One of the reasons Greg and I started the podcast was because we had an inkling that us, mid life athletes, are not very well served when it came to training plans and training advice. Most of the training plans and advice focus on either elite athletes or younger athletes. We’ve been left with trying to transpose these plans to our middle aged bodies. The problem with that is we’re operating under a different set of rules and can mean that two important parts of a training programme go awry - dose and recovery.
A practical example
For the last 6-8 weeks I’ve been training for the Tour of Flanders sportive. Not just riding 144km and over 1600m of climbing but I’m also riding across Belgium from Calais and back either side of the sportive. For anyone who knows anything about the cycling Spring Classics, Belgium has its fair share of hills or ‘bergs’, many of which are cobbled. Having done cobbled climbs previously I know I’ll need to up my power, plus I need to up my aerobic base. I’ve needed to strike a balance between lots of low intensity zone 2 aerobic work plus high intensity hill intervals and strength work to achieve the adaptations required for the event.
Getting the dose or training load right is a tricky balance. It’s a little like taking medication. Take too little and you won’t see much effect. Take the right amounts and the effects are often positive. However, taking too much does not lead to enhanced results and can lead to harmful consequences. More isn’t always better, and yet that’s typically what a lot of mid life athletes think and do. Getting the dose right means you’ve provided as much stress as your body needs in order to trigger an adaptive response. Adding more training stress doesn’t necessarily make the body adapt faster and moreover, any additional stress comes with an exponentially increasing risk of becoming ill, injured or overtrained.
Here’s my training load for the last 30 days or so.
Which has produced the adaptations I’ve been training for, namely an increase in power.
In order for me to balance this training load I’ve needed to factor in pockets of recovery. The graph below show’s my HRV and training load and you can see that I took a mini break around March 8 & 9th, which helped sustain a higher HRV but which has now subsequently trended downwards with continued training load.
You can see what that period looks like when looking at my resting physiology, where I’m trying to take just enough of the dose to bring the adaptations but not too much that I enter the yellow/orange zones.
What can I take from this?
One of the different sets of rules that I think mid life athletes operate under is the need for more recovery. Typically training plans work on cycles of 6 weeks. I think this is fine for younger athletes but I’m learning from myself and coaching other endurance mid life athletes that the typical 6 week cycle is a touch too long for us. I believe we need and will benefit from taking a mini-break in a 6 week training block because the stress load can manifest slightly higher for us. Our HRV tends to decline with age plus we are still working and juggling everyday stresses from work and family. The combination of these 2 factors mean we need a little more recovery.
The other thing to consider is chronic training load. A lot of my training that I’ve referred to above was well polarised with a high percentage in low intensity (zone 2). However, you’ll note from the 3rd chart above that my chronic training load was increasing through March, but my HRV has been steadily declining, despite everything (work, family etc) being stable. I don’t actually need this data to tell me this as I know I don’t feel fresh. The takeaway is that even
low intensity training can place a training stress on you which will mean eventually you’ll need to rest and recover.
All the charts are from HRV 4 Training which I use daily to measure my HRV. For more information on HRV read our earlier blog