Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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Training – Pritchard’s General Theory

To train is to stimulate the body (or mind) to adapt in some way so that your capacity to perform improves. Generally, the body’s systems adapt if moderately challenged, so as to be able to better accomplish the challenge in future. If under-challenged, the stimulus to adapt is less than optimal; if over-challenged then the adaptation mechanism breaks down and the training is counterproductive.

Each training session should therefore be a challenge to some aspect of your performance. You design a training plan in order to provide the appropriate types and degrees of challenge at appropriate times. The degree of challenge should be judged to maximise the overall stimulus to improve, so an excessive challenge or accumulation of challenges which overloads the body’s capacity to adapt is a bad thing, probably worse than under-stimulation. This is really the hard bit in designing a programme.

For example, you can challenge the body’s ability to keep going for a long time; and at the same time your ability to maintain good technique when tired (and also your fat metabolism, mitochondrial activity and muscle capillary supply), by doing a long, steady session.

The other difficulty is that different adaptations occur and are reversed over different timescales - hence the adage that speed is built in weeks, strength in months and endurance in years. Most people don't only look at the very long term, so you will probably want to improve all factors for each successive season.

But it is not so simple: for example you need good strength to race well, so it is a good idea to do a block of strength training in the Autumn to early Winter. However, you also need good strength to perform your endurance training well, so it is also worth doing a good block of strength work in the Spring.

Another important point is the law of diminishing returns: if you are already well-trained in some aspect of your performance, then the potential for further improvement is less than for a relatively under-trained area. For most recreational racers, especially females and older athletes, one relatively under-trained and very important area is upper-body strength.

Bear all this in mind for each training session, and ensure that for every session you set an objective, which is to challenge certain components of performance. If you are training a lot then you will need to consider the need to separate sessions so that they do not interfere with each other (ie allow adequate recovery before stressing the same aspect again). You also need to think about whether it is necessary to have some kind of training background before starting another phase - eg strength before endurance.

The factors to consider in designing a training programme are:

  • Challenge to induce adaptations
  • Timing of the adaptations you want to induce, given their reversibility and the requirements of some training phases to be preceded by another.
  • Diminishing returns