We’re on a mission to dispel training myths and to support athletes to get the best from their training and ultimately optimise performance.

In a series of talks, starting in Harrogate, and later this year in locations around the country, we’ve brought together our Vitfor experts to provide audiences with actionable hints and tips that can be implemented immediately.

In this blog, we revisit Vitfor Performance Director, Craig Stevenson’s, guide to building training programs using training zones.

Intensity, frequency and volume – finding the right balance

Photo showing the Vitfor Performance Director, Craig Stevenson

Training is the process of putting stress on the body to cause an adaptive response and we measure the intensity of the stress through Training Zones. There are several zone models and at Vitfor we use a 7-zone model.

You can read more about each of the training zones in our Quick Guide blog.

Under the bonnet of our bodies are two main engines – aerobic and anaerobic. Although both systems are working all the time, one will be dominant depending on how hard we are working. At rest, our aerobic engine is dominant and at our most intense level, our anaerobic system takes over.

In the lower training zones, therefore, the aerobic system is dominant and in the higher zones, our anaerobic system has to do most of the work.

Diagram showing training zones mapped across the aerobic to anaerobic spectrum
Training Zones Mapped Across the Aerobic to Anaerobic Spectrum

It therefore follows that the metabolic load / stress changes with zones and so does the training effect. For example, zone 2 training has the greatest potential to affect lipid metabolism whilst zone 6 is more important for increasing anaerobic capacity.

By assessing what it is about our performance that we want to improve, we can start to build out our training program around the zones that will yield the optimal adaptations. For example, as a general rule of thumb:

  • Shorter events training will focus on improving VO2 Max
  • Mid distance events training will focus on improving Threshold
  • Long distance events training will focus on improving Fat Max / VT1

Balanced against this is the individual’s room for improvement or physiological restrictions and how much training they have the capacity for.

It seems like there’s so much to fit into our training! This is why periodisation is so important in training and why we use this as a basis for building personalised training programs at Vitfor. We use four levels of training cycle to build the program:

Chart showing an example training program split into macro, meso and microcycles
Example Macro, Meso and Microcycle Training Program
  • Macrocycles manage the season or the lead to the priority event in the year
  • Mesocycles manage the training focus between objectives
  • Microcycles manage training load – stress and recovery

Building this out into a hypothetical plan, it may look something like this:

  • Key objectives are phased towards the beginning of the macrocycle and the race specific conditioning nearer to the event. Whilst the above chart shows the phases as mutually exclusive, in practise this isn’t necessarily the case and the order will depend on a full analysis of the performance indicators (i.e. Fat Max, Threshold etc), room for improvement and event specificity.
  • Mesocycles are phased into microcycles where easier weeks manage transition between mesocycles and harder weeks stimulate the adaptations
  • Microcycles aren’t always 7 days, but the practicality of most people’s working lives means that this is the pragmatic approach that we take at Vitfor

When we build the training week or microcycle, we work on the principle that quality over quantity is almost always best. We look at your lifestyle to ascertain where your hardest session should be and build the week around that – doing your most important interval session when you’re freshest.

Diagram showing a sample training week built around the primary interval session. Each session is described by its focus and training load.
Sample Training Week Built Around Primary Interval Sessions

In this example, the training week is built around the primary session on Saturday. Glycogen can take up to 72 hours to recover; muscle fatigue even longer. If the quality can be maintained, we would then advocate frequency of training sessions over volume.

Photo of Craig Stevenson with a coaching client.

So, let’s sum up:

  • We’ve established what a training zone is and why we need them (don’t forget, you can read more about how to assess your own training zones in our Quick Guide blog)
  • We know that different intensities cause different training responses in the body
  • Training for metabolic adaptation is phased first with event specific conditioning closer to the event
  • The physiological objectives are derived from the KPIs that the event requires, how much room we have for improvement and the proximity to the event itself
  • We manage periods of different focus through the mesocycles
  • We manage week to week load and recovery with microcycles
  • Interval training is scheduled when you are at your freshest
  • Steady state can be used to fill the training time, provided quality is maintained
  • Frequency is preferable over volume in an individual session to gain the metabolic adaptations

What you can do next:

Aside from calling in the experts, you can use this information to revisit your current training program by asking yourself these key questions:

  • Are you clear about what it is you want to achieve?
  • Do you know what you need to improve on to get you there?
  • Do you fully understand your training zones?
  • How are you building your training meso and microcycles?
  • Are you maintaining quality throughout your training?
  • If you suspect quality is being sacrificed for volume, what do you need to do to build quality back in?

Of course, if you just don’t know where to start with all of this, you can request a personal training review with one of our Expert Coaches. There’s no charge involved – we will show you how the Vitfor training plan works, but you will also get a personal perspective and practical steps you can take for yourself to improve your training. Click here for more information.

Click here for Byron Spence’s Strength & Conditioning for Performance and here for Andy Brodziak’s Fuel & Hydration.


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