Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Base Training - Why?

I've been asked quite a few times as to why 'base' train? Why would anyone deliberately take a step back from the high tempo rides they had been riding for the previous year? It seems a silly idea. Well for me I had lost a lot of fitness due to ongoing sickness between September and November now that's a long time to be doing virtually nothing on the bike so fitness, strength and endurance takes a big hit and rebuilding fitness is the logical approach rather than just dive back into it and this is where base training comes in.

Others may be in a similar position but for a variety of different reasons - some riders particularly those that race hang the bike up for a few weeks at the end of the racing season to give the body a rest or perhaps life may conspire to get in the way but in all cases the common denominator is a loss of fitness to some extent, deliberate or not.

So what is base training and what does it achieve? I'm not an expert on these matters so I will let the experts do the speaking:

"In many ways Base is the most important training period of the entire season. If it goes well you will be able to train at a higher level in the following periods. If it doesn’t go so well you won’t be able to train to your limits later on in the Build period and you’ll be more likely to break down due to overtraining, illness and injury. Training in the Base period has been compared with laying the foundation for the construction of a house. Build a solid foundation and the house will be sound and free of cracked walls and sagging corners. Do a very poor job of constructing the foundation and the house is likely to collapse as it is stressed by harsh conditions."

"Do you want to be fit and fast for cycling next summer?

I bet you do, so the key is actually to slow down this winter and work on your fundamental endurance, or what is also termed your cycling base.

This is the 'base' or foundation upon which all your 'aerobic development' is built. As cycling is an endurance sport, it's therefore important to develop a large aerobic base on which harder aerobic training can be launched.

Let's take an analogy of putting money in a bank:

The more money you put into a bank the more you have to draw on when you need it most.

Similarly with your training - the more time you can spend developing your aerobic base, the higher the aerobic platform you can launch harder training off when you want to go faster.

In essence, this is why experienced riders look to put as much time in the saddle over the winter months as they can. They can then launch harder trainings off this mileage 'base' when they need it most, i.e: in the build up to peak races.

However, if you don't save up money in the bank and need to draw on it at some point, you end up going "into the red". In training the same applies! You end up plateauing early with your fitness and run the risk of early fatigue, burnout and overtraining.

What's important to realise is that to develop this base, you have to go easy and in effect 'build up' layer after layer of easy trainings to build this base.

Moreover, we can say that the larger the cycling base you can build, the faster you'll go come summer races.

Experienced cyclists start the base in early winter by undertaking cross training activities. After a few months they then get back on the bike to put time in the saddle for a few more months before starting faster more specific workouts to build towards key early season races.

By building a solid cycling base like this we are effectively making the aerobic system stronger and more efficient. For example a cycling base helps:

  • Your development of 'slow twitch muscle fibers' in the muscles that will help us endure hours upon hours of cycling at any one time.
  • Your heart and immune system also strengthen and you find you're more robust and therefore 'healthier'.
  • Your body learns to use more fat for fuel delaying the effects of 'bonking' (running out of energy) or using up your limited carbohydrate stores too soon on bike rides.

After a base is built, it's key to also start working on your mid term endurance and your short term endurance. This is faster aerobic work that helps develop your aerobic capacity (VO2Max is effectively the size of your aerobic engine) and raise your anaerobic threshold (the fastest cruising pace you can hold for an hour) - but these trainings should always come second to developing an aerobic base - also called your long term endurance."


Ok back to me now. If you want to read more on the topic then of course there's the ever popular Joe Friel Cyclists Training Bible but for an indepth analysis regarding base training that goes into much more detail than Friels book I would thorougly recommend this book by Thomas Chapple who himself follows the Joe Friel training principles (his training language and methods will be familier to the myriads of 'Frielists' out there which is a big plus).

Base Building for Cyclists: A New Foundation for Performance and Endurance By Thomas Chapple

Available from Amazon amongst others.