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Cyclic training and the reason you should train different energy systems

Doing the same type of training year in year out with no variation is the recipe for burn out, injuries and only a very limited single purpose type of fitness, rather than general functionality.

How to break down your training year into cycles and why you need to train different energy systems.

Even though you perhaps just like one particular type of training for example running or swimming or one particular distance, for example the marathon or maybe you are a 5km runner, there are many reasons not to just stick to what you are good at but to break your training year into different cycles and different types of training

I am speaking from the experience of someone who didn’t do this, running for years long slow distance only.

I hated speed work. GIenetically and because of my asthma I didn’t have much ability to run fast but I naturally had a good amount of endurance, so that is all I trained not knowing any better, year in year out, long slow massive distances and yes it worked to a degree. I could finish mammoth race distances and had an incredible about of endurance and the mind conditioning to see things through but my speed which had been slow at the start became even slower. 

My thoughts were “oh well I don’t have it genetically to be fast so I will stick with my strengths.”

I was good at it but I wasn’t what I call functionally fit all round, I wasn’t strong, mobile, coordinated or fast I just had endurance and after years of doing too many races back to back and no breaks in my yearly cycle and training regimes or focus I burnt out severely. 

In the past few years however as I learnt about the theory of training I started experimenting to see what would happen to my mature, singularly trained, burnt out body and mind if I started training in cycles and concentrating on training different energy systems.

To my astonishment when I started breaking the year up and when I started working hard on strength, speed and mobility and laying off the long slow distance, my body changed drastically and my mind felt refreshed and excited about the new challenges. Many of the nagging injuries in my back and hips and shoulders disappeared and the lean muscle mass in my body increased and body fat decreased even though I was training much much less in terms of time on your feet and indeed also psychologically it felt like I wasn’t training nearly so hard but it had more effect when it was a combination of training types. 

So here is a suggested way to break up your yearly cycle.

Pick ideally no more than two big races or competitions or times when you want to be at your physical peak, per year. You can of course do more smaller or unimportant events but you should pick a maximum of two big important events, i.e. events where you want to bring your best performance. For example you may want to run one marathon and do one cross fit competition or a half ironman. 

Optionally these events should be around six months apart to give you time to recover, build a base and hone for the next event.

Lets say for example you are a marathon runner. One marathon is in January and the next is an ultra marathon of 50km in July.

For a marathon you typically need at least 16 weeks specific training for that distance, mostly focusing on higher mileage, aerobic development and some mobility and strength work.

In our example you would begin your programme for the January marathon, the previous September and carry through to December then race in early January. 

Thereafter you take a 2 month recovery phase and build back into a more general fitness, more strength, more cross training, more things like stride outs, hill work (just playing with speed at this stage not going full out), so there is the rest of your January and February taken care of.

Then in March and part of April 4 to 5 weeks is spent honing your speed skills. 

You might like to do a local 5km or 10km race or two, but the point is increasing your VO2max and to hone your technique and form. 

This might include more structured interval sessions, form drills, as well as hill workouts both long and short, stride outs and limit end aerobic sessions, that is running at the threshold between your aerobic (with oxygen) level and your anaerobic level (where you start going into oxygen deficit).

The mileage is heavily reduced in this phase and it’s all about quality work and some intense cross training for e.g. crossfit workouts or tabata style resistance workouts where you are pushing both the cardiovascular systems and the strength building, stability building systems. 

In April, May, June and the beginning of July you are back into marathon training, (not forgetting a taper before the event) and then July is the next race. 

In August, September you are back into the recovery programme. You can even add in alternate training programmes including the likes of cycling, swimming, pilates, yoga etc getting your general fitness back up and allowing any injury niggles from high mileage to heal. By the end of that phase you are back into speed again. 

This type of cyclic development makes sure you cover off all your bases and you won’t burn out as fast or get injured as often. You cover off 






Cross training (which adds to psychological recovery and ensures general fitness) 

If you are constantly changing things up in this way, you will stay fresh in the mind, have less injuries and will be fit and functional in different areas rather than being totally one sided in your fitness. This is also, in my opinion, the recipe for longevity in sport. Staying functional for as long as possible. By shocking the body and never letting it get used to one type of training it has no option but to strengthen and improve and you avoid the dreaded performance plateau.