Big Week Training

Part One: "Kinda Epic Camp" for "Newbies"

I think now might be a good time to paraphrase joe's quote that gordo often uses...

"Crash training is appealing to almost everybody but appropriate for almost nobody."

Since gordo has described his experiences with high volume aerobic training, it seems everyone here wants to jump on board. But gordo would be the first to point out that that may not me the best idea for many of you.

First, you must have the time. people are talking about doing that type of training for 10-15 hours a week. Someone in another thread asked about minimum weekly hours required to make this approach viable. There are no hard and fast numbers and it will depend on other factors, but I would say at least 20, and to really do it right probably takes at least 30.

So, to do this, you have to have the background. Dan Empfield has said that it takes 5 years to train to train for an ironman. this is my fourth year at it and I've always pushed the limits in terms of volume. So far, each year I've been better able to handle the work. I also grew up as a competitive swimmer. Molina talks about how this is great preparation in terms of triathlon training. Yes, there is the amount of time spent training hard. Perhaps more importantly is that swimmers tend to place fewer limits on their training and are known for doing ridiculous and excessive sessions. I think this mentality carries over into triathlon. But again, it takes time. I used to get hurt trying to run more than 40 miles a week. Now I can put in 100+ mile weeks but it took 4 years to get there. You don't jump in and do it right away. And if you're only going to be putting in 40, then you're not doing enough volume to make "epic" or "AeT" training effective.

Consistency is key. Putting in a big week every now and then is nice, but the real improvement comes from doing it over and over again. Sometimes you need to make some tweaks to your training to stimulate adaptation, but the best way to get better is to consistently do the same kind of work over and over again. If you're a regular 15 hour a week guy, going 1 week of 30 each year isn't really going to do much for you.

I think Rich Strauss has pointed out that most people are time limited, therefore the breakthrough approach tends to be more suitable. There is always a tradeoff between volume and intensity so he is correct. I just think of it in terms of the less time you have available, the more you can focus on a few, key, intense workouts.

Look, there is no substitute for training volume, especially when training for an ironman. And as others have pointed out, if you really want to push your limits, this appproach is probably required. But the time investment is huge and it is consistent over years, not big weeks here and there. And to be honest, there are plenty of examples of great athletes, even some top pros, getting a lot out of themselves on a much more time limited approach.

Just remember that most of you don't have the situation that gordo does. You have work, family, etc. - and as nice as it is to think that putting in an epic week is going to work wonders, you are most likely better served by a consistent approach that promotes incremental improvement. There are no magic bullets. A huge week here and there is not going to dramatically change your ability. Focus on your limiters, work on them over time, and if your background and situation allows, consider the high volume approach and whether it is suitable and/or desirable. Many of you might find that you have no desire to spend 30-40 hours a week training and feeling mostly brain dead the rest of the time, even if you can.


Brent Lorenzen is a triathlon coach and can be reached at


Part Two: Endurance Athletes and Injury

Most endurance athletes will be faced with the prospect of managing some form of injury or aggravation during training. Below are some hints that may help you to keep it rollin’ all year long.

When athletes discuss volume training (example slowtwitch thread) it makes me think about how some bodies will react to logging lots of training time. I love volume – but running big miles, cycling high volume, doing huge weeks – can be recipes for over use injuries. Not everyone is physically ready to do high volume. How do we know? The ability to recovery and injury are tell tale signs. The difference between a full and satisfying year and a year of disappointment may be the prevention or early detection of potentially debilitating chronic injury. Having the ability to avoid or cut short overuse injuries without loss of fitness can be quite an advantage. Having the chance to perform year round without major injury or illness is a powerful asset. On the other hand, being chronically impaired can ruin an entire year.

My goal – and the goal for my athletes -- is for us to go all year without significant injury or illness. Assuming we all want to be able to show up and race feeling near 100%, how do we follow through?

I believe it starts with prevention.
Heading off trouble before it begins is the way to go.

We can prevent injuries early in preparation phases by increasing flexibility beyond what most think is required. Developing stronger muscles, tendons and ligaments via sport specific strength work – especially early in prep phases -- is an excellent injury prevention tool and might continue year round.

Those individuals who lack solid base training and general physical development will be more prone to overuse injuries.

Be aware of what you, as an athlete, may be predisposed to. For instance, runners are prone to soft tissue injuries in the lower half of the body. Cyclists are more likely to suffer immune problems and illness.

Excellence in nutrition will show itself in a lack of illness and in the ability of an athlete to recover more quickly. Recovery leads to consistency. Consistency leads to superior fitness.

The very nature of endurance sport invites overuse injury. Our response to that first niggling discomfort may determine whether we end up sidelined or performing at an ‘A’ event. I am stressing the importance of communication with your coach or honest self appraisal. Even about apparently insignificant symptoms. Quite often, simply altering frequency, intensity and/or duration will be enough to quiet an emerging problem. Rest, ice, heat, massage and some forms of physical therapy can help to nip overuse injuries in the bud.

