Sunday, October 25, 2009

Re-Evaluating "Base"

There are few things in cycling which people get more passionate about than how to perform base training. I've only been cycling for a little while, but I swam for 18 years before that. That background helped to form my opinion. In the fall--at the start of the season--we really put in lots of volume, and much of that volume was done at a tempo/threshold type of effort. We never showed up at the pool and cruised around at a HR of 110 BPM. might know where I am headed...

Why do so many people insist upon cruising around at absurdly slow speeds in order to establish their "base"? Doesn't this just de-train people and lead them towards becoming out of shape? What is the purpose? How does it develop tools which will be used on race day? What foundation is it establishing?

I believe "base training" in cycling has its origins in what some professional racers do for a period of time during the off-season. If you race 9 months per year, say 100-200 times, your body is going to need some time to just cruise along nice and easy before you get back into the swing of things. If you did the "Race to the Sun" and you also peaked for the UCI World Champs, then you probably raced something absurd like 10,000 km. You need to cruise around nice and easy for a while.

Since most of us are still looking to improve from one season to the next, it seems we should focus on continuing to make improvements/gains. That doesn't mean we need to kill ourselves with race intervals each workout, but it is imperative to still go at least moderately hard. I rode 100 miles once--just to say I did it--but I don't feel the need to do it again.

I think the real reason most people do these coffee rides in the winter is they are afraid to truly work on their base, their foundation. The foundation of our sport is our tempo and threshold fitness. 28 hour training weeks won't do it. Tons of threshold/tempo work will take your base fitness to the next level. Its amazing how well you can fine-tune a strong base fitness.

Want to be ready to crush it come spring? Work on your FTP. Many people don't do 2x20s, at least not regularly. They are essential, and they are hard if one is not used to performing them.

I built fitness this year with 2x20s. I love em. I need a mental break from structured 2x20s all the time; however, I still want to further fine tune my base for next year. Base training for me (at least on weekends) means 90-150 minute intervals at high tempo to low-threshold range in WKO+. 120 minutes at 300+ watts is certainly better in terms of base training than just cruising along at 200 for 4-5 hours. During the week, and on crummy weather days, its still 20s on the rollers or fun at Hains.

I guess being new to the sport means I don't accept the norm as gospel truth. Maybe I will fall apart on my bike at 2:01 into Jeff Cup, but I sure wouldn't want to try to get in the break after cuising around at 200 watts for miles on end with weight lifting holding me up.

What does base mean to you? If you lift weights in the fall/winter, how often do you perform 2x20:00? If you didn't lift, could you get an extra tempo workout in each week? What do you during your base?

Up next...quantifying your base/foundation...


Blogger Peter cannell said...


4:41 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Your ideas make sense and have some validity to them but are a little off base (no pun intended). Most racers end the season in a state of over training. It is important to detrain yourself just a little to recover from this state.

Strength training is vital in the off season but not in the way most think of it. I am a trainer at a performance training facility. Our athletes work on strength but it is functional strength. That means their balance, coordination and movement improve first, then their strength. It is the secret weapon to take athletes to the next level.

Your interval training has a place in the off season, but should be limited to cross training. Cross training, because your body and systems are not used to the movements, can work your anaerobic and muscular system in a way that you never thought possible. But again, must be done properly and with the right equipment. Tearing you body up while running isn't the answer.

The slow base building miles are important to build fast twitch muscles. But again must be done properly. You go out and ride long on day 1. This ride is long and easy. Your slow twitch muscles take a long time to recover unlike your fast twitch muscles. Day 2 you go out and ride again, long and easy. Because your slow twitch are not fully recovered, your body uses and develops its fast twitch during this second ride. Day 3 should be rest. So these base building miles accomplish the same goal as your 2x20 without over training you during the off season.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Peter cannell said...

Hm, not sure where to begin but I'll just say I disagree with just about everything Joshua posted and I'll leave it at that.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

That's okay. Without disagreements in training strategies all training would be stale and unexciting. I respect other training ideas and simply try to pass on knowledge from experience and research. No big deal. There are plenty of pros who use my methods and plenty that use other methods. Nothing is proven to be absolutely right.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Flanagan said...

