- We believe personalising the training you do is important to help you be at your best
- This is a high level intro to (i) what we think personalising your training means (ii) what’s important to get right, (iii) why, including a deeper dive on the science (showing the mechanical changes to your physiology as a result of some of these practices) (iv) How Pillar helps you personalise your training today
- This talks about personalised training, for cycling and endurance sports
- (We’ll write more on all this, and the capability we have in Pillar to deliver these types of personalisation, in more detail, soon)
A lot of fitness companies talk about personalised training these days, due to consumer demand for personalisation and as an axis for differentiation.
But what is personalised training? And what does it most make sense to personalise, in order to get results for the specific athlete we are trying to help?
Disclaimer : “athlete” is anyone who sweats through exercise, not just someone who looks like this:
That’s Rachel Neylan - one of our pro athlete advisors on the podium at the end of last season.
(i) What is personalised training?
At its simplest level a personalised training recommendation is a good fit in regard to:
- The type of physiological changes the athlete needs to make to “bridge” from their current to their target fitness “profile”. The two things we need to understand here are therefore:
- Where they are at - their overall fitness level and relative strengths and weaknesses within that (e.g. for a cyclist - do they have a strong aerobic base but a relatively weak “top end”)
- Their (main) goal (not just “Ride London” but how central is this to their overall riding? Are they optimising for performance here vs anything else - like social rides, i.e. “I ride because I like to see my mates every week for a couple of hours on the bike and that’s a non-negotiable”)
- The opportunity they have to train for it (# weeks until their target, time per week, distribution of that time throughout the week). This dictates the size of the change we try to make, and how we arrange the work to take place (often called “periodisation”)
- The environment & equipment they have to train
- Their current capacity to train - how fatigued are they, how much training stress can /should we provide based on their personal capacity to tolerate training stress, and other stressors in their life (job, rest “regime”, other exercise they do etc)
- What kinds of strategies tend to work for them - eg which level of training load elicits the best type of fitness level (more is not always more)
- Their preferences - what type of training / exercise do they like/ hate / somewhere in between?
Fear not - this doesn’t mean tons of data entry into Pillar to get a decent recommendation! (To see for yourself - check it out by downloading the latest version of the Pillar app in the App store or Google Play).
The more we know, the more personalised we can make the recommendation. This then comes down to a trade-off between willingness to share data and a few “manual” inputs of data and the quality of the prescription. So if you have multiple wearables/ kit you use, connect them to Pillar, and we can help you even more than we could before.
(ii) So, to personalise an athlete’s training, which things should we make sure we get right? Which first?
The outcomes we are driving towards inform this.
1. Target outcomes
In terms of athlete outcomes. We are looking to:
- Drive large and sustainable fitness / performance gains
- Reduce chance of injury and illness (through practices doing too much training overall, and too much high intensity training — a lot of people get this wrong and a lot of platforms promote this implicitly / explicitly. Your training should enhance, not compromise your health!). We’ll cover these injury/ illness points in another post to prevent this post from getting longer.
On the fitness/ performance side, there are quite a few factors that can influence it. Some of these are below (from Michale Joyner and Edward Coyle 2008).
We’ll write on these in more in the future - this is just a snapshot to give an idea of the factors at play, that we are looking to address with the training we prescribe.
2. Which practices should we adopt to get to these outcomes?
We believe we should focus first on the things that are both (i) most impactful to the athlete’s fitness (ii) technically easiest to get right.
We’ll borrow from Stephen Seiler (**) here - these are the things to get right that drive success (proven by the science) and are also technically easiest to implement:
(iii) Why these practices matter - a deeper look at the science.
We’re going to cover the bottom 3 on the above pyramid here for now.
To achieve successful training outcomes, a training stimulus is required to alter physiological systems in such a way that performance capacity is enhanced. Seiler’s Hierarchy of Endurance needs (above), summarises a strong scientific body of evidence, which suggests that training outcomes are strongly dependent on the manipulation of training volume, intensity, and training intensity distribution. Research and real-world observation show that if we are successful in manipulating these three factors, changes will occur in both the central and peripheral systems, resulting in improved cardiovascular dynamics, muscle bioenergetics, neural recruitment patterns, as well as enhanced morphology, metabolic substrate, and skeletal muscle acid-based status. The magnitude of improvement and the rate at which these adaptions occur also depends on the 3 key factors (volume, intensity, and training distribution).
Training volume is arguably one of the most important determinants of endurance performance. It is believed that training volume is the single most powerful stimulus to drive training outcomes. However, the relationship between the amount of volume performed and the improvement in training outcomes is more complex than a simple dose-response effect. Too much volume with insufficient recovery will result in a level of performance lower than expected. However, if training volume is prescribed adequately it’s a powerful driver of training outcomes. Many studies have demonstrated that training volume is a key stimulus for enhancing; mitochondrial biogenesis, capillary density, substrate utilisation, buffering capacity, and % type I fibres.
A study by Granata et al., (2018) demonstrates that increased training volume, independent of the training methodology followed, is an important determinant of increases in mitochondrial content. This highlights the fundamental importance of training volume for endurance training outcomes, because a greater mitochondrial content improves oxidative supply to energy-dependent processes during muscle contraction.
“But I have a 9-5 job and have two kids”...
Increasing training volume is can be challenging for most recreational athletes due to other commitments.
