Eneko Llanos, Ainhoa Murua, Inigo Mujika and Hektor Llanos.

Eneko Llanos, Ainhoa Murua, Inigo Mujika and Hektor Llanos.

What follows is an interview that I did a few months ago for a triathlon magazine but never got published, except for a few extracts here and there within an article.

What are the limitations of a traditional periodization model (base, build…) for a triathlete racing five to 10 times per season?

A major limitation of a traditional periodization model is its inability to produce multiple performance peaks over the season. Although this may not be a big problem for a long-distance triathlete taking part in two or three major events in the season, it is clearly a handicap for an elite Olympic distance triathlete needing to perform repeatedly at the World Triathlon Series. In addition, such mixed training programmes may induce excessive fatigue, conflicting training responses and stagnation of improvement rate.

What alternative periodization models would work better for a triathlete whose season might run from March to October?

There are suitable alternative periodization models for long competitive periods, such as integrated macrocycles (basically compressing a traditional periodization model into shorter time frames and repeating this structure several times over the season); block periodization (an alternative model characterized by a sequence of training blocks containing highly concentrated training loads directed to stimulate a small number of specific qualities); even models developed for team sports with a long competitive period such as football could be adapted to the specific demands of triathletes needing to perform repeatedly over a relatively long competition season. The most important point, however, is to continually adapt and customize such models to the needs of each individual athlete.

How could a triathlete plan their macrocycle if their goal races are, say, eight-10 weeks apart?

As implied in my previous answer, there is no single approach that would suit every athlete. One possible option could be to use a traditional periodization model in the lead-up to the initial race, and then switch to an integrated macrocycle or a block periodization approach to peak for subsequent races. When races are 8-10 weeks apart, there is usually sufficient time to plan some recovery, a build-up period and a taper in between races. When multiple races are closer together, athletes may need to try to extend their fitness peak, instead of trying to achieve a new peak for each of those races.

How should training volume and intensity vary for a triathlete in these macrocycles?

That of course will depend on the planning model that is being used and each athlete’s individual adaptation profile. Any kind of training overload induces both increasing levels of adaptation and increasing levels of fatigue, and these two factors need to be adequately managed to achieve fitness and performance peaks at the right time. Some athletes are more sensitive to high training volumes, whereas some others may be more responsive to high training intensity. So regardless of the recommendations provided by the various periodization models at hand, these training components should be manipulated to suit each athlete’s adaptation profile.

If they’re new to this form of training, how could they monitor their condition so they don’t overtrain?

Notwithstanding their limitations, periodization models should contribute to limit the risk of overtraining, as their implementation implies that training should be carefully planned, accurately quantified and carefully and continuously monitored. Given these premises, it is really difficult for an athlete to overtrain. Accurate records of performance in training and competition, training individualization, adequate nutrition, hydration and recovery, assessment of physical, mental and emotional status, regular health checks, and most especially open and permanent communication between athletes and coaches should guarantee that overtraining will not occur.

Triathlon’s rare in its multi-disciplinary nature. Does that impact upon how the triathlete periodises their year or block? If so, how?

Although it is true that the multi-disciplinary nature of triathlon makes it somewhat special, it is also true that other endurance sports use alternative sport disciplines at different stages of their preparation, so triathlon training is not that unique. Besides, because of its multidisciplinary nature, it is easier to comply with the principle of training specificity in triathlon, as training in any of the three disciplines can be considered sport specific, whereas swimming, cycling or running would be non-specific “cross training” in other sports. That said, different approaches are possible in triathlon, such as simultaneous or consecutive development of each discipline, and that’s when the art of coaching comes into play.

Do nutritional requirements change in a macrocycle? How?

Yes, they certainly do. Nutritional periodization is a concept that is receiving more and more attention from sport nutrition experts. Nutrition needs specific to each particular training phase and session need to be determined, and eating strategies should be implemented to adequately support training, optimize recovery and facilitate adaptation processes. While nutritional deficiencies must be avoided as a top priority at all times, sufficient energy, macronutrient and micronutrient intake are critical to support optimal adaptation to training. For example, during periods of intense training carbohydrate and protein intake is critical, and protein intake may be particularly important during periods of hypocaloric weight loss.

Which triathletes have you – or do you – work with?

At the moment, I am only working with Olympic distance female Ainhoa Murua, with whom I have worked since 2004. Between 2002 and 2011 I coached brothers Hektor and Eneko Llanos. Not many people are aware of this, but I was a selector for Triathlon Australia in 2003 and 2004. In the past few years I have also been involved in the physiological testing of many elite and age group athletes racing in all distances and various performance levels, also providing them with training advice, either directly or through the coaches I consult with.

Anything else you would like to add on periodization for triathletes?

I would like to emphasize that simply applying generic periodization models may not be the most appropriate training approach, as training responses vary among specific events and individual athletes preparing for a particular event. Coaches and athletes should not get stuck on rigid, predetermined training structures. On the contrary, training programmes should remain dynamic, flexible and adaptable, even within the framework of a given periodized model.

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