First off, the ideal training load is more of a target outcome than it is a practical method for training. What I mean is that you know when you’ve reached the ideal training load because your players look sharp, feel great and are capable of performing at their peak level. When you reach this point, go back and look at your training loads over the last 2 weeks because your training load has been ideal.
Not satisfied with this answer? OK, let me address some factors that go into the practical method of training for the ideal training load. But understand that the ideal training load is a dynamic target; it will always be shifting up or down based upon individual and team responses and adaptations to training.
First, make sure you have an accurate heart rate max (HRM) for each individual player . . . use a test, like the Multi-Stage Fitness Test to measure a true HRM, don’t use age predicted HRM equations. Then be aware that your athlete may not have gone 100% on the test and that their HRM may be higher than measured in the test. Look at individual session data to see if you get HRM’s higher than the test values; if so, adjust individual HRM’s based on the highest accurate HR recorded. *(sometimes you may get bad data values that look like sharp irregular spikes, if you see this don’t use that section of data).
Next, understand that while you may have 2 sessions with the same training load, those sessions may have very different effects on individual responses and adaptations based on the intensity of efforts within those 2 sessions. For example, there are 2 sessions below that have similar training loads.
As you can see, the top session has a training load of 119 over session duration of 33 minutes and the bottom 100 over session duration of almost 2 hours. You can also see that the intensity of the top session was very high (as indicated by the proportion of time spent in sport zone 5) while the intensity of the bottom session was very low. So while the training loads (response) of each session were relatively similar they clearly are different from an adaptation standpoint. The top session was primarily anaerobic lactic, while the bottom session was primarily aerobic. I’ll talk more about these systems in the next blog.
To get back to the point of answering the question “what is the ideal training load”, it is important to also consider the intensity of the sessions and their effect on recovery. In the image below we see a training report of “Training Load and Recovery” for a 4 day period.
The columns represent total training load, while the shaded areas represent predicted recovery time from the given training load. In this example the first training load on 8/16/2010 was around 310 and the recovery time was predicted to be 3 days. If you were to take this training session, you can see that 5 consecutive training sessions that currently fall in the shadow of the 1st session, total around 560 . . . roughly 2 times the training load achieved from that of the 1st session.
These dates correspond to our first 5 days of pre-season. While it may not be necessary to allow for full recovery between training sessions, the image demonstrates that a training load of 310 and a training load of 560 over the course of 3 days have similar recovery times. 310 does not equal 560 . . . training load does not equal training load . . . intensity is a critical factor in recovery and thus finding the ideal training load.
If you’re looking for the easy answer, I have found that we average training loads of around 1000 points per week. During the season this is typically broken down into 2 games per week at around 320-350 points and the remainder coming from practice sessions. With our mandatory NCAA day off during the week, this gives us a remainder of 300 points for training each week. This gives us an average of 75 points per training session throughout the week.
However, I caution against this average approach as in my experience this leads to training monotony and staleness. I would recommend dividing these 300 points into easy and hard days. Easy days are around 50-75 points and generally consist of aerobic recovery type activities not exceeding sport zone 3. Hard days are longer moderate to high intensity trying to achieve working periods of 8-12 minutes in sport zones 4 and 5 and total session training load between 125-150 points.
I caution against the use of medium days during the in-season. I’ll talk more about “polarizing” your training in a future blog.