In Stephen Seiler PhD’s lecture “Intensify or Extend? Balancing Training Prescription across the Endurance Duration Range” he makes clear that the key to athletic improvement is to favour adaptation over stress. Via consistent volume over time, most of which is easy, we utilise minuscule positive changes to our advantage.
❝ By shifting the fulcrum (balance point between Adaptive Stimulus and Stress) just a little bit towards adaptation then, over the long haul, we win.❞
~Stephen Seiler PhD
Dr Seiler uses an example of an athlete with 250 training sessions in a year. He asks the question, “If every workout gave a minuscule increase in function, what percentage increase would it take to get an astronomical improvement over the year—50% (which never happens)?”
The answer is elucidated by simple math: between 1/10th and 2/10th’s of 1% change per workout compounded over 250 sessions provides a 50% improvement. Now imagine an athlete who gets 350 sessions or 500 training sessions per year and how small the improvements need only be for dramatic results.
Of course, it’s important to state that increasing volume must happen over time, usually over many years. Also, adaptation is not a linear path since there’s more than just musculoskeletal and cardiovascular fitness development that occurs.
Seiler’s Hierarchy of Endurance Training Needs outlines eight levels, each building on the previous. The first three foundations are the primary building blocks. The remaining five levels can only enhance the athlete if the first three are nailed.
1. Total Frequency/Volume of Training
The single most beneficial thing you can do to improve endurance is to do a lot of low-intensity training.
2. High-Intensity Training
Combining a small amount of high-intensity training with a lot of low-intensity training improves fitness. This is what’s he calls ‘polarised training’.
3. Training Intensity Distribution
Endurance athletes improve the most when they do roughly 90-95% of their training at low intensity (as measured by ’time in zone’) and the remaining 5-10% high intensity. Note: the average athlete does far too much training at moderate intensity that greatly increases stress without providing relative benefits.
The details are overrated. Just keep training with appropriate volume, intensity distribution, and appropriate mental and physical rest.
5. Sports-Specific and Micro-Periodization Schemes
Don’t accumulate too much fatigue over extended periods, nor overly detrain between training stimuli.
6. Training-Stimuli Enhancement
Altitude, heat and energy availability (glycogen depleted state) are high hanging fruit that are potentially important for elite athletes but are condition specific.
7. Pacing Training
Potentially decisive if everything else is done right.
8. Training Tape
The athlete must ensure that they’re rested, without being overly rested. Always err on the side of being more rested than not.
The take-home point is that athletes gain the most from consistent, low-stress work over time. Instead of trying to “nail” key workouts, just go move, mostly easy, not too much.
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