The PEATS Program: is it outdated?

rowing-coachAbout a week ago, it was brought to my attention that a coach considered The PEATS Program outdated.  In the absence of any further statements to back up the claim, it is difficult to know where this person or persons are coming from. I would very much welcome a face-to-face debate on the issue with those concerned because I very strongly disagree with the comment. Without any reasons given for the statement, and from the viewpoint of one who has applied and tweaked The PEATS Program over a very long time (is this what makes is outdated?), I can only dismiss the comment in the strongest terms, and will supply my reasons below. But at the outset, it would appear that one or more of the following factors apply. The coach has

  • Not used The PEATS Program in his or her own sport or at best has not used it correctly
  • Has not read Critical Speed and the Physiology of Training; and if it has been read,
  • Has not been able to put the principles of the Program into practice through lack of understanding
  • Is not up to date with the current position of training physiology and/or does not understand the physiology behind it and how this applied in The PEATS Program
  • Has a favoured approach to training and is not open to change or to the consideration of a different approach

Improvement in performance capacity is multi-faceted, and there is no right way to achieve it. There are so many factors involved, both in the training process itself and in the person being trained, that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits all. This is perhaps a key issue, and it contributes to the satisfaction that coaches enjoy when they get it right. But it also creates a lot of confusion, particularly to novice coaches who are looking for a method to apply to their own situation.

The PEATS Program is a total training system which has been designed with two basic processes. The first-level process is a one-size-fits-all approach where each individual athlete follows the same steps in the development of the training program:

1. Perform time trials;
2. Calculate critical speed or critical power;
3. Calculate training intensity levels;
4. Design a training program with these TILs;
5. Implement the training program;
6. Monitor the training program;
7. Re-test time trials;
8. Tweak the program if necessary.

The second-level process is very individualized and begins at Step 4 – designing the training program. Here the performance goals, the unique physiology, time available for training, and the training age (experience in the sport) are some of the factors of each individual which are taken into consideration. No two programs will be the same, and the differences between say, a novice or even an intermediate level athlete will be vastly different from one who is striving for international success. The program has the flexibility to incorporate any feature that may be ‘trendy’ at any given time: high intensity training and block versus traditional periodization are two examples of innovations in training practice currently being reviewed and researched in the sports science community.

When this training system was introduced more than 20 years ago, it was way, way ahead of its time, and investigation into high intensity interval training (HIIT) was in its infancy. In the interim, many review articles have examined the pros and cons of endurance training versus HIIT, and at the moment, HIIT is flavor of the month for a wide range of sports from canoeing to football.

The PEATS Program has always had a bias towards endurance training in this debate for several reasons, as follows

  • Personal research and practical experience with HIIT and the immune responses and changes in performance capacity demonstrated very clearly the problems associated with too much HIIT;
  • experience with endurance training program design and huge increases in performance capacity without significant HIIT over race distances under 5 minutes’ duration in both highly experienced and novice athletes;
  • reports from high profile coaches in different sports with similar successful outcomes to endurance training (Gennardi Touretski –swimming; Arthur Lydiard-running, Theo Körner-rowing);
  • it is extremely important to maintain an athlete in a health state so that continuity of the training program may be maintained, and a program with a high proportion of HIIT has the potential to trigger a range of illnesses;
  • an underlying understanding of the physiological responses to endurance training in athletes who have different patterns of fibre-type dominance. We believe that this is hugely important in designing the components of a training program, and needs to be factored in when designing a training program. Very few appear to do this, and there is not a lot of information in the literature.
  • there seems to be an almost-automatic assumption that endurance training means long-slow distance training – long duration, low intensity activities which may attenuate gains from high intensity power and speed activities. The proportion of long duration, low intensity sessions are relatively few in The PEATS Program, but it comes back to individual needs. Yes, low intensity activities are included (and need to be for all-round development of slow-twitch fibres), but the major occurrence of these sessions are programmed with high intensity activity. The degree to which each training type is included comes back to individual need at any given time during the training year.

In a recent review of training methodologies and one which examines the endurance vs HIIT paradigms, the review looked at the cellular responses to each paradigm, an understanding of which is necessary if one is to apply each of these methodologies in the appropriate circumstances. Each block of training will have a specific objective (or should have!), and that objective should be capable of expression in cellular adaptation terms. Too many coaches give their athletes a body of work to perform without any underlying understanding of WHY the athletes are performing it.

In essence, HIIT works because it places muscle cells (fibres) under stress, and the adaptation to the stress produces the improvement in performance capacity. The specific stress is hypoxia  – a short period of time when the muscle fibres are forced to operate with a supply of oxygen that is less than the ideal. At the cellular level, the muscle fibre responds over time by increasing the volume of mitochondrial material which in turn increases the oxygen processing power which in turn increases the availability of energy (ATP). This activity is occurring mostly in the fast-twitch fibres, and the result is an improvement in their oxidative capacity. But while intermittent hypoxia can produce these gains, it is a double-edged sword: too much and it can have very deleterious consequences, ranging from minor discomfort to health issues. Hypoxia is a trigger for inflammation which in turn triggers a wide range of short- and long-term disease states, so it needs to be handled with care and with a solid understanding on the part of the coach when and how to include HIIT in the design of a training program. It is important also to understand that much of the recent work into HIIT has been of relatively short duration – i.e. studies are conducted over a period of perhaps a few weeks.  Often subjects are untrained or moderately trained. Hence the application of these studies to a specific coaching situation may be quite inappropriate. Further, if the coach believes that HIIT has the ability to replace endurance training, it will very soon be apparent that the qualities that are paramount in competitive performance, the oxidative or aerobic ones, will become detrained over time, and performance capacity will decline.

So to get back to our question: is The PEATS Program outdated? The training session types recommended in the Program have, as indicated above, an endurance bias which may be the basis for this comment in the first place. However, the Program has relatively few of the long, slow distance type sessions, though they do have a place in a 21st century training program, for all athletes at all levels. Our sessions are largely interval in nature with an almost limitless combination of endurance and HIIT components which should be applied as appropriate at times according to individual requirements. The nature of HIIT we use has been changed a little over time to include current research findings. But it is almost always applied in conjunction with endurance training, which serves to buffer the negative effects of the HIIT, but it also increases the volume of HIIT that can be incorporated. We include sessions of long duration, low intensity as stand-alone, as well as short duration, high intensity as stand-alone, but each is incorporated in its particular niche: long duration/low intensity during an early development phase, with short duration/high intensity during preparation for competition, and combinations of the two at all phases of training. Lastly, the juxtaposition of the two types of training in a single session enables a very economical use of time, something which many athletes who have to juggle training with employment or educational demands find difficult.

To finish up, we can only conclude that far from being outdated, The PEATS Program is still ahead of the curve. It provides a complete system into which individual elements can be incorporated, it provides for individual needs, particularly fibre-type dominance to be considered, and it includes mechanisms which go a long way from preventing athletes becoming over-trained.

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