Its not uncommon that two athletes ask me the same question and I have two different answers. I have no problem with that. I have heard before that holding two opposing thoughts in concert is a sign of human intellect (I like to think I have a little intellect). Basically, not everyone is the same or in the same place athletically. When answering specific questions I like to reference an internal endurance athlete development continuum (sounds impressive huh?).
Basically we start with general fitness, consistency, and efficient movement; consisting of easy workouts, done often, with good form (i.e. get a bike fit!). From there we work on higher aerobic fitness (functional threshold) through long interval work or sweet spot work. Group workouts usually come in at this point as well. After that an athlete’s progression will vary by their goals. Some will stay at the high aerobic point for quite a while, for example long distance triathletes, others will move on to higher intensity race specific work. Either way we are adhering to the rule of specificity and making our training more focused.
Where you are at along that path is an important factor for a lot of questions. What workouts are appropriate? Should I be lifting weights or stretching? Should I get a perm and purple and yellow cycling glasses?
I get a lot of athletes asking about a nagging injury only to find out they never had a bike fitting, considered having their running gait evaluated, or have done any general strengthening work. They skipped a step in the athlete hierarchy of needs and didn’t improve their quality of movement. From that point on their training is being compromised by “power leaks” and going back and addressing those issues will make a big difference in their development.
Keep in mind that we tend to float up and down that pyramid through out the year so answers to the same training questions can change through out the year as well as on a year-to-year basis as overall fitness changes. It is also a good idea to go back and revisit the earlier stages of development as reinforcement on a periodic basis.