Break Your Routine With Block Training

Where are you with your training?

For many of you doing a big race this year, you are getting into some serious training. This can mean simply being structured and more disciplined, or, as a pro friend of mine is, hammering 20-plus hours a week!

As you come into a critical phase or block of training, there is a lot going through your head. You have probably done a few training races and therefore have some results, good or bad, to learn from, make adjustments, etc.

During this time it's easy to get distracted and stray from your original game plan. It's during this time that I see many athletes try to do too much. It seems wired that someone could not reach their goal by trying to over prepare... but it happens all the time. Now is the time we are looking for lots of bang for or buck. We are looking for the most adaptation possible in a given amount time. While one should always be managing their training in this way, now we are fit and efficient at our sports. The daylight hours are long, race day is drawing close and we are looking to really push the training envelope!

I have several thoughts on how to manage this phase.

  • Get back to basics: you should have a list of goals and training objectives that you made at the onset of training. Go back look at them. Do some need to be revised? You may have learned that you thought 1:20 for a 100-yard swimming threshold pace would net you a 1 hour Ironman swim (1:25/100-yard pace), but are you now thinking that its more like 1:17-1:18 threshold pace?
  • How many training objectives have you meet?
  • How many have you not met? Do you need to change things up, or do you need to keep plugging away? You may just need more time in a particular area.
  • The more you train, the more recovery you need. Plan extra time for rest and active recovery.

Realize that while it is important you make progress, it will take time. I have an athlete who is not making the progress we hoped for on the bike. While he feels better, his threshold watts are somewhat stagnate. However, each race he does he performs better and better in the bike leg, and places higher and higher in his age group over all. Some things just can't be explained. While we are still working at his riding, it's no time to be disappointed or panic!

OK Eric so I am going to train real big this month. What should I do?

Block training. In the triathlon world it is very easy to get caught up in the "routine". When people ask me "what's a normal build week look like for you?" I say, "There is no such thing."

It's so easy to get into that Monday is off, I swim Tuesday and Thursday, do the team run Wednesday, a long bike ride on Saturday, a long run Sunday, blah blah blah. If you want to improve in something you have to work at it...a lot!

We all know that you don't get faster from one workout, yet we get so crazy about doing just this one workout today! "I can't miss the team run, or I will lose my running legs."

You really think so? If so, you're wrong. If you want to maximize your time and get good riding, you're going to have to cut back the swimming and running. Or quit your job.

I am always doing focus or block training. I spend 1-2 weeks of focusing on one sport or one aspect of that sport. Here are some ideas for a focus week of training and an example of an athlete's run focus week.

--Think big picture, and plan ahead. You want to get as much training in as you can. You will do this by being consistent. Frequency is KEY! While you will want to do some big training days don't kill yourself! Push your limits, don't reach miles beyond them.

--Dial back other sports. If you're doing a focus week on the bike you can still run and swim but dial it WAY back! You're not going to forget how to run if you stop for two weeks. Do just 1-2 runs a week. Make them Zone 1-2, brick runs, easy. All you're looking for is the bare minimum here or less. Same with swimming. Dial your other sports back at least 50-75 percent and drop any intensity. Use all your physical and mental energy for your focus sport!

A pervious run-focus week for an athlete of ours looked like this:

  • Monday: Recovery day, easy one-hour ride.
  • Tuesday: Masters swim, longer and easier, 4k total. Run long, 90 minutes. 6 x 20-seconds pick-ups at end of run
  • Wednesday: Easy ride, 2 hours. (it was nice outside)
  • Thursday: 3-hour ride at IM race pace. Run brick, 45 minutes, Zone 3 pace.
  • Friday: Masters swim, longer and easier again. Run, 45-minute tempo run, Zone 3 pace
  • Saturday: Long run with tempo 30 minutes at Zone 2, 30 minutes at Zone 3, 30 minutes at Zone 2.
  • Sunday: OFF

Interesting to note that while this was the most running this athlete has done in one week, because it was managed well and totally focused on running the last run on Saturday, it was the best run he has had this year. The following week at a training race, he PR'd, running faster than he ever has in a sprint tri. And yes his swim and bike were fantastic as well!

A bike focus week will be even more extreme. I would have only one swim and two short Zone 2-Zone 3 runs. Rides will be every day (sans rest day), with a hard group ride on Tuesday, a long mountain ride on Wednesday, a flat Ironman pace ride Thursday, recovery Friday and a two-day stage race (three stages) on the weekend.

Eric is a full-time triathlon and cycling coach. He is the owner of EK Endurance Coaching and works with athletes of all levels. To see EK Endurance Coaching's highlighted results and learn more about what they can do for you go to

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