Monday, May 25, 2009

Base Training Part 2

Last time I post an article about Base Fitness. Here another post about Base Fitness. It is important to understand deeply about the concept and principal to apply in your daily training.

If you want a successful, injury-free season, then this is the most important part of your training. Especially for people fairly new to triathlon, it’s pointless launching into high-intensity training immediately, as your body isn’t strong enough to maintain good form when tired, prevent injury, and recover properly between hard sessions. Patience is key as, once you have spent a couple of seasons forming a solid foundation of aerobic endurance fitness, you’ll get the maximum benefit from the higher-intensity sessions in the build and peak phases. You may find that you don’t even do a build phase in your first year of triathlon.

Base fitness is the progressive building of low intensity aerobic training (NOT anaerobic!), such as building up to running 90 minutes at, say, 65-70% effort for your weekly long run, or working up to 3 relatively-easy hours on the Sunday club bike ride. The emphasis is not on speed or power – they’ll come later – but on technique and endurance. Technique is crucial as, if you get good technique during the longer base endurance sessions, it will remain in your ‘muscle memory’ throughout the year and help prevent injury and increase speed and efficiency. Technique for running could include strides and high-knees; bike technique includes one-legged pedalling, fast cadence work, and trying to even out the power in your pedal stroke, making it smooth. Swimming is an anomaly: it is more important to practice technique, get it right, and improve your efficiency than it is to get thousand of metres in the pool at this stage. A coach is crucial for swimming at this stage, even if you don’t use one for the rest of the year – look to joining a local triathlon club coached swim session.

Flexibility is key – ensure that your muscles/ligaments/tendons are flexible ready for the season ahead. Flexibility and increased range of movement will help prevent injury and, again, improve efficiency.

A weights programme can be included at this stage too – the weights programme tapers out towards the build phase (if you have one) or about 2 months from the first races. Weights has been shown to help prevent injury (by strengthening tendons/ligaments, supporting muscle structures, etc) and is most beneficial for cycling: as most of your racing – and hence training- time is spent on the bike, this is a good thing to do. Speak to a qualified gym instructor or coach and explain what you want to achieve – multiple-muscle exercises (exercises using lots of muscles like bench presses), lots of leg and chest work, and core strength exercises (for the back and stomach) as the core is the pivot around which all swim/bike/run movements are made. Typical programmes will include squats/leg presses, lat pulldowns, knee extensions,hamstring curls, bent arm pull-down, calf raises, seated row, dips and tricep extensions. Swiss ball exercises, pilates and yoga are all good for flexibility and core strength. Like your whole training year, don’t just go the maximum weight you can lift in your first session! Build gradually and think about technique as well as the weight and number of reps. As muscle mass starts to reduce for people over the age of 30, a weights programme is an excellent way of staying young (!); doesn’t stop your hair turning grey, though. Weights are also extremely beneficial for women and can help strengthen bones and prevent – or reduce – the effects of osteoperosis.

So what are the fitness changes that we can see from good base training? For example, the heart will become stronger. This manifests itself in the following way: imagine your base run endurance trainng includes a weekly long run of 60 minutes in length at, say 70% heart rate (within the basic endurance training heart rate zone). As your training progresses and your heart – and the rest of your body - becomes stronger, you’ll find that you’ll actually be running faster for the same heart rate. In simple terms, by maintaining that 70% heart rate, you can run faster for the same heart rate than you could at the start of your training.

Remember the cliché: you can’t build a good house without a solid foundation. Give yourself the opportunity to reach your potential and don’t worry if you don’t start winning races in your first year! Look on triathlon as a long-term project to alter your lifestyle and be a happier, fitter, more toned and well-adjusted person. And, no – I’m not paid by the BTA! The big changes don’t happen overnight; they take time but the results will be worth it.

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