PHASE: Build Phase – Pre Competition PERIOD: July – September DURATION: 6-12 weeks FOCUS: Strength & Speed, Race Skills
This phase of your program is developed and structured around consolidating the endurance and strength gains you have developed over your previous base preparation phase, while building another layer on top by adding the element of strength endurance threshold work that will really get you READY for competition/racing.
This phase will focus on a continued build in fitness, resilience as well as READINESS to become race ready. It doesn’t mean we jump straight into a ‘race phase’ – far from it, think of it more like pre-competition. We aren’t looking to accelerate straight to our race, we’re aiming to patiently develop and create a platform that will allow us to become race ready WHEN we need it. Whether that be 6 weeks away or 20 weeks away – every athlete is different in the timing of their racing, as well as their training history, how consistent their training has been, and how they absorb their training load, so the length of this phase can differ for everyone, but the purpose and focus remains the same.
The build phase develops specifically and with purpose, the load will accumulate over time and will have some really challenging sessions thrown in, with the objective of this phase to continue to develop your strength endurance and aerobic capacity while pushing your anaerobic threshold to ultimately increase speed – ie your performance! This phase should only be undertaken after a sound preparation of base strength and endurance has been developed.
In the back portion of this phase you will really see things ramp up as you get race ready and you will also start to see more race specific skills come into play before you then head into your race specific / competition phase such as key brick sessions that really work to drive up the fitness.
This phase is challenging (there’s nothing easy about strength endurance threshold work!) , but nothing that is beyond an athletes means – provided you have laid the foundations. And that is the key and why a BASE PREPARATION PHASE is really THE most important phase of a program. The BUILD PHASE is really the layer on top of it, but if you haven’t laid a solid foundation, the house can only be built so big! So don’t ever be afraid to extend a base preparation phase before heading into a build phase.
I recently wrote an article on Recovery and how it can be the key to your success. I received lots of comments and feedback that it was very well timed, and a good reminder for all endurance athletes (well really any athlete!) to ensure they take a step back and allow the body to actually recover and adapt so it can grow and become stronger.
This lead me thinking to conversations I have had with a few athletes over the past couple of weeks and there seemed to be a common theme that was starting to pop up. A comment or conversation that had the same underlying thought pattern. “I feel like I didn’t quite nail the session“, “I didn’t hit the numbers on that session” some even included the word failed!
And so it got me thinking, what was leading these athletes to think this way? Because they didn’t hit a particular number in a session, that they had failed at that session… That even though the intent was there, and the effort was there, but because they didn’t hit a particular number that they had ‘failed’.
So when I delved deeper into these conversations, almost all of them came back to how flexible, adaptable and self aware an athlete was (or in these cases weren’t).
So what does does that all mean, and how can you become more flexible, adaptable and self aware to ultimately become a better athlete?
Well if you look up these words in the dictionary you will find something along these lines…
Adaptable: “able to adjust to new conditions“ So being an adaptable person / athlete means “being capable of being adapted. able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions“ Flexible: “able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances. ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances.” Self Aware: “knowing and understanding yourself, surroundings, sensations and thoughts“.
How does that relate to you as an athlete? And how do these traits lead to either your success or your potential demise as an athlete?
Firstly I will put it into context to see if you are LACKING in these traits.
Scenario #1 You review your program at the start of the week, plan your week accordingly, down to the day and time you will complete your session. But something comes up, you are running overtime at work, an unforeseen issue comes up and you can’t get out the door when you had planned. You get a little angry, maybe start to take it out on others, or resent the person or situation that caused your plans to be changed.
Scenario #2 You head out for a key run interval session. You know what paces you can hold for this session as you have done it before. So you head out in good spirits. But right from the first step you feel heavy and lethargic. ‘I’ll get through the warm up and see’ but you still don’t feel it. And then you start to feel a little twinge in the hammy. You know your form is off, you know you are feeling tired, and the hammy isn’t happy, but ‘I have to do this session as planned’. So you push through it, unhappy with how you performed, and finished with a sore hammy as a result. You now feel frustrated and annoyed.
