Increasing volume

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  • #4041

    I’ve followed the TFTNA concepts for 2 training cycles (with a big break due to an injury in between). On the last cycle I was increasing volume by 10% each week and taking a down week around 60-70% every 4th week.

    This worked until I reached a certain volume and then I would go two weeks at higher volume and start to feel really run-down and start to get sick so I would take a down week early. Every time I tried to ramp up I would encounter this problem. I am now in the middle of a third training cycle and am having the same issue. I don’t feel like I’m over-training, definitely feeling fresh and energetic on most workouts, but moderately tired in-between.

    Some background: I’m a middle school teacher (bacterial load can be high). I ran competitively in college (xc and track) and did higher volume with more intensity back then but less strength training. I had my doctor do a couple blood test batteries and everything came back normal (urea, glucose and globulin were a little high). I am sleeping and eating plenty/healthy (tons of fruits and vegetables). Taking vitamin D and melatonin for sleep.

    My questions: Does this mean that I’ve found a reasonable ceiling for my volume? If not, what are some ways that I can push my volume past this?

    My goals are big alpine routes during summer break. I climbed Waddington last summer. This summer the plan is to focus on harder alpine rock but would like to be in position for the Cassin in 2018.

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    Anonymous on #4058

    Good question. Based on everything you have said above I would tend to agree that you have reached a temporary plateau in training load. Here are some suggestions to help you get through this period without having to resort to quitting your teaching job or wearing a Hazmat suit in class,

    MORE MODULATION IN TRAINING LOAD: Make sure that your easy days are truly very easy. Reduce intensity but not volume there. Stay well below your AeT in long run/hikes.

    CUT VOLUME 50% IN RECOVERY WEEKS: These weeks should be focused on getting recovered not on training. Be aggressive with recovery techniques. Sleep lots etc.

    You can’t get away from the stress of daily life. Training close to your current load limit WILL lower your resistance to illness. If you are getting sick often then this is your body telling you that you are close to that limit.

    I’m going to try to get Scott Semple to add comments here because he used to have this problem but is managing training and sickness much better than in the past. He may have some other insights.


    sambedell on #4061

    Thanks Scott, I’ll try that out.

    On those recovery weeks I typically include the usual workouts (2x strength, climbing day, long day). Should I cut back on those too? I usually try to do lighter strength work every 4th week but sometimes that ends up not correlating with the volume down week due to other changes in schedule. Is that OK?

    Also, I’ve noticed that I tend to do more pitches on down weeks… maybe just a factor of having more energy/time and wanting to take advantage of the opportunity. I’m guessing I should probably reign that habit in?


    Anonymous on #4062

    Thanks, Scott.

    Hi Sam,

    I’m in a similar boat. I’m 43 and married with two school age kids. I had more volume twenty years ago, but it was much less consistent and with almost no intensity. For the past couple years, whenever our youngest son would get sick, so would I. And then I’d lose a lot of valuable fitness and training time.

    Most of the credit for the changes to my training program have to go to Scott J. He’s the mastermind that put this Humpy Dumpty back together again. When we started working together last October, I thought that I had done permanent damage to myself. My race results were still okay, but each year I was tolerating less and less volume. Not good.

    Here are the differences that I’ve noticed between Scott’s approach and my previous “smart like tractor” approach:

    • As Scott said, modulation. There’s a ton of variety in my program now. I was pretty good about avoiding the black hole middle zones of intensity, but Scott has clued me in that the variation wasn’t extreme enough.
    • Easy sessions are SUPER easy. I think of them as my “grocery list pace”. I make to-do lists in my head without thinking at all about the workout. To put a number on it, these sessions are always <80% AeT, sometimes <75% AeT, and I need an HR alarm to hold me back.
    • The hard sessions are SUPER hard. And rare. And short (with reps measured in seconds). We don’t do much high-intensity work, but when we do, I have to “think I can, think I can” to get through them. It feels like I also get some kind of hormonal boost from these workouts. I feel energized right after, and often even a day or two later. When I read your post, the first thing I wondered was whether or not you’re doing any sprint work.
    • Up until recently, we haven’t done any AnT work. And I think doing some now is a brief detour because I have a race at the end of the month. I suspect we’ll stop again afterward.
    • My volume increases became much more conservative. Do you use Training Peaks? If you’re familiar with CTL, my ramp rate before working with Scott was about 2.8 per week, including recovery weeks. I could hold that for about three months, and then I’d get sick. With Scott, my ramp rate for the first three months was about 1.8. If you’re not familiar with CTL, no problem. The difference in loading per week was ~35% less. A huge difference. But it’s that difference that allowed me to continue to train even though bugs were coming into the house from the boys’ school.
    • Look at your weekly training plan as an outline of what is NOT going to happen. I admit I was often a slave to the plan in the past, training when I should have taken some unplanned rest days. Since October, I don’t think Scott and I have had one week go exactly as planned, especially in the beginning. Scott has a great sense of what I can take now, so weekly plans are closer to the mark, but he or I almost always make changes.

