November 28, 2011 cburnham

Should Non-Elite Athletes Base Their Training on an Elite Athlete’s Training Plan?

This is something I have been thinking about for a while and finally decided to write something on this after overhearing a few riders talking about putting in a ton of long slow distance miles before riding any pace above what my 3 year old girl could do (although she is pretty fast now…).  That tradition has been around for very long time and most elite endurance athletes will still spend the beginning part of their year putting in long miles of primarily unstructured training to build “base fitness,” but is that really the best way for us non-elite, 40+ hour work week, athletes to train?  Is your season lost if your not putting in 12, 15, or 20 hour training weeks as part of your “base building” training phase?  I don’t think so, and maybe we need to start to rethink how the rest of us should train.

Putting in the winter base miles...

There are obviously some big differences between elite athletes and the rest of us but the biggest one is their genetic ability to recover, and the fact that most elite athletes have a lot more time to train and devote to recovery.  A 15 hour base-training week for most professional road cyclists would be considered a moderate to easy week, where for the rest of us that might be a big training week and leave us curled up in a coma on the couch come Sunday afternoon.  Most of us don’t even have the time to put in consistent 15 hour training weeks much less have the ability to consistently recover from that training load.  That isn’t the most effective way to build progressive overload.

Basically, elite athletes respond to training differently than non-elites; and non-elite athlete’s should be training different than elites.  Just because Joe Pro Schmo is doing long easy rides to start off his training year doesn’t mean that is appropriate for an athlete with less time available to train.  Let’s say Joe Pro is doing a consistent 18+ hour training week all done around 60 – 75% of threshold*.  He is accumulating a significant amount of volume at that intensity to cause a positive training adaptation and he has the genetic gift from his parents to allow him to recover from each of those longer rides to keep them consistent.  Non-elite,  40+ hour work week Chris only has about 10 hours a week to train though.  If he rode those 10 hours at the same easy intensity as Joe Pro he would probably see some fitness gains, but those would level off fairly quickly and his fitness would stagnate.  Even if he had more time to train would that necessarily make him any stronger?  Only if he was able to recover…

A perfectly good place to put "base miles."

So how can we take an athlete with less time to train and less time to recover and drive their fitness higher?  We have to think outside the box and look at ways we can drive a positive training adaptation in less training time and that allows an athlete to maintain quality workouts over a longer period to create effective progressive overload. Hint: you have to go harder and keep a moderate level of variation in the base phase to maintain quality workouts.  Physiologically we recover drastically different from higher intensity workouts than long slow distance miles, and we can use those differences to maximize available training time by varying the training stimulus to pack in more quality workouts throughout the week.  That might mean you have to ride a little harder than you normally would at this time of the year but the benefits in the Spring can be huge.  Just make sure to pay attention to your recovery rates and make sure your not drooling too much on the couch cushions at the end of the week.
*I would argue that this might not be the best thing for the Pros either but that is a whole other article…

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