Scenario #3 You plug your bike session into zwift, a key session you really want to nail. Your computer tells you the power number you ‘need’ to hit, but you have had a stressful week at work, sleep has been below par and you are feeling tired. ‘But I’m going to nail this session no matter what’ you tell yourself. But you don’t. Your body wasn’t having any of it, but you keep trying. A zone 3 effort feeling like a Zone 4. You are working way harder for the effort you should be doing but you soldier on regardless… But you finish the session feeling worse than when you started AND you feel like you failed the session because you didn’t hit the numbers you planned.
Scenario #4 You just got the kids down for a nap, everything is set up and you are ready to hit a session on the bike. You are excited! But 20min into the session your youngest wakes up – gah noooo. You get angry at him. Why do you have to wake up now you curse to yourself. You try to ignore the cries, but know you have to get off. So you tend to him, get him back to sleep and jump back on the trainer. Only to have 10min later another interruption. Really?! Not again! arghhhh. You have a 1.5hour session planned and only 30min in and already you have been interrupted twice. You are annoyed and frustrated at your child. You get off and let the session go, but you remain angry for the rest of the day.
Scenario #5 You can’t swim due to pool restrictions (sounds familiar?) 😉 So you first get annoyed, but then you soon forget about swimming and just think you will worry about it when you can swim again. So you don’t plan anything else into your program that can supplement your swimming, you simply stop.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? You could replace any session or any scenario, or any disruption in the above and I’m sure you will bound to find one that you can relate to. The key message in these was that the athlete in each scenario didn’t allow flexibility or adaptability into their planning and/or sessions and let this carry through into the remainder of their day (maybe even more than one day!) either in life, in their session or in their program as a whole.
It can be hard I get it. Particularly for athletes that love structure, routine, following a program, not missing a session, ‘doing as the coach told me‘. These type of athletes are fantastic, they will always get the work done. They don’t search for excuses, or the easy way out, they grit their teeth and get the work done. BUT at the same time, this COULD be their undoing.
If things don’t go your way, you need enough self awareness to acknowledge this, but not let it get to you. If you are tired, become adaptable enough to change, if your time availability changes, have enough flexibility to work around it and not let it get to you. THESE are key qualities that can really help an athlete achieve their full potential. Not just an athlete that can hit every session prescribed or every number planned.
So how can you draw from and develop tools for self awareness and self management from unexpected fatigue or unexpected situations?
Understand what successful training is: Being consistent is first and foremost. So to be consistent is not going too hard on easy sessions / days. It’s not taking on too much in terms of your training load in the context of your life as a whole. Sometimes training needs to take a little backseat and that is OK. We can plan around that. That isn’t failure. That is life! Sessions are designed to challenge you, but they aren’t designed to break you – physically OR mentally. Fatigue is ok. Yes. Some sessions should be really hard. Yes. But you should still feel accomplished overall.
Give a little: Don’t always go chasing a set power, pace or speed in your sessions without having the ability to shift these on a particular given day. If you don’t have that flexibility you WILL see it as a failure, even when it’s not. So don’t lose the ability to be intuitive, to know what it ‘feels’ like. What does zone 3 ‘feel’ like. What does Ironman pace ‘feel’ like. Data, watches and programs tend to take away the feel if you rely too heavily on them – listen and learn from your body. THAT is your greatest measurement.
Use your program as a guide: Your program is a guide. I program with intention, with purpose and with your goals in mind, but it is up to you as the athlete to listen to your body, train with intent, ask questions, adapt and be flexible within the realms of the program. Not every day will be a great training day. Some days you head out for a hard interval session and your body just does not want to respond. This is the time you need to listen to your body and understand whether it is best to continue with the session, or change it. Athletes who tap into their intuition and understand their bodies will ultimately become better athletes as they manage a more consistent training base. Successful athlete’s don’t just train for the sake of training, every session has a purpose – even when that purpose may change for the greater good of the overall training plan.
Don’t feel like you have to hit EVERY session: I include a mixture of key sessions and supporting sessions into athletes programs so they know which sessions to focus on, and which session support those key sessions. If an athlete can complete them all AWESOME. But if in a given week they can’t, that is ok. Remember, we train and compete in our sport because we enjoy it. Our training shouldn’t control our lives. Our training should mould around and integrate into it, not the other way around. We are aiming for consistency over the long term, not short term.
