The 21 day cycle has worked okay for me so far. However, the runs have been short due to a rash on my right arm that required I go to Urgent Care for a prescription. The rash is doing better, though the RX as it does has messed with my body a bit. I also had a dinner for my dad’s birthday. I also had a car issue to sort out ahead of registration renewal.
Basically, life intervened, and I had to patch a reduced schedule this week with work break runs. I’ve back-loaded my strength workouts to Friday and Saturday. After that, my 3 day cycle goes back to normal by Monday (which incidentally is the next scheduled quality-run day).
I ended that 21 day cycle post mentioning Training Monotony. That’s the subject I’ve been personally focused on the last week or so.
Training Monotony is a metric devised long ago by Carl Foster. Training Monotony measures how variable your workouts are within a training week or similar period. The concept is that the more day to day consistent your workout volume is, the higher your monotony.
High Training Monotony can be a problem in one of two ways. 1) Either you do a lot of hard workouts with insufficient easy days or rest, an overtraining or burnout risk. 2) Or you do a lot of easier workouts without a mix of more challenging workouts. This in turn stagnates or decreases your fitness.
Though poo-poohed by some writers (and I’d imagine given their plan layout that the Hansons have a problem with the monotony concept as well), Training Monotony is worth exploring. Honestly, most coaches and training plans do shove a lot of volume down your throat that for many just runs you into the ground (and possibly injure you) more than prepare you for your training goals. Elite athletes and teams get around this by being 99th percentile strong and resilient, and/or through covert systematic doping. For most of us, the relentlessly high training volumes most top coaches swear by are largely unsustainable long-term.
Conversely, you can get into a pattern of easily do-able workouts. This eventually stagnates your progress. Your body grows accustomed to the regular stress, and ceases to progress.
For basic examples, Jonathan Savage aka Fellrnr has done a great job of providing some himself, as well as providing a separate illustration of what it measures and is designed to deter.
Basically, the Training Monotony number is the volume of your week’s training divided by the standard deviation of all the days collected in the data sample. Standard deviation is a pain to calculate, so I just have Excel do it.
You can measure your volume by mileage or rate of perceived exertion. But because Runalyze provides it to me for every kind of fitness activity I do, I’ve been using TRIMP.
TRIMP is short for Training Impulse. This measures your effort based on heart rate (% max), and number of minutes doing the activity.
For example, a 1 mile easy run for me is worth about 15 TRIMP. A walk during a work break is about 6 TRIMP. A full strength workout is about 10-12 TRIMP, depending on what I’m doing. A 45 minute spin bike session is about 30 TRIMP. In planning a week’s workouts and measuring likely training monotony, I’ve been plugging in TRIMP approximates for the expected activities. If adjusting the schedule in midweek I use the actual TRIMP from completed days.
You want the Training Monotony ratio not to be any higher than 1.50. Your volume, divided by the standard deviation, needs to be 1.50 or lower. If your volume doesn’t deviate much day over day, you get an unacceptably higher number like 3.00 or more.
Why it’s unacceptable depends on how you get there:
If these are all hard workouts, you won’t recover between them. You’re going to burn out, if not stagnate and see diminished progress.
If these are all easy workouts, your fitness is going to stagnate, and certainly won’t improve much.
So you would combine monotony with total volume to get a better idea of which side you’re on. If you’re running 1 mile a day, 7 miles a week, you’re probably on the stagnate/unimproved end. If you’re running 10 miles a day, 70 miles a week, you’re probably on the stagnate/burnout end)
Going a bit over 1.50 isn’t a killer (consensus is it’s above 2.00 that you’ve got a clear problem), but eking over 1.50 is like drinking alcohol when you’ve got health problems: If you can’t outright avoid it, don’t make a habit out of it, and definitely avoid doing it on consecutive weeks.
