Which Athlete?

A friend of mine sent me this mini “test” that I’d like to pose to the readership.   Before I share how I responded, please note your answer in the comments.  I welcome input from coaches, athletes, whomever.  I have changed none of the wording from how it was presented to me.

Athlete A: Works out 15 hours per week with minimal or no structure.  No formal intervals, sprints etc.. 

Athlete B: Trains 12 hours per week with the “optimal” training plan (whatever you deem that to be).  Perfect balance of intervals, speed work etc.

If you were a coach preparing each for an event in 4 weeks, which would you choose as your likely “winner” and why?

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11 comments to Which Athlete?

  • Well – from a pure training perspective (because it doesn’t discuss the mental state of the athlete and I’m a firm believer that how you feel mentally on race day has just as much of an effect on the outcome as the physical preparation does), I would have to pick Athlete B. The structure – including intervals, speed, steady state, and RECOVERY will all help their body to adapt (possibly) more than the same individual without said structure. There are many finer points, I know – but from an overall perspective, I would have to say that structured training, SMART training (ie no wasted workouts or “trash miles”) is more beneficial than random hours spent swim-bike-running.

  • Well, of course, as the structured coach and athletes, My pick is B. I think less is more and I think if you have structure and specifics to accomplish it keeps the athletes motivated, accountable and if you can accomplish MORE on less training – that is the way to go!

  • Seems like a trick question. I’ll go with A just to be the fish who swims against the current. Guy “A” sounds like George Worrell, and he always kicks butt, so I got with A.

  • I bet Athlete A has the bigger aerobic engine from skipping out on intervals, speed work etc. I’m betting she’s a little more relaxed too, just based on the lack of plan structure, and that she listens to her body better than someone who has their mind set on completing x, y, and z before the week is over. I’m going with A.

  • chris

    Alot of variables here but with most other things being fairly equal- age, gender, genetics, nutrition, BMI, etc., B wins, particulurly if sprint or international distance. This is based on my experience of being both A and B- quality is generally better than quantity.

  • Frank

    B is the correct answer; A is just exercising…………….or, at best, aiming for second.

  • Cathy

    I sure hope it’s B because that is my strategy in my time-pressed life! Seems to be working so far. I know lots of people who use Plan A and they are surprised at how much less volume of training I do than them. So, I choose Athlete B.

  • Tim

    The magnitude of the numbers offered suggests a training program for an Ironman. (At least for me, since the only time in my 19 years of triathlons that I averaged over 12 hours per week was when I trained for the Lake Placid Ironman.) So, to some extent I pick B because I can’t easily imagine doing 15 hours of training a week without some form of plan. That’s a lot of random training time and it would be boring without systematically working in some structured variety. So, I would expect that Athlete B would have fewer “junk” workouts. Furthermore, Ironman takes a lot of dedication and a defined plan was definitely necessary for me to take my training up to that level.
    But, if you dropped the hours in half and set the goal as an International distance Tri, I would opt for the unstructured plan with more total hours. At that level I think the risk of junk workouts is offset by the “not listening to your body” issue described above…and more hours will build a better base. My one caveat however, is that you need some hard workouts and/or “training races” (even in the unstructured plan) that force you to push near your max occasionally. You do need to know how hard you can push your body at race time.

  • A and B are likely to be equal athletically for near-term events. A is doing 25% more volume, a substantial amount. B has specificity (event specific training) and balance in their favor.

    Other factors are personal bias or preference. For example, I like the idea of coaching A as there is likely to be more raw material available (more clay to mold).

    It is very difficult to make these (training) decisions without personalizing. There are many “he”s and “she”s in the responses despite a gender neutral question. We imagine that A and B are ourselves. This is all baggage that isn’t necessarily relevant. I would offer that if an athlete can sustain a higher volume of training, then more is better. Sustainability involves mental, physical, time and personal limitations. I’m saying it: “More is more.”

    Structured training optimizes training volume, but it isn’t a substitute. I’ve rarely (or never) seen a situation where B beats A over the long-term.

  • Just to let everyone know, it is Saul who posed the question and now you have his response. Here is what I replied to him directly:

    “Interesting scenario. Ideally, a long term sustainable training plan will have some mix of structure and lack thereof. How much of each depends in part on temperament and motivators. If we’re looking at a result in just four weeks with all other variables (natural talent, quality of race execution, etc.) being equal, then my money would be on Athlete B. Of course, executing a “perfect balance” is easier said than done.”

    And then later added…

    “I found that I could rationalize either answer given certain conditions. My choice of B is probably a reflection of my current approach of “less is more”, although I wouldn’t be performing like I am without previous years of “more is more”. ”

    Now for some additional comments:
    – Yes, I agree that 15 hours per week, every week, is a lot. I have sustained such an average only for a few months at a time and that was infrequent.
    – It’s worth mentioning that Saul is primarily a cyclist and it is physically easier to maintain more training hours of just cycling.
    – Depending on how I imagine a host of unstated variables, I can justify either A or B coming out on top.
    – There is no right answer. There are only answers that reveal a lot about the answerer.

    Thanks to everyone who has played. By no means does this mean the discussion has to end.

  • Wes

    I totally agree with Saul. Man he knows his stuff. I would add though, that all of this depends on the distance of the race, what type of athlete is being coached (fast twitch or slow twitch), and how long each athlete has been doing thier training previous to the month before the race. Matt Brick gave me the best advice ever when he said to me, “With training, less is more, but more can never be less.” What sage advice. I go with athlete B.

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