Glad to have stirred up some excitement here. One other interesting n=1 example here. I didn't do any traditional base rides this past year, none. I just peaked for a 20K, and my TSS/d has ranged between 70-80 for the whole season. Yet yesterday I went out and put up 197 TSS points without a problem. The core section was a 120 minute interval at 307 watts AP, 314 NP. I was able to negative split no problem and could have gone longer.

I used to compete at an elite level in triathlon and swam DI-A in college, so I get the whole cross training thing. I've always arrived at the same conclusion. Cross-training is a good mental break for those who are about to burnout and need to stay active; however, specificity is king.

Why do most people get dropped? Is it because they don't have a sufficient number of fast-twitch muscles, or is it because their heart is exploding and they are reaching beyond their aerobic capacity one too many times? I put my money on the latter. Shouldn't the focus in building fitness be about addressing a key limiter such as this?

8:40 AM  
Blogger Sam said...


I do some long slow rides b/c... I like to go on long slow rides. I like to see a tree fall over because I'm out in Poolesville after a big storm. I like the idea that I can eat 2 snickers and have 2 cokes in one day, something I "not allowed" to do. I like tooling around with some buddies and coming up with victory celebrations nonstop. I also like that there's always the threat that they might descend into a hammerfest. I like the thinking I can done. But I'm kinda with you... long slow rides are basically theraputic type sessions, I'm skeptical about the "physical base" that they establish but do recognize that being able to ride your bike around for 6 hours without having it be a big deal is a huge addition to your psychological tool set. But most of our racing will only be an hour or 3 right above or at threshhold with tons of spikes into red. I like to prep exactly for that

For my early training I'm starting with lifting with my legs 2x a week and doing 2 to 3 tempo workouts on my rollers... soon I'll be lift'n 3x a week and criss cross intervals (shorter intervals that start in tempo and work up to threshold) and then I'll do tempo/threshold before I stop lifting and jump into speed work some time in Feb (see you at Haines). Most guys I know are on this same type of plan.

Good Luck

9:09 AM  
Blogger Steven said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Flanagan said...

@ Sam: I hear you on that one. Sometimes you gotta just go have some fun.

@ Steven: The approach is actual very scientific. Let's take the ride example from yesterday. The key interval ride was Average Power at ~84% of FTP and 2 hours in duration. During the course of the interval, I performed 2223 kJ of work...aka ~2223 calories. There was even a slight negative split. Doesn't that indicate the training over the season has enabled my body to effectively perform the processes which you highlight? Haven't those adaptations already taken place via 2x20? Maybe you will claim the interval is too short. Lets say that interval gets extended to 3 hours by the end of the winter @ 5% more wattage. That becomes a 3500 kJ interval. Surely this indicates an aerobic system which is effective at processing energy, whether its glycogen, fat, or consumed/additional glucose, right?

Lets pretend for a second that all of the adaptation takes place the way you describe. Your assertion that I am wrong indicates that those adaptations don't occur in long intervals at 85% of FTP. Why would those adaptations not take place at 85% for 120-180 minutes? Also, how does the body become more efficient at clearing lactate at an effort level that produces very little lactic acid?

12:16 PM  
Blogger Martin Andres Austermuhle said...

For someone who just started a training regimen that includes a lot of slow base-training miles (and have seen the results from others that have done the same), I'm going to wait and see how it works for me before judging its worth. Sure, I feel a little nervous that I might be giving up some top-end fitness in the next few months, but I'm pretty sure that I'll be doing more than enough interval work come January and February to make up for it.

One question for the 2x20'ers out there: If all you're doing is those types of intervals, aren't you just becoming a great time trialist but maybe not much more? Not to knock guys who crush TTs, but it was interesting during the season to ride with guys who could lay down an incredible TT but didn't really do much when it came to road races. Sure, on the flats I would feel like vomiting trying to keep up, but once the road turned up I was able to drop 'em. Just curious.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Astorian said...

Frankly, I think this debate is getting kind of old.

Thanks to power meters we have a good idea of the exact power requirements for different types of events. We know these values in absolute terms, and in relative (w/kg) terms.

