Saturday, November 15, 2008

More on Volume

I thought this was a good question:

Q: What do you base the statements in the blog below on (Thoughts on Volume)? As far as I can see high volume low intensity training does not affect the bodily functions that you describe in a better way than does high-intensity training.

A: Thanks for your note. Good question. I’ll try to answer it.

There are basically two ways to improve fitness. For now let’s call fitness aerobic endurance, or more specifically, aerobic capacity (VO2max). The two ways are through an emphasis on volume and through an emphasis on intensity, especially an intensity at or near VO2max. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. For example, volume-based training requires more time (as in weeks/months) to reach a similar level of fitness as when using intensity-based training. High intensity training has a greater risk of breakdown from injury, illness and burnout. Volume-based training has a greater benefit for muscle capillarization while high intensity does more to improve heart stroke volume. There are others but I won’t go into all of them here.

Of course, we don’t have to use just one or the other. Both may be used quite nicely at different times in the season (that's in part what periodization is all about) and are complimentary. At this time of year, assuming an athlete has several months (at least 5) until his/her first A-priority race of the year, I like to have the athlete focus on volume-based training. Don’t assume this means “long, slow distance.” I don’t really believe in that at all except when recovering. The volume I like includes aerobic threshold training, speed skills and force training. These are all described in my Training Bible books. I’ve found most athletes do a poor job of training these three abilities. I’ve even found riders who, when at the end of their seasons when they should be in great aerobic condition, cannot complete the long, steady aerobic threshold workouts I have athletes doing now—at the start of winter. Their aerobic fitness still is not complete. Athletes tend to be impatient and want to get to the hard stuff too soon and never fully develop their most basic abilities. A little patience goes a long way at this time of year.


At November 16, 2008 3:57 AM , Anonymous Mark said...

Hi Joe

So would your "aerobic threshold training" in power terms be working at or just below FTP - so this time of year focus on L4 and gte back into the L5 and above after the L4 foundation has been laid?

I think a lot of people think the "aerobic threshold" work should feel easier than it does. A good L4 workout is hard work especially when done indoors on trainer.

My personal experience is that RPE of the aerobic work is much higher than I used to think it was and that I used to "waste" miles in lower zones when I didnt have the luxury of endless training hours to make those lower intensity miles count.


At November 16, 2008 9:08 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Mark--What I call aerobic threshold training (AeT) is done in HR zone 2 or 65-75% of FTP. I have a couple of articles on this posted at

At November 16, 2008 1:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi joe

In terms of absolute vo2max, starting at a sedentary state, with good traing how long does it take before you see it plateau.

At November 16, 2008 1:48 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Sam--That's a great question! There's a ton of 'depends-on' here but let's assume the person is young, moderately active pre-training, highly motivated, trains in a purposeful way and avoids all breakdowns. There would be many other considerations like diet, genetics, lifestyle, body comp, support, and on and on and on. But cutting through all of this and going out on a limb, I'd say some where in the neighborhood of 3-5 years. For example, I recall that when I was training for marathons back in the 1970s I ran my fastest 3 years after starting. I've seen others do something similar.

At November 16, 2008 10:21 PM , Blogger nacnude said...

Hello Joe,

"Volume-based training has a greater benefit for muscle capillarization while high intensity does more to improve heart stroke volume."

Could comment further on the stroke volume improvement, do you see that in athletes? Can you point me to further reading on that?


At November 17, 2008 8:25 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Nacnude--I don't usually do this but rather than summarizing the research, here is an abstract from a recent study which looked at this phenomenon....