Therefore, as a recreational athlete, it is important to:
- improve the overall quality of training volume, ensuring you get the most out of your available training hours.
- avoid the trap that many time-restricted athletes fall into which is spending most of the training volume at a moderately hard intensity (more on this below).
(b) High Intensity Training
Training intensity is a vital stimulus for achieving training outcomes. Including high intensity in your training is important to achieve superior training outcomes because some adaptations require very high intensities to be reached and sustained. For example, to achieve cardiovascular and neural system adaptations that relate to improved aerobic capacity, it’s required to be able to hit and sustain heart rates and power output close to maximum. Although high intensity training might provide a greater training stimulus, too much will be associated with a lot of systematic stress which can leave you feeling extremely fatigued and also increases the risk of overtraining. Therefore, it’s essential to get the right dose of intensity prescribed in your training.
In the study by Granata et al., (2018), it appears that the intensity of exercise is a key factor in training-induced increases in mitochondrial respiration. This finding highlights that high intensity is a key driver for achieving certain physiological training outcomes that can not be achieved at lower intensities of training.
(c) Training Intensity Distribution
But it’s not just about high intensity training.
Low intensity training drives important performance gains for endurance athletes. At Pillar, we believe that low intensity training is more important for most athletes to get them to their goals. We believe that it should make up the bulk of their training
The schematic below from Laursen (2010) highlights the two signaling pathways that are activated with high intensity and low volume training. Key takeaway here is that we need both.
But how much high intensity should we do vs low intensity training?
There are many ways of structuring training with different combinations of intensity and volume. The most optimal training methods are always a hot topic of debate between athletes, coaches, and scientists.
The image below created by Stöggl (2018), shows all the key training methods used in endurance training. This is based on a 3 zone model - see how they compare to other models here: Read our Training Zones blog.
Which intensity distribution is best?
The current consensus is that the polarised training method is, overall, the most effective mode of training when it comes to achieving the greatest training outcomes.
At Pillar, we recommend a polarised training model because:
- Through emphasising low-intensity training, the development of the aerobic system is prioritised. Low-intensity training brings about adaptations such as increased mitochondrial density and activity, improved capillarisation, and increased fat oxidation abilities, all of which contribute to improved aerobic capacity
- By keeping intensity low most of the time, high-intensity training can be completed to a high quality. This is essential because some training adaptations require very high intensities to be reached and sustained.
- Avoiding prolonged training time spent at moderate intensity training, and following a polarised training model allows for a higher overall training volume and also minimises the concurrent training effect which compromises the magnitude and speed of adaptations.
Evidence for this approach
Many studies including randomised control trials (the gold standard for research) have demonstrated that the polarised model results in greater improvements in key determinants of endurance performance (VO2 peak, power at the lactate threshold, economy, peak power, and time to exhaustion) (Stöggl & Sperlich, 2014), in both recreational athletes and elite athletes (Polarised isn’t just for the Pros) (Muñoz et al., 2014).
- Polarised training also provides a better balance between adaption (training outcomes) and training stress (fatigue). This allows improved consistency in training and a reduced risk of overtraining.
- Furthermore, descriptive studies demonstrate that endurance training has evolved to a population optimum of following a Polarised approach (Stöggl & Sperlia, 2015). This is also consistent across a wide range of endurance sports including cycling, running, cross-country skiing, and swimming (Seiler & Kjerland 2006).
The image below produced by Stöggl & Sperlich (2015) highlights the training intensity distribution breakdown of elite athletes from various sports. The graph shows that on average, athletes are spending 70-80% of their training at low intensity (Zone 1) and around 30-20% of their training at high intensities (Zone 2 and/or Zone 3). See Zone system comparisons above (***).
(iv) How does Pillar help you get these right?:
At the moment, Pillar looks primarily at the the bottom 3 factors on the pyramid, which are most established by science to drive the best outcomes for you.
It personalises the training it gives you according to your needs for each of these 3 factors:
- Total frequency and volume of training - building from what you can handle currently, to where you need to get to to hit your goal
- Giving you some but not too much high intensity training - based on the types of adaptations you need to drive to hit your goal
- Helping you optimise your training intensity distribution, for your needs
How do we do it?
Now that’d be telling 😉
- Personalisation of you training to your needs is vital to drive fitness/ performance gains, whilst maintaining your health
- Personalising means adapting your training volume, its intensity distribution and its periodisation, around your needs
- Pillar recommends a polarised training methodology for endurance athletes, and gives you this - around your schedule, and updating dynamically
Get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re interested in hearing more or want to be part of our journey in some way, or have a topic you’d like us to cover.
Download our training companion for cyclists below to hit your goals on your terms, without compromising with illness and injury!
Granata et al. (2018) Training-Induced Changes in Mitochondrial Content and Respiratory Function in Human Skeletal Muscle
Joyner & Coyle. (2008) Endurance exercise performance: the physiology of champions
Muñoz et al. (2014) Does Polarized Training Improve Performance in Recreational Runners?
Seiler & Kjerland. (2006) Quantifying training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes: is there evidence for an “optimal” distribution?
Stöggl & Sperlich. (2014) Polarized training has greater impact on key endurance variables than threshold, high intensity, or high-volume training
Stöggl & Sperlich. (2015) The training intensity distribution among well-trained and elite endurance athletes
Stöggl. (2018) What is the Best Way to Train to Become a Star Endurance Athlete?