Over the past two weeks I have outlined how to conduct a heart rate test and a functional threshold power test; but, I realized that I should have started from the beginning. What are the various training metrics that a triathlete should use?
Coaches, athletes, and endurance sport authors love to talk training metrics and terminology. Lactate threshold. VO2max. Cardiac output. Heart rate. Power. Rate of perceived effort. The list can go on and on…
Let’s look at a few key metrics that any triathlete or endurance sport athlete should understand, or at least a basic understanding.
Heart Rate – The very basic definition of a heart rate is the number of heartbeats per unit of time. Heartbeats are created when blood flows through the heart and the values open and close creating an audible sound. The normal human heart beats at 60-100 beats per minute (bpm). This, of course, depends on various factors such as fitness, age, stress, etc. Heart rate in fitness is an important metric because it can measure an athlete’s fitness. Through regular endurance training, the heart becomes stronger and thus can pump more blood with each beat. As a result, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard, and the athlete’s heart rate at rest and during exercise will be lower. Measuring an athlete’s heart rate over time is a good way to measure improvement in an athlete’s endurance fitness. See how to conduct a heart rate test for more information on heart rate-based training.
Cardiac Output – Cardiac output is measured as the amount of blood that the heart pumps through the body at a single minute. An increase in cardiac output is important because more blood is delivered to the important organs, such as the brain and liver. Cardiac output increases with regular endurance training. During endurance sports, cardiac output is an important metric because it means that more blood is delivered to the working skeletal muscles during a workout. As a result, more oxygen is transported to the muscle cells to produce energy and other metabolic waste by-products are removed from the working muscles more rapidly.
VO2max – Endurance training not only improves cardiovascular fitness, but also improves lung capacity during exercise. Endurance training generally improves an athlete’s respiratory rate (breathes per minute) and tidal volume (amount of air per breath). Improvements in respiratory rate and tidal volume can contribute to an increase in maximal oxygen uptake, also known as VO2max. VO2max is defined as the highest volume of oxygen that a person’s body is capable of taking in and using during aerobic energy production. An improvement in VO2max is important for endurance athletes because it means more oxygen is available to working muscles for energy production during exercise.
Lactate Threshold – Lactate threshold represents the point at which the athlete’s body requires a greater contribution from the glycolysis energy system (anaerobic system) and a smaller contribution from the oxidative phosphorylation energy system (aerobic system). At this point, lactate production exceeds the lactate removal rate and blood lactate levels increase. One of the primary goals of endurance training should be to increase an athlete’s lactate threshold.
Power – Power is primarily a cycling metric. It is simply defined as the rate of doing work, where work is equal to force times distance. Power is measured via a power meter on a bike. See How to Conduct a Functional Threshold Power test for more information on power-based training.
Rate of Perceived Effort – Rate of Perceived Effort, or RPE, is a psychophysiological scale, meaning that it calls on the mind and body to rate one’s perception of effort. The traditional scale called the Borg Scale is based on a scale of 6-20, where a score of 6 is equivalent of no exertion and a score of 20 is equivalent of maximum exertion. Many coaches and trainers, myself included, will use a scale of 1-10 for easier understanding by the athlete/client.
Above are several common exercise physiology and training metrics terminology that are often thrown around by athletes, coaches, and endurance sport authors. Of course, there are many more that we could discuss.
If you have a coach or are following a solid, structured training plan then you may be familiar with the term periodization. Not only is (and should) periodization be part of endurance training, but also strength training programs as well.
Periodization can be defined as training for specific physiological benefits, such as cardiovascular endurance, strength, speed, and power. Periodization began its roots with Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) model, which describes the body’s biological response to stress. Leo Metveyev and Tudor Bompa are considered the modern-day fathers of periodization.
Periodization is divided into three cycles:
Macrocycle – The overall phase of your training plan. This generally tends to be a 12-month time frame, but could be 3-5 years depending on an athlete’s goals, i.e. competing at the Olympics.
Mesocycle – The mesocycle is the number of continuous weeks of specific training that emphasizes a type of physical adaptation, i.e. strength or speed.
Microcycle – The microcycle is typically a one or two-week cycle that includes daily variations in your training plan.
In order to fully understand the concept of periodization, one must understand the six basic principles of exercise physiology:
Stress – In order to build endurance, strength, speed, and/or power, you must stress each of these physiological systems in order to grow and adapt in these areas.
Adaptation – Your body will adapt to physiological stress over time. This is how the body becomes fitter, stronger, and faster. Adaptation in a nutshell is the body’s response to physical stress.
Progression – Over time the body will adapt to its current training and thus in order for your body to continue to improve, you must increase and change stresses.
Specificity – Training should be specific. If you want to build more power on the bike, then you must train for power on the bike!
Individualization – Every person is unique and responses differently to training stress. Training plans should be specific to an individual to maximize the outcome.
Reversibility – Rest is critical, especially a few weeks of unstructured training at the end of the season. Training gains will reverse when extended breaks are taken, so try to be active throughout the year so you don’t lose too much fitness over time.
The body has several physiological energy systems that it utilizes to produce energy for movement. Here is a brief overview of each:
ATP-PC system (phosphagen system) – This system is utilized first by the body because it requires no oxygen. However, it can only provide energy for about 8-10 seconds. This system is used most during short sprints and strength training.
Glycolysis – This system starts after the ATP-PC system ends. No oxygen is required to break down glucose or glycogen to pyruvic acid. It generally lasts for a couple minutes at most. Glycosis is often referred to as the anaerobic system.
Aerobic System – The aerobic system begins after about 2 minutes and requires oxygen to produce ATP (fuel source of the body). As long as your body has oxygen then the aerobic system will produce energy.
When a coach builds an athlete’s Annual Training Plan (ATP) or macrocycle training plan, they will break down the plan into mesocycles or blocks. An ATP usually breaks down into the following training blocks:
Base Building – A majority of athletes will spend most of their training cycle time in base building. Base building generally lasts between 12-16 weeks, depending on race schedule and goals. This block is focused on developing aerobic endurance and building mileage.
Strength Building – The focus of this block is building muscular strength. This block generally lasts between 6-8 weeks.
Speed Building – The focus of this block is on developing neuromuscular movement and building speed. This block generally lasts between 6-8 weeks.
Racing & Maintenance – This period focuses on racing and resting between races. This time period varies depending on the athlete’s season and goals.
Recovery – The focus of this block is to recover and rest from a long season. Training is generally unstructured and easy. This block lasts usually between 2-4 weeks.
The above information is just a basic introduction to periodization and training plans. As a coach I love creating training plans based on the periodization concept and the individual athlete. As an athlete, I am a strong believer that the concept works. Over the next few months I plan to provide a more in-depth overview of each training block or mesocycle to help you understand your own training plans. Stay tuned! 🙂