One of the biggest challenges that all athletes face is how do I train for what I want to accomplish. What is the fastest, most reliable way to achieve X with my performance? Well… you guessed it… it depends and I may have an answer or several for you depending on your desires, fitness, and goals.
But before we dig into the details I have a few notes… I will make it quick…
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Ok, let’s get back to the topic at hand….
What magic is going to make you faster, stronger and more capable as a cyclist, runner or multi-sport athlete?
Just 3 things…
- Knowledge of your sport
- Selecting the right interval duration to get you there
- A desire to stick with it
I don’t care what type of athlete you are if you do not understand the demands your sport makes of your body you are not going to last long in your sport. Example: I was always surprised to see new soccer/football players show up to their first practice and not realize how much running was involved in playing much less playing effectively.
I realize this is an extreme oversimplification of understanding the demands of your particular sport but what I am going to share with you will apply to you no matter what your endurance sport is.
As a cyclist or as a runner there will always be the crux of a course where you drive decisions or they are made for you. This is the part of a course where the strong excel and the weak fall off the back. This may be a hill, a technical section, mountain pass; windswept volcanic field or the final sprint. Some of these areas on a course can be trained via skills but today we are going to discuss the energy demands needed to get there.
So as a coach when I often ask where do you feel like you need to improve or where do you feel the weakest I often hear concerns about climbing, sprinting, time trialing or holding on to a group. Once I get an opportunity to look at the athlete’s data I often find that they may have other weaknesses that need even more attention.
I have talked about on past shows and in articles about training factors and how they can be used in training to strengthen a weakness or further improve a strength. However, the other way to look at training is along a power curve from 1 second to 3 or more hours. Using the curve you can look at the energy demands, as wattage required overcoming a 1-minute climb or what it will take you to complete a century ride or a marathon run. Now that you have this measure of time how can it help you?
This is where Time To Exhaustion and understanding how it could play a part in your fitness development can lead to some much stronger performances in the future.
“Simply put, Time To Exhaustion or TTE and time-to-failure, is the time remaining, at a given work rate (power or intensity) before the given work rate cannot be maintained.”
This definition comes to us via a glossary of terms at BaronBioSys. I like this definition the best of any I discovered, as it is a bit more generic and not tied to a specific analysis application or software. What I don’t like is the use of the term time-to-failure. Because in my mind I see time-to-failure meaning literally that if I were to go as hard as I could for a given period of time that at the end I would literally fall over. Even the hardest time trial, threshold test or 1mi run test I have never just fallen over and I promise there wasn’t anything left. The closest I ever came to falling over was after completing a PMAX ramp test.
Let’s take a really easy example of how to determine a TTE rate that you could find in your day-to-day efforts. For instance, if you are a Strava subscriber and you have a segment that you are trying to set a PR on or steal a KOM from, Strava gives you some excellent information. Like how long your rival took to complete the segment, what their power, HR, and speed were. The speed information can be helpful especially if it’s over rolling terrain and you can see what entry and exit speeds are or even speeds over hills but HR information is likely to be unhelpful. If the power that was collected came from a power meter and your rival is close to your weight then you can look at the time and avg. power for the effort. Then compare this to your own recent efforts to see if you are close enough to even bother trying. However, whether the segment is short or long just like in a race power is going to be varied. So you must look over all of the nuances of the segment. The avg. power for the segment could have been 300 watts for 10 minutes but what about the steeper portion of the segment what if it were only a few seconds but your rival managed almost 1000 watts. Can you match this rate or do you need to bring more speed to the segment elsewhere?
When I help I Time Trial and Multisport athletes plan their race day I use a service called Best Bike Split. With this service I can plug in the course they are racing along with other pertinent information and desired outcomes based on their current fitness levels and even Cda information if they have it. Best bike split then will take this information and give me an estimate of how fat the athlete will finish the course. This information is where I can mine gold! Once I have several versions of the race saved I can look scenarios but in the end, I can save the scenario that makes the most sense for the athlete and then get work out files that will provide very detailed guidance on interval lengths and power demands for the course. What I do with this information is further analyze it looking for common durations and intensities. These become the TTE intervals for the athlete.
For example last season I did this analysis for a Time Trialer who was racing a flattish 10 mi course on a regular basis that was trying to drop a minute off their time ahead of the season series final race. What I discovered after using best bike split and speaking with the athlete several times was that the energy demands consistently required efforts at 2 minutes and at 8 minutes and with a final 1-minute push. This allowed me to create new workouts that mimicked these demands. The athlete was able to use them to great effect and dropped almost 2 minutes off their time.
If you are interested in putting this example into play with your training I can consult with you just like I did with the above athlete. I have an hourly consulting rate and if you let me know you heard about the race day consulting service from this podcast I will give you a 30% discount on your own race day planning consults.
The final way you can look at adding TTE training into your own schedule is to look at the general demands of your sport. Remember the curve I mentioned before? You need to know what the common length of time is that needs to be improved then you need to create workouts that will improve the TTE of the time demands.
There are caveats such as more work at intensity doesn’t always bring about desired effects. Stephen Seiler who’s work on Polarized Training in the study “What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes?” also discovered along the way that there are workouts that would create the greatest adaptations such as the 4×8 minutes at 113% of threshold and the 4x 16 minutes at 100% of threshold power were the most effective in highly trained athletes.
But this may not work in your case…
Now the hard part…
No matter which way choose to implement a TTE approach to your training it will take time and it will require a consistent effort. A week or two of these types of workouts isn’t going to do much for you. If you are new to training with structure I would recommend only one of these types of workouts per week and if you have been training with structure for a while you can add 2 a week as long as you are in a period of training that cover training factors such as Power, Power Endurance and Anaerobic Endurance. How long you keep TTE work in your plan is how long it takes to see improvements. In most cases, you could see improvement in 6-8 weeks but the balance of the improvements will likely conclude after 10-12 weeks.
A quick thank you and some much-needed help
Training plans that support this show!
High-Intensity Interval Training Plan
Season Opener Development Plan
8 Week Climbing Performance Plan and Clinic
Other Sources of information