The term "junk miles" can have many definitions. Athletes and coaches often think of the word as something that describes adding extra miles to a workout (or weekly training) solely to reach a mileage target. For example, a workout may read "Ride 100 miles" or "Run 20 miles" or "Swim 4200 yards" - an arbitrary number that should be reached no matter how the athlete accomplishes the distance.
Many athletes see every type of workout as beneficial, even the "just complete the miles" workouts as they build confidence. Instead, a better way to describe "junk miles" is an excessive amount of miles that are completed in excess of what is needed to optimize fitness for race day. With this definition, every workout, even the intense, recovery, tempo, steady and long workouts, can fit into the definition of "junk miles" if it is not optimizing fitness for race day.
As it relates to helping athletes improve fitness, we like to focus on the following to ensure that every workout counts:
- The training volume should fit into an athlete's life. We do not focus on the hours/miles that need to be accomplished for an athlete to prepare for a race but instead, we go by time based workouts.
- Every workout should have a focus and it should be clearly written before the workout description so that the athlete understands the purpose of the workout for proper execution.
- Perceived effort should guide every workout with metrics (speed, HR, power) as a byproduct to simply check-in with and to review after the workout has completed.
- Easy sessions must be kept easy so that the body is not mentally and physically depleted for hard sessions.
- Hard sessions should be hard.
- Great sleep, mobility and nutrition have an immediate effect on workout quality.
- Every athlete is different. Finding the balance between higher volume workouts and intense sessions is key. You can not compare your training to another athlete or your current training to past training.
- You must trust the process and remain patient. Avoid fear-based training to "prove" to yourself that you can do a certain distance/pace/power.
- Training should always be periodized throughout the season. Our approach is to get athletes stronger, before trying to get faster, before going longer.
- Understand the requirements of your sport and preferred racing distance. Although endurance is needed for long distance racing, resilience, strength and skill development will also help an athlete delay fatigue and will allow for better race execution.
Although we do find that longer workouts have their place in training (for all distance events), the important take away is to not assume that longer workouts are the only way to prepare for a long distance race. Additionally, if you want to get faster, don't assume that only doing hard/intense workouts will help you go faster on race day.
To learn more about this smart(er) approach to training, Triathlete Magazine recently interviewed me on the topic. I also provided three "quality" training sessions (Swim-Bike-Run) to help you bring more specificity to every workout.