An athlete should know that ignoring the first signs of injury – hoping to train through a problem – wishing that it would go away -- is like inviting a debt. The debt will grow, and one will probably end up paying for it – with compound interest.

In my chiropractic practice, and with my athletes, we strive to treat causes rather than symptoms alone. By treating symptoms by themselves we may get quick relief, but the problem may well return. By correcting the cause(s) we can prevent repeat injury. Causes may include training loads, poor equipment, technique deficiencies, nutritional lapses, terrain, weather related problems or poor fit. An injury may be due to one or many of these variables at once. It can be a puzzle that coaches and athletes become better at solving over time. Form alliances and network with sports medicine experts who can help guide you as you become proficient at helping athletes/yourselves circumvent prolonged significant overuse injuries.

From Tudor Bompa – “recovery or regeneration is a multidimensional process”.
We should take into account our age, gender, environmental factors, psychological factors, nutrition and sleep.

Strive to go through a year free of significant injury or illness. First employ prevention. At first sign of symptoms, immediately alter one or all of frequency, intensity and duration. If symptoms do not clear up within a few days or a week, be prepared to use the services of a professional for advice and/or treatment. A short rest and recovery is always better than a prolonged one. Superior fitness stems from consistent training. Consistent training goes hand in hand with good health.


Kevin Purcell is a triathlon coach and chiropractic doctor. He can be reached at


Part Three: Big Week Training

This article is intended for top age-group and elite athletes. However, all athletes can learn from the knowledge in here (subject to always keeping Part One in mind).

What makes a big week?

The first aspect you can increase is your workout frequency. This is the safest way to increase your volume as you give your body a greater chance to recover from each session. So your first goal is simply to train 5x per week in a sport.

Most athletes will show the greatest benefit from focusing their BWT primarily on the bike.

Once you have been able to safely train 5x per week in a sport then you can start to insert other types of BWT. Ideas:

  • A 50% increase in bike volume; OR
  • A 50% increase in swim volume: OR
  • A 25% increase in run volume and/or a 50% increase in run frequency.
I don’t recommend BWT’ing more than one sport at a time.

A BWT cycle should last 4-12 days and you need to allow at least one easy day for each two BWT days. Easy doesn’t mean doing nothing. Easy means a strong recovery focus, low HR training and lots of sleep.

Experienced, time flexible athletes can increase swim and bike volume by up to 100%, however, this is risky and results in overuse injuries in most folks. The intelligent athlete pushes their boundaries slowly.

Frequency in non-BWT sports – maintain your non-BWT sports. If you are in a bike-focus cycle then you need to keep running and swimming. This is essential. For nearly all of us, it is better to cut back a bit on your BWT sport and maintain your other sports. This is what I call Big Balanced.

When you increase training stress, you must increase your recovery strategy proportionately.

BWT Key Benefits

Mental – by making long training sessions routine, racing an IM becomes far more manageable. One of the key strengths Epic Campers take home is the knowledge that no matter what happens in their race: they will get through it; they have been there before; and it’s no big deal. To truly perform at your best for IM, you need to get to the point where a 110-115 mile steady ride is simply “a session”. You won’t be able to perform on race day unless you have developed superior bike stamina in training.

Economy – while speed skills, drills and technique-focused workouts are useful for building economy. Top athletes need to train their bodies to operate efficiently for 8-12 hours. 6x30s drills are useful but long hours of training at close to race effort (AeT) are far more race specific. We need to train our ability to move efficiently, with good form for many hours.

Aerobic Capacity // Aerobic Endurance – Elite Ironman is a 8-12 hour time trial. First and foremost, athletes must train their ability to simply go the distance – at any pace. Big week training addresses this universal critical success factor.

Intensity, the Silent Killer

Be very careful with training above AeT+10 bpm in all sports. Sustained mod-hard efforts result in extended recovery. My experience is that each hour of mod-hard (tempo) exercise, likely results in at least three hours of steady training being missed.

When extended yourself through BWT, it’s best to remain focused on the goals. Save the majority of your sport-specific strength work for the specific preparation phase of your season. As I mention in my Beyond the Four Pillars article (B4P), most athletes are best served from building their aerobic threshold stamina right up to race day.

Excessive fatigue generated from appropriate BWT will tend to clear in 24-48 hours. Fatigue generated from excessive mod-hard and hard training can take weeks or months to clear.

Group BWT is particularly dangerous for weaker athletes who struggle to keep up with the stronger athletes. Yo-yoing at the back of a pace line that is going “slightly” too fast for 3-6 hours will leave you smoked and result in sub-optimal BWT gains.

When training, I have clear goals and am willing to get dropped. That doesn’t mean that I won’t extend myself – rather, it means that I save my best racing for game day.

Part of the lessons of BWT is that we have limits, one of the nice things is that we find that they are nearly always further than we expected.


Bike shoes, cleats and pedals – make sure that you have a stable platform under your feet. BWT will turn most biomechanical weaknesses into inflammation and injury.

Drive chain, brakes and shifting – get your bike serviced, you don’t want to be 75 miles from home with a broken cable or chain

Tires – new tires, front and back – I like Continentals choose a set that are rated five-stars for flat protection.