Have scalability: I used to coach with really detailed metrics in training peaks, but I have now moved the other direction. Providing scalability within sessions based on how an athlete may be feeling. So without guessing, if an athlete had a key session planned, but they ended up running short on time, or they are feeling super fatigued due to late work nights, or a harder than planned session the day before, then they have prescribed scalability within their sessions. So if they can’t obtain X, then then can do Y, or even Z. So regardless if they completed the session as X or Z, they still completed the session with it’s purpose in tact and with adaptability around their life. Hows that hey! So don’t feel like you have to hang on to a particular number or metric EVERY single session. Give a little when it’s needed.
Have the courage to recover: If you are feeling the accumulation of fatigue. GREAT that is from your hard work. Job well done! So in saying that, without any guilt or hesitation, step back and allow the recovery. Growth comes from when the body is allowed to recover and adapt. So don’t be afraid (or feel guilty) if you are feeling fatigued, to take it easier for a day, or two, or three! Really give your body a chance to absorb the training, trust me, you will come back fresher AND stronger.
Change your mindset: Learning to be adaptable really comes down to your mindset. The simpliest way to build adaptability is to practice in life as well as training. Become self-aware of your thoughts, and shifting them. For example. You miss an exit driving down the freeway and you feel angry at the situation. Instead, how can you look at this an opportunity? Maybe you can learn a new route to where you were getting to…. If you look at your program and you have a 1.5hour long run plan, but work / family only allows for 1 hour today, instead of being annoyed at your work / family situation think of it as you will be fresher for your session tomorrow! Literally anything you do on a daily is an opportunity to practice your adaptability. Give it a go! 🙂
ADAPTABILITY COMBINES FLEXIBILITY WITH VERSATILITY. FLEXIBILITY IS YOUR WILLINGNESS TO ADAPT. IT’S YOUR ATTITUDE. VERSATILITY IS YOUR ABILITY TO ADAPT. IT’S YOUR APTITUDE. ~Dr. Michael O’Connor
So there’s a challenge for you. How can you become more adaptable, flexible and more self aware? When things don’t go your way, what can you do with the new situation? Does it create new possibilities? Can it potentially be an opportunity? Can it actually lead you to be a more sustainable, robust, successful and ultimately happier athlete…. I’ll let you decide. 🙂
High volume training such a a long weekend training spike, or training camp generally means a higher volume than your ‘normal’ training week looks like – essentially a ‘spike’ in your training, overloading your body above where it has been training, with the aim to reap the benefits in the coming weeks. BUT – yes there is a but, recovery is just as important ats the training itself during this time (well anytime really!)
We should all know by now, that recovery can be the key to success BUT how many are really taking the time to recover properly? During a high volume weekend such as the one many of our athletes are taking on over this Queens Birthday Weekend as part of our Ironman Challenge, the emphasis on recovery really needs to be ramped up so you can ensure you recover well and in preparation for your next session/s AND reap the rewards in the weeks to come.
So I share my post training recovery routine to help you gain the most from your training spike.
EXAMPLE OF A POST TRAINING RECOVERY ROUTINE:
This example is based around a high volume training focus such as this weekend or even key long brick sessions. It is not intended to be completed after every session, every day of the week (although if you are a pro, you probably are!) 😉 but you can certainly take elements from this and adapt to your daily routine.
SNACK: Finish your long / key session and grab a recovery drink or snack to have as soon as you can post session. An example could be a smoothie with a form of protein, good fats and carbohydrates. (think banana peanut butter, chia seeds, protein smoothie…) A pancake or two, yoghurt and berries etc
LEGS UP: Set yourself in ‘legs up the wall‘ pose to start the recovery process while you cool down.
ICE: Take a 10 minute ice-bath or cold river / ocean / body of water soak. Ideally include some slow movement/walking in the water rather than just standing / sitting still. Keep upper body warm with clothing/towel.
WARM UP: Have a warm (not super hot!) shower
STRETCH: 10-15 minute stretch / roll, and / or our follow along to our purposefully designed post session flow designed to downregulate the body.
REST: Sneak in a 30 minute nap – (we can all dream hey?!) 😉 or a relax on the couch with the legs up now or even later in the day.
