Summer is upon us and the sun is climbing high in the sky every evening. So the question is, how is your summer training shaping up? Is it also heating up like the weather, or do you feel like the lazy days of spring are still lingering in your bones? There is no substitute for the commitment of long rides and runs, but you can up your speed by thoughtfully implementing speed and strength workouts as the dog days of summer unfold. Being in shape for endurance is a lifestyle. Priming your body for speed is best achieved through better planning and more focused training. Ready to fly? Here are some ideas on how to maximize your efforts and feel faster than ever.
Threshold vs. Intensity:
The biggest pitfall of any endurance athlete is going too hard during easy workouts and backing off on hard workouts. Great, you can push hard for two hours. But do you ever feel fast? As your easy gear gets closer to your high gear, you also lose high-end speed and your threshold can drop off. Your threshold is the output at which you can push while letting your body recover and process lactic acid. To keep this VERY simple, lactic acid is what causes your muscles to cramp. Athletes who can flush lactic acid while keeping a higher physical output are the ones who can push harder during long races.
If you don’t train appropriately you will seriously compromise your body’s ability to push without making your muscles feel like they’re full of lead. The benefit of correctly executed threshold workouts is to increase your engine capacity at a higher load. Intensity is where your body is building lactic acid, but you are still pushing hard at race pace. Properly trained athletes can hold their output at intensity levels longer because they have taught their body how to deal with lactic acid build-up. Threshold is max effort while still being able to recover; intensity is max effort with minimal build-up of harmful lactic acid levels.
Training to Maximize Your Threshold Level
Let’s go back to the idea of throttling back too much during hard workouts. This can be avoided by shelving your pride and using your brain. A basic way to determine your threshold is to try and stay within 82 and 87% of your max heart rate. This is a simplified way to set your threshold. You are always better off listening to your body. Are you slowing down because you went out too hard, or are you holding an unsustainable pace? Then slow down! Pushing too hard during threshold workouts only compromises your top-end speed.
Threshold intervals should be in the 8- to 20-minute range. One or two of these workouts in a week is more than enough for the average non-professional athlete as your race season looms. Be sure to recover in between intervals with a rest of around 50% of the time of each interval. If you find your overall pace dropping, it’s OK! Go for one more interval, and if it’s just not your day, then stop the intervals and get in some quality volume training. Threshold workouts should be lung burners, but not muscle crushers. In order to hold a constant output, try trail running. And if you decide to bike, try to avoid long downhills as it becomes difficult to keep your heart rate up. Think about rolling terrain or shallow climbs for this type of workout – especially if you are on a bike or roller skis.
Training to Maximize Your Intensity Level
Intensity training is just like it sounds – intense. Maximum effort is a short-lived beast of 15 to 30 seconds, and intensity is the small step down. Intensity workouts should be based on pain tolerance, not total time. More total time spent doing intervals shows a higher tolerance, which is good, but throttling back just to increase your time doing intensity intervals only hurts you in the long run. Check your ego and set yourself up for improvement by being reasonable with yourself. These intervals should be in the 3- to 12-minute range, with a total time of 12 to 40 minutes.
Again, don’t compromise high quality intervals just to increase your overall time. Train your body to move fast with fewer, shorter intervals so that you can hold that high pace through more and longer intervals as you train. This is where you can find that steep hill to run, bike, or roller ski. With that said, don’t forget to occasionally find terrain that allows you to push hard at race pace. For those of us training at altitude, it can also be beneficial to find shallow downhills to run or roller ski. Or in the case of biking terrain, an area that allows you sustain high RPMs. Training at altitude can make you stronger, but it can also make you slower – so be sure to tap in to those high gears by choosing easier terrain for some intensity sessions.
Like so many things in life, interval training is all about quality over quantity. Do yourself a favor and be honest with how your body feels. Push hard and don’t stress about how much time you spend doing intervals; that will increase with time as your speed increases.
Enough from me. Time to put your newfound knowledge to use. For more information on nutrition, stretching, recovery, dryland training, and some of my other ramblings, please check out other blogs from me here: jans.com/blog/patrick.