Approach to Training
Undertaking a focused,
structured, individualized training
program can increase an athletes VO2max by 15 to 30% over a 3 month period and
up to 50% over 2 years! Obviously the later figure is based
on someone new to the sport. A world champion cannot be expected
to increase their VO2max by 50% unless they resort to the old EPO or
other dodgy practices.
So, back to
normal stuff. Focused training also leads to
metabolic adaptations, include changes in lactic acid removal, which
contribute to your ability to perform at a higher level of VO2max for
longer periods of time. Changes are also made to lipid metabolism
which enable extra energy Calories to be provided from fat. These
Calories supplement those from glycogen and glucose, at specific VO2max
levels, supporting longer durations of exercise to fatigue. We'll
cover fat metabolism in the next fact sheet.
Training also results in physical
changes in the muscles. These will improve their tolerance for the
stresses of prolonged exertion. Especially the strengthening of
the connective tissue between muscle fibers which translates into less
microtrauma, or post exercise discomfort to give its less scary
Not every training session in your
program needs to stress the cardiovascular system to its limit. In
fact successful programs are balanced with at least two days per week at
less than maximal cardiovascular intensity to allow for mental and
There is obviously a drop off in
metabolic adaptations within a few weeks of stopping training, although
changes in numbers of muscle capillaries and skeletal and cardiac muscle
fiber size probably occur more slowly. So you can quickly get back
to where you were after injury or illness.
Is more better? Not necessarily. Although the exact optimum
for training intensity is unknown, and obviously varies between
individuals, it is generally accepted that maximum aerobic improvement
occurs at 85% VO2max (approximately 90% of your max. heart rate).
Regular training above this level will increase the potential for injury
without a corresponding increase in cardiovascular or musculoskeletal
Lower levels of exercise, 60% maximum
heart rate for 45 minutes, will at least maintain general cardiovascular
conditioning. The "long slow distance" approach to
endurance training where your maximum heart rate is always limited to 60
to 80% VO2max will not optimize your personal performance for high level
aerobic events. A recent study assigned 15 women to either a
low intensity (132 beats per minute) or high intensity (163 bpm) group,
exercising for 45 minutes, 4 times a week. There was an increase
in VO2max for members of the high intensity group, but not the low
However at this time of the year we
are not attempting to boost our VO2max, we are attempting to train our
bodies to "spare glycogen" and to get used to three to four
hours in the saddle. Everyone thinks we are riding slow to
"burn fat". This isn't strictly true. We do burn
fat, if we ride slowly enough, but that's because we are sparing
glycogen. It's a bit cause and effect and "semanticky"
but there is a difference. Once you can acknowledge or accept the
fact, training principles and why we do what we do, become a little
There is no easy answer to the optimum duration for a high intensity
training session as training is an interaction between intensity and
time. Ten minutes of 80% maximum heart rate will be of some
benefit, but 30 minutes are even better. However, 60 minutes does
not necessarily give you a proportionally greater benefit as there is
clearly a point at which the negative effects of exercising at such a
high level outweigh the benefits. At some point there is a case
for "less is more".
For aerobic training at less than 90%
maximum heart rate it makes the most sense to look at the duration of
the planned event, and to train at the same level of anticipated
performance for a duration equal to that of the event plus, possibly, an
additional 10%. Seeing as for the majority of us, our longest race
is 60 miles, there is little point riding longer. As most of us
have already done this on the Anthony Nolan ride it is now a case of
riding that distance more efficiently and effectively. So now we
know we have the endurance capabilities, we can SLOWLY, build up the
speed necessary to race at this level.
As the first race is about 20 weeks
away, and the biggie is about another 16 weeks after that, there is
little need to panic. We have a little time to fine tune our plan.
It appears that maximum aerobic conditioning (increasing VO2max) occurs
with 3 workout days per week. It is better to take off 2 to 3 days
per week to allow for muscle and ligament repair and decrease the risk
of cumulative physical stress. Interestingly, it appears that
these 3 days per week will maximize aerobic conditioning equally in any
combination - i.e. 3 days in a row with 4 off, alternating days, etc.
Studies on maintaining the benefits of
aerobic training revealed that a 66% reduction in training frequency,
going from 6 days a week to 2 days a week but keeping the same intensity
for each individual workout, maintained gains previously made. You
can cut a 60 minute, 6 per week program to 60 minutes, twice a week,
perhaps even to a 30 minute session 6 times a week, and still maintain
your aerobic fitness level.
However, fitness levels cannot be
maintained by cutting the intensity of the 60 minute session and keeping
it at 6 times per week. If intensity is held constant, the
frequency and duration of exercise required to maintain fitness are much
less than the effort needed to attain that fitness level in the first
That's why, once we have established
an endurance base we can cut back the distance to maintain it, then go
off and do some speedy-power type training. All we need to do then
is to maintain our endurance through the race season by using one day a
week to do a long, race-distance type, ride.
Methods of Training
Training needs to be structured for the intensity and duration of the
planned sporting event. Anaerobic (oxygen independent) exercise is
generally less than 60 seconds in duration and is fueled by the
anaerobic, ATP Creatine Phosphate (CP) energy pathways.
The classic anaerobic sport is
weightlifting. Sprint activities also use anaerobic
pathways. If the sprint lasts more than 5 or 10 seconds, lactic
acid clearance becomes an issue because of the negative effects of
lactic acid on muscle performance. Training focused on anaerobic
activities will enhance the ATP and CP energy transfer pathways as well
as improving the tolerance for, and clearance of, lactic acid.
