Here’s something to get you thinking:
2 gifted age-group athletes:
- Emma is 29 – Penny is 49.
- Both are previous podium finishers at the Ironman & 70.3 World championships.
- Both are aiming to race at the Ironman World championships later this year.
- Both are fiercely driven and love to train.
Training volume, work hours, sleep hours comparison:
- One of these athletes does a 22 + hours training a week the other does 13-15 hours.
- One of these athletes sleeps for an average of 7 hours a night the other sleeps for at least 10 hours +.
- One athlete can handle nearly 5 weeks of consistent training without a day off before she gets tired and needs to recover, the other about 3 weeks.
These are two of my coached athletes and it’s real scenario.
Based on age you would naturally assume it’s the 29 year old that would be doing 22 + hours; she’s younger, so she should be able to handle more training over a much longer period.
You’re wrong. Penny can currently handle more training and over a longer period than Emma.
Now let’s take a much closer look at their lifestyles, particularly the hours they sleep and work each week:
- Emma’s a physiotherapist and works about 50 + hours a week. Penny’s retired, devoting all her time to training and
- Emma gets 7 hours sleep a night – Penny gets 8-9 and 1-2 hours most afternoons.
As you can see Penny can train along similar lines to professional triathletes. Typically high-level pros don’t work, they sleep twice a day, and train for 25-35 hours a week.
It’s clear when you look at the bigger picture that the scales are loaded very differently for each athlete. So the ‘training prescription’ for individual athletes has to take into account these two hugely important elements – sleep hours and works hours. All too often I see age-group athletes completely ignoring this, trying to combine high volume training, long working hours and limited sleep. They work a 55 + hour week, sleep 6 hours a night then squeeze in 20-25 hours training too. They are masters of ignoring fatigue because they see it as a sign of weakness. We’ll call this athlete ‘Paul’.
Let’s compare Paul to my two ladies:
It would make much more sense for Paul to adjust his life along these lines to see what happens:
It’s a much more sensible balance, even if Paul is unable to reduce his working hours he can maximize his sleep time and reduce his training hours. In doing this he would improve his training quality and recover quicker. His body and mind would also be healthier whilst drastically reducing the risk of illness and injury.
It’s absolutely crucial for all age groups to monitor sleep hours/work hours on a weekly basis. By looking at the numbers you’ll discover some really useful patterns, which will impact your training. This process is all about doing what works best for you as an individual – FORGET what everyone else is doing. There’s a balance that’s unique to you. Don’t train like a pro in the mistaken belief that success only comes with high volume. Quality trumps quantity any day of the week.
If you’re an age group triathlete make sure you focus on getting your whole life in balance, its not just about the training. The more information you can gather from key areas like work and sleep patterns in relation to training the better. They are strongly inter-related.
On-going fatigue, recurring illness, injuries and performance decline could be a sign your scales are out of balance, so be smart with a new approach. If you want to increase your volume of training do it slowly and progressively, try tipping the scales in favour of less work and more sleep – you might be surprised at what starts to happen.