Trainingsaufbau & Periodisierung

This article is about the "big picture": how do I best build up my several months of training in order to be in top shape at the starting line on the day of the competition? How do I give my training plan an overarching structure that gives me an idea of ​​what I should train when and where the main focus lies in the preparation? We will now go into detail about these questions in this article.

Periodization of training

The core of the long-term training structure is the sports-scientific principle of periodization - the division of the entire training period into consecutive, multi-week periods that place different priorities in the load design of the training.

The background is that no athlete is able to train at the highest level for several months. Otherwise, even professional athletes will end up in a permanent catabolic phase (i.e. muscle breakdown due to excessive exertion). The solution is to build the "loss" of peak form into the training plan. This is done through reduced intensity, less scope and new, alternating training stimuli.

Various training variables are systematically changed in the individual training periods: scope, intensity, repetitions, length of breaks or the type of unit. The resulting variety of training requirements allows you to achieve the most sustainable improvements in performance in the long term.

Scope and intensity are inversely dependent on each other. This means: the larger the training scope, the lower the intensity and vice versa. One should switch the focus sufficiently between the two. And if you're initially looking to build core endurance, then stay in that low-intensity range as well, as it can help prevent injuries and help heal minor issues. It also prepares you for the upcoming, more intense sessions.

training cycles

With a periodized training plan, the preparation time is divided into 6-7 phases. These are:

  • basic training
  • advanced training
  • intensity training
  • immediate competition preparation
  • competition phase
  • Transition period (one or more transition periods depending on season goals)
  • recovery period

The following generally applies: for the entire course of the training: from the general to the specific. This means that at the beginning of the training phase, a rather unspecific endurance is built up and a good basis in strength and athletics is created. As the preparations progress, the units become more and more specific. This means that you acquire your competition speed bit by bit and work specifically on all areas with potential for improvement. How the training structure should look in detail and what is behind the different training cycles follows now.

basic training

The entry into the structured training process is called basic training or preparation period 1 (VP1). The start and duration depend on the season goal and training level. For most athletes, VP1 begins in November/December of the previous year and usually lasts between 8-12 weeks.

Eight weeks are often enough for experienced triathletes, as they already have a good basic level of endurance. Twelve weeks (or more) are recommended for beginners and returners. This first block serves as a foundation for everything that follows, with a particular focus on aerobic training (GA1). The main goal is to improve basic endurance and fat metabolism, which can also be achieved through non-sport specific training.

Strength endurance and regular athletic training should also be part of the training plan. Occasionally, small competitions (winter runs or similar) in the individual disciplines can also be completed as form tests.

Strength endurance and regular athletic training should also be part of the training plan. Occasionally, small competitions (winter runs or similar) in the individual disciplines can also be completed as form tests.

Before these, however, there is no reduction in training, since you should not give 100% in competition and otherwise too much time will be lost. Above all, swimming has a high priority (at least 2-3 sessions per week), while running has only a medium priority and cycling has the lowest priority.

Examples of training content are:

  • Swimming: technique & water position, crawl legs, all positions, basic endurance
  • Running: technique training (running ABC), GA1 runs, progression runs
  • Other units: high proportion of athletic/stabi training, stretching, other endurance training (e.g. cross-country skiing)

advanced training

This is followed by the preparation period 2 (VP2). This is where the first increase in volume occurs and the training becomes more specific. However, the transition is not a hard break in the training plan, but is increasingly supplemented by the more specific units. Special strength and athletic exercises should now also be incorporated into the training plan and the aim is to build up strength and speed.

For this purpose, for example, the first more targeted units "on the mountain" on the bike (training camp, roller - Zwift, trainer road, etc.) or also when running, increasingly targeted speed/interval units can be integrated into the training plan. With swimming you have made the most progress due to the large basic focus and can now work specifically on building up specific strength endurance (e.g. paddles) and speed (e.g. short series of 50s/100s).

Overall, however, these units represent individual peaks in the training plan and the training should not be too intensive overall. The focus of the training is still the load in the aerobic area.

Overall, however, these units represent individual peaks in the training plan and the training should not be too intensive overall. The focus of the training is still the load in the aerobic area.

The VP2 lasts approximately 8 weeks but can be extended to 12 weeks as needed. Since the weather in Germany during this period is not particularly ideal for long, relatively relaxed units on the road bike, the VP2 is particularly suitable for a first training camp in warm and dry regions.

