Sunday, February 14, 2010

Aerobic Training Theory, History, and Methodologies. My take...

I came across and excellent paper today with a LOT of information on aerobic and interval training. It's a hot topic these days, as a LOT of people are advocating training methodologies which are non-traditional. The paper at mentions that among ELITE athletes they do mostly Z1/Z2 training, a bit of Z4 training, and very little Z3 training. The reality is that everyone knows you have to put in the time, but being smart matters to everyone. Elites trying to maximize the gains from the enormous training they do, or time limited athletes trying to improve their ROI on the little time they have.

The problem with studies, is that they are always very controlled environments. I believe it's very important to investigate anything that comes your way, but never to take anything as an absolute. In the paper they highlight the key question most people think of when thinking about intensity:
If doing some HIT (1-2 bouts per week) gives a performance boost, is more even better?
It's well accepted that you CANNOT do too much high intensity, because you get burned out and/or overtrained. They also make an interesting point, which runs counter to my assumption that elites are a bad example:
Observing the training methods of the world's best endurance athletes represent a more valid picture of “best practice” than we can develop from short-term laboratory studies of untrained or moderately trained subjects.  In today’s performance environment, where promising athletes have essentially unlimited time to train, all athletes train a lot and are highly motivated to optimize the training process.
So what are we to do? I think it's important to learn from different sources. The a few of my favorites are below, and they all have a LOT of good material to read, and learn from.

One of my favorite resources is Gordo Byrn, who's articles can be found at Endurance Corner. He focuses on ironman training, which is obviously a small, but elite slice of the sport. He embodies the attitude that there are no short cuts, and empasizes the most underrated key of training period. Consistency! His notions  are clearly more for aggressive ironman folks. Certainly NOT for non competitive age groupers, and shorter course athletes. Coming back from a major injury last year, in a very slow, deliberate way, really opened my eyes to consistency and the power of small details.

On the flip side you can find people like the Endurance Nation guys, Rich Strauss and Pat McCrann. They are MUCH more focused on training for people who want a holistic and balanced life, which means simplicity, fewer workouts a day, and novel notions like using Zone 3 in training to maximize ROI. 

Also on this end of the spectrum, is ironguides. They call their package "The Method" and also look at balance very deeply. They also advocate not becoming beholden to technology (i.e. over reliant on your HR Monitor, or Power Meter etc.), and being in tune with your body. Very interesting notions of hormonal balance, and its control over training response are also frequently mentioned.

So far based on my experience, here's how I see it:
1) Consistency is king. Nothing is more valuable then putting in the time. When I travel, I at LEAST run for 30-40 minutes a day. It's usually easy to at least find an exercise bike at most hotels, and pools are fairly common out there as well. Still other activities can fill the gap when real world considerations are taken into concern. If I spend 3 hours walking, a couple hours kayaking, go hiking, or am active in some other way, it's not as important.
2) It's OK to go easy. Too much work, stayed up to late, over did a workout, whatever. If needed go easy. If you are not prepared, doing a hard workout is counterproductive, and can have bad consequences like lethargy or illness.
3) Beware unnecessary distance. QUALITY trumps distance. There are physical adaptations that occur from regular long work. No Doubt. It's also important to have a realistic understanding of how fast you can do the different legs of a triathlon. Earlier in my triathlon journey I did WAY to many long runs, and bikes. I was mentally assuaged because I had done 3-4 hour bikes before I did my first 4 hour triathlon.
4)  It's important to go hard some times. For me that's typically best done in a controlled environment (bike trainer/treadmill) because I like to measure my improvement. I've also been getting regular Vo2/LT tests the last two years. In any case it's important to go fast/hard. I like hills a lot on the bike, because it's also good force work at lower RPMs. Tempo runs can be pretty fun even outside, but for real Z4 intervals, a treadmill is VERY helpful. Even in off season, or recovery weeks throw in some little accelerations to keep yourself in the game.
5) Be aware of your body. Bike position. Running form. ESPECIALLY swimming form. Even easy recovery work allows you to continually try to improve your form and economy. All incredibly important. Consistent sleep. Good nutrition.


Rich Strauss said...

Hi Thomas,
Thanks for mentioning Endurance Nation in your post. That's a pretty good "what I've learned" list! To your point about going easy sometimes, I would add:

Don't be afraid to just pull the plug, take a day off and not do anything, especially on the bike.

We like to see our athletes get in 4-5 runs per week and we'll _sometimes_ have them go out and "just run easy" in order to maintain that frequency. However, on the bike we like to see our athletes hit it hard on just about every ride. If it's just not going to happen, I'd rather have that athlete bail on the ride, take a day off, regroup, and move on with the training schedule.

In our experience, there is value in running easy, for the sake of maintaining running frequency, building resilient legs, etc, but there is little value in riding easy. Feel like you need to ride easy to just get through the session? Bail on the session and take a day off.

Rich Strauss
Endurance Nation

Tom Gal said...

Yeah, rest is underrated for sure. I read a post with a similar bent from Joe Friel Recently:

"Easy means Easy"