Training capacity: how to find it and what to do with it?

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Have you found your training capacity? Are you sure? If you have, do you know what to do with that knowledge?

This is part 2 of a 3 part series on training capacity:

1) What is training capacity?

2) How to find your training capacity and what to do when you have found it?

3) Other training capacity considerations.

How to find your training capacity?

So we now understand that your training capacity is more complex than just how many miles a week you can run. It’s a measure of the total training stimulus you can handle. It’s taking into account both the volume and intensity of your running as well as the auxiliary training you’re doing. It’s a measure of the whole package.

With that more complex definition, how do you determine what your training capacity is? As the definition of the term gets more complex, finding what it is also gets more complex. Fortunately, there’s a way to do it that, while requiring patience and hard work, is very possible for all of us to do.

What is that way? Increase a little at a time and paying attention to how your body responds.

Sounds easy, right? No? Well, let’s dig a little deeper.

Start by holding a training load that you have successfully held recently. Now, build up some component a little. Maybe increase your weekly miles a little. Maybe add another workout or increase the intensity of a workout you’re already doing. Whatever you do, though, remember what I said about patience? Don’t do too much. How do you feel at the end of your next week? Still feeling good? Add a little more and reassess at the end of the next week. Beginning to feel a little strain from the training but still feel like things are sustainable? That means you found your training capacity. Feeling worn down or beat up? You just went too far. Back off immediately.

The key is that you want that delicate balance between feeling like the training is a piece of cake and feeling worn down by the training. You want to feel like you’re working hard but also feel like you could keep going for a long time at that level. When you found that level, you found your training capacity, the "sweet spot" you want to spend a lot of time at.

What to do with your training capacity?

Once you’ve found your training capacity, you want to stick with it. What if you need to change your training balance, though? Let’s say your racing season is nearing and you want to add more intensity. Then add more intensity but remove or cut back on something as you do so. Remove some volume, shorten your long run, cut back on the auxiliary training. Do something to keep things in balance. As you do this, again, pay close attention to how you’re feeling to keep that balance.

The main thing to remember is, if you’re getting close to that line between sustainable training and overtraining, you have to be careful to not cross over. That means, if your training focus is shifting, you have to take something away or cut back on something as you add or increase something else. It’s true that your training capacity may gradually build over time (more on that next week) but it won’t do so as quickly as we need to change our training focus as our season progresses. So don’t be afraid to reduce one variable to build up another. It’s a necessary part of finding the right training balance.

In the end, you want to ride that "sweet spot" as long as possible. Sure, you will venture a little too far at times and you will fall a little short at other times. When you do, don’t get worked up about it, though. Just adjust to get back into that sweet spot.

Next week, we’ll review some other training capacity considerations.

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