EAT: Consume a meal with a combination of quality protein, carbohydrates and good fats (think eggs, sweet potato / sourdough, avocado, greens – all the good stuff!) 😉 Even easier is a pre-made vegetable quiche, throw with a side salad and you are done. Just make sure your meal is balanced with a combination of each macronutrients.
SLEEP: Go to bed with enough time to get ~8 hours of quality sleep Eat well, sleep well and recover fast – your body will thank you for it, and your training will benefit !
If you have had an extended period of time out of the pool, just like any other discipline you need to ease your way back into things. You don’t want to just dive straight in and pick up where you left off last time you dived into the water. That’s a recipe for injury. We need to ease our way in slowly.
1. Start at home The first step is starting to integrate our At Home Virtual Swim Programs into your weekly routine, these help to recondition the muscles, activate the right ones and start to prep you for getting in the water.
2. Get wet Next step is to simply get a feel for the water again. For a couple of weeks, I’ll have you simply jumping in without too much structure, and simply get a feel for the water again. Pool aids such as fins and Pool Buoys would be recommended, taking the load off the shoulders and working your way back in. Short intervals >100m, resting as needed. Good time to really focus on the QUALITY rather than the QUANTITY focusing on form.
3. Bring back structure Next phase is bringing a little structure back in for 2-4 weeks, again keeping intervals on the shorter side, building back the swim fitness and feel. Paddles can start to be reintroduced but in small doses, plus some shorter intervals with a small amount of intensity to boost the fitness if the athlete is ready.
4. Back to routine By now, we should be ready to go, back into our normal (or new) routines, back in our rhythm, and ready to increase the intervals lengths and duration of the overall sessions including adding in some more intensity and strength with work through paddles, bands etc. And back into our regular swim block for the program phase. Layering on top of this will be the continual inclusion of our At Home Virtual Swimming.
These will continue to be utilised to supplement your time in the pool, allowing you to help focus on form and technique (using a mirror to watch yourself while completing is a great idea) AND are perfect for anytime you can’t get in the pool / open water OR only have the time to swim 1-2 times a week. So they compliment ANY swim program.
POOL AIDS / EQUIPMENT Make sure you take a stock check of your pool aids and equipment, as a minimum you should have the following and all programs will include these. The ones linked are the ones I recommend: Pool Buoy – any will do ! Swim Fins Swim Snorkle Smaller / technical paddles (about the size of your hands) Larger / power / strength paddles (larger than your hands) (optional) Ankle Band (any type of rubber that will hold your feet together is fine)
OR if you are just wanting basic cords you can pick these up from any rebel sports store etc. Which just have the standard cords with handles (which you see me using in the videos) Note that you want light to medium tension only.
We are currently in the Preparatory or General Base Preparation Phase of your training cycle. The Preparatory phase of training offers a great opportunity to double down on the key fundamentals of this phase. There is a focus on improvement, as always, but with a reduced overall load and intensity compared to your race phase.
This phase of the program is normally around 8-10 weeks, but due to the early onset of the end of the race season, we kicked in early. Which for you, means you get an extra few weeks up your sleeve – which in turn means you get extra time to effectively work on the key fundamentals of this predatory / general base phase including: .
Developing / creating sound habits
End of range / top end work
Aerobic development (low heart rate / MAF)
Lower demands on time and effort
All live training sessions, coaching conversations and programming are centered around the type of work appropriate for this time of year and the phase of training and is VERY different to race phase training, so remember this.
Session structure You may have already noticed the progression (and your development) being made through a number of different ways in our program. This can be seen in individual session progressions (ie more reps), progression in duration and / or intensity. So knowing and understanding this can help you appreciate the purpose behind each session and know that each session has a purpose for where it is and when it is. So when you are asked to go easy, make sure you do. So that when you are asked to go HARD, you can. If you can’t master the art of easy and hard, then you are selling yourself and missing out on finding your true athletic potential.
You will also notice that I provide scalability in each of your sessions. So that on any given day, depending on how you feel, know that you have the ability to scale the session. This could be the duration, dropping the number of intervals, or scaling back the intensity. Your program is fluid and flexible. Always start a session with the intent of completing as prescribed, BUT if you cannot for some reason (ie fatigue, short on time etc) then follow the instructions on scaling the session and chat to me afterwards if needed.