Why Base Training?

Posted by James Greenwood | 11:37 AM | , , | View Comments

We often hear talk of "..developing your Aerobic base" or "increasing your Aerobic fitness base", and in many books and articles training for an endurance event starts with training sessions that are aimed at improving your Aerobic Fitness.

Being the diligent individuals we all are, we go and spend a few hours each week training at a low heart rate, keeping our output at a level that will not elevate the heart rate or allow the accumulation of Lactic Acid to occur.


You may have wondered if these training sessions are completely necessary. Surely to get fitter, you need to training harder or in order to go faster you need to train faster.

Well the logic makes sense, unfortunately the opposite is in fact true.

Before we look at few of the most important reasons to continually train to develop your Aerobic fitness base, I would like to look at 3 important Principles of training (there are many others, but these 3 are the "main ones"), that will help you better understand the importance of Base conditioning:

1. The Specificity principle:
One of, if not, the most important principles in the Sport Sciences is the principle of Specificity. What it points to, is that the training stimulus should be specific to the sport being taken part in .

There are 3 important areas that must be kept in mind:
  1. Specificity of Energy Systems - in road running the predominant energy systems are the Aerobic energy pathways. Obviously a certain amount of Anaerobic training is incorporated into the program too.
  2. Specificity of the mode of training - as a long distance runner, running should be the primary activity used in training. Cycling could be used for cross training purposes.
  3. Specificity of the muscle groups and movement patterns - The biomechanics of the training should be similar or the same as the actual movement of the sport (Hip extension and Hip Flexion etc).
2. The Progression principle:
We have all heard of athletes who have, at the last minute, decided to take part in an event, without sufficient time to prepare for it. They have trained very hard, over the short amount of time available to them, and have either had a terrible race, or have ended up with injury.

They tried to do "To much to soon" and the body was unable to cope with, and adapt to the stress placed upon it.

The end result - Dysfunction and ultimately breakdown.

3. The Adaptation principle:
The body requires a certain amount of stress stimuli placed upon it to force it to adapt to the new demands imposed upon it.

Each system (Muscular, Skeletal, Cardio-Respiratory) requires a different amount of time to adapt to the training stimulus.

With a progressive increase (progression principle) in training volume or intensity, the body will improve steadily without the risk of injury.

Armed with this knowledge, let's go into a little more detail on the importance of Base conditioning.

Working at lower intensities for progressively longer periods of time, allows the body sufficient time to adapt to the Training stimulus.

The Muscular system adapts a lot faster to stress and imposed demands placed upon it, than the Skeletal system . This means that even though the muscle might be capable of handling a 60 minute moderate paced run, the bones, ligaments and tendons might not be, and this can lead to inflammation or ultimately things such as stress fractures and other injuries.

Base training makes sure the Principle of Specificity of Energy Systems is taken into account when training.

The primary energy pathways used during your running event is the Aerobic pathway - Carbohydrate and Fats are used for energy.

Developing the bodies ability to use a greater amount of Fat and rely less on Carbohydrates, means you will be able to continue running for longer, without "running out" of energy.

It also means that that your body becomes a more efficient system, using less energy to do more work.

On that note, keep in mind that increased concentrations of Lactic Acid in the body "shut down" the bodies ability to process and use Fat as an energy source, so keeping activity at a lower intensity has a direct impact on what energy source the body is able to use.

Your Aerobic Base is like the foundation of a building. If it is a shallow foundation, the building will not be stable.

The larger the Base, the better you will be able to tolerate the higher intensity demands placed on your Physiological systems later in the program.

Your Aerobic Base is not created over a season, or 2. It is developed over many season od training, and takes time and patience to develop.

If you are thinking that training slow = racing slow, then you are 100% correct. HOWEVER - there is a time and a place for everything, and right now is not the time to be thinking about speed.

As the program progresses toward your event, there will be a change in focus from the Aerobic to the Anaerobic, from the slow to the faster.

A good level of Aerobic conditioning will allow you to get the most out of your Interval training when it begins, later on in your training program.

So for now, just go slow!

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at MyPypeline.com, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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