Wednesday, January 13, 2010

High Intensity Training, Part Uno

“So…. You want me to do what in the middle of the winter!?” I get that quite frequently when prescribing athletes High Intensity Training (HIT) this time of year. The puzzled look of skepticism creeping across the face of an experienced, already well-trained rider has become an expression I’ve grown accustomed to; and my explanation of “why” has been refined to the point where I feel I can now write it down and refer people to it. So, let’s set the stage for this explanation by first referring any and all non-believers to the following review of literature that covers the 180 studies relevant to HIT.  There are other, more recent articles, but this is a good one to get you started.

Laursen, Jenkins. The Scientific Basis for High-Intensity Interval Training. Sports Med 2002; 32(1): 53-73.

Traditionally, it is believed that Long Slow Distance (LSD), or “base building” is the way to train during the offseason. After all, that’s what the Euro-Pros do, right? Well, yes, but….
For starters, Euro-Pros race 110+ days per season (Feb- Oct) which averages out to a race every 2.45 days or 2-3 100+mile road races per week. Also, remember that it’s their job and remember that a typical Euro-Pro doesn’t get to even try and win races most of the time and many of these races are simply glorified training rides, which explains the “race to train” methodology.

However, in the US, every race is a RACE, and most racers only race 20-40 times per year (including those weekly training races). That being the case, it’s important to “train to race” for all of us “mere mortals.” The “train to race” methodology places the onus on consultant or coach to properly examine the demands of each athlete’s race, tailoring his/her training to these demands using a power meter, heart rate monitor, or GPS (pacing). This method is highly effective and helps the athlete to meet his/her goals when executed properly by both the consultant and the athlete.

Newer research is beginning to change the ways athletes train, resulting in them being faster and stronger than their competitors. The basis of this training is as follows:

“Significant improvements in endurance performance is evident following submaximal training in sedentary and recreationally active groups.


Additional submaximal training (volume) in highly trained individuals does not appear to enhance endurance performance. These athletes can achieve endurance performance improvements only through High Intensity Training (HIT). “

The bottom line: an athlete can, and will show tremendous improvement by increasing exposure time to elevated intensities such as Tempo, Steady State, and Lactate Threshold. For these athletes, this IS the base building. With HIT, a training stimulus is being applied using these varying intensities along with progression and periodization. This maximizes the effectiveness of the training and or trained athletes, this IS base building.

As the athlete becomes “elite” and chronically trained, there needs to be more focus on repeatability to of highly intense efforts. From examining race data, it’s fairly obvious that the major selections that ultimately decide the winner all come during highly intense racing. Those who make the selection are not necessarily the ones who can perform the most intense work, but the ones who can perform these efforts numerous times. These “near maximal efforts,” are the efforts that HIT targets. Over the next couple of entries, I’m going to spend some time explaining why, and how that works.