Aerobic training on the other hand
provides its benefits by improving the cardiovascular and oxygen
delivery systems to the muscle cell. These include improvements in
both cardiac output, the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute,
and at the muscle fiber level there is an increase in the extraction of
oxygen from the blood cells in the capillaries. In addition, there
is an improvement in the efficiency of the cellular metabolic pathways
which convert glucose into ATP. Which is why we ride slow in the
As the level of exertion increases,
there is a slow transition towards anaerobic metabolism in the
muscle. There are always areas of relatively lesser perfusion
within the muscle that are functioning anaerobically. So even at
50 to 60% VO2max some anaerobic conditioning is occurring. At 85%
VO2max, the "anaerobic threshold" for most individuals, there
is an abrupt increase in anaerobic metabolism throughout the entire
muscle. Even though some cross training of the anaerobic systems
takes place during exercise at 60 to 80% VO2max, a sprint performance
training program needs to include exercise sessions above 85%
VO2max. We do these once we are into the racing season.
Obviously, long slow distance work is
good training for aerobic, endurance events, but it will not improve
your sprint performance. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise
sessions need to be included in a training program. It is the
balance of the amount of each type of exercise which determines its
suitability for the competitive event for which you are training.
We'll cover this in another article.
Interval training refers to sandwiching periods of intense physical
activity between periods of recovery, to allow longer periods of
training time at your peak performance levels. One study in
runners demonstrated that continuous, maximal performance levels could
be sustained for only 0.8 miles before exhaustion occurred, while a
similar level of peak exertion could be maintained for a cumulative
distance of over 4 miles when intervals were used.
In training for sprints, which do not
involve significant lactic acid build up and basically are training the
ATP and CP systems, it is recommended that the duration of the training
interval should be increased by 1 to 5 seconds over the usual sprint
distance. The exercise intensity or maximum effort should remain
unchanged and the recovery period should be at least three times longer
than the training interval.
Training for longer intervals, up to
several minutes, produces significant lactic acid build up along with
stressing the anaerobic metabolic pathways. To train for these
several minutes of maximum output intervals, it is suggested that the
distance being trained for be subdivided, and the training interval
effort focused on that shorter distance.
So, if you are training for a personal
best 10 mile ride, and your best time for the ride is 30 minutes then if
you can't ride one mile in three minutes, how will you ever do 10 in
thirty. So ride one mile in three minutes, well within your
capability, have three minutes rest, then ride another. Then build
up from there. We'll cover this later, we are only showing
concepts at this early stage. And on no account do intervals
unless you really understand them. Pleas ask someone first!
Training program drop out rates can
double when intervals are used, so they should be used
judiciously. They are only to be used at specific times.
Consider them twice a week during your peak season, and separate each
session by at least 48 hours to allow adequate recovery. If your
long ride is on the weekend, Tuesday and Thursday make the most sense.
The goal should be 10 to 20 minutes of hard pedalling per training
interval session, not counting warm up, recovery, or cool down.
If you have a heart rate monitor, an
alternative is to key intervals to your maximum heart rate. Ride your
intervals at 80 to 90% of your maximum heart rate and spin easily until
your heart rate drops to 60 to 65% of maximum.
Continuous training refers to aerobic activity performed at 60 to 90%
VO2max for an hour or more. When done at the lower end of this
range, it is often referred to as long, slow distance (LSD)
training. This level of training is ideal for those starting off
an exercise program, those wishing to maximize Calorific expenditure for
weight loss purposes, and as an option for an active "rest"
day in a weekly aerobic training program.
This level of exertion can be
maintained for hours at slightly less intensity than used in competitive
events in the past, and is particularly suited for endurance event
training. It is thought to have a preferential beneficial effect
on the slow twitch muscle fibers (as opposed to the fast twitch fibers
used in sprint interval training).
This form of training is a combination of interval and LSD
training. It is not as structured as an interval program being
based on the personal perception of exertion rather than specific time
or distance intervals. It mimics the "sprint to the
line" that is part of many road races. While there is little
scientific proof of its benefits it makes sense physiologically, and
psychologically it adds a feeling of freedom to those long slow
days. Best done with mates, but it is almost impossible to stop it
becoming a race and it often screws up your planned training ride.
To summarise, here are the key points
for an aerobic training program:
▼ Training needs to be structured for
the intensity and duration of the planned event
▼ Long slow distance training forms
an important base at the beginning of the training season
▼ Maximum aerobic improvement occurs
at 85% VO2max (90% max. heart rate)
▼ Maximum aerobic conditioning
(increasing VO2max) occurs with 3 workout days per week at or above
▼ Additional training days should be
at a slower pace to allow recovery and build musculoskeletal
▼ Exercising at less than 85% VO2max
will improve general cardiovascular conditioning and overall
▼ In training for endurance events
train at the level of anticipated performance with a ride equal to
that of the event + 10%
Running a Max Heart Rate Test
to find your optimum training zones is extremely useful but only if you do
something with the information you have. Devising a training plan
with the specific requirements of developing your strengths and limiting
your weaknesses is a fantastic investment in your training time.
But only if you know which areas need addressing and operate in the
correct training zones to improve them. Without a test how will you know
how hard to go and how will you know if you've improved?
Through increasing your cycling
economy, lactate tolerance and power output you can make significant
improvements in the efficiency of your aerobic engine thus allowing you to
cruise at a faster speed. We may not be able to make your heart beat
faster but we can make each beat more oxygen efficient and help you
deliver more oxygen to your muscles. And that's what wins races.