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Oct;39(10):1885;
Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training. Helgerud J, Høydal K, Wang E, Karlsen T, Berg P, Bjerkaas M, Simonsen T, Helgesen C, Hjorth N, Bach R, Hoff J.
Department of Circulation and Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

PURPOSE: The present study compared the effects of aerobic endurance training at different intensities and with different methods matched for total work and frequency. Responses in maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), stroke volume of the heart (SV), blood volume, lactate threshold (LT), and running economy (CR) were examined. METHODS: Forty healthy, nonsmoking, moderately trained male subjects were randomly assigned to one of four groups:1) long slow distance (70% maximal heart rate; HRmax); 2)lactate threshold (85% HRmax); 3) 15/15 interval running (15 s of running at 90-95% HRmax followed by 15 s of active resting at 70% HRmax); and 4) 4 x 4 min of interval running (4 min of running at 90-95% HRmax followed by 3 min of active resting at 70%HRmax). All four training protocols resulted in similar total oxygen consumption and were performed 3 d.wk for 8 wk. RESULTS: High-intensity aerobic interval training resulted in significantly increased VO2max compared with long slow distance and lactate-threshold training intensities (P<0.01). The percentage increases for the 15/15 and 4 x 4 min groups were 5.5 and 7.2%, respectively, reflecting increases in V O2max from 60.5 to 64.4 mL x kg(-1) x min(-1) and 55.5 to 60.4 mL x kg(-1) x min(-1). SV increased significantly by approximately 10% after interval training (P<0.05). CONCLUSIONS:: High-aerobic intensity endurance interval training is significantly more effective than performing the same total work at either lactate threshold or at 70% HRmax, in improving VO2max. The changes in VO2max correspond with changes in SV, indicating a close link between the two.

At November 17, 2008 10:55 AM , Blogger N8rhino said...

I read your article about AeT and was curious were I stand in that regards? Last Tuesday I went out and performed a 1 hour test and came up with a 1.5% Pw:Hr ratio. Saturday I hard a really hard 2 hrs on my mtn SS. And Sunday was another 2 hr test at AeT and came back with a 2.9% Pw:Hr. That was also on a pretty undulating course with 2 quick pit stops. Would you consider this on the right track for a mtn and road racer with 2 hr races?


At November 17, 2008 2:18 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Courtland--Yes, that sounds good. Like to see it below 5% for steady state rides. It will vary a little from one ride to the next since we're not machines.

At November 19, 2008 11:46 AM , Blogger Doug Howe said...

Hi Joe,
My wife and I both train for competitive sport, cycling for my wife, and duathlon for myself. We are both turning 40 in the next year and are finding we need more recovery time as we get older. I was wondering what the cost is of switching from a 4 week training cycle (3 weeks + 1 recovery week) to a 3 week training cycle (2 weeks +1 week recovery)? Can an athlete expect to achieve the same level of performance on the 3 week cycle plan? Would it be better to train a little more conservatively so we could stay with the 4 week cycles vs. maintaining the intensity but going with the 3 week cycles? We've been considering 4 week cycles during base, and 3 week cycles during build phases...? Thanks for your thoughts...

At November 19, 2008 12:42 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Doug--Good question and a timely one since now is the time athletes should be thinking about next season from a big picture perspective. That includes periodization.

Some where between ages 40 and 55 most athletes need to move toward more frequent recovery. When that is varies considerably between individuals. You know when it's time if your third hard consecutive week of training is a struggle to get through due to fatigue and performance seems to suffer a lot in that week. When this becomes apparent I'd suggest going to something such as 15-17 days of high stress training followed by 4-6 days of recovery. Most athletes at this stage of their careers don't need 7 days to recover. Of course, how much stress-rest you need may vary throughout the season so don't feel you have to lock in any number now. It can be changed as the season progresses and you see how your body is responding to training.

Your idea of doing 3 weeks on and 1off in Base and 2-1 in Build is a very good idea. I do that with many of my older athletes. Actually, what I usually do is about 23-5 in Base and about 16-5 in Build.

At November 25, 2008 3:49 PM , Blogger N8rhino said...

I have done 3 weeks of your AeT workouts and have a new question for you. Went out this morning and just knew I was going to be able to push harder. So for 60 mins I improved power by 10%, increased speed by 3/4 mph, increased HR by 1 BPM ave, and my PW:Hr was .79%! Just curious on your thoughts?



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