Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More Thoughts on Base Period

I often see comments posted on my blog and receive emails from athletes implying that the Base period should be a time of very low intensity. Some seem to believe that is what I have athletes I coach do. That's really not the case.

This sort of training was called long, slow distance back in the 1970s when it became popular with road runners. It may actually be of some benefit for that sport since running even at very slow speeds is somewhat stressful. If runners were to walk for LSD training they'd be doing something akin to riding a bike or swimming very slowly.

There's not much to be gained for the serious athlete by a winter of noodling along at low effort in zone 1. This sort of low intensity is best for recovery, not for improving fitness. When the effort is down around 50% of VO2max then little is happening to boost cardiovascular or muscular development. The way to do that is to lift the intensity a bit. In recent posts here, here and here I've tried to explain that. But some how the message doesn't seem to be coming across as I expected it would.

As explained in the posts linked above, zone 2 is necessary to boost aerobic endurance. Going very slowly for a long time in zone 1 just won't do it. To improve your speed skills you need to include some very fast-paced swims, bikes or runs for a few seconds at a time with long recoveries. To build force also requires very brief episodes of high effort and long recoveries. And muscular endurance improves with moderate to moderately high intensities such as zones 3 and 4.

So winter is not a time to just cruise along taking in the sights and singing to yourself. Nor is it a time when you should be doing relatively long, high-intensity, anaerobic endurance intervals or fast-paced group workouts that are mini-races. (This assumes, of course, that you have a few months until your first A-priority race of the new season. If you've got an important race in February then high intensity now is the way to go.)

As I told one of my client-athletes yesterday, building fitness is like building a house (my father was a carpenter and sometimes it shows up in how I see the world). The foundation and framework (Base training) must be built carefully and diligently. Everything you do later in the construction depends on this. Training at very hard intensities (zone 5 with lactate/hydrogen accumulation) now is like starting to build the house by doing the finish work first and skipping the foundation and framework. It's not very effective.

So train with some moderate intensity - just don't overdo it. Save the zone 1 stuff for days when you need to recover from harder workouts.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Aerobic Base Ride - More

This is just a quick addendum to the post I made yesterday on the subject of the aerobic base ride. In that post I commented that your heart rate should stay primarily in zone 2. This allows you to complete a long, steady endurance workout that boosts aerobic fitness. One of the athletes I coach did such a ride yesterday. Here you can see a chart which shows how his heart rate was distributed by zones. This is an excellent example of what the heart rate distribution should look like after such a workout.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coaching Novice Athletes, Part 6

This is the last of 6 parts on how I coach novice athletes. Note that in the other 5 I have occasionally offered comments on how what I do with novices varies from the way I train advanced or experienced athletes. This last topic is clearly in that area.

6. Anaerobic Endurance. This is the training ability that has the greatest risk-reward associated with it. Doing workouts in this category have been shown to greatly improve aerobic capacity (VO2max), lactate/anaerobic threshold, and economy. And those are the big 3 when it comes to fitness. Lots of reward. But also lots of risk. Injury, illness, and burnout can all result from a steady diet of anaerobic endurance (AE) training. This is the most challenging workout the athlete can do, and since most serious athletes are of the "never enough" mindset, they often take this to the extreme.

So the bottom line is that it is highly unusual for me to have novice athletes do AE workouts. In fact, I can't recall having any do it, but it may have happened a long time ago. If so, someone would bring it to my attention, I'm sure. I seldom have experienced triathletes do AE training also. And then primarily those who are seeking to compete at the highest level at the shorter distances. I have on a few occasions had pro long-course triathletes do shortened versions of AE workouts to bump up their fitness in the late Base period. But this is rare.

For experienced road cyclists AE training is critical to success. Road races often come down to 2- to 3-minute episodes that determine the final selection (the break that succeeds). These episodes are played out on climbs and when there are strong cross winds or when a team is clearly superior. Motivation plays a big role in doing such hard workouts. You have to get "up" for the workout well in advance. This is why road cyclists like to do their group rides. These are usually mini-races made up of lots of AE efforts.

So what is an AE workout? There are many, many variations. Here is the most basic:

5 x 3 minutes at CP6 (3 minute recoveries)

What this means is do an interval workout (after warming up) made up of 3-minute intervals done 5 times for a total of 15 minutes of AE effort. Each interval is done at an intensity of CP6 ("critical power/pace" for 6 minutes). CP6 is the highest, average power or pace you can produce in 6 minutes. This is about your VO2max power/pace. After each work interval recover for 3 minutes.

I call these "intervals til you puke." The name comes from my college track days when all my coach knew were these killer workouts. We did this every day, or some variation on it. Five days a week (we took weekends off back then). There was no reasoning behind it then. No measurement of effort (other than the coach reminding us of how miserably slow we were after he timed each interval as he sat in the stands sipping a soda). It was sickening. Literally. Guys used to vomit during the workout. Someone did that every day. Me included. It's no wonder so many of us were injured and fried by the season's end. We just thought we were wimps.

The variations on AE interval workouts include hills and shortened workout intervals with equally short recovery intervals. Research supports work intervals of as short as 10 seconds for this type of training. The key is to design a workout like this so that it takes on the characteristics of what you will experience in the race for which you are training. AE intervals may be mixed with other ability workouts in the Build period (which is when AE training is usually scheduled) to create workouts that closely simulate race conditions. This could be something such as a muscular endurance steady state followed by anaerobic endurance intervals followed by power repetitions. That's pretty much what happens in a road race.

So there you have it: How I train novice athletes with some stuff on applying the same concepts for experienced athletes. I have glossed over a bunch of stuff here since I'm a bit pressed for time due to travel commitments. But it's still probably more than most of you want to read about. I know, you'd much rather be training than reading about training. If you have a burning desire to know more then consult one of my Training Bible books.

Now, off to Oslo where I will be speaking this weekend.

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