You have been working hard for the past couple weeks, fitness has improved and it is time to progress your workouts. Where to next?
The easiest reaction for most endurance athletes is to increase volume which makes sense as the events we train for are long, so training more is the natural reaction. However, while increasing volume works to improve fitness, it is only beneficial to a point. Most of us have to work, take care of a family, eat, sleep, and watch Game of Thrones. Due to these daily factors, increasing training volume is not always an option. In additon to logisitics, an increase in training load is not always the most beneficial way to increase fitness due to the Law of Diminishing Returns.
When volume is high enough to complete the distance of the race, adding more will not lead to exponential fitness increases. However, changing the stimulus during workouts can.
Here are 6 ways that you can progress your workout without increasing volume:
1. Increase Interval Length: As your body adapts to a stimulus, you are often able to hold specific pacing longer. Increasing interval length will help to further adaptions, making it so you can hold the effort longer. If you are timed crunched keep the interval length the same and see the next tip.
2. Decrease Rest Length: When you become more fit, your recovery time between intervals and sessions will shorten. Your body will become more efficient at removing waste from your muscles and your breathing rate will drop faster. This will allow you do do an interval and recover faster to do the next one, which will may even allow you to do more intervals than before.
3. Increase the Number of Intervals: Since your rest may be shorter, there will be more time during your workout to do more intervals. This may mean ending with an interval that is shorter than the rest, but the body will adapt to that extra, bonus stimulus as well the original.
4. Increase Speed/Power: Minimally increasing your effort can lead to huge dividends down the road as more stress is put on the body. Be careful not to increase the effort too fast as this can lead the workout to being too hard, which can hinder positive adaptions. Use your heart rate in correlation to your pace/power/effort to make sure you are not pushing too hard.
5. Add Resistance: Take your track workout and do it on a road/pea-gravel trail that has a .5% to 1% grade. This will help build power and will have slightly less impact. If on the bike, take your efforts and add some low cadence which will help build more strength. For swim workouts, paddles can be added to help increase muscle recruitment through the latissimus dorsi and other internal rotators.
6. Add Intervals Before Steady State Work: If the workout is a steady state workout, throw in a short hard interval (ie. 6x1 minute all out, 1 minute recovery) set before the main endurance set. This will teach your body to hold the desired steady state effort after a hard effort, which is often seen on the race course.