by Coach Matt Russ
A well-designed base training phase is crucial for annual progress, but it is often taken for granted as the "easy" time of year.
The term "base" indicates what subsequent training will be built on, and is in fact the time to consider what gaps in your training the season has missed.
To make the most of your base phase, you may need to dispose of a few myths and rationalizations.
I need a month off.
Coming off your last season peak, a good rest is in order, but total rest is not.
Fitness atrophies very quickly, and 4 weeks off may require up to 8 to 12 weeks to regain the lost fitness.
A transition phase is a much better plan.
This is a time for your body to recover physically and mentally while maintaining a level of fitness.
Some studies have shown training volume can be reduced by as much as 80%, yet a level of fitness will be maintained with a well-designed transition phase. Do not shut your training down completely.
Base=Miles . Training for a distance event such as a marathon or triathlon over several hours requires a lot of aerobic level miles. Many athletes attempt to maintain a large amount of endurance placing needless wear and tear on the body. You cannot hold marathon or Ironman level endurance year round. Base training for these events may mean a reduction from peak miles and more focus on strength, power, and economy. Save the race distance workouts for the peaking phases for these events.
Everyone is in base. Base training is a type of training, not a season. Although most athletes perform their base training in the fall and winter, it is not written in stone. You may even return to a shorter base period later in the season depending on the structure of your annual training plan. Let your race prioritization dictate the placement and duration of your base season. Some athletes do not race well in hot weather and may choose a fall or winter peak.
Group training is great for base. Coaches have a long standing battle with the group rides. Put a few competitive athletes together for an easy base ride and it may quickly turn into an ego driven road race. In order for a training stress to be effective, it must be accurate. That is not to say you can not train with others, but I recommend training with a partner or small group that is like-minded and of similar fitness capacity. Define the workout before you begin and realize that you may be at different paces from time to time. Attempting to go fast all the times usually leads to early peaking, injury, and mental burnout.
Hit the gym- hard
So, you were squatting 200 lbs. at the end of last base season? Seems like a good place to pick up?
Unfortunately, you may start base with an injury.
It is important to begin with a strength acclimation phase to address tendon, joint, ligament, and core strength before moving on to greater resistance.
Realize that strength training is a tool box and the right plan is predicated on your muscle type (fast vs. slow twitch), the type of event you are training for, your limiter(s), and even injury history.
You may not need a heavy strength phase or you may need a long one.
Realize that there are different types of strength training that address joint stability, strength endurance, and maximal strength. Remember, strength training rarely mixes well with high intensity training, both of which cause acute muscular break down.
It is ok to gain a few pounds.
Lower intensity aerobic training burns more fat and less glycogen.
Base phase is the best time to address weight loss.
Unfortunately, the opposite usually occurs and pounds begin to creep on through the winter holidays.
As training becomes more intense and specific, fueling and glycogen depletion can be a limiter.
Cutting calories while still having enough energy to train is a delicate balance during later phases.
The best time to get the pounds off is in base, when training is less critical and more conducive to fat loss. Coming into the spring season heavy is a great way to write off your first races.
Base= easy training . Just because your heart rate is not up does not mean you cannot work hard. Strength endurance training on the bike and the run can be very difficult, even at a low aerobic level. Strength sessions can be very challenging, and for short course athletes a maintenance level of intensity may be required to keep them closer to peak shape.
Strides and spin-ups are enough. Merely performing technique work will not help you unless you know what you are trying to improve upon. Technique work should break your spin, stride, or stroke down into small, manageable parts for you to perfect and improve upon. Technique and form are best addressed in base when intensities are lower, and you do not have any pending races. If you do not know what your deficiency is, it is time to get some professional eyes on you. Improving economy is a often a difficult technical process that requires expertise.
With a little planning and organization you can come out of your base season stronger, more fit, and more efficient than competition.
Matt Russ has coached and trained elite athletes around the country and internationally for over ten years.
He currently holds a level III Elite license from