HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR AEROBIC CAPACITY FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON?, Steve Fluet posted 11/29/01
Steve Fluet, an online training coordinator and has coached triathletes and cyclists since 1992 - he holds USAT's highest coaching certification, Level II. You can read a variety of his training articles and weekly tips on IronmanLive.com.
Just like the foundation of a house, if you cut short the proper structure and development of your foundation, you will have problems later on during the season.
Every year at this time I receive a number of emails and phone calls asking what to do to get a jump on next season. Many feel they should hit the anaerobic threshold training right away. This is the biggest mistake an age-group athlete can make. The aerobic capacity of an individual is the most important factor in how fast you will be later in the season, how long you can hold a peak, and it helps you to avoid breaking down.
What exactly is "aerobic capacity"? There are a number of physiological responses that happen that make up the term aerobic capacity.
The goal of increasing the aerobic capacity is to improve all the physiological responses so you can progress up the ladder of training (move to other energy systems: strength-power-anaerobic capacity). The mistake many athletes make is to cut short this training, or do too much anaerobic training. The by-product of anaerobic training is lactic acid. This by-product can actually reduce many components of your aerobic capacity. Many athletes late in the season actually have a reduced aerobic fitness level due to an excessive level of training at an anaerobic level. Intense anaerobic training should not last more than 4-6 weeks. Then a return to aerobic training should take place (4-6 weeks) before returning back to a block of anaerobic work.
- Increased O2 consumption: The ability to utilize more oxygen with each breath, which supplies the heart to enrich the arterial blood flow.
- Increase in mitochondria development in your cells (enzymes that run the kreb cycle, which takes lactic acid and turns it back into glycogen): the more of these that you have in your cells, the more lactic acid that you will turn back into usable energy. Bottom line is that you will be able to run a higher intensity that is closer to your AT.
- Increase in blood capillary density (minute blood vessels that grow deep in the muscle tissue and allow a greater flow of oxygenated blood to the muscles): this provides the working muscles with a larger amount of blood, which supplies the working muscles with nutrients.
- Increased fat utilization (greater energy source when training and/or racing below your AT): during aerobic exercise the body uses a combination of fat and glycogen for fuel. The closer you get to your AT, you use less fat and more glycogen. For IM racing it is important to increase your speed at an aerobic level, which will allow you to access fat as a fuel. Even an athlete with 5% body fat has more than enough fat to fuel them for an IM race.
- Increase stroke volume of the heart: the ability of the heart to pump out more oxygenated blood with each stroke.
Letís look at Lance Armstrongís training. People look at his time trial speed and see that he can maintain 32-33 miles per hour for well over an hour. What most do not realize is that he does this just at or slightly below his AT for the first half and then goes to slightly above for the last half.(slightly above or below is only a couple of beats either way). When Lance starts his training in the fall he caps his heart rate. Every couple of weeks the heart rate cap is slightly increased along with the training duration. After many weeks of progression he can ride for 4-6 hours at a few beats below his AT. Most age group athletes end up training at an intensity level that is way too low and too high above their AT. This causes no gains to be made and over time will actually decrease an athleteís fitness level.
For an age grouper this development is so very important to his or her success. This development is the foundation of fitness. Just like the foundation of a house, if you cut short the proper structure and development of this foundation you will have problems later on during the season. Age groupers have a habit of thinking that training at their AT level or above can make more gains for them most of the time. This thought is because as age groupers we are strapped for time and look at quality only. Reality is that as age groupers we should spend more time with aerobic development. It is this development that will make us more fit and allow us to handle the AT work that will come later in the progression. Remember small changes at periodic times will provide greater benefits without risking over training.
To increase your aerobic capacity you will need to consider the following:
Once you have totally developed your aerobic capacity you will be ready to take on the training that is close to slightly above your AT. You will have the strength and endurance to complete this training without breaking down physiologically. If you could map out the entire season of training on a graph- you would see that training slowly increases in duration and intensity. Then when you start AT training the volume goes down as the intensity increase. Then you should be close to peaking. Follow that with a brief aerobic training block and then build again. This is an ideal whole picture for an athlete who will be competing in an IM race later next season. Always think systematic progression in your training. This is how I set up all training for the athletes that I coach. Good luck, and for now, think aerobic.
- Start by training at a low heart rate and increase the rate over time.
- On the bike work on higher rpms in a low gear (100+ and make sure you can track cadence), short spins at a super high rpm rate for 20-30 seconds (this will educate your neuromuscular system), and technique so you become much more efficient (for example: dropping the heel at the bottom and thinking a large circle when turning the pedals).
- For the run- starting on the flats only and thinking about leg turn over (stride rate). Also landing on the mid foot that is right under you instead of out in front and on your heel.
- As time goes on you increase the heart rate. You will find that as you test at periodic intervals that you will be getting faster at the same heart rate. This is your aerobic capacity improving.
- Try to increase the amount of training that you complete if possible.
- Test yourself every 3-4 weeks with an aerobic test so you can assess your development.
- Complete build-ups that only last 20-30 seconds so that you are still keeping the fast twitch muscle fibers firing. This will allow them to be prepared when it is time to start training at your AT.
- Cycle your training weeks by following blocks that are 3 or 4 weeks in duration. The last week of each block is decreased at least 30-40% to allow recovery and regeneration.
- Bottom line is that you initially have to train slow to go fast later on (look at the way the Russian swimmer Popov trains!)