Forum

Tip of the Week -- Slow is the New Fast

The Forum for Endurance Athletes

Tip of the Week -- Slow is the New Fast

Postby natellerandi » Thu Dec 06, 2012 10:41 am

I'm now fairly confident that for most of the past decade, I've been training too hard. About 6 weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a seminar given by Dr. Inigo San Millan. San Millan cut his teeth on training Miguel Indurain and has worked with pro athletes (mainly cyclists) for the past 20+ years.

2 weeks after the seminar, I was in San Millan's lab and undertook a stress test. The ramp of the test was fairly unique because instead of starting at an arbitrary wattage and increasing an arbitrary amount of watts every 3-4 minutes, the start of the test was based on 2.0w/kg and ramped 0.5w/kg every 10 minutes. So, the ramp is based on the rider's weight, which allows for a much more valuable and meaningful pool of data.

Every 5 minutes during the test, blood was drawn from my earlobe and my blood lactate was analyzed. I was also hooked up to the standard ventilatory machine with the full face mask, so my O2 consumption, gas production, etc. could be analyzed. At the end of the test, when all the data was munged, I came away with personalized training zones and recommendations based on the results, all of which deviated from the standard zone info you see on just about every training website out there.

The big takeaways from the seminar and testing were that endurance athletes in general train too hard. Not by a little but by a lot. We think we need to focus on making ourselves faster at LT when what we really need to be focusing on is our ability to go faster while metabolically "sitting on the couch." So, what does this mean?

It means that there is a HR zone in which your fat utilization is highest while utilization of carbs remains very low. As effort increases, fat utilization for fuel decreases while carb utilization increases. Eventually the 2 lines intersect and then continue to diverge. We store about 100,000 calories of fat in our bodies, but only about 1,600 calories of carbs, or glycogen. So, when we train hard, we teach our bodies to access the glycogen stored in our muscles for fuel and burn through it in 60-90 minutes. When muscled glycogen stores are tapped out, you're race is over.

Luckily, Hammer provides us with great products with which to replenish muscle glycogen stores during exercise. However, it is nearly impossible to keep up with the burning process. If instead of doing more LT-type intervals we focused on increasing the efficiency of our fat utilization, the glycogen in our muscles would be accessed at a much slower burn rate. To determine what your HR zone needs to be in order to train the body to maximize fat burning, lab testing can become critical. The reason? I can just about guarantee that an athlete's optimal fat burning zone is much lower than he/she thinks it is. Using myself and a teammate as an example, my optimal fat burning zone is a HR of 136-140; his is 125-134. Notice how these are not only different HRs, they are also different-sized zones and different percentages of our respective Max HR values. The test's results are unique to the individual.

I've been training in this zone religiously for 5 weeks now. Improvements are definitely coming. At first, I could only hold about 165-175 watts before my HR monitor started beeping to force me to slow down. But, last weekend I rode 4.5 hours below HR 140 and averaged 206 watts. Instead of constantly holding back to keep my HR down, I'm starting to be able to press the pace a little bit. Just barely. Like a muscle under load, the aerobic system fatigues as well. So, while my legs aren't "feeling the burn", there are clear metabolic shifts and improvements occurring. Imagine the implications in racing when I can push 250 watts while keeping my HR below 140 -- metabolically still "sitting on the couch" while riders around me are elevating their HRs and starting to burn off the precious muscle glycogen. I'm looking forward to that day coming.

The body responds and adapts to interval work very quickly. Based on my test results, the suggestion came back to not do any intervals until the final 2-4 weeks heading into my first key race. Whoa! Only 2-4 weeks of intervals. Seriously? That's a huge mental shift for me to make, but I trust in the process so I'm game.

And that's what this big change in training takes: (1) trust in the approach; (2) discipline to hold true to it and not "oops" cheat, even by a handful of bpm; and (3) dedication to following it long-term.

One thing Dr. San Millan kept harping on (so I tuned into it) is that the athletes he works with are not fatigued on a daily basis. Think about that. They don't wake up feeling the deep muscle fatigue from the previous day's workout(s). It made me think that "tired" is different than "fatigued". Tired is what we are when we don't get enough sleep; fatigued is what we are when we train hard and have not fully recovered from the effort. I haven't awakened in a fatigued state one time in the past 5 weeks. Every time my HR monitor beeps at 141bpm, I slow it down. Yet, my body's adapting, improving, getting faster.

