Training Concepts - Part 2 (Training Load)

author : JorgeM
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Article explaining simple training concepts important for any endurance program

Continuing article part 1 where I discussed what Stress/Strain/Adaptation, in this part I’ll focus on defining what training load is and why it is important related to structuring a training program.

As a brief reminder of part 1, it was mentioned how training is considered a “stressor” and, depending how much of it we do, it will result in different levels of "strain." The strain ultimately will produce different adaptations (positive/negative) that can lead performance improvements, overtraining and/or injury. 

The main goal of any training program is to constantly strain our bodies enough to produce positive adaptations without placing so much strain that instead of allowing the body to adapt and get stronger/fitter/faster, it can't cope with the strain level and the result can be a decrease in performance or injuries. 

In order to keep our bodies positively adapting, following a progression which will allow each athlete produce specific adaptations particular to the main event, athletes need to pay attention to their training load. This concept of training load is defined as the sum of all the training we do:

Training Load = ( volume + intensity ) x frequency

Volume – the duration/distance of a particular training session.
Intensity – the level of exertion at which an athlete performs a particular session
Frequency – the repetition of volume + intensity over many training sessions.

More than volume

Frequently athletes talk about how much training they do, and more often than not they only refer to volume and rarely to intensity. For example, when athletes discuss training load, the usual conversation refers to the number of hours or miles per week. 

But if you consider the training load formula, you see that expressing load in terms of volume only scratches the surface. Since training load is relative to the fitness of each individual, it is difficult to make assumptions whether running 'x' miles or 'y' hours per week is an adequate load for an athlete or not. But measuring volume is easier than measuring intensity, so it is common to refer to load only in terms or hours/miles.

Still, any athlete knows that running 45 minutes at an easy conversational pace is not the same as running 25 minutes at or near his/her 10K pace; the latter in general, will produce greater DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), accumulated fatigue, etc. In addition, training at different intensities will result in different physiological processes that will induce different training stressors.

In coming articles, I’ll discuss in more detail the type of training adaptations our bodies experience at different intensities and why optimal training load will vary based on individual’s needs. For now, remember that our fitness will improve based on how much (volume), how easy/hard (intensity) and how often (frequency) we train.

Why is load Important?

Understanding the concept of training load will allow athletes and their coaches to design training programs based on the specific needs for each individual. There are many ways to set up a program and some of you probably are familiar with the different approaches often discussed in books, magazines and online forums such as high volume/low intensity (commonly referred as ‘base’ training), low volume/high intensity (often referred as HIIT), or a mixed training load.

The discussion of these approaches can result in passionate arguments defending or criticizing the benefits of each approach, but that’s beyond the goal of this article. In the future I’ll discuss each approach in detail and let the readers interpret the information presented to and make up their own minds. 

Still, the reality is that different approaches based on different training loads can and indeed work, and all have a place in a training program. Certain individuals will require a greater focus in a given training load, but that’s more specific to the individual’s needs such as: current fitness level, time availability, racing goals (distance), athletic background, gender, age, etc. 

In any case, training load is important to allow our bodies to constantly adapt and improve our fitness, but in order to know how much we need to do, we need to determine how we can quantify intensity. To quantify intensity, it is necessary to discuss the energy systems and how training at different intensities/durations results in in different adaptations. 

In Part 3, I'll continue addressing Training Concepts and I'll focus on Specificity/Overload which ties into training load. After I complete talking about training concepts, I'll  move to discuss energy systems, physiologic parameters and how we can define intensity to be able to manage intensity--the often neglected part of the training load equation. For now, the take away message is – we need to strain our body so it can adapt. In order to manage how much strain we induce, we can use "training load," which is the sum of all the training we do.
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date: June 6, 2011

JorgeM