There are many different ways to train, depending on who you listen to. Though each approach is designed to improve a distinct function, there is always some overlap. The two ends of the spectrum are aerobic to anaerobic and here we will discuss the five elements that fill up the middle of this spectrum. The key to ultimate success in racing is to combine all of the following elements into your training so that you will be able to compete closer to your anaerobic threshold for a longer period of time without fading.
This high energy training is designed to develop power and the ability to throw in bursts of speed when necessary (i.e. to bridge to a rider in front of you or after you go down and need to restart your bike) and to finish a race strong. The duration of these intervals is usually between 15 and 30 seconds and can be completed 4 to 8 times while maintaining high output levels. You will be enhancing your fast twitch fibers A (slightly oxidative) and fast twitch B (anaerobic). Adjust your recovery time to allow for full recovery – don’t begin your next interval until your heart rate is around 20 beats above your resting heart rate. The fatigue levels associated with this type of training is high and should not be performed within more than twice a week with a minimum of two days of recovery in between.
This type of training helps you adapt to high levels of lactic acid and oxygen debt. The major benefit to this type of training is that it teaches you how to vary your speed within a race without depleting your glycogen storages (i.e. bonking). The duration of these intervals is usually between 30 seconds and 2 minutes and can be completed 4 to 6 times while maintaining high output levels. You will be enhancing your fast twitch fibers A and B as well as your slow twitch fibers. Each interval needs to be started fully rested. If you allow for this to happen, you will split your energy sources evenly between anaerobic and aerobic. In my opinion, this type of training is the most productive for high level racing, yet is the most overlooked within a racers program. High level racing requires that you get up to a fast pace quickly and then maintain it for the entire duration. During the first lap, your respirations will increase, lactic acid will accumulate and your effort level will be very high. If your muscles are trained to cope with the lactic acid level and oxygen debt of the initial sprint, your body will not be as “shocked” as a body that has not familiarized itself with this glycogen burning byproduct (i.e. lactic acid). Due to the higher levels of lactate, you will experience significant muscle soreness and stiffness so keep the frequency of these workouts to two times per week (with a minimum of three days of rest for optimum performance).
This type of training gets a lot of publicity and is tossed around by many performance coaches as the key indicator of ability. There is credibility to this mind set due to the fact that a racer that has a greater oxygen uptake number should also indicate a greater aerobic capacity and hence the fastest racer – it is not that simple. In a race, physical capacities as racers come down to combinations of all the other elements in one’s performance: anaerobic thresholds, technique and efficiency while fatigued and desire.
The benefit associated with this type of training is that your heart pumps a lot of blood per beat and your stroke volume is elevated during the recovery phase, which allows more blood to be pumped during the next working phase. More blood means more oxygen. By elevating your VO2 max, will allow you to perform closer to your aerobic capacity. The duration of these intervals is usually between 2 and 10 minutes and are progressive (you will elevate your HR to a high output level within the first two minutes and then maintain for the duration of the interval). Your interval count should be no more than 4 times in order to maintain workout quality. You will be enhancing your fast twitch fibers A as well as your slow twitch fibers. Your rest interval will be half of your work duration. One interesting side note, since your VO2 Max is a numerical value determined in relation to body weight, the leaner you are the higher your VO2 maximum due to the increased mitochondria and capillaries (in relation to body fat) present to deliver oxygen. These types of workouts can be completed three to four times a week with adequate hours of quality sleep and consistent food intake to enhance the recovery opportunity.
At your anaerobic threshold, lactic acid begins to diffuse back into the bloodstream for use as a fuel. If you slow down, you will activate your aerobic system; if you speed up, you will produce lactic acid at a faster rate than you can diffuse it. Anaerobic threshold training teaches your body to perform at the highest point possible without exceeding your anaerobic threshold. The duration of these intervals is usually between 1 and 3 minutes. Your interval count can be as minimal as 10 and as many as 50 (depending on the interval duration) and still maintain overall quality. You will also be enhancing your fast twitch fibers A as well as your slow twitch fibers. The rest intervals are short – between 20 and 60 seconds. It is the enhancement of your Anaerobic Threshold in conjunction with your VO2 Max that makes the ideal racer. The combination of these two performance elements allows the racer to perform at a higher level of output and for the entire duration of the race! Anaerobic threshold training is not as demanding as VO2 max training; your day to day recovery will be quick. By keeping your workout recovery times to a minimum, you are stimulating your aerobic metabolism more than you’re anaerobic. Your lactate levels are not nearly as high (resulting in less residual soreness). Additionally, you are breaking the effort into shorter segments than in distance training which allows you to perform at a higher intensity level developing your aerobic energy stem to burn more fatty acids in proportion to glycogen. This side benefit leads to a leaner body which in turn drives up your VO2 Max – see how this disciplined form of training has all kinds of fringe benefits? Most importantly, working at this level of intensity simulates race pace and all of the physiological changes that occur within a race. As the body becomes more familiar with this effort, the easier the racing becomes.
Aerobic training teaches your body to conserve glycogen and burn fatty acids as a primary fuel source. Benefits to enhancing your aerobic engine: you will engage the fat burning process within the first 10 to 15 minutes of aerobic exercise; expedites the delivery of oxygen to working muscles; increase your stroke volume within the heart; increases the capillary density within the muscles; increases the mass and number of mitochondria and helps release ATP aerobically. The ironic element of Aerobic Training is that it is the discipline of training that gets pushed aside first, yet has substantial benefits. Because we are so acclimated to the “No Pain, No Gain” mentality, we have tendency to think that the easy, long workouts are not productive. If you want to get fast – go long and at measured aerobic enhancement intensity! The duration of Aerobic Training intervals are usually between 15 minutes and 3 hours. Due to the continuous nature of Aerobic Training, there isn’t any actual interval count. You will be enhancing your slow twitch fibers with this type of training. A couple words of caution with this type of training. First, don’t check out mentally and go too easy. You need to be at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate to reap the physiological benefits we are looking for during these types of workouts. Secondly, though the intensity is low, don’t jeopardize your mechanics of whatever type of training you are doing (i.e. pedal mechanics, swim stroke, etc.) to avoid any unnecessary injuries. These types of workouts are ideal for working on mental rehearsal and breathing focus (more on these elements in future articles).
As you can see each of the energy systems provide important physiological benefits to a racers performance program. When you incorporate the proper workouts into a week of training (based entirely on your race periodization – Pre Season, Pre competitive, Competitive) you are building a human body that is as capable as any motor that a mechanic can build for you. It just takes a little bit of research and field testing on behalf of the racer to determine how to put all of the elements together at the right time and at the correct intensity levels for optimum performance.