During lockdown we’ve been doing some fantastic turbo sessions live on Zoom that, after last night, have become known as ‘the session of death’. An example of the sort of session we did yesterday was sixty (yes, SIXTY) short bursts of high intensity efforts. We had people on the session who are training for half-ironman and Ironman events and so you might be thinking, like they were, why are we doing such hard efforts in the winter?
This is because we’re following an approach to training known as reverse periodisation.
In order to best understand reverse periodisation, let me tell you about traditional periodisation. In more traditional approaches to periodisation, athletes would complete mainly low intensity aerobic training during the winter months. This would be relaxed, easy training at what I like to call “conversation pace” i.e. you can hold a conversation throughout the session. Athlete would build their ‘base’ and do a lot of volume, but not much hard work. Whilst this is great in theory, in reality a lot of athletes ‘base’ month and ‘high volume’ months would therefore be during the dark, cold winter months where the daylight hours are limited and riding your bike for long periods of time may be unenjoyable. It also means you have other factors to navigate like hazardous weather conditions (ice and snow) making bike training challenging, as well as, for some, the mood drop that can come with SAD and the winter months.
So the reverse periodisation approach, something that Brett Sutton also adopts, is the opposite to this approach i.e. “We do work in the off season, but it’s short and sharp.” Reverse periodization focuses on shorter, more intense workouts during the winter months, especially on the bike and in the pool, and then layers longer aerobic training on top of this as the goal race approaches. This approach is particularly suited to those athletes that I coach in the UK as it is during the summer months that the longer, aerobic rides come (oh hello sunshine and coffee stops!)
So what does the reverse periodisation sessions look like for the bike training? Well, in the winter months we will more often than not have a focus on increasing your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). By increasing your FTP over winter, when you transition to more outdoor riding in the spring, you’ll be able to ride faster for the same effort. It’s a clear, simple goal to have; it’s SMART, it’s measurable, and it allows very structured, progressive sessions to be written into your training plan.
The great news is that increasing your FTP is not rocket science. Everyone has the power to improve their FTP. The bad news is that it’s not easy (hence our live turbo sessions of death every Wednesday evening!). To improve your FTP you have to be prepared to spend your winter doing some serious hard work. But as long as you’re prepared to work hard and commit to some intense indoor sessions you’ll reap the rewards and can start seeing a noticeable difference in as little as four weeks.
For swimmers, our approach through the winter months (when the reopening of pools allows!) would be to work on technique and, with appropriate drills, correct flaws to improve stroke efficiency. We’ve also held some swim webinars to share the theories of swim technique to increase our athletes’ awareness and understanding, drop us an email if you’d like a copy of this webinar.
The interesting part of the reverse periodisation approach is the running. It’s tempting to assume that in order to improve your running over winter, you need to be going hard and doing lots of high intensity run sets. Whilst we certainly do ask our athletes to check in and touch-base with some faster interval and tempo runs (use it or lose it), we have a much more relaxed approach and often write in many steady/easy/aerobic runs. The theory being, if your winter bike training is effectively focussed on building power, it frees you up to concentrate on a winter of enjoyable steady running.
In summary, if you’re committed to racing at your best next year; or you feel like you’ve plateaued and want to make improvements whilst maintaining a healthy balance to life then I’d certainly encourage you to try a different approach this coming season. Why not start with joining one of our live turbo sessions to put you through your paces, or our swim cord sessions to correct technique and take it from there.