Aerobic Base Training:
Going Slower to Get Faster
That's right! Building a successful
base by training at a slower, aerobic pace, will actually help
your overall triathlon
Matt Russ - The
of the hardest concepts for an athlete to understand and
implement is base training. It is counterintuitive to run
or bike slowly in order to gain performance later in the
season. It is also very difficult to take a step back from
the intense training you were doing a few weeks ago, and
bring the speed and pace way down. But if you have the
discipline to train aerobically for a period of time, when
everyone else is still hammering away, it will pay you
dividends down the road.
and foremost you need a break. I prescribe a 3-4 week
transition phase at the end of each season and immediately
follow it with base training. Transition is a time to rest
and recover both physically and mentally. We do not take
total time off because the fitness loss takes too long to
make up. Instead I give my athletes maximum flexibility
with their training, plenty of rest, and let them leave
the heart rate monitor at home. This gives them a few
weeks to refocus before we begin structured base training.
You can not train hard year round without taking regular
periods of reduced volume and intensity. If you attempt to
you will in all likelihood find yourself burned out, over
trained, and perhaps injured. You will also find your
performance degrading rather than improving. Most athletes
build base in the fall and winter when there are not a lot
of races. If one of my athletes wants to race during base
we call it a ?C? fun / training race and do not set any
of base training
are two basic energy systems you use when training;
anaerobic and aerobic. Unfortunately, you can not build
both your aerobic and anaerobic systems at the same time
very well. The idea behind base training is to train your
aerobic energy system specifically and solely. Why is this
important? The more work you perform aerobically, or in
the presence of oxygen, the more efficient you are.
Prolonged aerobic training produces muscular adaptations
that improves oxygen transport to the muscles, reduces the
rate of lactate formation, improves the rate of lactate
removal, and increases energy production and utilization.
These adaptations occur slowly over time.
is a primary fuel source for the aerobic energy system.
Over the course of a base period your body learns to more
readily break down and utilize fat as an energy source. As
an added bonus this adaptation helps post exercise fat
metabolism as well. This is an important factor,
especially for long distance athletes. The fat we have in
our bodies could provide enough energy to perform many
distance events back to back, whereas muscle glycogen
depletion can occur in as little as one hour. The less
muscle glycogen you utilize, the more efficient you are.
Contrary to the aerobic system, the anaerobic system
consumes carbohydrate rapidly and the byproduct is lactic
adaptations of aerobic training include increased stroke
volume of the heart, capillary density, and mitochondrial
density. Stroke volume increase simply means that your
heart pumps more blood per beat. Mitochondria are
structures within muscle cells that produce energy from
fat and carbohydrate oxidation. Think of them as tiny
batteries for muscle contractions. Regular endurance
training can double these structures (1). By increasing
capillary density we can effectively transport more blood
to the working muscles. The process of building
capillaries occurs gradually. Because high stress training
breaks down capillaries, base training is best for
allowing the slow growth of capillaries.
should be progression during base season as with any other
training period. I normally prescribe 12-16 weeks of base
training. This will vary with athlete's fitness level, and
the type of event they will be peaking for. Over the
course of base I progress from the low end of the aerobic
energy system and gradually proceed in steps to the high
end. The heart rate zones I use fall into the 71-90% range
of lactate threshold or 61-80% of max heart rate. I also
incorporate specific strength training at an aerobic
level. This entails different types of low cadence cycling
and slow hill running or even walking. These work outs
also increase in volume throughout base. Base training is
an excellent time to work on form and economy as well. As
intensities increase later in the season it is harder for
the athlete to concentrate on form. By establishing good
economy habits early in the season the athlete will carry
them forth. It also important to keep the athlete's mind
moving with drills and technique work when they are
training at low intensity to keep boredom at bay. Base
training does not mean you will never move fast. Run
strides, foot speed drills, and fast pedal work can all be
integrated. Towards the end of base I start power work but
use brief durations and full recovery between efforts.
does this transfer into performance gain?
me give you a hypothetical example. Suppose athlete Sam
runs a 7 min. mile at lactate threshold. His fastest
aerobic pace, or aerobic threshold, is an 8 min. mile. We
start off Sam's base training at the low end aerobic zones
at which he runs a 9 min. mile and he begrudgingly
complies. Over the course of his 12 week base program the
above mentioned adaptations occur. At the end of his base
season he now runs a 7:30 min. mile- aerobically. This is
the ?base? for Sam to build on for the rest of his season.
Improving on the previous season is now more obtainable
with proper training. If Sam's race is an Iron Man in
which the aerobic energy system is used predominantly this
improvement in aerobic speed is crucial.
the hard part?
hard part of base training is having the discipline to
train at these low intensities. It may mean running very
slowly or even walking. It may mean separating from your
training group in order to pursue your individual goals.
It also means avoiding the contest of egos that group
training often turns into. If you can find a training
partner with similar goals and fitness level you may be
able to train with them, but more often than not what I
see is a base work gone awry. Even spending short amounts
of time above your aerobic zone degrades the work out.
area between the top of the aerobic threshold and
anaerobic threshold is somewhat of a no mans land of
fitness. It is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic states. For
the amount of effort the athlete puts forth, not a whole
lot of fitness is produced. It does not train the aerobic
or anaerobic energy system to a high degree. This area
does have its place in training; it is just not in base
season. Unfortunately this area is where I find a lot of
athletes spending the majority of their seasons, which
retards aerobic development. The athletes heart rate
shoots up to this zone with little power or speed being
produced when it gets there.
issue is having accurate zones. I regularly performance
test my athletes in order to ensure their zones are
correct and to confirm their training. After performing
many of these tests, and comparing them to race data, I
get a very clear estimate of lactate threshold. I use a
percentage of LTHR to determine individual zones. I also
recommend validation through clinical testing. I have
witnessed athletes using zones that are several years old.
Assuming fitness has improved over this time their zones
would no longer be accurate and they
may have spent an entire base season training the wrong
have to let your anaerobic system atrophy during base.
This means you will loose some of your anaerobic endurance
and the ability to sustain speed near lactate threshold.
Expect to loose some top end coming out of base, but this
is what you are going to spend the rest of your season
working on. It often takes several seasons to see the
result of sound base training if you are a novice athlete.
Be patient, it is a process that is slow and can not be
rushed, but the sooner you get started the faster you will
Russ has coached and trained elite athletes from
around the country and internationally for over ten years.
He currently holds expert licenses from
Cycling (Elite), and is a licensed
Track and Field Coach. Matt is head coach and owner of The
Sport Factory, and works with athletes of all levels full
time. He is a free lance author and his articles are
regularly featured in a variety of magazines such as
Inside Triathlon, and Triathlete. Visit www.thesportfactory.com
for more information or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org