Intervals vs. base training.  What is best?  (VO2, Lactate Threshold (LT), Middle Fuel Economy)

 

POTENTIAL, POTENTIAL, POTENTIAL!!!

The best way to build speed, power, and simply improve your cycling ability and enjoyment, is to work on your potential.  Breathe right, exhale all that old air, and get as much of your VO2 potential that you can.  Work on your pedal stroke efficiency, and get as much of your speed potential as you can.

So, if there is anything I want you to take away from all of this is that most cyclists out there need to throw away interval training.  They need to get back to the basics.  Learn and train how to breathe.  Learn and train how to pedal efficient circles, and get all the potential you can out of what you have before you go out and work on interval training.  And lastly, work on that Middle Fuel Economy.

Man, is there a lot of confusion on training out there.  Almost everyone stresses the importance of interval training, and interval training only.  Is this the answer for you?  Let me keep this simple and ask a couple questions:  Are you loosing your races by seconds?  Or are you loosing by minutes?   Or are you just trying to complete your century ride with out collapsing at the finish?

I ask these questions because interval training is extremely important IF YOU ARE LOSING YOUR RACES BY SECONDS.  If you fit into the other 2 categories, then please read on.

Lets start at the beginning.  There are 2 important aspects to cycling.  First is VO2 max, and the other is Lactate Threshold.  Keeping it simple, VO2 max is simply how much oxygen you can take into your body, and how much of that oxygen you can assimilate.  Lactate Threshold (LT) is a little more complex, but not much.  Every movement you make creates Lactic acid.  Your body then assimilates that Lactic acid.  However, during exercise, you can produce more Lactic acid than your body can assimilate.  This is your LT:  When you produce more Lactic Acid than your body can assimilate.

These 2 aspects of your body really control your exercise, and in this case your cycling.  So, which one is more important?  YES!

They are both important, and work together.  The more oxygen you can take in helps your body assimilate the Lactic acid.  So, if you don’t believe me, here is your test.  Jump on your bike, hold your breath, and ride as hard as you can.  How long can you last.  Now do the same test, but breathe.  How long did you last this time?

So, now that we realize that these 2 things are tied together, how can we increase both of them?  Now pay attention here.  This drives me nuts!

VO2 max (the amount of oxygen that you can take in and absorb into your body) is mostly genetically set.  For an untrained person, you might be able to increase your VO2 max by 50%, and that is a ton.  For the athletic person, you might see a 10 – 15% increase with training.  So again, if you are racing, and loosing by seconds, then interval training is for you.  If not, lets figure out how to get more oxygen into your body with every breath.

 

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO TO INCREASE YOUR VO2 MAX IS TO EXHALE

Breathing:  Breathing is critical as evident from our previous test.  Everyone out there, except asthmatic people, all try to breathe in as much air as possible.  This is the wrong approach!  It really does not matter how much air you can breathe in.  It matters how much air you can breathe out.  There is this term all asthmatics know called “Trapping.”  Trapping is the amount of air that stays, or is “trapped” in your lungs with every breath.  So lets say that you are hyperventilating (which everyone knows is bad for you.)  When you hyperventilating, your are only getting out 25-45% of the air in your lungs.  That means that at least 50% or more of the old stagnant air is still in your lungs.  Then in the next breath, you still only exchange up to 50% of that air.  Now, that remainder of air in your lungs continues to increase in concentration of CO2 with every breath.  Then the CO2 concentration  starts to increase in your body, and it acidifies your blood, and thighs simply go down hill from here.

When you are doing anything athletic, always concentrate on the exhale.  The inhale will happen.  It will happen all by itself.  So, here is another test.  Breathe in as much air as you can.  Now hold your breath.  Keep holding, then start to exhale slowly for as long as you can until there is no more air left in your lungs, your face turns red, and it feels like your eyes are about to pop out of your head.  Then what happens?  Did you have to think about inhaling air?  No.  It just happens.  You will inhale as much air as your lungs will permit.  It just happens.  However, the exhale does not just happen.  You really have to think about it.

