The Principle of Individualization in Sports Training
The principle of individualization dictates that sports training should be adjusted according to the age, gender, rate of progress, and previous skill development of the individual. The goal of individualization is to capitalize on strengths while minimizing existing skill deficiencies.
It is widely accepted among the endurance sports community that individualization in training stimulus will create optimal performance outcomes. Measuring individual physiological information and applying it properly is the only true way to individualize and differentiate training responses, yet true individualization of training prescription is rarely carried out by coaches or self-coached athletes. If physiological information is unknown about a certain athlete, the coach makes a best guess effort, which may result in impaired performances.
Why You Should Individualize Training
Individualizing training can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but it is critical to achieving optimal physiological adaptations for every athlete. Accounting for physiological differences that can explain athletes’ training adaptation inequalities is often impossible if no physiological information is measured. A similar training philosophy, volume level, intensity level, or frequency level cannot be applied to all athletes to create expected or predicted performance responses, but this is often done because of the lack of physiological data.
Why the Lack of Data?
It is challenging to collect and use such data, mostly because of the complexity of the data and the difficulty in gathering it. The best data that allows us to individualize training often comes from a lab in the form of testing (VO2Max, lactate, muscle fiber, and more) but gathering lab data can be very difficult and expensive for an athlete or coach. This challenge of cost and complexity led to the development of “functional individualization” in endurance sports.
What is Functional Individualization?
Data-gathering devices (power meters, foot pods, swim watches, etc.) and analytical software developed a series of functional measurements that enabled anyone willing to test and analyze the data to determine some base physiological factors that made room for dramatic improvements in the individualization of training without time in the lab. In the early 200s Dr. Andrew Coggan and Hunter Allen introduced Functional Threshold Power, comparative Power Profiles, and power-based training zones that recognized any given athlete’s unique physiology much better than perceived exertion or heart rate training, which led to better identification of an athlete’s unique strengths and limiters, better tracking of fitness metrics, and improved training intensity efforts. This was a step forward, but it still left plenty of room to grow.
Specific Definition of Functional Individualization
Functional individualized training specifically recognizes the unique physiology of the individual athlete and allows for specific, highly focused diagnostic analysis, training prescription, and individualized performance analytics to improve training efficiency and effectiveness.
Functional Individualization Evolved
With the introduction of WKO4 and the new Power Duration Model, athletes and coaches can significantly improve the individualization of training. Let’s break down the three key areas of individualized training:
Diagnostic analytics has historically taken the shape of the comparison of abilities. For example, cyclists would compare their sprint ability to their steady-state/time trial ability and make a base determination of strength and weakness. The introduction of the power profile in WKO+ allowed cyclists to evolve that analysis and compare four unique power outputs (5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, and 60 minutes) to better understand neuromuscular power, anaerobic capacity, VO2Max, and threshold by comparing against norms. This improved the diagnosis of strengths and limiters by allowing for specific determination of physiological zone abilities. After the power profile came the fatigue profile, which expanded the four power durations to twelve in order to better understand fatigue resistance. In many cases the power profile didn’t tell the full story, and therefore considering more time ranges became important. For example, riders who win a lot of bike races in sprints might consider themselves sprinters, but in the power profile they might not be represented as sprinters because they don’t have high wattages for 5 seconds. If these riders have incredibly high wattages for 20 seconds, however, they can be considered “diesel” sprinters, able to win in longer sprints where fatigue resistance is more important.
WKO4 introduces the new Power Duration model with power duration profile standards that allow you to compare your power output across ALL time periods, leading to a highly specific understanding of strengths and limiters. One of the ways this is described in WKO4 is in the new system of phenotypes, or groups of similar athletes. Rider phenotypes are the composite of a rider’s observable physiological characteristics and power individualities (such as peak power, time to exhaustion, and functional threshold power) expressed by grouping with like individuals of similar traits. This gives us the ability to view a summary of strengths and weakness first, then use the Power Duration curve to examine those strengths and limiters under a magnifying glass.
Training Prescription Periodization
Periodization in endurance training is a long accepted principle. There has of course been debate and variation, but the core principle has been proven successful. The periodized training plan is typically based on diagnosis of strengths and limiters, along with historical data analysis. This often results in development of a periodized plan that focuses on improving the limiters while maximizing the strengths.
WKO4 is an analytical engine that will analyze data in any format over any time range, allowing the development and utilization of historical tracking data formats that haven’t been possible before. When combined with its improved diagnostic analytics, you have a highly specific diagnosis of strength, limiters, and performance history that can be used to develop a focused periodized training plan targeted at any athlete’s specific physiological needs.
Training Prescription Workouts
Training intensities have historically been prescribed against Functional Threshold Power (pace) or critical power targets. These have come to be named “training zones” and have been widely adopted in training. The downside of the training zones system is that it is typically based on a single (or few) metrics. With Functional Threshold Power (FTP) based training zones, the zones are set uniquely to each athlete’s FTP, but the training levels themselves are a standard percentage of that FTP. This works well for many athletes, but a significant number of people fall outside this norm, and certain training levels become for these athletes either too hard or too easy. Critical power zones can help individualize training, but maintaining and targeting such zones is difficult and complex, and the critical power model can often overestimate abilities.
To improve the individualization of training intensities, WKO4 features new Individualized Training Levels. This new system of training intensity determination uses the Power Duration model to prescribe highly specific training levels and recommends key lengths of intervals to improve the effectiveness of interval training. These new iLevels create a blended system related to both FTP and the Power Duration model, and they allow for a highly-specific target determination based on individual physiology. Since it is based on the power duration curve, iLevels are fluid and will automatically update with changes in fitness, based on data. This eliminates the need to guess or estimate improvements between testing periods.
Individualized Performance Analytics
Tracking and analyzing performance data to ensure training success or to determine areas of improvement has been limited. To date most of what we call analytics is really just descriptive analytics; in other words, it simply tells us what happened. The biggest limiter here has been the inability to truly understand why it happened, often resulting in a qualitative decision as to why performance achieved a goal or failed to do so.
One of the key focuses of the WKO4 analytical engine is the evolution of analytical capabilities from descriptive to diagnostic, creating a powerful tool to understand why things happen. There’s power in knowing why; it allows for continual improvement in training diagnosis and prescription to maximize training time and efficiency. With WKO4’s charting engine we can develop unique analysis through the use of expressions and math to create individual metrics to uncover key diagnostic elements of success.
To make it easier to access these advanced analytics, WKO4 offers the ability to exchange these ideas easily; every unique analytic chart, graph, and report can be exported and sent to others. This enables everyone to test and benefit from the community of athletes, coaches, and scientists who use TrainingPeaks and WKO4 as their analytical tools. To support this process, TrainingPeaks will host a new Chart Exchange, where users can visit and review numerous analytical chart and reports from the communities of users (including some of the best coaches and scientists in the business).
Principles of adaptation will help to optimize overall training responses. To maximize that adaption, the principles need to be viewed through an individualized lens. Training to perform at optimal levels requires thorough knowledge of the individual, the individual’s unique responses to training, and the type of training required for that individual to perform the specific event.
Peaks Coaching Group President Tim Cusick contributed to this article.