Train as Much as Possible – XENDURANCE athlete Brad Stulberg
Train as Much as Possible
I love a quote that I was made familiar with by ITU Long Course World Champion triathlete Jordan Rapp. In the context of being asked his opinion on a whole manner of training and recovery methods, he simply said that the best approach is to “train as much as possible.” Breaking this statement down into its two component parts makes it even easier to understand:
1) Train as much: More volume and more intensity is good, so long as…
2) As Possible: The body and mind are in a position to successfully adapt to the applied training load
Smart, structured, and long-term training is all about introducing physiological stimulus to the body (e.g., your sport-specific and functional strength workouts) which triggers adaptation over time (e.g., getting faster, stronger) . Most athletes fully understand the first part of Jordan’s statement — introducing escalating levels of volume and intensity into their routines — but not as many understand how it is enabled by the second part.
The body’s ability to take on more training in a positive way (leading to fitness gains, not injury) is contingent on far more than an individual’s current fitness level. This is not to say that current fitness levels don’t matter, because they do; it would be irresponsible to prescribe a 4-hour ride for someone with a current max ride duration of 2-hours. The same goes for intensity. No doubt about it, the body must be aerobically and structurally ready to take on increased levels of training stress, and an incremental “building” approach is the only way to get there…But that’s just one part of the equation and I find that many don’t place enough importance on the other parts of the equation, if not overlook them altogether.
The “as possible” is a 24/7 type of thing, influenced literally by everything we do, both inside and outside of sport. To better illustrate my point, imagine two athletes with the exact same fitness level at the start of 2012. Now, I am going to differ a few critical “as possible” variables. Note that I am really going to extremes to juxtapose the two, and this is to make my point clear and obvious.
Sleep: Athlete 1 is a graduate student taking a very manageable course load, and is able to sleep 8-hours a night, and also has the time for naps on strenuous training days. Athlete 2 just got promoted at an investment bank, and thus, has had to stay up later and wake up earlier in order to manage increased responsibility at work. Athlete 2 sleeps 6 hours a night, and napping is not an option.
Nutrition: Athlete 1 has the time to think about and prepare most of his meals. He almost never misses a meal, and always fuels his workouts properly. Athlete 2, constantly cramming workouts in wherever they will fit, is often forced to eat sub-ideal foods, and unfortunately, even finds himself missing [the most important] meals after workouts due to the generally rushed nature of his life.
General Life Stress: Athlete 1 has a job lined up for when he finishes school, is in a supportive and loving relationship, and is also in a good financial position. Athlete 2 is working through some tough things with family, feels an internal pressure to beat the guy next to him at work, and consistently has superiors [at the bank] in his face about meeting deadlines.
Acute Recovery: Athlete 1 can wear compression tights to class, ice his body while taking care of reading assignments, and works with a great local massage therapist. Meanwhile, Athlete 2 would be hard pressed to wear compression tights on Wall Street, let alone even have the time to get the damn things on!! Icing is an option, but only on weekends, and massage therapy rarely fits into Athlete 2′s schedule right now.
Long-Term Plan and Comfort: Athlete 1 works with a coach he trusts, and has a plan that he is confident in, and is constantly tweaked as a result of his response to it. Athlete 2 also works with a coach, as a matter of fact, the same coach as Athlete 1. That said, Athlete 2 just doesn’t have the time or energy to communicate frequently, and even his virtual updates are short, and often lack qualitative feedback from workouts.
Imagine that each of these athletes has 15 hours available to train weekly. If they execute the exact same workouts, I would almost guarantee that Athlete 1 becomes fitter — and races faster as a result — than Athlete 2.
As a matter of fact, Athlete 1 might be able to take on even additional training (e.g., 18-20 hours a week). Athlete 1 can up the “train as much” part of the equation, because the “as possible” part enables it. Following the same logic, Athlete 2, on the other hand, would likely be wise to decrease his training load (e.g., maybe to something more like 10-12 hours a week). In short, a baseline fitness level (remember that in this example, Athlete 1 and Athlete 2 had the same ingoing fitness) is only one component in determining how much training an athlete can take on and positively respond to. Therefore, it is important to account for, and to the extent possible, manage the other components too. Although some of the “as possible” variables are out of our control, many of them are within it, and it’s really just a matter of prioritizing what is important at certain times of life (e.g., do I take on the crazy job with the equally as crazy compensation, or do I max out my athletic potential??). It is also important to remember that so many of the “as possible” drivers are constantly changing; two-years from now, Athlete 1 (from our example above) may have 3x the “as possible” limiters as Athlete 2.
“Train as much as possible” really helps simplify things in an era where there is increasing complexity and variety on the market for training programs. So, what to do with all of this?
Constantly take stock of your “as possible” limiters and be sure that your training plan reflects them. At times, this may manifest in a window of opportunity to really up the training volume and intensity, while at other times, it might mean doing the opposite. Along those lines, realize that a decent amount of this is within at least somewhat of your control. To the extent that you find yourself in and/or can create a situation where the “as possible” widens, don’t be scared to take advantage of it by getting aggressive in your training. That said, have the courage to do the reverse if required too.
And the best part about all of this: next time someone asks you about the secrets to your training program, you can simply respond, “I train as much as possible.”