Conversely, you usually don’t want it to be too low, below 1.00. This can happen if, say, you have multiple long workouts in a week, or too many rest or easy days. Either you’re losing opportunities to improve fitness on the rest days, or the workouts are too long and the training week is not as productive as reducing the daily workout volume and training more often.
Exceptions are understandable and okay for unusual situations, if you just ran a half marathon and took lots of days off to recover afterward, or if you had to take unplanned off days, etc. But as a practice during serious training you want to keep monotony between 1.00 and 1.50.
As the Simplifaster link above discusses, worrying about Monotony can seem much ado about nothing, that it’s an older traditional metric first used with racing horses, and that advances in training have theoretically rendered the concern obsolete.
However, looking back at prior years’ training (and without getting into a granular breakdown and collection of graph images), I see that times my training was productive often had more of a 1.30-1.40 monotony, and that training that didn’t pan out often cruised around 1.60-1.80, often exceeding 2.00. I see some loosely correlative evidence in my own training that worrying about it, at least in my case, can have some merit.
Someday I’ll probably write a granular breakdown post with all those old tables, graphs and images. It’s just not going to be now. However, I’ll show a sample of what I do now to plan training and keep Monotony at a proper level. This is using the Electric Blues “Daniels Tables” Excel spreadsheet, which has a section to enter in training volume, and shows percentage breakdowns by workout type.
I’ve been entering in TRIMP values for planned workouts in a given week. I also entered in an equation in the bottom right corner to quickly measure the Monotony for that week. I can immediately see if the Monotony goes under 1.00 or over 1.50 after making a speculative entry.
While a side topic, I do try to maintain 80/20 training principles. You’ll notice the easier Recovery & Aerobic training is around low 80’s%. Harder training for me now is any intense running. This is not just zone 3 and above. Harder zone 2 counts right now as I work back into regular running shape. I also include any strength training (the 10’s in the sample are strength workouts).
‘Aerobic Zone’ I use for easier zone 1-2 runs and cross training like the spin bike, elliptical or ARC Trainer. Warmup/Recovery I mostly use for walking, which does count and registers TRIMP scores that are part of my volume.
I not only plan weeks ahead but put the current week’s completed volume in, to compare with my remaining schedule. I want to make sure the Monotony stays on track, or if I need to make an adjustment.
The sample above is the current week. I had to make several adjustments to the remaining schedule, As mentioned earlier, this has been an unusual week with multiple distractions. I had wanted to do more Friday. The strength workout that day was originally scheduled for Wednesday. As I rearrange the schedule, I make other adjustments to re-balance the monotony.
I quickly noticed the longer the long workout is, the lower the training monotony goes. A more demanding long workout increases the standard deviation. At the same time, the long run’s ability to lower Monotony is obviously limited by how long and intense of a workout you can do.
For example, it doesn’t do good to plan 150 TRIMP worth of training, if doing 80 is currently too hard. Personally, I just did about 200 TRIMP in a 2 hour 45 minute hour workout. This was a 45 minute run and 2 hours on the spin bike. S,o in this case, I know the 105 TRIMP long workout in the sample above is well within reach. For me, 105 TRIMP is either about 7 easy running miles, or 5ish tempo or interval miles.
I also notice that if you add any volume to harder training days, it reduces the increase in Training Monotony. If you put it in an empty or lighter day, the Monotony goes up.
It also creates a monotony problem if you have to shorten that long workout. The deviation between workouts decreases, and the monotony could surge. You could just cancel the workout when this happens, though of course long workouts are important.
If measuring by TRIMP, cutting a long workout short because it’s TOO hard can actually even things out. A shortened workout could produce an average heart rate so high it produces the same TRIMP. If pressed for time, you can turn a long run into a shorter tempo or interval run resulting in the same TRIMP.
All of this is infancy-stage experimentation and research for me right now. The goal is to create sustainable consistent 21 day cycles, not to mention training weeks, that are better repeatable than some of the training approaches and plans I’ve previously struggled with.