internet, it is tempting to mix it all together into one stinky soup I call the “kitchen sink” workout. It might be sold as “muscle confusion,” the “WOD,” or just a way to keep an athlete interested. This is the type of workout that attempts to hit every component of fitness on one workout. It is guaranteed to make you tired and you will feel like you accomplished something, but it did nothing to improve any fitness component related to triathlon. Properly structured training might not be as attractive, but it is more efficient and effective.
Here are a few guidelines to keep you focused
- Build endurance with steady-state aerobic training
- Focus on one or two fitness components per week
- Don’t mix together different types of high intensity intervals into one “kitchen sink” session
- Keep threshold sessions focused on threshold intensity
- Keep shorter interval workouts focused on your VO2 max intensity
- Workouts should be simple enough to memorize easily
- Sequence weeks of training or blocks of training with purpose
- Occasionally forget all of these guidelines and blast a good group ride
Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA World Champion. He has left a knee cap in Alabama, a tooth in Utah, and an appendix in Mexico … and he dances for good causes! He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.