Examples of training content are:

  • Swimming: Endurance/speed/strength development, technique
  • Bike: basic endurance, strength/K3
  • Running: basic endurance, pace development/intervals
  • Other: Stability and athletic training, stretching

intensity training

This cycle starts the preparation phase 3 (VP3), which lasts four to eight weeks. The aim of this phase is to develop the specific form and to prepare for the first “training” competitions. On the existing basis, the pace is built up in the VP3 through systematic training units in the development and competition-specific area.

The training units are characterized by a significantly increased intensity of exertion in all three disciplines. The training time on the bike now takes up a large part of the total training time. It is now important to build in regular rest days so that the performance can also develop optimally.

The volumes remain high and may even increase. Depending on your taste, you could complete a second training camp in a moderate climate during VP3.

Examples of training content are:

  • Swimming: specific competition endurance, open water training
  • Bike: speed/power development
  • Running: development of competition speed, first couple runs

Immediate competition preparation

Now we are already in the last phase before the competition highlights and the season highlight. A short period, but it has it all. Here, the very specific core units (brick sessions) are trained for the competition and the complex competition load is simulated (coupling units, preparatory competitions). The units should have a competition-like intensity but be smaller in scope. But rest is also a top priority. The competition preparation phase is very individual and can last from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the goal.

Intervals are now high-intensity and competitions can replace sessions and should be completed at high levels of performance.

Examples of training content are:

  • Swimming: specific competition endurance, open water training
  • Bike: time trial, WK-specific pace intervals
  • Running: development/maintenance of competition speed, paddock runs, track training
  • Other: competitions, recreation

Also interesting

competition phase

Now we come to the last days before the highlight of the season. The volumes here are now small, the intensity initially remains high, but is reduced over time. Recovery now serves as a crucial training tool. This is where the so-called tapering phase comes in. The focus is on recovery, but moderate units are completed before the competition. With these, you can vary between reducing the intensity or scope. The aim of this phase is to establish the optimal level of performance on the day of the competition. A common mistake is trying to catch up on training from the last few months in the last two weeks before the competition. This often achieves exactly the opposite. This phase usually lasts 2-4 weeks.

transition phase

If two or more competition highlights are planned, but they are separated in time, the competition season must be split. This is where the so-called dual or multiple periodization comes into play. Some training phases are shortened to accommodate the transition phase. After a short recovery period after the first season highlight, a shortened version of VP2 and VP3 will be implemented. This is the case, for example, when a long-distance triathlon is held earlier in the year with the goal of qualifying for the Hawaii Ironman. Should qualification be achieved, Hawaii would be in the recovery phase, which logically would not be optimal. Ideally, in this special case, there should even be a three-way split in order to incorporate a second qualification attempt that may be necessary. The transition phase can be stretched from four to six weeks.

recovery period

Most importantly, there should be a 6-8 week break from training at the end of the season. The point here is that the body can recover sufficiently and extensively and the batteries are charged. In addition, new motivation should be fueled and the head should be free from past competition stress. Here, relaxation doesn't mean lying on the couch all day! Low-intensity sports or non-specific sports such as hiking, mountain biking, skiing, or rock climbing are all allowed during the recovery period. The guiding principle is: do everything that is fun! In the recovery phase you then make plans for the coming season and look forward to getting back into training.

General information

Scopes: The general scope of your training should be adjusted to your goal during the competition season. Of course, preparing for an Ironman with Hawaii qualification looks different than preparing for the first sprint triathlon. When creating your training plan, you should always keep your goal for the season in mind and ideally consult a trainer in order to optimally plan your training.

Training areas: In order to be able to design the training efficiently in every phase, you should definitely know your individual training areas. For this purpose, performance diagnostics are primarily available, in which your current performance status is measured and your individual training areas are then derived so that you can adapt your training accordingly. The best time for performance diagnostics is on the one hand when you start training in VP1, but also when you go into the specific, speed-oriented training units to determine your exact speed thresholds.

Training camp: A training camp is a very effective form of block training and ensures a rapid increase in form. A training camp is highly recommended, especially in preparation for the longer competition distances. The optimal period is between February - April. A positive side effect is that you can escape the gray winter in Germany for a few days and continue your intensive training in a sunny place. In the training camp, you usually train every day and after your return there is a delayed recovery break with which a good increase in performance can be recorded as time-efficiently as possible.

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