    Here are a few changes that I’ve made on my end:

    • I hired a coach. I’ve thought about hiring a coach for years, but it took three years of mistakes (and a lot of wasted effort) for me to realize that I needed help. I know a lot of theory, but applying it to myself was tricky. It was too easy to convince myself I could take what was coming because I wanted to be able to handle it. I was fooling myself. A coach is a valuable outside view that can provide some objectivity.
    • I stopped using HRV apps. I loved the idea of an app that could tell me to train or not to train, to go easy or go hard. Not having to make that decision was a relief. However, they don’t work very well. After using them for a couple years, I did a two-month, daily comparison between the recommendations of two HRV apps (Elite HRV and Ithlete) and a more manual orthostatic heart rate test (OSHR). The OSHR always reflected how I felt or warned me in advance that something wasn’t right. In contrast, both HRV apps gave me false positives, especially Ithlete.
    • I started napping. I nap three to four times per week. I’d make it daily if I could. My schedule is flexible, so I admit that it’s easier for me to get naps in than most people. However, when pressed, I’ve had more than one nap in parking lots. Ear plugs and a sleep mask help. Get a mask with eye cavities. They’re much more comfortable.
    • I don’t count calories. Endurance sports are obviously weight-centric, especially when they’re uphill. I’ve counted calories in the past, but I don’t think it helped much on either side, whether trying to stay lean or making sure I ate enough to fuel hard efforts. Now my mantra is “Eat healthy. Don’t be a pig. Unless it’s intense.” Now, I’m both lighter and healthier.

    When I look back at the above list, I think it’s come down to two things: Scott started training me smarter, and I started recovering smarter.

    Sorry for the length of this response… I tried to make it shorter (a couple times). If I can clarify anything, please let me know.


    Anonymous on #4063

    Hi Sam,

    I realized I never addressed your question about a volume ceiling. As I mentioned, my ceiling was actually falling year-over-year. That mild ramp rate that Scott and I started with (a ~35% reduction) persisted for about three months. After that point, I feel like I had some kind of breakthrough where my “appetite” for volume expanded. In the last four weeks, our ramp rate has been more than twice what I was doing previously.

    My current ramp rate isn’t sustainable, but it’s what we were able to achieve after a very mild introduction, with some speed work, and with a lot of thought put into recovery.

    On your recovery weeks, I think it’s okay to include some strength and climbing. The strength work in particular may actually help the recovery process. The caveat is that the overall load must truly feel like a recovery week, and you should emerge from that week fresh and eager to begin again.

    I hope that helps.


    sambedell on #4067

    Thanks for the detailed response Scott S.

    I don’t use Training Peaks but maybe I should, I have a pretty detailed training log already. My ramp rate has been 10% so if I do 10hrs one week I do 11hrs the next. Obviously that is super high and it’s not working. What would a 1.8 or 2.8 ramp rate be in %?

    I am not sprinting as you recommend, but I recently started bouldering twice a week instead of conventional strength training because I am trying to specifically improve my capacity to pull hard moves on rock. I don’t want to do too many hard workouts and I feel like this is a similar metabolic load to a sprinting workout, what do you guys think? How are you structuring sprints? The MS sprint plan from TFTNA or somethign totally different?

    Thanks again for the insight, I will try lay off the volume for a bit and modulate the heck out of my training and see if my “appetite” returns.


    Anonymous on #4068


    The Hill Sprint workout is designed to evoke the same sort of muscle fiber recruitment effect that you would do in a more conventional Max strength protocol in a weight room. So it is mainly a neurological training effect. The bouldering analogue of this would be to pull the hardest moves for just a few reps, Say 2-6 depending on loading. If you are doing longer boulder problems then you are training endurance (albeit short muscular endurance) Both the max strength/power and the short ME are both important qualities to train. But the ME workout will probably take more time to recover from.


    sambedell on #4120

    Thanks for clarifying Scott.

    Anonymous on #4122

    One more thought on ramp rates and Training Peaks. It’s hard to compare the Training Peaks ramp rate to a volume-only ramp rate, because the Training Peaks metrics take intensity into account. For example, one hour below AeT and one hour at AnT would get very different training stress scores from Training Peaks.

    That said, I also don’t think that Training Peaks is necessary if you have something that’s working for you. The TP training scores are convenient, but they aren’t magical or scientific; they often need some adjusting and fudging themselves.

    I hope that helps.

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