base training

Why October-November Is Base-Training Season (Not January!)

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For many years I – and especially my “Time-Crunched Cyclist” co-author, Jim Rutberg – have railed against the concept of “aerobic base training” for time-crunched athletes (here and here, for instance). So, naturally, today’s headline might come as a surprise to some of you. Is this a reversal? A flip-flop on the issues? Hardly.

For endurance athletes, intensity and interval training are still the best uses of limited training time. But being a time-crunched athlete also means you have to be smart and resourceful; you have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. October and November are the best opportunities for you to focus your training on endurance, and here’s why:

You Are Already Fit

There are certainly some athletes with goal events still coming up, and of course, the cyclocross season is in full swing, but for many cyclists, ultrarunner, and triathletes the summer season is done or has been done for several weeks. You have fitness gained through months of hard work. Why let that fitness fade away like the crisp tanlines on your legs?

Everything you give up you must work to regain, so minimize your losses between now and the end of the year by taking advantage of your fitness to put high-quality training hours in the bank now. This is how the rich get richer; they use their money to make more money. They don’t wait until they’re low on funds to try to earn back what they lost/spent!

You’re Not Preparing for Events

The premise of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist” concept is that a high-intensity, low-volume training plan builds competitive fitness in a short period of time so you can have fun and perform well in events that matter to you. One of the caveats, in the “Terms and Conditions” section of the book, is that time-crunched fitness is also short lived. You’re building power at lactate threshold and VO2 max without a big base of aerobic fitness to support it.

Your fitness is “top heavy” and collapses under its own weight if you try to continue high-intensity training for too long. That’s why it’s a plan used to prepare for events, like a local criterium series, a Gran Fondo, a month of cyclocross races on the weekends, etc. When the events are done, you need to back off the intensity for a while before starting another build period.

Since you are not preparing for events right now, time-crunched athletes can spend a longer period focused on endurance training. That doesn’t mean you have to dramatically increase your weekly training hours, because you likely can’t anyway, but it does mean you should consider arranging endurance rides into 3- to 5-day blocks.

What should those training blocks look like? Here are a few quick tips:

  • Don’t cook yourself on the first day. You’re aiming for consistency throughout, and going too big on Day 1 often comes back to haunt you by hurting performance on Day 3 or 4.
  • Quality still trumps quantity, even with endurance blocks. Two or three high-quality hours are better than crawling along during hours 4 and 5. There’s nothing wrong with going really long, but recognize that from a training standpoint the benefits drop off as your power drops off late in those rides.
  • Take at least two days off to rest after an endurance block. As days get shorter, this often works well for people because it’s harder to get out before or after work on weekdays. If you build a block that includes Thurs-Sun, or Fri-Mon, you can take your recovery days during the week.

You Can “Train Low CHO”

I’ve written about the “Train Low” concept before, where you deliberately deplete carbohydrate (CHO) stores before some rides. During a period of event-focused training it can be a bit risky to experiment with “Train Low” because it can hurt training performance if you execute the nutrition strategy incorrectly. Endurance blocks are a good place to experiment with the concept, however, because you don’t have events coming up.

To try Train Low, I recommend the “Sleep Low” method. Schedule an endurance ride late in the day, and then deliberately avoid carbohydrate between the end of the ride and bedtime. Don’t avoid calories, just stick to protein, fat, and minimal carbohydrate. When you get up in the morning you will not have fully replenished stores of muscle glycogen, so you can go out and perform another endurance ride with low CHO-availability. You should expect lower power outputs during this ride. Better yet, just cover the display or change the screen and ride on perceived exertion.

4 Hours in January Is Longer Than 4 hours Now

You know, Strava has their “Sufferscore” but maybe they should add in a weather factor, because there’s a lot more suffering involved in a 3-4 hour ride in January compared to October. Put in hours while the weather is good, and be flexible. When you get a warm week of weather in your area, jump on it and get out there! This time of year you have a lot more latitude to move training days around to capitalize on the best weather.

Save the Intervals for Indoors

We all hang on to summer as long as we can, but the first big snowstorm of the season is the signal that it’s time for the indoor season to start. When you’re riding indoors, intervals are not only the most efficient use of time, but an interval workout is also far more engaging than watching TV or staring at a wall. Once winter’s grip tightens, you’ll be doing plenty of intervals inside. Until then, go outside every chance you get!

Have a Great Weekend,

Chris Carmichael

CEO and Head Coach of CTS


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Comments 8

  1. What zones (for both heart rate and power, preferably % of FTP) should we be shooting for during these rides? Would the intensity be different for a two hour vs a three hour ride?

  2. On the Gulf Coast, it’s different — I’ve lived on the trainer since May, because outside is nothing but unbearable heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. I can’t wait for November, when I can finally ride outside!

  3. Yep. I once took the fall of the year off. I took a vow to never do that again. My next year’s season starts about the 1st of October. Luckily I was able to start it a couple weeks earlier this year. What we do now will make a big difference in July. Form drills, endurance, and weight work are on my menu. I do a lot of work on my resistance rollers in winter.

  4. Thanks Chris, this article just made me pause a bit to think, or remember, I am not a professional athlete where that is my primary job every day of every week. It helped me recognize to think differently and where to place the priorities with different thinking and ways to approach the seasons and the training, and how the thinking is shifting from 1 or 2 decades ago.

    Thanks for the article.

  5. I love your blog and read them all. If I am led to train indoors and do intervals during a non-build period, what intensity and parameters should I shoot for? Thanks.

    1. I would recommend checking out some CTS dvd’s as they are objective driven and perfect for indoor training. Also, there is quite a selection for the spectrum of workouts. I am an indoor spin instructor and try to practice Periodization as much as possible and am now focused on building my aerobic base. Hope this helps!

      CT

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