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Why You Should Think Twice Before Increasing Training Volume During Quarantine

BY Chris Wallace

With shifts to our schedules due to COVID-19, it can be tempting to drastically ramp up your training volume—here's why that might not be the best idea.

With most countries in some kind of lockdown, athletes all over the world have had to adjust their schedules and routines. Some of us are juggling childcare and working from home, which means we’ve lost our free time to train—while others have the opposite problem.

Maybe those one-hour commutes to work have suddenly disappeared, or perhaps your rigid nine-to-five has become a more flexible WFH. If you find yourself in with more time than usual on your hands, it can be tempting to try and dedicate more time to training. It would be great to come out of lockdown fitter than we’ve ever been, right? Well, as with most things it’s not really as clear cut as that.

Let’s take an extra few hours on top of normal training as an example. My aim here is to give some advice around how you can take advantage of shifts in your schedule while ramping at a healthy and productive rate.

Normal Schedule:

Type of sessionFrequencyDurationNotes
SwimThree per week30 minutes per session
BikeThree per weekTwo x60 min and one x120 minShort rides during the week including one brick session and longer ride on weekend
RunThree per week1x 45 min, 1×15 min and 1x 90 minShort runs during the week including one brick session a week and longer run on the weekend

Now we add on our extra 4 hours:

Type of sessionFrequencyDurationNotes
SwimThree per week30 minutes per sessionReplaced with S+C sessions
BikeThree per weekTwo x90 min and one x240 minShort rides during the week including one brick session and longer ride on weekend
RunThree per weekOne x 60 min, one x30 min and one x 120 min Short runs during the week including one brick session week and longer run on weekend

We’ve put that extra four hours into the plan! On face value that’s awesome, but you need to consider it in terms of volume. For the bike we have gone from four hours to seven hours in the space of one week, and the run, we’ve gone from two hours 30 minutes overall to three hours 30 minutes. That’s a 75 percent increase in volume for the bike and a 40 percent increase in volume for the run!

For most of the athletes I coach we look at no more than 10 percent as a rough guide for increase in training volume per week. This is the sweet spot for driving improvement without significantly increasing the chance of injury. It’s especially problematic to ramp up running too quickly, due to the higher injury risk and longer recovery times needed. Even from this basic overview, you can see how casually adding four hours per week can ultimately negatively impact your performance.

So, what can we do about this extra time?  How can we utilize it in a way that helps us continue to develop? My approach to this is holistic. Yes, you can increase your volume, but there are surely some areas of relative weakness you could also take the opportunity to work on. Instead of simply adding more time to your long workouts, the question to ask yourself is, what work can I put in now that will benefit me further down the line when we return to ‘normal’? Here are some ideas:

Identify Specific Physical Weaknesses.

Dedicated run, cycling and transition drill/skill sessions, can help you developing form and fluidity, with little addition to recovery times and injury risk.

Extra rest and recovery

Spend a little time doing a recovery overhaul. Look at how much you sleep and when. Look at what recovery practices you use (if any) and maybe start implementing some, such as stretching, foam rolling, massage etc.

Work on Your Mental Game

Take some time out to look at how you approach training and racing and how you currently deal with these situations, look to research and implement different methods to help you cope, think about meditation, relaxation and non-sport related activities to refresh you.

Plan Ahead

Take a bit of time out to look at your season (what’s left of it) and plan out your training, including everything above. Look at ways you can be more efficient in your training now and how to apply when you go from time rich to time poor again.  Look at what you did last season that worked and what didn’t.

I’m a great believer in the phrase ‘Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should’ and this forms a great part of my philosophy for training. Sometimes more is just more, and taking some time to step back and look at the situation as whole can really help you find areas to improve long-term, ultimately keeping you healthy.  

About Chris Wallace

Chris Wallace is a TrainingPeaks level 2 and British Triathlon level 3 coach. Coming from a swimming background, Chris is a coach educator with over 20 years of coaching and teaching experience. He passionately helps athletes complete their first, furthest or fastest race to date; you can learn more about Chris on his website and his training plans page.

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