How hard is easy?

My training philosophy is to keep all long, easy distance workouts focused on the easy part. My academic experience and applied experience with athletes who work too hard on the easy distance workouts get fatigued earlier and the quality of their intensity workouts and racing is sub-standard.

I follow a system I learned about from a Norwegian cross-country ski coach I worked for a few years ago. For those of you unfamiliar with Norway’s national sport of cross-country skiing, the demands on athletes are remarkably similar to open ocean paddling. You need a huge aerobic base to learn the basic motor skills and ability to adapt to the terrain, all embedded in the basic need to cover the race duration (10 minutes through 3+ hours). At the same time you need a big
anaerobic capacity to handle the variable load and constant accelerations needed to maintain speed over small obstacles. For the record, xc skiers are often cited as being the most aerobically fit athletes anywhere with peak VO2 values for men in the high 80’s, with a few genetic freaks in the high 90’s.

All of the Norwegian coaching resources emphasize that aerobic fitness adaptation need to take place in an aerobic environment at speeds/effort levels that encourage aerobic adaptations in the muscles. Physiologically, if the muscles work a little too hard (not necessarily at or close to anaerobic threshold) they become a little more acidic. A little more acidity in a muscle compromises the efficiency of the aerobic mechanisms. This reduces the effectiveness of the training focus.

At first training speed are very, very slow in order to ensure the exercise in aerobic. However, with a couple of months you will be getting faster at your aerobic training speed. If you diligently keep
it up long enough you will eventually approach your old race pace, and you will feel little effort in doing so. The training benefits to your technique in being able to train at near distance race pace with little fatigue are immeasurable.

I remember talking to one of our biathletes (ski – shoot) who commented on how fast some of the top Germans (i.e. Wold’s best biathletes) did their easy training, and his temptation was to train at similar speeds. However, the athletes in question had been under a systematic aerobic training program since age 12 or younger and had built up over 20 years of solid aerobic base as described above. For them it was easy training, for our guys it was close to race pace and a slippery slope to overtraining.

In some cases easy may start with a HR of 110-120 and 4 mph, then adapt to 110-130 within a few months and 4 to 4.5 mph. Within a few years it may be easy training at a HR of 110-165 and 6 to 7.5 mph.

Unfortunately, many athletes today want a quick fix to distance racing (or sprint racing) and there is no quick fix. It takes work, lots of work over a long period of time. This may be one reason why top paddlers are not always the fit younger ones, and the older guys can hold their own.

You’ll hear all sorts of training theories and each may be as good as the next. Whichever one you choose to follow, make sure it agrees with the rest of your training program (i.e. intensity, race pace work, etc.).

Cliff Claven voice, “It’s a little known fact Narmy that international calibre xc skiers on top National Teams are not expected to do well in World Cup / Championships races until they are in their mid to late 30’s. And some stay at the top for 10 years or more.”

Alan Carlsson
Engineered Athlete Services

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