There's soooo much more I could post here. But I'll leave you with this. Blood lactate levels are the most critical markers. Unfortunately, there is no real way to measure lactate during daily workouts. So, we need to use a lab test to determine velocities at various blood lactate levels. From here, HR is the critical measurement. HR determines metabolic responses which in turns determines blood lactate levels. My HR zone of 136-140 is what keeps my blood lactate at roughly 2.0mmls, so I can remain "sitting on the couch" metabolically-speaking. The only reason power is important to track is because that's how I can chart my progress over time. Instead of saying that I feel stronger, I can point to an increase in wattage. HR drives wattage, not the other way around, which is challenging to keep in perspective given that power meters are touted as the be all, end all. And I get it.

Hopefully, the forum has found this post useful and informative to a certain degree. If you're keen to try to improve your aerobic engine but do not have access to a lab or cannot afford a pricey test, then this very basic test will get you close. Go to a running track and get warmed up. Then, run 5 miles while breathing in and out entirely through your nose. Keep the pace easy enough where your chest does not start to constrict and you do not feel the urge to open your mouth to continue breathing. This should feel slightly harder than your typical relaxed, easy recovery effort/pace. Over the course of the 5 miles, take your mile splits and also see where your HR plateaus. Anytime you feel your chest start to constrict a little bit, back off the pace a hair. Whatever that "tipping point" for your HR seems to be -- chest relaxed vs feeling constricted -- is the top of your fat burning zone. Then, generically, you can subtract 5-7 beats to establish the full HR zone. When I did this test, I found my tipping point to be around 142, so pretty darn close as an indicator. You could do the same type of test on the bike, by increasing your effort to the tipping point, backing off and then settling in to see how the body responds.

Happy Training!
Nate Llerandi
natellerandi
 
Posts: 33
Joined: Thu Apr 29, 2010 10:44 am

Re: Tip of the Week -- Slow is the New Fast

Postby levi-hoch » Thu Dec 06, 2012 4:07 pm

Fascinating post Nate, thanks!

Do you feel this applies primarily to endurance athletes (marathon or longer for example) or would this also apply to "sprinters" like myself racing XC (generally sub 2 hours) on a mountain bike?

Regards,
Levi
User avatar
levi-hoch
 
Posts: 86
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2011 3:48 pm

Re: Tip of the Week -- Slow is the New Fast

Postby natellerandi » Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:33 am

Hi Levi:

Glad you find this post and others informative and helpful!

2 hours is still a long race. Endurance athletes (myself included) have a warped sense of time. By definition, a sprint is an all-out effort so it can't last more than 10-20 seconds. Yet, we refer to a race lasting roughly an hour as a sprint triathlon. Or a roughly 2-hour mountain bike race. :-)

My post on this topic would have been way too long and way too involved had I gotten into detail. But, what I would add is that in our world, the aerobic system is the one that does most of the work and gets most heavily taxed during our races. Getting aerobically efficient is what allows us to create a bigger book of matches and burn through more of them during a race because aerobic efficiency slows the burning up of muscle glycogen and lowers accumulated lactate levels. These are the 2 keys to being in the mix at the end of the races we do.

As for mixing in intervals, what I'm learning is that the body comes around very quickly. You can sharpen up in as few as 2-4 weeks, so there is arguably little value in prolonged periods of focusing on intervals.

Try this, Levi. First, I'm making an assumption that you are currently including some sort of interval work into your weekly training plan. If you are, continue to do so for the rest of this week and all of next week. Really tune in to how you feel when you wake up the next 2 mornings after a hard interval workout (differentiate between "tired" and "fatigued"). Then, starting the following week, reverse tack and set a HR ceiling of 70-72% of Max HR. Keep your HR below that ceiling religiously for 2 weeks. Put as much time as you like in the tight 5-7 beat zone toward the top. Even increase your training volume if you feel like it. But notice how different you feel when you wake up and during the day. You may not be any less "tired" but you will definitely be less "fatigued".

If you're less fatigued, you tend to have greater access to top end. So, if you go back to your interval work, you may find your first (or first few) hard workouts are better than normal. Because your body's less depressed. The point is that training to maximize aerobic efficiency and utilizing fat as fuel does not run counter to making us better and faster endurance athletes. If anything, it could/should promote better results.

Hope this helps!
Nate

levi-hoch wrote:Fascinating post Nate, thanks!

Do you feel this applies primarily to endurance athletes (marathon or longer for example) or would this also apply to "sprinters" like myself racing XC (generally sub 2 hours) on a mountain bike?

Regards,
Levi
natellerandi
 
Posts: 33
Joined: Thu Apr 29, 2010 10:44 am

Re: Tip of the Week -- Slow is the New Fast

Postby levi-hoch » Wed Dec 19, 2012 2:54 pm

Thanks for the reply Nate, I'll give it a try and see how it goes. It's the off season for me right now but I'll be starting back up soon.

Levi
User avatar
levi-hoch
 
Posts: 86
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2011 3:48 pm


Return to Endurance Forum

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests

cron