Off-season: Long and slow, or Short and fast?

For the off-season Long and Slow seems to be fading out…Short and Fast seems to be fading in. 

Used to be that all you read about was that the off season was for recovery and building a base with long and slow training…and then add speed later on in the season to this base ‘engine’ that you’ve created. 

The question rests really with the ‘Base’ period, which can run as long as 20 weeks, and represents the period before Race specific training begins.  From what I’ve seen, a lot of experts seem to agree that a Race specific focus of 12-14 weeks is enough, as long as you show up with an appropriate Base of fitness.  The wide variance of opinion is what type of training to do during the Base period.

For me this will be about 14 weeks long, before a 12 week Build into the Vancouver Half Iron race on July 3, 2011.

Joe Friel, the ‘father’ of a lot of triathlon training principles that others base their stuff on, or refer to, to show how their stuff is different, addresses the challenge, and the trend: 

Coaches and athletes once believed that long, slow distance (LSD) was the key to developing the aerobic system. But now the trend is toward employing a moderate intensity at or slightly above one’s aerobic threshold coupled with an appropriate workout duration to produce optimal aerobic endurance. The trick is getting the intensity and the duration of such workouts right. 

Joe, and many others, feel that the target intensity should primarily be 55-75% of Functional Threshold Power (FTP). 

In fact, regardless of the sport, I have those I train spend a considerable amount of their training time in zone 2. Throughout the Base period, but especially in Base 1 and 2 (3-4 weeks each) I have the athletes do weekly workouts in zone 2 and I watch to see how well matched their power and heart rate (cycling) or pace and heart rate (running) are. I call this “decoupling.” I’m looking to see if they can generally do increasingly longer workouts in zone 2 with minimal decoupling. This is described in a previous post here. When it becomes apparent that they can do such workouts with ease then they are ready to advance to somewhat more challenging training in Base 3. 

Others like Endurance Nation, feel that Base training should jump in and initially focus on 95-100% of FTP for optimal results…guys like power training gurus, Allen and Coggan say that 88-94% of FTP is the Sweet Spot, before moving to 91-105%…and everyone has a different idea on how to establish the FTP ‘number’ that they’re basing everything on. 

…increasingly, the Short and Fast Base Season proponents have gained traction, and I’ve seen a clear trend in reading towards this approach…the fundamental logic is that closer to a race when you’re building volume, you can’t also properly build speed without wearing yourself out, and therefore probably never get in the quality speed work that you can when training volume is down…like the off-season…hard to go fast on tired legs. 

…and an obvious factor, is just in training time…Short and Fast just simply takes less time…like in the Endurance Nation model, 5-7 hours per week total…well of course, that’s with no swimming, and covered in another Post on why no swimming…and not a bad thing to think about, when In-season Ironman training routinely runs up to and beyond 15 hours in many weeks for most.

A New York Times article in 2007, refers to a number of studies that found that even short interval sessions had a big benefit in not just speed but endurance, and enhanced fat burning, citing a number of research studies that came to the same conclusion. 

Most recently, I was reading a series put out by Endurance Nation, called Rethinking the Off Season that agrees with this approach…and have a number of other ‘myth-busting’ ideas…they call it the OutSeason…click on the Free Resources link to sign up for the free seminar series…a worthy read.  Here’s an excerpt relating to speed: 

Timmy and Jimmy’s bodies are lazy, only adapting themselves to the work that our heroes ask of them.  

  • If Jimmy, stuck at 20mph, wants to hand it to Timmy, he needs to…RIDE FASTER! No amount of riding 20mph will ever magically create the ability to ride 22mph! Only by forcing his body to go faster, by doing more WORK, will he force it to adapt to this higher work load and become faster! 
  • If anyone tells you that you can get faster by riding longer…yes, you can, but the amount of time you need to spend riding long to turn long into fast is so ludicrously long they might as well be telling you to train on the moon. Run away.

I was lead to this by an article by Rich Strauss, Off-Season Principles for the Self-Coached Athlete, focusing on two principles: 

Off-Season Principle #1: Increased speed at shorter distances translates to increased speed at longer distances, assuming you add endurance to that speed at the appropriate time of the season.  For now, let’s drop the scientific terms–aerobic this, anaerobic that and lactate threshold something else. The simple fact is that if you make yourself faster at shorter distance, that speed is translated to increased speed at longer distances. This is a fancy way of saying fast equals fast, everywhere and at all distances. 

Off-Season Principle #2: Separate Speed from Distance: Build your speed at a time of year when you have no requirement to also increase your distance…in the off season. 

So very specifically from the Endurance Nation folks:  

Lesson #3: Build Fast, then Far
As you know, we preach that if you want to be faster you need to actually MAKE yourself faster. The most effective and time efficient manner to go faster is to spend time…going fast. However, as an Ironman athlete, we also need to build your ability to go Far. Our solution is separate the need to make you faster from the requirement to make you “farther,” by making you faster in our OutSeason, months and months away from your higher volume training. We train all of our athletes to be faster 5k runners in the OutSeason. Yep, I said it. Our Ironman athletes are training like 5k runners for 5mo per year. These athletes then apply this significantly increased running speed to PR’s at the half and full Ironman distance after they build Far on top of this Fast. Please review the testimonials of our athletes. 

Lots of discussion on this topic, so I’ll include notes on my reading over the week as I setup my annual plan to begin on January 3.

For me…

Over the next few weeks, with quite a bit of travel over the holidays, it’s going to be a bit disjointed, so therefore will probably stay short and fast on most bike and run workouts, and drills in the hotel pools. 

…and watching that eating and drinking portion control thing…trying to show up on Jan. 3 ready to go.

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