VO2 is simply your potential.  It tells you how much air you can take in, and how much you can assimilate.  But if you don’t exchange all the air in your lungs, then you are limiting your VO2 potential.  So very simply put, BREATHE OUT!  The rest will happen.

 

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO TO INCREASE YOUR LT IS TO RIDE STEADY STATE AT YOUR CURRENT LT (MIDDLE FUEL ECONOMY)
LACTATE THRESHOLD (LT) IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN WORK ON!

Everyone has a different LT.  This is the most changeable thing in cycling, and the most important.  Unlike VO2, which is mostly a genetically set potential, LT is something you can change drastically.  I am not going to get into the science of cellular mitochondria, and how increasing the cellular mitochondria can process more lactate.  Rather, I am going to just simply help you understand what you need to do to increase your LT.

Think of LT as how far you can ride at a given intensity.  So, here is another test.  I want you to jump on your bike and ride as hard as you can.  How far did you go before you wanted to puke?  Now, jump on your bike, and ride at a comfortable pace.  How far did you get this time?  Intensity of your workout will determine the time at which you can do it.  The object here is to increase that time at every intensity level, from all out to your favorite century ride.

A great and simple example here is the Tortoise and the Hare.  All the Hare does is train with intervals, and has a mean sprint.  All the Tortoise does is train at and around LT, or his Middle fuel economy his entire life.  Long steady distance.  We all know the outcome of this race.  The Hare takes off with a mean sprint, leaves the Tortoise in the dust, then the Hare is done.   The Tortoise just plods along consistently to win the race.  The other point is that the Tortoise does not need a fast sprint if he gets to the finish line first.  But the Hare with his great sprint, never gets to use it.  So how do we apply this to our cycling.

The answer is long steady distance, or middle fuel economy.  Again, without getting into cellular biology, when you exercise, you can quickly figure out how hard you can go for how long.  So lets work with 1 hour workouts.  Get on your bike, and ride as hard as you can for that hour.  So hard that you want to puke at the end.  I don’t care if you have a power meter, heart rate monitor, or even a cyclo computer on your bike.  You know that “puke” feeling.  Simply put, if you feel like puking the entire hour, then you found your LT.  Now, the next time you go out for your ride, start up to your LT, then back off about 20 – 30% and keep it there for the hour.  Constant steady state output.  If you continue to train this way, you will see your LT increase.  Your LT increases because your body will start to adapt and will start to improve the Middle Fuel Economy. This Middle Fuel Economy is how efficient your body processes not only lactate, but how efficiently your body utilizes stored energy in your body.  There are 3 energy stores, ATP (quick energy stored directly in muscles for immediate use,) Glycogen (stored energy, but quickly assimilated by the body for energy,) and fat (for those long energy outputs, but not for immediate use.)  Your body wants to use ATP and Glycogen first because it is the easiest to use.  Your body wants to store fat, and only use it when it has to.  So the object here is to train the body to use the fat, and save the ATP and Glycogen for when you need it.  If you burn out your quick energy early, your ride is done.  So training your body to use fat as energy, or training your body to operate at that Middle Fuel Economy will increase your LT.  Your body will adapt and become much more efficient and like magic, you will start to see your speed increasing without feeling like you want to puke.  The other thing you will notice is that your base power will increase also.  It will allow you to go harder for short bursts without completely collapsing because your body is keeping the quick energy for those times when you need it.  This training will build base, and base is the most important thing you can work on.  If you can’t get to the finish line, then your sprint won’t matter.  Forget the intervals, and work on your base, work on that Middle Fuel Economy.  Then when you get to the finish line with the group, we will work on intervals.

 

PEDAL STROKE AND BASE.

