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The intensity disciplined athlete. by K.N.*

In competitive but also in recreational sports, the parameters used for the successful recipe are duration, frequency, intensity, volume namely reps and sets. Mix the above in the right balance for your case and success is imminent, ensuring that you do end up reaching your destination.

Throughout my career I have witnessed that the athletes who screwed up their season were those who most times did not respect the parameter of intensity. Having too many sessions per week in low intensity or let’s say zone 1 or zone 2, ended up building a decent foundation in the aerobic base area and the risk of burning out was less Vs those who always had generous time of high intensity (HI) in each session, each day and in each week. Those who had more HI sessions per week, and more HI minutes per week were definitely more competitive and ready to tackle a race pace event ahead but, were always walking a tight rope path, with the under-recovery concept, (something we will discuss in another article) at very close proximity. However fellow coaches might argue that without intensity in your routine, forget any kind a “sharp edge at the end of your spear”. Correct but  been “poor” in HI minutes saves some trouble later on.

I will have to explore and bring out in a number of studies that point out the importance of “spicing up” your weekly routine with the right dosage of HI at the right duration, at the right training phase. That is a difficult task to master and if you are talking to an audience of recreation/ amateur, maybe even beginner athletes, you are better off prescribing the bare minimum of HI minutes/ week.  By selecting this approach you minimize the risk of keeping them in a fragile state of fatigue, under-rested and not at their peak ability to deliver force/ power/speed when race day comes.

The study that demonstrates two different approaches to training, “A” been the high volume but almost exclusively low intensity (z1 & z2 efforts), and “B” the medium to low volume of training, with often and daily HI minutes per week (in z4 & z5) showed the below results. The B group was flirting with the hard to buffer fatigue, loss of drive, was drained, and with reduced immunity, as the result manifested not after 2 weeks of HI sessions, but after 3-5 months of this approach in the 6- month cycle, with HI minutes well over the 15-20% of total volume.  Point here is that you can get away with low intensity / high volume training, but when it comes to high volume & HI, care should be given.

Regulating the intensity should be the priority of the Coach and athlete, and if no coach is present the amateur athlete can browse in the aps available to see the amount of HI minutes collected in the week. Understanding the training zones and their relevant speeds that are correlated to those, will solve a small part of the riddle. You can take a closer look at your training zones chart (more explanation here). Given the relevant phase present, the HI minutes should reflect a philosophy that corresponds to peak fitness at the right time. If an amateur athlete is only at the beginning of her athletic prep as a 1st or 2nd race, the HI minutes should be kept at a minimum for safety and longevity in the sport, either in triathlon, running or cycling.

Being disciplined in the intensity is a crucial factor for success if you want to have a long term activity going fwd- (the task for many of us, who just want to be outdoors enjoying the benefits of cardio-respiratory exercise).



*Kypros Nicolaou is an Exercise Physiologist, graduate of the University of Alabama, an ACSM certified Health & Fitness Instructor, holds an ITU  Level II Certification as a Triathlon Coach, and is a multiple Ironman & Half Ironman Triathlon finisher. He is coaching Triathletes online, teaches Functional Training at ryltoday, and performs Exercise Physiology assessments at the Cyprus Sports & Research Center.    info@ryltoday.com


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