Is variation in training important? Doing the same thing over and over vs. mixing it up


#1

I’ve been reading a lot about training, both on the bike and off the bike (i.e. strength work) and have come to a question that I can’t find a concrete answer too.

Is variation in training important? As in (thinking about min/maxing things) doing the SAME workout on the bike (as in workout calls for a steady state workout, therefore I do Geiger only) or the same exercises/reps repeatedly more efficient that variation (as in how TR works now with many types of steady state workouts other than Geiger).

Mental aspect aside (of repeating the same thing all the time) logic tells me that mixing it up keeps the body moving in new ways and add to both functional strength and movement (especially off the bike). But I still come back to if a workout is created that hits all the areas one is targeting (aligned to their goals) is it not more efficient to just focus on that for a period of time, repeating it until it becomes easy then add to it or create a new workout based on the next set of goal? Is focusing on the same movements/muscles more efficient (optimizing for time, more bang for the buck on what you are targeting)?

I’d love to hear some opinions on this from this community.


#2

I’m not a sports physio, but my understanding is that variation is important if your goals are to improve and get stronger. You theoretically could do the same workout over and over, but all you would eventually do is plateau and get really good at doing that workout. Example: let’s say you never do anything other than 2x20 sweet spot workouts. You’d get really good at riding for 20 minutes a time at sweet spot, but if you found yourself in a situation where you had to cover an attack and it required you to do a 2 minute full gas effort your body wouldn’t be prepared.

This is why plans are structured the way they are and there are different training phases. Also there is the risk of diminishing returns. A good example of this is doing too long a build period.

The body is always trying to reach a level of homeostasis and it’s important to prevent that from happening by varying our training and also recovering so adaptations occur.

Also, a 2x20 workout at x-watts isn’t the same as 4x10 at the same watts.


#3

I have read this and think it is correct. However, what is the time horizon for varying? Every workout? Weekly? Monthly? Longer blocks?


#4

See this is where I get confused. Joe Friel in his book “Fast after 50” says you only need three sessions a week.

1x VO2max session of about 10 to 15 mins vo2max time

1x 3x12min sweet spot session

1x 2 to 4 hour endurance ride at 65 to 75% ftp


#5

That is quite reasonable. There is variety in there and it will be enough to keep you level of fitness pretty much the same or even show an improvement.
I doubt that Joe said do the exact same three sessions every week, but even if he did there is still overall variety.


#6

Yes he does say that


#7

Yes. If you have no variation you will reach a plateau and never get any faster.


#8

As with so many aspects of training, we don’t really know. I’d put more trust in the opinion of an experienced coach. Yes, it is often stated that variation is needed because plateaus may develop otherwise. However, I can’t really find any evidence for that.

Seiler keeps on telling his stories of elites doing the same training all year round with little variation. For example this one athlete who does only 6x10min of intensity. Nothing else apart from the low intensity stuff. Others as well, they mostly keep it very simple. So at least at this level there may not be a strong requirement for variation. But this is just based on Seiler anecdotes.

If I look at studies I can’t find any convincing evidence either. For example this here:

Do difference between groups, whether you mix intervals or focus solely on one type. At least over the course of 12 weeks.

Or if you focus on blocks, no difference either:

I remember reading a review paper where they made a strong case for variation, I just can’t find it anymore. I don’t recall exactly in what context it was but I will try to find it and post it here.


#9

The OP said ‘mental aspect aside’ but I don’t believe you CAN put it aside. The time we spend training gives us confidence and belief.

How many of us have said on this forum ‘I had to dig deep to finish it but…’ Our minds allow us to take control and overcome. The more differing challenges you face, the more rounded and I would say capable you become.

Familiarity can be useful if your recovering or directly after an FTP for example but I believe that you have to expand. Races and events rarely play out how you hope they will and adaptation is key.

It’s also great to be able to recall that VO2 max session or the 2x30 min threshold session when the cards look to be stacked against you.

Sorry for not putting the mental aspect aside, I just feel that it is key to both successful training and execution.


#10

I just want to point out that variation with respect to training literally means changing anything.

Just as an example, assuming a rider has a 300W FTP to start and only does one kind of workout:

Case 1: 2x20 min intervals at 300W 2x a week
Case 2: 2x20 min intervals at 100% FTP 2x a week with retesting every 4-6 weeks.

Both the cases start the same, but with Case 2 you’d assume some bump in FTP and therefore the training stimulus would increase.


#11

I like to follow a very simple methodology. Do what works until it doesn’t.

I have been doing this with the base period. I have said before that I don’t really feel the need to be doing a winter build (base, build, base) as almost all of the AC work you do in that block will be for nothing unless you’re doing some early season races. Without maintaining the AC work in to base, you’ll lose a lot of it, and have to grow it again. So instead of focusing on your aerobic base you’re working on an energy system that responds rather quickly, but also dissipates rather quickly if you don’t maintain it. So why work that hard if you don’t need it? You should be doing the least amount of work to achieve the desired outcome. There is a point of diminishing returns with regards to workload, where sometimes if you pile on more work it won’t be beneficial. Sometimes that slow and steady approach can get a bit boring mentally, but it is what the really good people are doing, always getting better (or at least trying) without having any huge valleys in their training.

I’ve done SSB2 back to back 2-3 times the last few seasons and it still gets me about 10 watts per block… so if you can hold on to 10-15 watts from the previous year’s peak, you can get to a point where you will start the next build 5-10 watts above your previous year’s best and can come in stronger than before. The build/specialty progression of how the VO2 max intervals are planned is really good at keeping up the variation throughout the main period of training. Short power and general build to XCO starts at 1-1.5 minutes for 4 weeks, 2.5-3 minutes for 4 weeks, 5-6 minutes for 4 weeks, and then really high power for 2-3 minutes for the final 2-3 weeks.