More with less: Effective training in 10 hours a week

Achieve your race-day goals by planning your 10 hours of training effectively.
Most athletes have schedules that prevent them from training as much as they'd like, as much as they really need to or as much as all the printed guidelines suggest. Yet with a clear strategy, you can improve and realize your season goals.

In some ways you're better off than your friends who have unlimited amounts of time to train -- they might not have the same discipline to focus and may instead end up logging a lot of garbage miles.

A basic training week might have two sessions in each discipline, a weights session, two core sessions, a flexibility session and a rest day. With your limited time, it's hard to address all aspects of your training in a single week.

Instead, you can incorporate "focus weeks" into your training plan -- specific periods when you concentrate on a particular discipline -- to boost your fitness and race performance.

Step 1: Determine your season's goals
With limited time to train, you don't have the luxury of racing every weekend. In fact, you might only get a handful of solid races in. If so, you need to make every one of them count. Start your season right by sitting down and listing your goal races and ranking them as "A", "B" or "C" -- "A" being top priority, "C" being lowest priority.

In most cases, athletes "train through" their C and rest for only a few days before B-level races. For you, these races represent important building blocks in your season as you prepare for your A events.

Step 2: Establish your limiters
The next step is to take a quick walk down memory lane. How did you perform last year in your A events? Where did you notice shortcomings in your performance -- climbing hills? Bike power? Open water swims? Running endurance? Make a list of all your limiters in the left hand column (See Chart A below). Then list the A-priority events that you have selected for the year in chronological order from left to right.

Chart A
Event Name Event Name Event Name

Limiter 1
Limiter 2
Limiter 3

Think about the distance, the course, the conditions, etc. How do they map to your limiters? Place a check mark in the corresponding box for each limiter that applies under that specific event. This chart will give you a clear picture of which limiters you need to work on for each part of your season.

Focus weeks

During a focus week time-limited athletes will spend 40 to 60 percent of their overall time on a particular discipline. So for an athlete with ten hours a week, a swim focus week could mean four to six hours of swim work. Build your focus weeks by using Chart A (above) and your annual training plan. If your first A event is a sprint triathlon with an ocean swim that has you concerned, you don't need to schedule a run focus week during that particular training cycle.

Sample Time Allocation by Training Phase

Preparation Phase: Run focus
Monday: Day Off
Tuesday: 1 hour - Core and 30-min. drill run
Wednesday: 2 hours - AM: Swim, PM: Bike
Thursday: 2 hours - AM: Run, PM: Weights
Friday: 1 hour - Swim
Saturday: 2 hours - Brick w/30-min. run
Sunday: 2 hours - AM: Core and long run, PM: Stretch 30 min.

Base Phase: Swim focus
Monday: Day Off
Tuesday: 1 hour - Core & 30-min. drill ride
Wednesday: 1 hour - Swim
Thursday: 2 hours - AM: Stretch and drill run, PM: Weights
Friday: 1 hour - Swim
Saturday: 2 hours - AM: Swim 90 min., PM: Long run
Sunday: 2 hours - Long ride

Build Phase: Bike focus
Monday: Day Off
Tuesday: 1 hour - Core and 30-min. drill ride
Wednesday: 2.5 hours - AM: Swim, PM: Brick w/tempo efforts and 15-min. run
Thursday: 1 hour - PM: Weights
Friday: 1 hour - Swim
Saturday: 3 hours - Race-effort brick w/30-min. run
Sunday: 1.5 hours - AM: Long run, PM: Stretch 30 min.

Peak: Note: No weights, core only
Monday: Day Off
Tuesday: 2 hours - Core and 30-min. drill ride, PM: Run with race-pace efforts
Wednesday: 1 hour - Swim
Thursday: 2 hours - Aerobic brick w/15-min. run
Friday: 1 hour - Swim w/race pace efforts
Saturday: 2 hours - Race-effort brick w/20-min. run
Sunday: 2 hours - AM: Core and long run, PM: Stretch 30 min.

Types of focus weeks

While each focus week is concentrated on one discipline, the type of work you do is determined by your annual training plan. If you're in the base phase of your training, for example, your bike focus week could include one three-hour ride, one two-hour ride and two 30-minute drill sessions.

Technique limiters can and should be addressed throughout the season. This can range from an entire drill-focused workout to incorporating some drills into a longer, steady state effort. Work on endurance limiters during the base phases of your training, when you're building your aerobic capacity through longer and more consistent efforts at a moderate pace. Force limiters like hill climbing can be integrated into your early-season base work; work intervals can get longer as you enter the build phase.

Sport-specific strength limiters can be addressed at the end of your base and beginning of your build periods (for example, big gear work done on your bike). If it's work in the weight-room you need, you should consider twice-weekly weight workouts in your base periods with once-a-week efforts throughout the rest of the season for maintenance. Speed limiters are best addressed in the build and peak periods of your training -- incorporating high speed (and usually high-effort work) too early in your season can cause injury or overtraining.

Period Sample Focus

Preparation Mostly technique and skills
Base Endurance efforts, some technique and sport-specific strength work
Build Tempo efforts, some technique, one-two race-effort sessions weekly
Peak Race pace efforts, race simulation events (i.e., transitions/bricks), and some technique.

What to do with the other disciplines during a focus week?
You should maintain a basic level of work in each sport. In addition, you should consistently include strength training and flexibility in your training plan. A bike-focus week of six hours leaves you with four hours. With one hour being allocated to strength training and 30 minutes for a quality flexibility session, the remaining 2.5 hours could be split up as a Masters swim session (60 minutes), a steady run (45 minutes) and a transition day (swim 30 minutes, run 15 minutes).

Focus week rules

  • Reverse the tri: When planning a particular period of your training plan, start with the run, then the bike and then the swim. You can enter a swim-focus week a bit tired, as a swim week can be technique focused. Entering a run-focus week when you're tired will cause your form to suffer. You'll not only most likely be unable to reap the benefits of the focus week, you could end up over-trained or injured.
  • Keep it simple: Focus on one discipline for this week. These are the key workouts you can't miss. Review your limiters and give each workout a specific task: Will you work on technique, group-riding skills, or increasing your turnover?
  • Start easy: Your first focus week can be four hours (don't want to overload your system!), eventually building to six hours. Don't stack your focus weeks: Give yourself a break between focus weeks, especially as a beginner. If you're on a four-week cycle, for example, your first and third weeks can be focus weeks. Remember that focus weeks require a lot of physical and mental energy and you need to have both to complete each week successfully.
  • In summary, only having ten hours a week to train isn't the end of the world. With the right strategy and execution, you can position yourself to achieve your goals come race day.

    Patrick McCrann, Head Coach and Founder of Performance Training Systems, is an Ultrafit Associate and is a USA Triathlon certified coach. He can be contacted at

    Note: This article was initially published in Inside Triathlon magazine in 2005.

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