Smoothing the Curve

Smoothing the training curve.

Have you noticed that a really good workout is often followed by a bad one? Or a really bad workout is followed by a great one just days later? For an athlete it's like living the boomerang effect- one day feeling horrible and the next you're hitting PR's.


When I review the training and racing of elite performers, I notice that they smooth the peaks and valleys of their daily performance. Their daily training looks the gentle rise and fall of a prairie- sometimes rising, other times descending, but never dramatically in any direction.


When I review the training schedules of athletes who are struggling, their training often looks like the Sawtooth mountains. Sharp peak followed by a sheer drop off. You can see the moment when they were struck with training inspiration, and you can see the moment they got injured or burned out.


In training we want to smooth the curve as much as possible. A classic mistake I see happens at training camps. During the camp the athlete dramatically increases their training- often in terms of both volume and intensity. The spike in training may result in some short term gains, but all peaks have a valley. Many of the gains the athlete realized during the training camp are lost during the weeks required to navigate out of the training valley they pounded themselves into.


Another mistake I often see is with ramp-rate in training volume. By nature athletes seem to like a linear progression: this week we will run 8 miles, next week 10, the week after that 12, etcetera until we hit 20 miles then a marathon two weeks after that. We just have to walk these logical steps up to the peak of the mountain.


The reality is that our bodies do not work that way.


The peak and valley effect is not ideal. Instead, we want to raise the general plateau of our training by regularly repeating a sustainable, quality amount of training that will prepare us for the demands of racing. Subtle increases in volume or intensity followed by subtle decreases in training based on our natural response to the training load is the goal.


There is a reason few people live high up in the mountain peaks... it's a dangerous place.


- Antonio Gonzalez



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