Pump, patch kit, tubes, allen keys, valve extenders – Personal responsibility, if you ride big then, eventually, you’ll be grateful for your preparation.

Water, food, clothing, money – in the heat… four bottle cages & four large bottles, clothing for all weather (sure it’s a lot to carry but you’ll be grateful, especially if you ride in the mountains), more food than you think your need, more money than you need. On long bike legs, I like to have at least $50 bucks on me so, in a jam, I can bribe myself a ride if a get a “major” on the bike.

Saddle – if you have any pelvic rocking on your saddle then you will experience chaffing like never before. Start stacking 4-7 hr bike days with a sub-optimal saddle and you’ll reach new levels of personal discomfort. Pelvic stability is your #1 goal in saddle selection.

Run shoes –two new pairs of properly fit running shoes. Rotate them between runs for best protection.

Sun screen – screen your whole body every morning, the weather will change nearly every day.

Lip Balm and Nose Cote – extra protection for your lips, ears, cheek bones and nose. A helmet visor can be useful.

Anti-bacterial wipes – keep your crotch clean, always wear clean shorts and change out of bike clothes whenever possible (lunch, end of day).


As much as possible seek to maintain your normal diet. Many athletes, move to a near total starch and sugar diet when training high volume. This removes most of the micro and macro nutrients that are essential for recovery. Veggies, fruits, good fats, animal protein – these are essential for keeping you on the right track.

Avoid monster meals – give some thought to how much food you want to eat each day. Then as much as possible, spread the food out throughout the day. When training all day, avoid periods of limited intake.

The true challenge lies in absorption NOT consumption. You want to develop a nutrition strategy that let’s you absorb the nutrients and calories required to keep rolling.

Eat healthy, you do not need ice cream, pizza, nachos – these calories are not readily absorbed and most AG athletes can afford to trim down a bit. If calorie supplementation is required then do so with good fats, additional small meals and real food.

Specific tips when training in excess of 35 hours per week (don’t eat this much if you are less than this level of volume, you’ll gain weight):

  • Aim for eight small meals – two breakfasts, a break meal, two lunches and three dinners.
  • The first breakfast, lunch and dinner (BLD) and the break meal should be a CHO focused meal, often in liquid form. Stick with real food as much as possible. No more than about 10g of PRO with this meal.
  • The second BLD should follow 20-40 mins after and be a balanced meal, primarily CHO/PRO.
  • The final dinner should be a PRO/FAT meal.
  • Eat all day on the bike, never get hungry on the bike.
  • At night, place a snack and a water bottle beside your bed. Optimal rest and hydration will see you wake up once a night for a pee. Drink that bottle through the night to ensure proper hydration. There is no need to over hydrate but most athletes find that they end each day slightly dehydrated and this can impair muscle recovery.
If you are farting a lot then you are not assimilating your food and placing additional non-training stress on yourself. It’s tough to do everything right but experiment to find the formula that works best for you.

Acute digestive distress is a distraction that you don’t need.


Everybody worries about “doing the right thing”.

With BWT, simply get out there, get your frequency up and crank the aerobic volume. When you are tired, go easy. When you are really tired, rest up. Have some fun, enjoy yourself and the scenery.

Final Notes

If you follow the above guidelines then you will be able to make material changes in your physiology while building the mental skills required for success.

Treat minor injuries like your A-race is next week – take action early, things don’t get better on their own when you are training 5+ hours every day.

Stretch at least 10 minutes after all your rides. Cut your training sessions short if required to fit this into your day.

Consistency and recovery are the cornerstones of Endurance Success. Compromise either of these and you will quickly plateau, burnout or get injured.

Start gradually and remember that athletes doing huge volume have typically spent ten or more years preparing themselves for this type of training.



Part Four: Run Camp Tips


I have been building up my running quite significantly (last week was 120km, this week is recovery so far less), but will have 3 more weeks of big miles on the run.
What do you think of two long runs a week (one of 2h with AeT work and one around 2h30' over hills)? did it last week and a few times before, with no problems to recover...just feels stronger after each run.
Usually first one on monday, second on thursday. running all the other days.


I like that structure and will do up to three long runs in certain Ultraman specific weeks.

Things to watch when jacking the Ks:

  1. downhill, the ups are OK but the eccentric loading on the downs can wear you down. For this reason, when doing high volume, I think that two hilly runs is probably the limit -- three max.
  2. intensity, as soon as you are in PB territory for frequency, distance or duration -- only on run above AeT (that run has a cap of AeT+10) -- one set of strides (if you have the pop, I normally don't).
  3. swim volume, swim as much as you can given your recovery needs. No LT sets but mod-hard, steady and strength work is fine. Sprints on long recoveries are OK.
  4. strength, if you lift then keep lifting, clearing it will need to be SM
  5. easy spins are OK but all I can manage is cruising to the pool and back -- even then, I normally drive. My bike volume falls way down in run camp so these camps are best early in the season and/or a long way from an A race.