Some time ago a triathlon coach visiting Las Cruces asked to talk to me about coaching in general. Like I said before, I am always willing to discuss triathlon training, so obviously I said yes. This coach told me he wanted to know more about the “no rest weeks” concept I had referred to on Slowtwitch.
Probably because of the success that Joe Friel’s “Triathlon Training Bible” had when it came out, the concepts associated with traditional periodization schemes are very in-grained in the triathlon community. Therefore, it became that the “right” way of training was to structure mesocycles (training periods roughly corresponding to one month) as 2 or 3 weeks of “build” and one week of “rest”. This week of “rest” as per the “Bible” is a week where you decrease training load considerably, sometimes less than 50% of the biggest “build” week. This culture of the rest week has gotten us to a point that most athletes feel they need the rest week in order to improve. Other athletes (and coaches), use the rest week as some kind of sponge, wishfully cleaning away the ill-effects of a poorly designed training cycle.
The culture of the rest week has you think that unless you rest, you won’t improve. So not incorporating rest weeks can be extremely dangerous, since it might prevent you from improving. However, this way of thinking denotes a poor understanding of the way the human body adapts to endurance training in particular, and to stress in general. Whenever a new stimulus is imposed that causes stress, the body will work in order to adapt to the new level of stress. It seems simple enough to understand. Another thing that is simple to understand is that you don’t need to have a cyclic, extended period of rest in order to adapt to a new stress. Let’s pick three examples from normal life:
- You get a new job that means more hours and more responsibility. The first weeks are hard for you to cope with the increased workload. After 3 weeks, do you walk into your boss’ office, and ask for a week where you only work afternoons in order to adapt to the new job?
- You join the Marines and go through boot camp. Everyday is very hard and you think about quitting. After 2 weeks, do you ask the drill sergeant for a week of leave in order to adapt to boot camp?
- A new baby is born in your house. That means a change of routine and a lot of lost sleep. After three weeks, do you go ask your partner for a week off in order to adapt?
These three situations, and many more that could be mentioned, serve to highlight that humans have a remarkable capacity to adapt to a new stress while that stress is imposed. Obviously recovery is an important part of the adaptation process, but again very simply put, it can be said that recovery occurs at all times that stress is not applied, and that adaptation to stress occurs at all times.
Obviously not having rest weeks impacts the way you should plan your training. As I mentioned in a previous post, the training stimulus should be changed every 6 to 8 weeks, by manipulating either volume or intensity individually, or both at the same time. Not having weeks where training load goes down considerably means that training load will be more even inside a training cycle. This will also mean that you’ll be more consistent with your training from week to week. But more importantly, it means that through this consistency, you will be able to train more over the entire cycle. And we all know that more is MORE.