Every so often I’m accused of being ambiguous, nebulous, opaque…in other words, unclear. Sometimes such claims are not unfounded. Occasionally, though, I can prove otherwise, at least to myself. To that point, one of my clients, a top-flight skier (not the one from my book who “Chewed the mountain a new asshole!”, but one of superior skill, equal age, and opposite temperament) made reference to my book’s description of aerobic endurance training and how to get it, telling me that it was confusing him.
The concept in question is in the second paragraph of Base: 4 to 16 weeks from Chapter Four, Chart Your Course, where I say,
Though evidence today has been spotty, it may turn out that even a single hard session during the low stress months of Base training may create a confusing pathology. The result, the onset of blood lactate occurring at a lower level means the wrong (anaerobic) energy system is being trained.
The book’s preceding paragraph should put this into context.
Triathlon, for instance, is an aerobic event so Base is where the primary and most potent adaptation occurs. The Base Phase is where the low intensity training environment encourages growth of the heart, lungs and slow-twitch muscle fibers while the intensity-dependent fast-twitch fibers and lactic acid system are allowed to languish…
In Chapter Four within the Constructing Worthy Workouts section, and under the Determine Your Desired Effect sub-section I juxt-oppose two different workout imperatives.
You might decide that you want to increase your aerobic endurance. So, in this session you’re going to increase your long run by ten percent, say from one hour twenty minutes to one hour twenty-eight minutes keeping your heartrate narrowly within the low-moderate range of Zone 2…
…you may want to improve your running speed and pacing. For this workout you’ve settled on running five, quarter mile, high-intensity, Zone 5 repeats at a local high-school’s 400m track. Your first two intervals could be running laps one and three fast, in 100 seconds, and jogging laps two and four in 180 seconds, to allow heartrate to drop into the way Zone 1, to recover.”
Earlier in the book, in Chapter Three, Use Every Means in the last paragraph of Everyman Strength Training I point out that “…we get good at what we do…” meaning that training is specific.
And, under the sub-section, Where the Rubber Meets the Road I say,
…endurance is more than just slogging sloppily away to the end of some long endeavor. Endurance is a measure of how long you can maintain your good sports technique. Endurance training, by extending time and repetition develops the consistent precision required for maintaining such efficiency of action. As a by-product, endurance training tunes the aerobic engine by increasing mitochondria, capillarization, and aerobic enzymes. The result is that at any given heartrate you can now race farther and faster with good form throughout.
In the third paragraph of Base: 4 to 16 weeks, I continue,
Maybe a month into Base training…aerobic adaptation is just getting started. The circulatory system still has miles of capillaries left to insinuate throughout muscle tissue. While some study results have indicated that high intensity (90% of VO2 Max) improved capillarization in both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, it’s still best to avoid diluting the primary metabolic stress of the workout, aerobic efficiency.
Then in sub-section, Build: 4 to 8 weeks I say,
…as intensity increases volume decreases. Shorten long workouts and add intervals, fast hill repeats, sustained tempo efforts or otherwise increase the intensity of your training to address the precise demands of your goal race.
In the Taper / Peak sub-section I say,
Once you have concluded the Build Phase [which follows Base], you’re fit and ready to race… Over the next week reduce training duration by about a third and keep intensity high. The following week drop frequency and duration by another third and reduce overall intensity, except for a few, short, faster-than-race-pace efforts. Get it right and fitness soars— that’s super compensation, the point of Periodization.
And, finally, in the sub-section Some Rules of Thumb I say,
Personal best fitness is produced through methodical, progressive increases in physical challenge, which is peppered with variety and punctuated with rest.
Duration and intensity are inversely related, meaning that long steady effort is best trained with a lower load, while the greater loads best serve shorter intervals… Make sure your levels of efforts are well distinguished throughout your season so you receive the expected benefit.
More general activity is performed earlier in the season, and along the way it narrows to become largely event specific.
Ultimately, I’m saying that workouts targeting different physiological responses are exclusive of each other, and that there is a process for planning and building fitness. This plan takes precedence over casual, willy-nilly activity. While limited success is available to recreational exercisers, the serious athlete submits to the program and accomplishes their energetic and thus performance objectives— otherwise, what’s the point?
As a skier first, and a paddle tennis player second my client’s sports favor relatively short, high intensity bouts of activity, and LSD (Long Slow Distance) is foreign to his training expectations, and anathema to his attention span. However, he wants to teach his body to burn fat preferentially so he’s exploring aerobic conditioning. While not directly applicable to the stop / start nature of his sports, endurance training still supports recovery in between anaerobic efforts, reduction of “energy” stored in between ribs and hips, and overall health— all of which are beneficial, especially because a paddle tennis match can last for hours, and a ski session, all day. But, Base is certainly a three or four month, pre-season focus.
Now in March we want to alternate between strength workouts and power sessions to maintain physical resilience, muscular stamina and quickness and agility and organize these adaptations around planned trips to the ski slopes. An occasional long day reminds the aerobic system to continue functioning in a manner similar to its full pre-season development, assuming that it has actually been developed through LSD.
Sport specific fitness then is a step-wise progression that first develops a foundation, or Base, then Builds from there toward a Peak which ideally satisfies particular seasonal goals. To my skier client I must emphasize that it’s important to put the icing on the cake after it comes out of the oven.
I’d like to believe that in Fitness, Straight-Up I stated this clearly enough. If not, perhaps I’m doing it here. If still not, what I cannot explain with words I can demonstrate through workouts. Complete understanding only requires following the plan— that’s clear, right?