One of the best aspects of a coach’s job is seeing improvement across a range of athletes from season to season. A Winter well invested in following a structured, progressive training plan brings improvements and gains to overall performance in the Spring and Summer months. This is obvious!
To begin with, most athletes improve simply by providing structure in their training. Once you have a routine and structure in the amount and type of swim, bike and run training you do, improvement follows. For a while. For performance improvement, in competitive athletes, specificity then becomes very important. To ensure training is specific to the individual, we use regular performance testing or races to identify where the athlete is, and where they have improved to. To make training specific to the event, training is prescribed according to the athlete’s race plan for the season, to ensure they are as well prepared as they can be, with the time available to train and recover in between sessions. Lifestyle factors play a significant part on recovery. You can find my article about Recovery Optimisation on this link.
Improvement is a constantly shifting line and non linear due to the fact that athletes are human and not machines, in my experience. Lifestyle factors and individual differences influence performance improvement so if you are looking to improve season to season, you have to start with where you are at any point in time and work onwards and upwards from there. An athlete centric approach ensures you keep looking forward, with aspiration and purpose to your training and racing. Putting the athlete at the centre of planning training avoids the highs and lows of a top down approach and is great for motivation, year round.
So that brings the question of how improvement is observed, measured, reviewed and discussed for future planning. One of the most important jobs as a coach is simply to quantify progress for the athlete. Coaching feedback helps motivation to high levels, which in nearly all cases enables the athlete train on with a more targeted focus. Personalised, targeted training (athlete centric) influences every session to be of high quality and with purpose. I’ve found individual feedback to be one of the most significant factor in performance improvement, in all athletes I work with.
Many athletes who self coach are often quite keen to race the same events each season, to measure improvement. However, a year is a long time to wait, to gain feedback. It’s too late to adjust your training for the season or subsequent events, if the training plan hasn’t been as effective as maybe it could have been, with a few tweaks here and there towards your goals! Developing sensitivity about your response to sessions, how you perform the sets and reviewing your data periodically is a useful way to make adjustments or fine tune your planned sessions in order to see improvement over time. The feedback and review of information to hand (data) should always inform the training content and future progression.
How I see improvement:
An athlete’s ongoing capabilities to sustain a higher average speed, power or pace in endurance sessions.
This might seem obvious to some, that triathlon is an endurance event from 2 to 12 hours, for the majority of competitors over Standard distance or Ironman triathlon. Sustainable speed training provides specificity to the event and builds muscular and aerobic (cardio) endurance, the energy system required and resilience to injury by being functionally strong in all 3 sports ie swim, bike and run.
What to look for:
Use a metric to maintain (power or HR) as the constant. Training levels (power) or zones (HR) or CSS should be set from a field or lab test. A field test is repeatable, more specific to racing, provides valuable preparation practice and often excellent pace judgement opportunities too. If this is an area needing work on!
Observe a number of endurance runs, rides or swims over a period of 3 months. Note average speed and/ or distance covered over the duration of the sessions. Preferably conduct this as part of session feedback in real time, as you check, review and/ or upload your files. Notice the route distance and time taken to ride or run it. This is probably recorded by the technology you are training with, along with the HR and/ or power data.
Assuming your training is effective, there will be an improving trend in the data or distance over duration, in stamina, endurance, economy and efficiency over a number of weeks. It’s useful to compare similar sessions 8-12 weeks apart to highlight gains. As an endurance athlete there is no immediate requirement to adjust your training intensities week to week, based on one superlative session. Consolidated adaptation is a longer process than you might think or feel. It is easy to mistakenly over perform one week, only to then feel like you are playing catch up the next. Lifestyle factors play a huge part in recovery.
In the example below we can see typically over an hour+ endurance run, an athlete training at the correct (aerobic endurance) intensity using HR or power could improve average pace per km of 20 seconds. This is a common scenario, one one discipline of triathlon training (the run). Over 10km or further, at race pace, significant performance improvements follow by improving efficiency and economy of the athlete. This athlete has set 5km, 10km and half marathon PB’s so far this Spring. On 2-3 run, bike and swim sessions per week ~7-10 hours total. Training for half IM distances this Summer.
As an endurance coach, improvement is one of the performance markers or metrics I analyse and review regularly for feedback from and to the athlete. Being able to sustain as close to physiological threshold pace as possible is the difference between a great performance and an average one. Learning how to pace, review, practice and improve the quality of training is greatly facilitated by this feedback loop. It is easy to see improvement, once you know what to look for. Training Peaks and use of technology such as Garmin Connect, make the process very straight forward for review and analysis, which leads to greater insight and creativity in planning training for each individual athlete at their personal rate of improvement.
File examples above are all real examples, from real triathletes, racing in real time (current season) coached by F2 Performance Coaching.