Ready To Tri Triathlon Coaching

Want Speed? Slow Down!

If you want to run, bike, or swim faster, a successful and intelligent approach is to slow down! Along the way, you’ll get healthier, prevent injury, and burn more body fat too. Traditionally, it is thought that only anaerobic training – speed work – builds speed. However, developing the aerobic system first, before attempting hard work, is ideal: you get faster without the wear and tear – and injury – that often accompanies anaerobic training. Using a heart rate monitor, a basic biofeedback device makes it even easier.

During training, a heart monitor can help athletes develop their body’s aerobic system, which includes the red, aerobic, “slow-twitch” muscle fibers. This process is referred to as building an aerobic base and is the foundation of good endurance. Especially important, is for each person to find their specific training heart rate that will allow this optimal aerobic development.

Building a great aerobic base is accomplished by training exclusively aerobic for a certain number of weeks and months. During this period, anaerobic workouts (including higher heart rate training, competition, and weight work) should be avoided. Anaerobic activity can actually impair the aerobic system, therefore, each workout during aerobic base training should be only aerobic.

The aerobic system plays a vital and primary role in all physical activity. For example, between 95 and 99% of the energy used for endurance sports, including competition, is derived from the aerobic system. This is true for events lasting more than a few minutes, and races from the mile to the marathon, and beyond. In addition to the traditional endurance events such as running, biking, and swimming, aerobic-based sports also include tennis, golf, basketball, and most others.

There may be several physiological reasons why anaerobic workouts can reduce aerobic function: Anaerobic activity can lower the number of aerobic muscle fibers, sometimes significantly. This can happen in just a few short weeks of anaerobic training. Lactic acid, produced during anaerobic work, may inhibit aerobic muscle enzymes necessary for aerobic function.

Anaerobic training increases the respiratory quotient (a measure of fat- and sugar-burning) indicating the body is burning less fat. Excess stress in any form (mental, physical, or chemical) can inhibit the aerobic system due to increases in the stress hormone cortisol. Just as important is that carbohydrate consumption can increase insulin levels, and impair fat burning and increase reliance on sugar. These topics have been discussed elsewhere.

Building a great aerobic base takes at least three months. For athletes who have lost their competitive edge, have a chronic injury or ill health, have difficulty burning body fat, or are just starting an exercise program, a longer base period – up to six months or more – may be needed. Some athletes have learned that training aerobically is all they need to compete better than ever.

This approach is sometimes difficult initially for athletes because in almost all situations training at the prescribed level is painfully slow. Our athletic culture is still entrenched in the myth of “no-pain, no gain” making proper training a mental challenge at times. But serious training requires discipline. Hang in there: improvements in speed, health, and fat burning are on the way!

Stuart has competed in triathlons from Sprint to Ironman distance. As a qualified Triathlon Australia, Australian Athletics Run Coach, and a certified Ironman coach, he is aware of the importance of balancing training with lifestyle, thus complementing other important aspects of an athlete’s life (family, work, study commitments, etc.).

Contact Stuart at rdytotri@gmail.com

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