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Is endurance training a science or an art.

I was asked this question recently and it got me thinking. It may have been done to death but sometimes it isn't obvious what training is needed to elicit certain adaptations to help you get faster and stronger.



As biological creatures we know there is a vast amount of science out there that tells us we will adapt over time and we will be shaped by the environment which we occupy or the stresses that are placed upon us. In addition, our age, sex, dietary preferences and health considerations all come into the mix.


Then there is you as a person - what drives you mentally? I.e., what motivates you to go out and ride in the cold and dark mornings or train in your shed for hours on end. I think this is where the art comes in.


As a coach, I could prescribe exactly the same sessions for two athletes of similar age, sex and experience and know that the outcomes would be very different - not just the physiological response but also how they perceived the sessions and how motivated it left them to do those sessions again.


Take Vo2 Max training (which fills most people with dread). There are numerous sessions out there and each will largely get you to a similar place. A standard protocol being the 5 x 5, with a 1:1 work rest ratio, which is a bread and butter session and one that most people will see good adaptations from. You might do this session a few times but I can guarantee that it will drop away as you get mentally tired just thinking of doing this session - it certainly isn't one of my favorites.

An alternative is the Tabata style micro intervals, like the 30/30 or 40/20, etc. These are done at a slightly higher intensity and for some people will be far more tolerable than trying to hold a certain wattage for 5 minutes.

So the easy answer is to do what motivates you, or where your phenotype (genetic makeup) will typically guide you,


For example if you have a higher anaerobic capacity compared to your aerobic capacity then you’re likely to favor the micro style approach.

For the uninitiated anaerobic = glycolytic and in the absence of oxygen and you probably have a higher proportion of fast to slow twitch muscle fibers, whereas aerobic is primarily fat, glycogen and in the presence of oxygen with a higher proportion of slow twitch muscle fibers.


While this approach is ok, it has its limits. Sometimes you need to attempt or explore your areas of weakness or what you find both mentally and physically challenging and this is where even more nuance, intuition and gut instinct comes in. The art, if you like. And it will differ for everyone, depending on how you train and especially when you factor in what sort of racing or events you are looking to take part in.


The purpose of training is to ultimately generate growth and that only occurs by challenging yourself and through trial and error. I’ve failed many a session but I’ve learned more about myself from those failed sessions compared to the ones I’ve nailed.

So following the science will paint you a decent picture to a point, however if you really want to bring it to life then being artistic with your training can make a big difference and you could end up being a masterpiece.


Painting Copyright - Simon Jones


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