Endurance athletes share a common goal of getting fitter and performing better. But many also pursue supplemental goals that serve as steppingstones toward the greater goal of improving. Among these is the goal of shedding excess body fat. The most common mistake made by athletes seeking to lose fat is trying to prioritize this goal at the same time they are actively training for one or more upcoming events.
The reason this is a bad idea is that the most effective ways to train and eat for endurance fitness are different from the most effective ways to train and eat for fat loss. Athletes who choose to prioritize fat loss at a particular time should therefore do so outside of race-focused training cycles. For example, professional cyclists often complete a short weight-loss focus phase immediately before the start of race-focused training.
Our 80/20 Racing Weight Training Plans are designed for exactly this use. Each is six weeks long, which is about the right amount of time to spend prioritizing fat loss if your larger goal truly is to get fitter and perform better. Recommended Dietary Guidelines for Racing Weight Training Plans are covered in a separate resource. The purpose of this document is to give you an idea of what to expect in your Racing Weight Training Plan and why it is structured the way it is.
Aside from their brevity, our Racing Weight Plans are different from our race-focused training plans in three key ways: lower volume, more work at higher intensities, and a greater emphasis on strength training. Let’s tackle each of these items in turn.
In the public discourse on weight management, it has become commonplace to observe that exercise is not an effective way to lose weight. This is an overstatement, but is true is that, for endurance athletes, training at lower-than-normal volumes is the right way to go during a fat-loss focus period. That’s because reducing calorie intake is the most effective way to shed body fat, and a moderate training volume complements reduced calorie intake better than a higher training volume does. If you try to combine reduced calorie intake with high training volume, you’re likely to drive yourself crazy with hunger, you won’t get much fitness benefit out of all that training, and you might even end up compromising your health.
It’s important that you embrace this idea before you start your Racing Weight Training Plan. Be prepared to train less than you normally do. If, for example, you’ve found success with a Level 2 triathlon or run plan in the past and you select a Level 2 Racing Weight Plan, don’t start worrying that something is amiss when you find yourself training at lower volume. Trust the plan.
More Work at Higher Intensities
As you already know, endurance athletes seeking to maximize their fitness and performance should do about 80 percent of their weekly training at low intensity and 20 percent at moderate to high intensity. But whereas an 80/20 intensity balance is proven to be most effective in boosting fitness and performance, it is not the optimal intensity balance for improving body composition. This was shown in a 2014 study conducted at the University of Salzburg. Endurance athletes were separated into four groups, each of which spent nine weeks training at different intensities. The group that showed the most improvement in fitness was the one that came closest to maintaining an 80/20 balance. But the group that lost the most body fat was the one that did the largest amount of training at high intensity.
Other research has yielded similar findings. On the basis of this research, our Racing Weight Training Plans lean more on Zones 3-5 than our other plans do. This is also why the volume is lower in these plans. High-intensity training is stressful on the body and cannot be done in large amounts without causing negative consequences.
Greater Emphasis on Strength Training
Strength training proven to enhance endurance performance and reduce injury risk. To maximize these benefits, endurance athletes need to take a functional approach to this type of exercise, which basically means doing exercises that are relevant to their sport and avoiding those that aren’t. Reverse lunges, for example, are relevant to running because they mimic the stride action. Classic bodybuilding exercises such as biceps curls, on the other hand, will do nothing for you as an endurance athlete.
It’s important as well that you avoid strength training at too high a volume or intensity within race-focused cycles, as doing so will compromise your endurance training. Things change, however, during periods when fat loss is your top priority. At these times, it’s okay and even beneficial to spend more time in the gym and to strength train in a way that is intended to build muscle rather than to develop sport-specific strength.
The strength-training component of our Racing Weight Training Plans was created by AJ Gregg of Hypo2 Sport, the same expert who designed our Premium Strength Plans for running and triathlon. But the workouts themselves are different, featuring different exercises and greater loads. Note that these workouts have more extensive equipment requirements, as well. Specific equipment requirements are listed in each individual workout description. Our Level 2 and Level 3 Racing Weight Training Plans include three strength workouts per week, whereas all of our race-focused plans have just two (as do our Level 0 and Level 1 Racing Weight Plans).
Each plan’s strength component features three different workouts (labeled Strength Workout 1, Strength Workout 2, and Strength Workout 3) that are cycled through repeatedly over the six-week plan period. All three workouts are basically the same each time you do them. The progression comes from increasing the loads you use for individual exercises as you get stronger.
In the workout descriptions, the term “reps sub max” refers to the maximum number of reps of a particular exercise you could complete. For example, if a given workout instructs you to perform “2 reps sub max” of the Pull-Up exercise, you are to complete two fewer repetitions of this particular exercise than the maximum number you could complete without resting (a two-rep margin). You may perform max-rep tests of the various exercises included in the plan before you start it to determine your limit in each or just go by feel.
Percentages refer to your one-repetition maximum (1RM) load for a given exercise. For example, if you are instructed to do the Single-Leg Glute Bridge exercise at 70%, this means it should be done with 70% of the maximum weight you could lift one time. Again, you may either determine your 1RM through testing or go by feel. This handy little online calculator will help you with the math: https://exrx.net/Calculators/OneRepMax
“BW” stands for “bodyweight.” For example, if you are instructed to do the Goblet Squat exercise “@ 25% BW” and you weigh 160 lbs, you will do it holding a 40-lb kettlebell.
Guidelines for sets and reps are given in this format: 5 x 5. In this specific example, you are to complete five sets of five repetitions.
Some exercises are time-based. For example, “45s” means you are to continue doing the exercise for 45 seconds in total, pausing the clock if you need to stop and rest before 45 seconds are up. Instructions like this—“7s on/3s off” mean you are to do the exercise for (in this case) seven seconds and then rest for three seconds to complete one rep.
Exercises listed with no space between them are to be done as rounds, meaning you don’t rest between them and you complete one set of each exercise before going back and doing additional sets (if multiple sets are prescribed). Wherever you do see a line of separation between groups of exercises, you may rest as long as you feel is necessary to be ready to continue the workout.
Links to video demonstrations of all exercises included in each workout are provided in the “Pre-Workout Comments” area.
Transitioning to Race-Focused Training
Again, the ideal time to complete a Racing Weight Training Plan is right before you start a race-focused training plan. If you follow this suggestion, you may find that you’re a bit overprepared for the early weeks of the latter plan. This is not a problem. In fact, it’s a sign that you have benefitted from your Racing Weight training and are well positioned to handle the heavier weeks to come. If you discover that you’re tempted to do extra work in those early weeks of 80/20 training to preserve the gains you made on your Racing Weight plan, just remind yourself that it’s not the fitness per se that you want to preserve but your improved body composition! Trust the plan.