During the off-season most endurance athletes are out there “building a base”. The purpose of the base building period is to develop basic aerobic fitness and metabolic efficiency through better fat oxidation during your specified sport activity (running, cycling, swimming). Think of the base building period as building the foundation of your house, or training your body to train, this will prepare you to recover faster from harder workouts and repeat tough interval sessions day after day, that will ultimately allow you to perform at the top of your game during your goal events months later.
Base workouts are long- 1 to 4+ hours (depending on experience/fitness), so this duration develops discipline and confidence in believing you CAN go for multiple hours that may be longer than your event at a steady pace. Your training route terrain should be fairly flat and without a lot of stop and go in order to maximize the time your heart rate stays at steady state. Be careful on competitive group runs and rides, stay disciplined, and don’t let your ego get the better of you by simulating a racing situation. Think “I will go slow so I can be fast later”…and you will.
The base building period should last between 8 and 16 weeks depending upon your level of training and fitness, those with low levels of cardiovascular fitness will spend a longer time in the base. Asides from better metabolic efficiency this period of training is great for beginners by reducing the risk of injury because of the low intensity nature allows structural reinforcement of the connective tissues along with appropriate nutrition, rest, and a sound resistance training program. Resistance training should focus on your musculoskeletal areas of weakness, correct them, and improve muscular strength and power of the primary muscles used in your discipline.
Recent research is showing that short maximal intensity efforts does improve VO2max and lactate threshold just as much as long slow distance training. This is great news for people who don’t have a lot of time to train. I support high intensity training a few sessions during the week for those who lack time, providing they are already metabolically efficient, don’t have to lose weight, and they’re not a beginner endurance athlete. High intensity training will improve your fitness greatly but the problem is it won’t keep you there. If your goal is performing in multiple events weekend after weekend (or stage events) you will have a harder time recovering after each event and performance will drop.
This time of year I suggest it is mandatory to be tested for your lactate threshold at a human performance lab and identifying your training zones based on: heart rate, power or velocity. Testing can also tell you how metabolically efficient you are, or at what workload the crossover occurs from mostly fat/CHO oxidation to substituting ATP turnover with anaerobic glycolysis.
It is difficult to stay motivated when it’s dark, cold, and windy out there, but keep in mind that what you do in these winter months will dictate your performance next June and July. Memorize your zones, stay disciplined by training within your zones, collect your data every single workout, and learn your body, watch it morph into an endurance machine.
Happy BASE Training!