What if you could train in half the time as most other endurance athletes and be faster in your races than those training twice as long? What if there was a more effective way to train that significantly reduced your chances of injury? There is. In this article I discuss some of the techniques I use to train my endurance athletes and separate them from rest of the pack.
When I base train my clients for the first time, they think they are in for the usual fair of long, slow, low intensity workouts for the next 8-12 weeks. What they get is the exact opposite. They are surprised when they find most of their time is spent on the floor in plank position, with a plyo ball in their hands, and squatting, jumping, and sprinting their guts out. My training focuses on core (abs,back, and hip) strength, overall balance, flexibility, and speed in the base phase. Even more surprising is the noticeable lack of slow long rides, runs and swims.
My base plan begins with turning my clients first into athletes, and then into triathletes. This approach is diametrically opposite the conventional long distance, slow pace, and low intensity (LSD) base building tact, but it's results speak for themselves. Our endurance athletes are faster, stronger, less injured, and spend less time training than their counterparts (which is basically everyone else).
I've chosen to quote some of my colleagues who are top trainers and athletes in the world to give my argument added credibility.
How Early Endurance Training Works Against Speed
Sergio Borges who is the Head Coach of the USA Team (Elite, U23 and Junior) at the 2008, 2004, and 2003 Duathlon World Championships, and USAT lecturer says this about base training:
“When they train for long-distance races, most athletes end up over doing in volume. I guess the fear of not finishing a race could be the why. Many of our athletes have a sufficient enough endurance that they could do an Ironman race back-to-back. But, what they really want is to go from start to finish as fast they can, right? It doesn’t matter if they can do it back-to-back. As an athlete, specially if you have been training for a while, it is so much easier to gain endurance than speed. So, when athletes spend 3 or 4 months doing only endurance, they end up staying away from speed workouts far too long. When they get back to speed work, they lost most of their last season speed. I like to say: 'The fast-twitch muscle fiber has been sleeping so long, it makes the process of getting fast again longer and more difficult'.
In my philosophy, you must do speed work all year long so that you never lose speed to any great extent. We start doing speed work at the beginning of the training season. We do short sprints at first to increase anaerobic capacity and natural speed. Everyone comes with a natural speed, especially if you’re coming from a soccer or football background and are used to doing sprints. But if natural speed is not maintained, it is easy to lose. Many athletes who have not been exposed to a speed sport have the misconception that they can just go out 2 or 3 times, do some sprint workouts and this will make them faster. The reality is that the process takes between 14 and 16 weeks before you can measurably increase natural speed. Speed work must be done early and before you add any other volume or longer-intensity workouts. It’s a simple concept, but it’s a little complicated in terms of what you must do to follow the process. The basic principle is that we are trying to get to as high a speed as possible before we put on the volume. This is what we call inverse periodization.”
Long Slow Distance (LSD) is Ineffective for Base Training
Michael McCormick 1991 Canada Ironman Champion has this to say about base training, “My characterization of traditional base training is [that it is] redundant and relatively unproductive training."
The primary reasons to reconsider the effectiveness of LSD training are:
Fails to recognize that athletes are generally active throughout the year and prepossess a stable muscle structure and base level of conditioning
Exaggerates the period of time necessary to build base before moving on to more focused and productive training intensities
Fails to consider that there may be other more effective methods for building base.
A couple of other items to ponder while rethinking traditional base-building are:
When training is reduced, such as during off-season, speed and strength are the first things that one loses, and endurance the last. Why then does one do exhaustive training for a system that is the last to go, quickest to build, and prepares you for little else other than riding slowly?
During the cold and dark winter months, how practical is it to build base with the traditional just keep adding hours method, particularly for multi-sport athletes who train other sports as well?
What will yet another year of LSD prep do to improve previous seasons’ results? My experience is that the same process has an uncanny knack for producing the same old results.
In both my own training, and that of coaching hundreds of athletes over the years, I have found that a steady diet of strength work and threshold training is a far more effective way to build base than the traditional LSD for several months approach.
The workouts I prescribe generally last an hour and are performed on a computrainer or a windtrainer, and carry the tangential benefit of being far more in sync with the majority of peoples’ lifestyles---- small details like jobs, children, etc. which impose non-negotiable time constraints.”
Base Training Strategy for increasing speed, and decreasing training time and injury.
Train for speed and strength first, endurance second. Remember that speed and strength are the first things to go and endurance is the quickest to gain and the last to go. Spend your up front base training time on increasing your speed, and your core and overall strength. Spend later training phases on endurance.>
Train for endurance several weeks prior to racing rather than months before by switching your phases. This will eliminate unnecessary mileage and time which can lead to injuries and bad marriages (or other dysfunctional relationships due to too much training).
Train Less. Spend 8 – 10 hours per week training rather than 20. You can have your cake and eat it too in this respect. The one exception to this principle, of course, is if you are an elite professional (don't kid yourself, you are not an elite professional). 8-10 hours of training can yield a 9-14 hour IM finish time.
Include High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), core strength training, balance/stability exercises, technique training, and especially speed training as your base building phase.
Get help. Find someone like Elevate Fitness and Rehab who can help you build the right program to save you precious time in training, in races, in injury prevention.
Richard Hart is a four-time Ironman and veteran triathlon trainer, Elevate Fitness & Rehab, Orem, Utah.