Is it necessary and how much is enough?
All cyclists have heard the term "base training" and most understand this to be a period in the training plan (or just because everyone else seems to be doing it) where riders head out to "log some K's". Apart from the rather abstract objective of "building endurance" what is it that we are trying to achieve? And how much base (if any) should cyclists do?
In a nutshell, base training involves cycling for long periods of time at an intensity that is below the lactate threshold, or at a relatively comfortable pace. The thinking is that this type of riding stimulates aerobic pathways and increases efficiency, in some way preparing the rider for the higher intensity work that will come later. Base training is part of just about any endurance training plan (for all sports) that employs a structured, "periodised" approach. So far so good.
The real question is not whether or not a road cyclist needs to do base training (almost ALL do), the more important issue is how much base is best? Most age group cyclists are a little time poor and base training is incompatible with busy lives. The last thing time-strapped cyclists need is to be spending time on the bike that is producing little benefit, or worse still, counter-productive. So, what does one do?
A physiological assessment can allow a coach to measure aerobic efficiency (AE) and it is this AE that (mostly) determines the need for base training. Cyclists with very low AE MUST do a significant amount of base training, those with very good AE can get away with doing less. AE is a product (again mostly) of recent and long term training as well as genetics and (despite the influence of DNA) it is highly trainable. If AE is very good then a rider is able to spend more time during pre-competitive training, doing sessions to build strength or even work on skills.
So, as with most things in sports conditioning (strength, power, fatigue-resistance) the key is knowing your own unique physiology and the ONLY way to do that is have it tested. A small time and money investment will yield a MUCH greater result than any new frame or set of wheels on the planet.
If you are local to the Gold Coast and would like to organise a test (or just chat about it) feel free to email, firstname.lastname@example.org
How do you know when you are in a fatigued state?
Much is said and written about different types of training and the debate rages about the best balance between base work, threshold training and high intensity intervals. But one of the more interesting (at least for me) and less-spoken-of aspects of conditioning is that of recovery. Now I am not just talking about grabbing your protein shake after a ride and slamming down a bowl of pasta. There are so many factors that impact on the quality of one's recovery but not many cyclists (and perhaps even coaches) have a method of measuring how fatigued an athlete may be at any stage of their training cycle.
Some fantastic new tools are out there to assist in the measurement of fatigue. There are now dozens of apps on the market that allow athletes and coaches to measure something known as Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Simply put HRV is a measure of the variability in the gap between your heart beats. When you inhale your HR increases and when you exhale it decreases, the difference between the two "beating rates" is your HRV (this is a slightly simplistic view). Generally speaking a well rested body has a larger variability (higher HRV) and a fatigued body has a smaller variability (lower HRV). Generally HRV should be measured at the same time each day (often on waking) and monitored over a period of time so that trends are apparent rather than "one-off" variability. These HRV apps are certainly a very useful addition to the armory and can assist coaches and athletes to get the very best balance between training and rest.
The advantage of HRV is that it is simple and portable, so you can use it every day to help understand how different training loads, recovery strategies and lifestyle habits impact on your fatigue levels. Another interesting test that will measure fatigue is a resting metabolic assessment, using gas analysis. This test produces a blueprint of your body's resting metabolic function and since we know that when in a fatigued state, fat metabolism is impaired, these tests are a fantastic insight into an athletes physiology. You cannot of course measure this (yet) with an app, so you will need to find a health professional that provides this service. This test can be very useful if an athlete is in a "rut" that is lasting a long time and may show that rest is the ONLY answer. One might look to have a metabolic assessment if the HRV trend had been down for an extended period of time.
The point here (I guess) is that having a method for measuring recovery is very important. Even better if that information can be logged daily and over an extended period of time. This allows coaches and athletes to better understand the effects of training loads on individual athletes and prescribe training accordingly.
It is all about knowing your body, measuring where you can and taking good qualified advice.
Enjoy the ride and stay safe on the road
Brian Bubba Cooke
Exercise Physiologist, coach & cycling tragic for 30 years. Love the freedom, reward and sense of achievement that one can only experience in our amazing sport.