Triathletes doing easier but longer sessions can allow you to nail your threshold sets better
Photos courtesy of Don Velasco
As a new dad and father of two, training time has always been so precious to me. Back when I was young and single, I could easily spend weekends riding out and hanging out with friends.
But ever since becoming a father, I’ve taken on more responsibilities and shifted to training indoors 100 percent (for the bike and run at least). The reason why this works for me is that I stay up late to take care of the baby and get some work in. With an indoor training setup, I can wake up later than usual, spend minimal time in setting up and getting ready, and help out in the middle of my workout (if needed).
One of the tricks I employ to make indoor training more bearable is to structure my workouts to include sets with target watts, paces, or zones
One of the tricks I employ to make indoor training more bearable is to structure my workouts to include sets with target watts, paces, or zones. Over the past few years, this has worked wonders as I’m able to push myself consistently and methodically. Such a training regimen allowed me to increase my thresholds significantly and of course, this shows in my recent races.
However, despite being a coach myself, I admit that I tend to get greedy with my workouts too. Oftentimes, I must finish within an hour or so, so I push really hard to get the maximum training effect. This works to some degree but you tend to fizzle out after a while.
I noticed this after close to 1.5 years of racing (without a solid off-season). My recent races are short and less strenuous but my lack of sleep, higher intensity load, and short sessions have not been working in my favor. As a result, I decided to mix things up once again and go back to the basics. I decided to dial back on intensity and instead include easier workouts at Zone 1 and 2. This is what I have a lot of my athletes do and I know it would benefit me as well. Here are a few observations I had regarding such sessions:
Harder workouts feel easier and sustainable
Yes, it sounds counterintuitive but including easier albeit longer sessions allowed me to nail some of my threshold sets better. This comes as no surprise since more aerobic sessions allow your body to handle higher lactate (more anaerobic) efforts better. Sessions at Zone 1 to 2 train your body’s ability to flush out lactate at a faster and more consistent manner. This means, when you go to higher gears, your body won’t gas out quickly.
Giving more room to aerobic efforts in your training program will allow you to “keep the easy days easy, and the hard days hard”
To add to this, remember that for longer endurance events (even races as short as a sprint triathlon or a 5K run) our body only needs (and can only handle) some intensity per week. As a result, giving more room to aerobic efforts in your training program will allow you to “keep the easy days easy, and the hard days hard.”
I’m bonking less
Training volume is proportional to metabolic efficiency. This means that the more you train, the more your body can utilize fat for fuel. As a result of this, glycogen (carbohydrates) in your body is spared. Quite the opposite has been happening to me in the past few months. My lack of training volume, short sleep patterns, and higher intensity work, resulted in a higher dependency on carbohydrates. While this isn’t bad if you’re racing shorter distance events, it becomes a huge problem if you’re going to race events beyond three hours.
Run faster with better form! @newbalance #wegotnow
With my longer low-intensity sessions, I started out struggling with the fueling part of the equation. Eventually, after a couple of weeks, I felt like I needed less fuel even for harder sessions. This was confirmed when I did my metabolic test in my lab. A 30 to 40 percent improvement in fat utilization is not uncommon.
I’m recovering faster
This is a multifaceted benefit to aerobic training. The lower lactate buildup and better fuel efficiency allowed me to recover faster despite the higher training load. This is mainly because I was finishing my workouts fresher and with less overall stress. My body also gradually got fitter and stronger, which meant some sessions no longer dug a deep hole in terms of fatigue. Lastly, my lower intensity sessions improved things like my form, technique, and rhythm. I was no longer “just pushing” to hit my targets; I finally had the luxury of focusing on the little things like my foot strike, pedaling technique, and even body position.
My lower intensity sessions improved things like my form, technique, and rhythm. I was no longer “just pushing” to hit my targets; I finally had the luxury of focusing on the little things like my foot strike, pedaling technique, and even body position
It trains me for race conditions
Yes, for most people, I’d recommend doing these long easy sessions mostly outdoors. It will train you for the heat, the terrain, and even the little things such as bike handling. However, personally, doing it indoors has its benefits, too. For example, since I do my long sessions on the bike trainer, I’m able to hold my aero position for long durations. Such things usually only happen during races where roads are closed to traffic. Riding in the aero position for so long on open roads is practically impossible.
Also, I’m able to stay disciplined when it comes to target intensities; there’s no one there to “push me” unnecessarily and my competitive nature takes a back seat since I’m doing things on my own terms. While harder efforts and “chasing a rabbit” does wonders every now and then, doing it too often will do more harm than good. In short, I’m able to work on aerobic development better and without any unnecessary distractions.
Let me emphasize that higher intensity, despite having the same Training Stress Score (TSS) or “training load” as longer lower intensity sessions, will never replace good old base work
Lastly, my stability is better due to the higher volume. Little things such as my neck strength in the aero position, my lower back flexibility, my arm stamina, and even my core strength are all addressed because I decided to dial back on intensity and consequently, do longer sessions.
To sum things up, let me emphasize that higher intensity, despite having the same Training Stress Score (TSS) or “training load” as longer lower intensity sessions, will never replace good old base work. Sessions at Zone 1 to 2 strengthen your body’s ability to hold efforts longer, build your body’s capacity to do harder work, improve fat utilization, and, when done right, help you recover faster.
The next time you’re training for your next race, make sure you know when to go hard and when to go easy (and long).