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Training intensities are structured by how they feel on any given day. However, you need to ensure that you ease into your training plan and that you don’t train too hard. Making use of appropriate tools such as heart rate monitors and power meters can be an effective way to confirm your exertion rates, but don’t let them override your natural intuition. It takes time and many repetitions of a program to learn your training, recovery limits and requirements. The best heart rate monitor or power meter you will ever find is you! Most athletes take 4-6 weeks to tune into the signals and begin the process of interpreting and understanding their bodies and signals, and in this way avoid falling into the trap of a one-dimensional approach to their training.
The training intensity levels are simple to understand:
• Easy (60%), Moderate (60-75%), Comfortably Uncomfortable (75-85%), Hard or Fast (85-95%) and All Out (100%+)
Easy training means a comfortable, conversational pace. In the swim, strive to swim without strain, without tension and without regard for speed or pace. Simple "plunk...plunk...plunk" relaxed strokes. On the bike, keep the route flat, keep your resistance low and your rhythm moderate, avoiding high muscle tension by grinding a very low gear or over-working the legs by over-spinning a high gear. On the run…a gentle jog, keeping stride rate up without reverting to a sluggish step. In general, a sustainable, "all day" pace.
A Moderate pace means that you need to start pushing a bit. This is a pace that starts to harness some strength in your swim stroke, your pedal stroke or your stride, but it doesn't feel hard. "Light and snappy" comes to mind, or “an easy sprint” when running. The pace is sustainable for long efforts. In the swim, you swim without pushing your aerobic system to strain. Swim at a pace that is sustainable for what is to you a long effort (for a proficient swimmer this might be an hour, for a new swimmer it might be five minutes) and with attention towards pace, without racing it. Your breathing should be light enough that you easily recover for another effort within 10 seconds. On the bike, light pedaling at a pace you can sustain for many hours. Muscle tension is moderate, and rhythm is comfortable - if in a big gear, you are lightly creating higher muscle tension without fighting the gear. In an easy gear, you are pushing some muscle tension at a rhythm high enough to stimulate your breathing lightly. On the run, you are "feeling your oats" and stepping out of warm-up pace. You could comfortably run this for several hours.
Comfortably Uncomfortable means what it says. The effort does not feel like something you could sustain for very long, and yet training “in the here and now” you can keep at it without seeing the end of the effort. This could be roughly construed as what feels like a pace you would race, for you is a long race – regardless of pace. At the same time, it’s not exactly pain free. You can sustain this pace for the foreseeable time, but your breathing is somewhat labored, and conversation is definitely curtailed. You need to focus on the effort and on your form to maximize your pace. You are not pushing a pace where you need to notch it down and yet, nor do you feel like you would want to push it much faster, either. It doesn't quite hurt, but you can handle it because it's going to end.
HARD or FAST
This is definitely uncomfortable! Generally, you never push this hard except for very short, specific efforts, or occasional longer efforts. These are always shorter than race distance or more sustained efforts late in a session when you are too tired to work yourself too hard. You are going to be breathing hard, and yet there is a little left in the tank so it’s not all out. In the swim, this might mean very short, very snappy efforts with lots of rest with your best possible form. On the bike, you are giving it all you have got under the circumstances: Generally, you'll see this description as "HARD" at the end of your long ride. In the run, this pace really hurts but is not all out. There is enough to complete all efforts in the session without "blowing up."
This is a "give it all you got" effort! Maximal aerobic and muscular effort – override the circuitry that is yelling at you to stop. At the end of an All-Out effort you should have nothing left to give. In the swim, All-Out means swim as fast as you can for the indicated duration. You pay less attention to form or technique. On the bike, you ride the effort as fast as you can for the duration. This pace hurts – intentionally. Your legs are at maximum tension, pushing the hardest gear possible for the duration. On the run, you are at maximum effort and you do not want to perform this effort again!
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