Monday, January 4, 2010

Off Season Training: The History of the Base

I remember reading a few years ago (the name of the publication escapes me for now, if I remember, I'll be sure to post it) about how the "base" training came to be.  Like most training methods that athletes "just do," base training is a dated training technique.  However, that doesn't make it obsolete for some.  For most of us though, there are better ways to develop your base.  A colleague recently wrote an article about how 'base is a waste' which resulted in him getting raked over the coals by those who simply read 'such and such' a book or adhere to the USAC "Coaching handbook" or whatever you want to call it (as a side note, try looking up the references to that book and note the publication date, not so recent and that's for starters).    So I'll begin....

Once upon a time, professional athletes weren't so professional as we think of it in the modern sense.  Sure, they did compete in the Big Time during the season, but for the off-season, most of them went back to their day jobs.  Factory jobs, steel mills, and ranch hands were the norm and even in the big American sports, NFL, NBA, and Major League had to work a second job just to make a living wage.  The average salary of an NFL player into the late 1950's was less than $6000 annually.  The analog was true for professional cyclists.

During this off season employment, the riders were not expected to maintain much, if any fitness.  Working a blue collar job may keep you active and "fit" but it did not keep you at a competition ready form.  Making the jump from factory work to professional cyclist over a weekend is the physiological equivalent to driving a fork lift on Friday and racing in the F1 Series on Sunday.   Needless to say the riders couldn't make this jump and race effectively at the professional level.  They needed some sort of transition period.

The transition came in the form of Long Slow Distance (LSD, base training) which was more a function of necessity to attain performance improvement.  These professionals were not capable of racing or riding "hard" over long distances.  They had to ride long distances slowly.  But why Long Slow Distance?  I imagine it had to do with a couple of ideals.  First, they just came from an all day factory job to riding and training.  In that respect, what else would you be doing all day if you weren't training?  In an era of 'more is more' training, and training a LOT was the key to fitness.  Note: new studies are showing that world class endurance athletes still need to train a LOT but that's another story. The second was the belief that if you can ride 7 hours slow, then you can ride 4 hours fast. This is somewhat true, but new studies and training methods are debunking this idea as we speak.

That's not to say that LSD doesn't have it's place in professional sports.  After a lay-off or the beginning of the season, an athlete may not want or need the mental rigors of high intensity.  Indeed, they may not be ready for the sudden jump in stress, which could result in injury (think that first CX race and how sore we all are the next day).  Also, given the current state of professional sports where an athlete is a Professional athlete first and foremost, LSD does have it's place in the training macro cycle.  In order to stress the aerobic energy system, a training volume of more than 12,000kj per week, for a number of weeks, would be a target.  That's a LOT of riding, over 25 hours per week. 

The reason this works for modern professional athletes is because sport IS  their profession.  For most people with other full time professions, that sort of time commitment would result in one or more of following happen: divorce, loss of job, loss of home, house going uncleaned/ unmaintained, groceries not being purchased, you get the idea. 9-12 hours of weekly training time is more realistic for roughly 85% of the clients at Source Endurance. There's just one problem; that's 1/2 of what it takes to do true "base" training the way it needs to be done.  That is, to present the body with the stimulus necessary to develop your aerobic base, you would need to ride about twice as much.  Which means most of us actually accomplish a solid training block of Short Slow Distance riding.  Basically, we 'train' ourselves out of fitness.  Is there another way?  Of course there is! 

In the coming days, I'll be posting a 3 part series about High Intensity Training and how it can be used to help you reach your peak performance.