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How long can you go? Training the endurance athlete

  • 10/17/2011 5:13:00 PM
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How long can you go? Training the endurance athlete

David Ferguson, Ph.D, RCEP

Have you ever watched a marathon and wondered how individuals can run for over 26 miles? Have you ever wanted to be the one who runs for 26 miles? Do you find yourself saying that you can't run for 26 miles because you don't know how? If you answered yes to these questions, then this article is for you. It will provide a brief training program outline that can be applied to any endurance sport for anyone who wishes to compete in an endurance sport for competition or recreation. The most important aspect in identifying a training program for an endurance athlete is to take the time to plan ahead. The ideal situation is to find an actual event to compete in about eleven months past the start of training. This will give ample time to benefit from a training program while incorporating the necessary rest periods. 
            The key to endurance training is to apply a philosophy termed “periodization”. This simply refers to a cycle that progressively increases the intensity of workout sessions, following this cycle with a period of recovery (“ramping down”) before beginning a new cycle of a higher intensity. This concept of periodization can be applied to a yearly, monthly, weekly, or daily workout plan. Some consider it best to start with a 13-month training plan.
One design for a 13-month training schedule would extend the duration of the exercise session throughout months one through nine to improve endurance.   At month 10, the exercise session remains the same to optimize recovery before a competition.   During the competition month (month 11), the duration of the exercise session decreases to the level of month 3. This not only aids in recovery but prevents over training, thus decreasing the risk of injury during competition. Months 12 and 13 bring a steady decrease in training duration following competition, which allows for optimal recovery for the athlete before beginning a new training program.  
A key component to incorporate in a training program is a session that will mimic the targeted competition, such as running 26 miles for a marathon. An optimal time for this to occur is in month 10, since it will have similar environmental conditions and still allow a month for recovery.
Periodization can be applied to a weekly training plan as well. The proportions of time spent training in each month from the above example can be further divided among the four weeks in a month. Weeks one to three should bring an increase in training duration with week four sessions decreasing to the first week’s duration as a recovery week.  The philosophy of periodization – intensify to the desired level, test, then diminish for recovery – can be applied to all types of athletes for all types of sports.  
Further Reading
  1. Plisk, SS, Periodization strategies, STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING JOURNAL 25 (6): 19-37 DEC 2003
  2. Bompa, Tudor O. Periodization : theory and methodology of training / Tudor O. Bompa, G. Gregory Haff, 5th ed. Champaign, IL. : Human Kinetics, c2009.



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