In my experience, my V02 Max efforts are capped at a percentage of threshold. It doesn't take me a long time to tune up the high end power. V02 Max effort will be X% of threshold, and repeatable efforts will be Y% of threshold. I can raise these a bit, but the workouts are really tough. Long story short ... raising your threshold with focused work isn't just for TT.

If I was a pro cyclist and I had to race 150 days a year and was expected to train 25+ hours weekly, then of course I'd roll around slow and steady for a while. I'm certainly not going to ride 5 hours of threshold daily in November. But this is my one and only job, so I'm going to do everything possible with the time available (lots of time).I'm also at the very top of my game and may spend the next 5 years getting 2% stronger. If riding 30 hours slow can make me .5% strong, I'll do it. Most of us aren't at the stage.

There seems to be a lot wrong with the idea that a Cat 3/4/5 rider would want to go out and do 20 hour weeks in December. They have a life to live. They have other life stressors. I can understand a fun ride with friends on the weekend at a medium clip, but long rides mid week to pretend they're a pro?

When a rider talks about "fading" at the end of a 2 hour race, what are they talking about exactly? It isn't an endurance issue if it is anything like the 2 hour races I've done. Chances are they had to go too far into the red. Their threshold is low.

During the season I worked up to being able to do 3 hrs at true tempo power ... 3x60. And I didn't work up to that figure by doing 5 hour rides. No. I started with 1x30, then 2x30, 3x30, 1x60, etc.

I also worked on being able to do high intensity after 60 minutes at threshold. So I started by doing 15s on / 15s off after a 20 threshold effort. Then kept building to the point where I could do 45 minutes of 15s on / 15s off after a 60 minute TT effort.

In neither of these example did I have to go out and ride around slow for 5 hours. And the demands of these challenges required that I start EARLY in December with the progression.

Building base miles might have worked for pro riders because it forced the person not to start out V02 Max efforts / high end too early. But we have power meters now, so that is impossible.

Just my 99 cents.

3:21 PM  
Blogger qualia said...

Our discussion of intensity vs. volume here:

Basically, it's the old school of Friel, Carmichael, and all of European lore against the emerging science that favors intensity.

(Friel and Carmichael have definitely started praising intensity, and have backed off the dictates against it during base training.)

Long slow distance does ONE thing that intensity does not, and that is training your muscles to metabolize fat.

All other benefits of training else can be realized with intensity alone.

Thomas Chappel's book nicely illustrates the increasing efficiency of fat metabolism over time with base training. This isn't only helpful for enormously long distances. Even in shorter races if you're running on fat, you'll have more matches to burn.

The question is whether this one benefit couldn't be achieved without all of the downside involved in LSD: muscle thinning, decreases in growth hormone / testosterone, loss of fast(er) twitch fibers.

Michael Ross thinks he's found that in the morning glycogen depletion rides and temporary high fat diets... very interesting ideas.

Since that blog exchange with my brother, I've come to think that long slow distance may have more benefits.

The need for a psychological break from intensity cannot be overstated. But also, I find it easier to focus on my mechanics when I'm going easy or at tempo than threshold or above. Maybe those long hours in the saddle, if they are truly mindful, help you train up a nice stroke and relax as much as possible.

Tension is the enemy of speed, but it's hard to learn to relax when you're killing it. Setting a heart rate limit and trying to ride fast and smooth under that rate may lead to speed even if they don't lead to more fitness per se.

In any case, I'm not sure how much it matters. We see successful athletes at ALL levels using volume and we others using intensity. (It's the same split in running.) Much more important than the choice between volume and intesnity, I think, is keeping the total training load vs. recovery at the right level.

3:23 PM  
Blogger TerribleTerry said...

I've always done a ton of distace ad it's worked for me. I do understad the intensity and feel it probable would have helped me tremendously....but I also think I'd have hated it and quit early in my career.

So I'd lean towards intensity if I was young and hungry. At this point I just do what I like and hope it works.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Peter Warner said...

okay, my head is spinning after reading all of that. Is this what I have to look forward to all winter riding with you?

7:28 PM  
Blogger MarkyV said...

There are few things in cycling which people get more passionate about than how to perform base training.

>>>>>like posting on forums :D

10:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home