If this were a normal summer, you might have already done one or more races, and maybe have more still to come. Even if you don’t have a highly structured, season-long workout and race plan, the increased focus and intensity in your training as the race approaches, combined with the inevitable post-race rest and recovery, would have created a nice peak-and-valley pattern to your training this summer.
With the near complete lack of racing this summer, the peaks of intensity associated with the races have disappeared. That that doesn’t mean you can do without those recovery valleys. As I wrote about earlier this year, there are definitely opportunities associated with not racing for a summer, but if you neglect your recovery periods you might be hard-pressed to take full advantage.
This peak-and-valley approach to training is what is referred to as periodization. The basic idea is that you don’t do the same training each week, but instead change some of the variables such as intensity, distance, total number of workouts, or time spent exercising to make each week a different from the previous week. An often-forgotten part of periodization is the need for recovery periods, typically once every three to four weeks.
These recovery valleys are needed for a few reasons. First, it is only in recovery that we actually improve. Exercise is stressful for the body and creates fatigue – you are more tired at the end of a workout session than you were at the beginning, and likely couldn’t do that same workout right away. It is the same over extended periods of time. You will be more tired at the end of a hard week than at the end of an easier week. If you only ever do hard weeks you will never be getting those longer breaks of more relaxed training that are important for allowing more complete recovery.
Another reason that easy weeks are important is for managing the rest of life. Most of us are not professional triathletes. We have other things that we need to be doing on a weekly basis. This includes our jobs, seeing friends and family, engaging in leisure pursuits other than triathlon (yes – they exist!) and maybe even finally folding that laundry in our basement. All of these things are much easier to do when you have free time and energy during a week that isn’t dominated by your training.
Finally, the mental demand of continuous hard and long training is not to be underestimated. Have you ever dreaded getting on the bike, or stared at the lake and just struggled to motivate to put on your wetsuit one more time? Motivation and desire are also resources that must be replenished from time to time. Rest weeks prevent you from draining these tanks too much and keep you feeling excited about your training.
We all want to have a long-term relationship with triathlon. When approached properly, it is a life-long sport with great health, social and mental benefits. Incorporating regular easier weeks into your plan will allow you to take care of the physical, social and mental health needs to make your long-term relationship with triathlon more enjoyable and sustainable and keep you progressing to your goals.