Updated: Jul 17, 2020
The one question that I attempt to tackle with individuals that want to improve any physical discipline is the ability to decipher whether they currently exercise or train and the difference between the two is largely categorized by the process we undertake.
Exercise in my opinion is the daily execution of movement which is sufficient in producing levels of eustress’s that over time produce significant results to psychosocial and physical well-being. This process signifies a step in the right direction towards a healthy individual however the ability to achieve success in a discipline or multiple disciplines needs a set of conditions to ultimately achieve/fail at an objective.
As a coach it is my philosophy that several critical factors should be in place to achieve a goal or fail at a goal based on a process called training. Training is determined by having a structured ability to move from goal development through to race assessment and reset. In this process a number of critical marks need to be achieved:
1) Goal Development
2) Lifestyle and performance related tests
3) Foundational training implementation (Aerobic, strength and mobility)
4) Exercise prescription based on current objective fitness level
5) Exercise prescription progression/regression based on external stresses (heat/altitude) and/or fitness adaptations
6) Structured deloading towards competition
8) Performance Analysis
As the name of the blog suggests and introduced in the previous post, I have a significant interest in developing an athlete’s foundation level of aerobic ability which can then be progressed upon as the training cycles continue. In this period several other important training strategies can also be introduced such as mobility and strength work which overall create a training schedule that is diverse and in such is a great time to encourage exercise adherence to the new schedule. The strategies mentioned are just a brief overview and can be expanded for an individualized athlete experience.
Why is the green zone, low aerobic conditioning so important as a runner, cyclist, or paddler? The reason is it simply comes down to physiology. Within the physiological spectrum however it becomes a little more complicated when we start touching on aspects relating to 1) Cardiovascular fitness 2) Musculoskeletal strength and 3) Nutrition and/or energy utilization. It will come as no surprise that all these factors are not mutually exclusive.
Cardiovascular fitness as an endurance athlete is essentially the ability to do work at either a set intensity and the lowest possible work rate or the ability to produce a higher sustained workload at a reduced work rate compared to the athletes around you in the performance setting. This is one athlete’s competitive advantage over another. Too often in an aerobic sense this is forgotten especially in early phase conditioning. It is for this reason that I attempt to build as big an engine as possible with my athletes early in the season/foundation phase with a focus on consistent, low aerobic sessions that develop muscular endurance, neuromuscular control and bio-mechanical efficiency apart from the cardiovascular effect. This cardiovascular effect is not simply limited to the ability to work at greater efficiency but also in respect to improved recovery times post exercise.
A second reason and possibly the greatest positive I find in programming a large aerobic foundation phase is due to the musculoskeletal strength developments we find. Both recovery and low aerobic conditioning zones produce a positive affect on connective tissue structures that are critical in both maintenance and performance of athletic health. Structures such as the plantar fascia, the achilles tendon, patella tendon and iliotibial band are particularly vulnerable to excessive loads purely based on their force development capacity and recovery capabilities with often limited blood supply. As a strength and conditioning coach and biokineticist it is apparent without the need for stringent academia that these structures are often the high prevalence injuries and rehabilitation focus we encounter. The ability to produce consistency through low aerobic running I believe is fundamental to achieving healthy, robust, and determined athletes.
Nutrition and particularly fuel source utilization is the final reason why I believe low aerobic training is so important. One aspect of the foundation training I put in place is a focus on lower carbohydrate intake and lower need for carbohydrate utilization. What this permeates is an athlete that is comfortable running at lower heart rates, utilizing greater adipose fat storage in training which is essential on race day once approaching the later stages of a race. This is not to say that race day nutrition is not highly individualized and I do prescribe high carbohydrate racing strategies to athletes but the ability to fall back on a greater utilization of fat stores is often the critical factor in race execution. This factor is important when considering the previous workload to work rate relationship.
It is important to understand that coaches approach training from other philosophies. Some high mileage focus, some high intensity focus for instance. This does not make any one better or worse; this is purely an assessment of how I train my athletes considering many of them have full time jobs, families, and long-term athletic goals. As I progress this blog it will become apparent that I take a deep dive into each athletes pillars of health (movement, nutrition, sleep, stress management & work/life balance) and often an exercise prescription will be based largely off those variables and not exclusively there movement pillar.
Stay safe, keep breathing and Activ8 Endurance.