Emergency training – cycling training

If you need to get into competitive shape fast, follow the example of these South African cyclists

Most athletes have a ‘base-building’ period during their training year, during which their intensity of exercise is kept fairly moderate while their volume (number of minutes or miles per week of training) is gradually increased. The purpose of this base-building phase of training is usually considered to be an increase in overall aerobic capacity and a gradual strengthening of muscles and connective tissues.

While most athletes have such a base period, few are sure about exactly what to do after the base phase is over. In addition, many athletes are faced with a sudden need to get into competitive shape quickly after a base period is over, because they may suddenly decide to participate in an important competition on the near horizon. For such athletes, what is a good way to emerge from a base period rapidly, heightening fitness without significant risk of overtraining?

The four-week regime
South African scientists have the answer. At the University of Cape Town, researchers followed eight competitive cyclists who were coming out of a base phase of training, during which they had been exercising moderately at about 80 per cent of maximal heart rate (around 70% V02max). The cyclists were about 25 years of age, weighed 174 pounds, had been cycling for three to four years, and were averaging about 43 kilometres (26-27 miles) of riding per day (300 kilometres per week).

At the beginning of the study period, which lasted for 28 days, the cyclists trimmed their weekly training volume by about 15 per cent and began carrying out interval training twice a week. The interval workouts were simple, consisting of six to eight five-minute repetitions per workout, with short, one-minute recoveries between repetitions. The intensity for each work interval was set at 80 per cent of peak power output, eg, about 90 per cent of V02max (heart rate would have reached around 93 per cent of max near the end of each five-minute interval).

Thus, the ‘base-period-emergence training’ was kept very simple. Regular mileage was simply reduced by 15 per cent, and two interval workouts were added each week. Otherwise, training continued as before.

More speed, power and endurance
Did the ’emergence training’ improve the cyclists’ performances quickly? You said it! After the four weeks of emergence-interval training, the athletes’ times on a 40-K time trial improved from 57.1 minutes to 55.9 minutes, a nice 2-per cent improvement.

But that wasn’t all! Even though the interval training was not really super-high-intensity exertion, the cyclists’ ‘peak power output’ (the maximal power their leg muscles could exert while riding the bicycle) rose by 3 per cent in 28 short days, and their ability to continue pedalling at an extremely high intensity soared by 22 per cent (from 59.3 to 72.5 seconds).

In addition, maximal aerobic capacity (V02max) rocketed upward by 4 per cent, and muscle ‘buffering capacity’ (the ability of muscle cells to tolerate rapid rises in lactic acid) advanced by a hefty 16 per cent. Although not actually measured by the researchers, blood volume probably also burgeoned in the Cape Town cyclists (blood volume usually ‘perks up’ in response to higher-intensity training). A spike in blood volume is a definite plus for endurance athletes, because it allows the cardiovascular system to do a better job of transporting enough blood to both the muscles and skin. Of course, the muscles need blood for the oxygen it contains; the skin requires hot blood to cool off the body.

An especially heartening feature of the Cape Town research was the fact that the cyclists not only boosted their peak power after carrying out the simple interval workouts but also aggrandized the per cent of maximal power which they could sustain during a rigorous, one- hour effort like a 40-K time trial. Before the emergence- interval training, in fact, the cyclists could only work at an average of 72 per cent of peak power during the 40K; after the intervals, they were able to cruise at 75 per cent of peak power, even though their peak power was quite a bit higher than before!

How runners could do the same
Although the Cape Town research dealt with cyclists, runners could use a similar programme to improve quickly after a base period of training. The Cape Town investigators used an intensity of 90% V02max for the intervals, which is ideal since it means that runners could simply do their emergence intervals at current 10-K race pace (10-K pace is usually very close to 90% V02max).

After a base period, the 10-K training will increase runners’ abilities to tolerate greater fast-twitch fibre activity in their leg muscles and produce benefits comparable to those achieved by the Cape Town cyclists. However, some runners may have difficulty tolerating two relatively difficult interval workouts per week after a period of base training. In that case, there are several possible alternatives. (I) Do one of the workouts on dry land and one while running in the deep end of a swimming pool (usually while supported by a device like the Aqua-Jogger; (2) Conduct the interval workouts slightly less frequently – for example, once every five days instead of twice a week. In this case, the benefits will take slightly longer to show up; (3) Do the interval- emergence workout once per week and a Jack-Daniels- style tempo run once a week. For the Daniels exertion, warm up and then run for 20 continuous minutes at a tempo which is 12-15 seconds per mile SLOWER than current 10-K pace; (4) (probably the least desirable of the four alternatives) Do one interval workout per week as a regular running workout and one other weekly interval workout on an exercise cycle.

Runners don’t need to go to the track to complete the workout, although the session IS fine for the measured oval. However, as long as you have a decent sense of what your 10-K pace feels like, you can simply go to a favourite training area, warm up, and then alternate five-minute intervals at what feels like 10-K effort with 60-second recoveries. Try not to let the total amount of running at 10-K speed per workout exceed 10 per cent of your weekly mileage. Bear in mind that this session not only boosts peak power, V02max, endurance, and muscle buffering capacity; it’s also excellent, very specific training for 10-K racing. After all, you’re learning the exact neuromuscular coordination require for 10-K competing.

After the emergence training
What should you do after your four-week, ‘base-phase emergence’ training is over? That depends on your goals for the competitive season, but if races lasting 40-45 minutes or less are looming on the horizon, it would be a good time for some speed-power training (the Cape Town efforts described above are not really ‘speed’ training, since they occur at only 90% V02max). Some possible speed workouts would include hill repeats, with each ascent taking 20-30 seconds at close to full effort, and some fast two-minute intervals on flat ground at an intensity which you could sustain for no more than six to eight minutes.

If your interest is in races lasting for an hour or longer, then you could place a minor emphasis on speed, continue with a minor emphasis on the interval- emergence efforts, and focus primarily on ‘tempo efforts’ (20-25 continuous minutes at an intensity which you couldn’t sustain for more than 50-55 minutes) and very specific, long exertions (lasting for 40 minutes or more at more or less the exact intensity you hope to achieve in your race).

Whatever your goal, it’s clear that the South African study provides you with a quick, powerful way to emerge from base training and soar to a new level of performance.

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