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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Monday, November 23, 2009

Age and Intensity

I just got an email from someone on one of my favorite topics - aging and training. I've grown old thinking about this topic. Here's his question and my reply.

Q: I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about 45+ masters racing. We are both a decade or so away from 45+, so I'm not exactly sure why it became a topic of conversation. Like any good discussion/debate there were a series of point and counterpoints. I'll spare you the entire dialogue. Fundamentally, we were discussing the pros and cons to road racing in your 40s-50s. My unsubstantiated opinion is that aerobic exercise, including intensity just above or below LT, is probably good for overall strength and health; but I have my doubts about the benefits of anaerobic efforts for riders approaching their 50s. My unsubstantiated conclusion was that crits and road races probably do more harm than good, and middle aged or aged riders might get more benefit from steady state events.

A: Great topic. But I disagree strongly with you. I'm a big proponent of maintaining or even increasing the percentage of high intensity one does as he/she ages. Otherwise we begin to lose muscle mass. I see many older athletes who have done as you suggest and I've seen them wither over the years. The ones who raced and trained at high intensity stayed much more muscular and lean. At age 65 I do intervals and hill repeats several times a week.

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