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.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coaching Novice Athletes, Part 5

It's been a busy November. I'm back in Scottsdale after 10 days on vacation in the Caribbean. On Thursday I leave for Oslo and will be gone a week so hope to finish this series on training for novice athletes before that trip.

This part has to do with the fifth ability (of six). Again, I am discussing these abilities in the order in which I introduce them into the novice's training program. For greater detail you can pick up a copy of one of my Training Bible books.

5. Power. This ability is of primary concern to the cyclist and of little concern to the triathlete. For the experienced cyclist and perhaps for the advanced triathlete I may introduce power training sometime in the middle of the Base period. It's important for road cyclists since race outcomes are often determined by a sprint, and criterium racing is essentially a seemingly endless string of sprints. This type of training may even be beneficial for high-level triathletes as it has been shown to improve overall power at lower intensities. But since it places great stress on joints I don't include it in the training of novice triathletes and I hold off on introducing it into the training program of novice cyclists until the Build period.

Before power workouts are introduced it's best that the rider's force and speed skills (especially sprinting skills) are well-established. Power workouts combine high levels of force with the turning of big gears along with a high cadence. A heart rate monitor is of no value to this type of training. Using a power meter is ideal, however, since what we are after is achieving a high power output as quickly as posssible.

There are many different power workouts. My favorite is "12-stroke sprints." After a long warm-up and a few form sprints the rider does a maximal-effort sprint. This may be done on a low-grade hill or flat terrain. Count every time the right (or left) foot drives the pedal down. On the 12th stroke the sprint ends. The purpose is to see how great of a power output can be generated in 12 strokes (or less).

Doing these the rider learns to keep weight distributed fairly evenly between the wheels when standing with a low profile by keeping the butt over the nose of the saddle while selecting the right gear for the terrain and effort.

After a 3- to 5-minute recovery the second sprint is done just as with the first. Sprints may continue with long recoveries until there is an obvious decline in power output. These may be done in sets of 3 to 5 sprints with very long recoveries (10 minutes or more) between sets.

This may also be included at the start of another workout such as muscular endurance or aerobic endurance. In the Build period the sprint portion of the workout is often shifted to the end of the workout to better simulate the stresses of road racing.

I hope to post the last part in the next two days depending on how much work I need to get done before my next trip.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Coaching Novice Athletes, Part 4

Now we move on to the last three abilities, the more advanced ones. The outcomes of races are determined by these three. They are also the most stressful in training, so for the novice athlete caution must be applied. The risk of injury and burnout increases as these abilities are added to the training mix.

4. Muscular Endurance. This ability is the most important for triathlon and running races. For the cyclist this is critical for time trialing. It has less impact on the outcome of a road race but allows the rider to hang in with a fast moving group. I include it in the training of all novice athletes, but generally delay introducing it until they are well into the Base period when it is apparent that aerobic endurance and force are progressing well. Working on muscular endurance before these more basic abilities are developed is not very effective.

Muscular endurance (ME) workouts involve relatively long intervals with short recoveries, or long, steady state efforts. The intensity is at lactate/anaerobic/functional threshold or slightly below. Using my heart rate zone system, this would be zones 3 through 5a.

For the novice I start with zone 3 steady states in the late Base period. An experienced athlete will typically begin this training in Base 2. A typical workout is swimming, riding or running steadily for 20 minutes in zone 3. For advanced athletes I look to see if there is much decoupling (as explained in Part 3). If aerobic endurance is coming along well the advanced athlete should experience little decoupling and so we can move on very soon to ME intervals. For the novice athlete it may take several weeks to achieve an acceptable level of decoupling before advancing with training.

For advanced athletes ME intervals, which I call 'cruise intervals' (I stole that term from a swim coach), are about 6 to 12 minutes long. But for the novice athlete I will start with about 3-minute durations. The recovery intervals are about one-fourth of the work interval duration. So after a 3-minute work interval the recovery is 75 seconds, and after a 12-minute interval the recovery is 3 minutes (for swimming these recoveries may be shortened by half). The work interval duration increases as the athlete adapts to this new form of stress. The intensity is now zones 4-5a. For the novice I start with about 12 minutes of cruise intervals in a single session once a week (per sport for triathletes so long as the novice is handling the training load well). The advanced athlete will do 20 to 30 minutes of cruise intervals in a single session weekly in the Base period. In the Build period the session volume of these intervals increases to whatever the athlete can manage. Again, this type of training is critical for steady state events such as time trials, triathlon, and running races.

There are many variations on cruise intervals. For example, they may be done on long hills when preparing for a hilly race, or to maintain force along with ME in the Build period. For long-course triathlon, especially half-Ironman distance, I often use 20-minute cruise intervals on the bike totalling 80 to 120 minutes of work interval time (4-6 intervals). I save this type of training for advanced triathletes only.

Once ME training begins in the Base period it continues uninterrupted through the remainder of the season and remains a primary focus of training for the novice athlete.

If time allows I will follow up with the next post on power training followed by anaerobic endurance soon after. Travel back to Scottsdale may delay these last two installments. We'll see what happens.

Labels: ,