Is there any point in time of a training plan where a "big week" would be most optimal? By big week I mean doing something like increasing the volume of one of the disciplines (bike/swim up to 100%, running up to 50%) and decreasing other legs.
Example, I'm building up to 40mile a week in running; bumping it up to 60mile a week while dropping some time on the bike during the end of my base phase? Or going from 120 miles on the bike to 220 miles and dropping some running/swimming?
I've read about doing big weeks but I'm not sure how beneficial they really are.
*This article is not for the 'beginner' triathlete. High volume weeks are for those that have been consistently training for at least a year and have no injuries.
This is a great question and you’ll get a lot of debate on the answer. I’ll give you my thoughts and a few examples of how big weeks work successfully.
The idea of training in general is to create stress, then to back off to let the body recover, in order to get stronger and then apply more stress to get even stronger. This is the cycle we repeat multiple times during our training cycle. If you stick to a general program of a couple of weeks of higher volume, then lowering the volume the third week as recovery, then you are using the stress + rest = success format. Taking a lower volume, less intense week every few weeks, certainly allows your body to rest. The higher volume athletes should take these weeks more often. If you are training at less than 10 hours per week, I don’t know that you need a real recovery week vs. a few easy days.
Here’s how a big week(s) could work into your training: There are many variations of this and I’ll give you a few of my favorites. One is to work in a period of ‘Sport Rotation.’ You can take your weakest sport, build up to 5-6 workouts per week in that sport, lower the volume in the other two sports and do this for eight weeks. You can rotate through the other two sports as well. The best time of the year to do this is in the fall and then over the winter. Three cycles of 8 weeks is 24 weeks - or half your season. This is a very effective method of improving.
Another option would be to rotate bike and run weeks. Let’s assume you maintain your swim fitness on three swims per week, and you dedicate the rest of your training time to cycling and running. In our example our athlete will be training 10-12 hours per week. We’ll check her off for three hours of swimming each week. In the first week, she’ll focus on cycling, and she’ll put in six hours of riding. That will leave her with three hours for running. In week two, our athlete will drop the cycling to four hours and she’ll be running five hours. These alternating weeks can go on and on until you no longer see improvement and then you can blow it up and start with something completely new.
Another big week idea that has worked for the athletes I coach is a big easy high volume week, mostly swim and bike based. Let’s assume the athlete has been training 12-15 hours per week and they have a vacation week where they can basically swim, bike and run each day to their heart’s content. What I would suggest is to start each day with a swim of at least one hour and / or 3,000 yards. After a big breakfast you can be out the door for a casual 3-5 hour ride. After some lunch and maybe a nap a short run would be in order. On day two you could start with a long run, do a short bike and then add in a recovery swim. See the grid below for how I lay out this week. The idea here isn’t intensity but just building up a big week to stress the body, without getting injured of course and then you can take 7-10 days easy to absorb all this training. I’m sure within a few weeks you will see some nice improvement across the board. Keep in mind this is just an example and you’ll have to adjust to your ability to recover. If you take two days to recover after a five hour ride, you will want to keep the rides closer to three hours. If you have trouble with runs over 90 minutes, then keep those runs on the lower end, etc.
EZ 1 hr
Long–maxof 2 hours
Off or30’ EZ
I hope this gives a new perspective on how to approach a big week training!
Mike Ricci is a Level III USA Triathlon Certified Coach and has been coaching endurance athletes since 1989. Mike founded D3 Multisport in 2000, and has slowly added top-notch, USAT certified coaches each year to handle the demand for high quality triathlon coaching. D3 Coaches have coached hundreds of athletes to their first triathlon and hundreds more to become Ironman Finishers. From 2002-2008, D3 was awarded the job of writing the training programs for the USA World Championship Teams. Mike currently coaches the three time defending Collegiate National Champion University of CO Triathlon Team.