Episode 545 Show Notes

The Relationship Between Training Load and Performance: It’s Complicated

JUNE 25, 2020 · BY REBECCA JOHANSSON

  • Spend some time at a race expo or start line and it won’t take long until you hear banter about what athletes are doing for training.  There is no doubt that training is a necessary and important variable in athletic performance.  But how much does training contribute to performance? 
  • What I usual hear is how they were or are injured and of course they have not been training. They are building a story on why they will race poorly. Then they will go off too hard and fast and blowup, Then tell me that they were having a great race until … It is not a great race until the finish.
  • There is wide variation in amount of training completed. One of the studies we did included following a group of 69 runners for six weeks leading up to a 56 km road ultramarathon race.  There was no minimum training requirement to be part of the study.
  • Decent number of athletes but 6 weeks out training isnt not very tell and a 56km isnt really an ultra.
  • There was a positive linear relationship whereby runners with better relative performances completed higher amounts of training.  However, there is a lot of variation around the line.
  • In a separate study we followed 19 runners for 11 weeks leading up to a marathon race.  To be part of the study runners had to be training a minimum of 40 km per week and have a ten km race time of 55 minutes or faster.  So, compared to the earlier study discussed, the group was more homogenous. 
  • Sadly 40 km / 25 miles a week is considered marathon training.
  • There were no significant correlations between relative performance and training load for any week leading up to the marathon. To put it into context, the participant with the best relative performance ran an average of only four and a half hours per week.  The participant with the worst relative performance ran an average of eight hours per week.  
  • Why are these people running marathons? Or put it this way, why do they think they are going to do anything but survive the race.
  • One possible reason for the wide range in training load may be that runners train relative to what they have successfully completed in the past.  Let’s take the best (50 hours of running in 11 weeks) and worst relative performer (85 hours of running in 11 weeks) at the marathon as an example.  It is important to consider the best performer averaged 46 km per week in the six months prior to the study while the worst performer averaged 64 km per week during the same time.  So, it is likely the best performer had lower running duration during the 11 weeks before the race, because he was not accustomed to training as much as other participants.  
  • Another possible reason may be life stressors such as work and family.  Stress does impact training and performance (Bali, 2015), therefore runners with demanding jobs and/or families to care for may be unable to train with as high a volume as an athlete who works less or has no family commitments.  Factors such as genetics, age, nutrition, and psychological state should also be considered (Mann et al., 2014).
  • Why I tell athletes to train for shorter races.
  • There are other factors besides training load that should be considered in the effects on performance.  These may include stress (Bali, 2015), sleep (Soussi et al., 2008), weather on race day (Tatterson et al., 2000), nutrition on race day (Burke et al., 2007), and/or pacing on race day (Renfree & Gibson, 2013).  If an athlete is having poor performances on workouts or a race, reviewing the training should only be one component in assessing possible reasons for the decline in performance.  It is equally important to consider if there have been changes to the athletes work hours, family commitments, sleep patterns, nutrition, etc.  Only then can you assess what needs to change to improve performances.  

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