Here is my biggest soap box.  Drives me nuts, so lets put this all together.  Sorry the length of this, but we are almost finished.   Even though I said that LT is most important, I really lied.  Pedal stroke and bike fit are by far most important.  Bike fit is really simple, honestly, almost anyone can do a bike fit.  There really is not much science to that.  However, pedal stroke is something completely different.  Lets look at golf, and baseball.  What do you think is more important, the fit of the golf clubs / bat, or the swing?  For golfers, you can always choke up or extend on your clubs, but if you can’t swing, then your game is over.  If you can’t swing your baseball bat correctly for the pitch, then you are out.  I have no idea why everyone trains with nothing but intervals, and they all ignore pedal stroke.

Remember how we were talking potential?  Your VO2 is a genetically set potential, but if you are not exhaling all the way, then you are limiting your potential, thus slowing you down.  Pedal stroke efficiency is also a potential.  ALL OF YOUR FORWARD MOMENTUM COMES FROM YOUR QUADS.  Yes, all of your speed comes from your quads.  The biggest muscle group in your legs.  So, your speed is determined by how much you weigh, and how much power is in your quads.  So, back to potential, your quads determine your potential speed.  However, you have to remember that when one leg pushes down, the other leg is going up on the back side of the pedal stroke.  If you are not lifting that back leg, then the leg pushing down is doing double duty.  Part of the energy is lifting the opposing leg, and the rest of the energy is propelling your forward.  So, efficiency in your pedal stroke is defined as how much you are pushing compared to how much you are pulling.  Honestly, most people sit around 50 – 60% efficiency.  With that said, most cyclists are loosing 40 ish percent of their potential speed to lifting the opposing leg.  Now I have a very cool computer program that will show you how much you are pushing compared to how much you are pulling, but without a computer, how do you really know what the heck you are doing on the bike.  There are 2 ways.  The first test is very revealing and surprising.  Put your bike next to a wall, put on your cycling shoes, and remove the chain from the front chainring so that the crank can rotate freely.  Now, get on the bike, and clip ONLY ONE FOOT ON A PEDAL.  GENTLY pedal full revolutions with one leg, then do the same test with the other leg.  Unless you have specifically trained your muscles to sweep and pull up on the back side f the pedal stroke, you will find that one foot makes the sweep and pull.  Not well, but it makes it.  The other leg will have an even harder time.  The other test is actually easier to pull off, but still lets you know that there is a problem.  Take the bike outside, and ride down a strait and flat road.  Unclip one foot and pedal with the other leg.  Again, you will quickly realize how much of the pedal stroke you are not using.

So, back to potential.  If you can build the muscles that allow you to sweep and lift your leg around the bottom and back side of the pedal stroke, then your efficiency, speed, and watts will increase.  You will be much closer to your potential.

 

POTENTIAL, POTENTIAL, POTENTIAL!!!

The best way to build speed, power, and simply improve your cycling ability and enjoyment, is to work on your potential.  Breathe right, exhale all that old air, and get as much of your VO2 potential that you can.  Work on your pedal stroke efficiency, and get as much of your speed potential as you can.

So, if there is anything I want you to take away from all of this is that most cyclists out there need to throw away interval training.  They need to get back to the basics.  Learn and train how to breathe.  Learn and train how to pedal efficient circles, and get all the potential you can out of what you have before you go out and work on interval training.  And lastly, work on that Middle Fuel Economy.  The very cool thing here is that to work on your middle fuel economy is really not that hard.  Just go out and hold a good effort, but for a consistent time.  If you work on the basics, the rest will happen.  You will be amazed, and your really won’t have to work all that hard.  So throw away the intervals, and get back to basics.  Then when you get to the finish line in the lead pack, that is when we are going to work on intervals.

 

Here are some fun links for more in depth information:
http://www.americanroadcycling.org/thebook/index.aspx?frm=MenVert
http://velonews.competitor.com/2008/04/training-center/on-the-bike/power-at-lactate-threshold-wins-races_74196
http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/lactatethreshold.html