This article excerpt was forwarded to me by another athlete. Owen Anderson is the editor/founder of Running Research News, a newsletter and website dedicated to studying all aspects of human performance. The article questions the logic of ubiquitous tradtional base-building training methodology.
As many of my training articles suggest, I find traditional endurance training dogma to be high on regurgitation value and low on critical analysis. Multi-sport in particular should be more open to considering more effective training approaches, where with three sports training the “endurance” engine there is likely to be unnecessary training redundancy.
In his article, Mr Anderson cites scientific evidence to support basic M2 training tenets:
- There are more effective ways to build base than the traditional model of LSD training.
- More focused quality training can/should be inserted early in the training cycle, using common sense and assuming the athlete pre-posseses a stable muscle structure.
- Long runs will be done more effectively and with greater training effect if prefaced with faster quality training.
Although it is not necessary to see articles like this to confirm what myself and my athletes have long known to be true, it is interesting to see research catching up with the athletes.
M2 comments below are in parentheses.
Running Research News
For runners, there is another kind of oxygen hype: We are reminded constantly, in articles in popular running magazines and in books about training, that we should first build a broad “aerobic base” before we begin carrying out any speed work. The aerobic base, defined as a rather-ample amount of mileage conducted at slow to moderate tempos, is supposed to increase the ability of muscles to utilize oxygen during running. Proponents of aerobic-basing insist that it increases the number of capillaries around muscles, ramps up the concentrations of aerobic enzymes inside muscles, and maximizes mitochondrial densities – mitochondria are the little structures inside muscles which serve as the focal points of aerobic metabolism.
The trouble with this is that just as oxygenated water does a poor job of hiking the aerobic metabolism of our muscles, moderate- to low-intensity aerobic-base training does a modest job of spiking our muscles’ aerobic characteristics. Over and over again, solid scientific research has revealed that higher-quality training – yes, dare I say it – speed training does a superior job of upgrading the aerobic propensities of the muscles in our legs, compared with traditional, building-a-base-type training.
(The above is almost verbatim from M2 Rethinking Base Training article).
Some advocates of traditional-basing may say that although it is not so good for improving aerobic capacity, it nonetheless builds a nice foundation of strength. We can admit that “aerobic-base” training builds some strength, (very little strength IMO) but unfortunately it is the kind of strength which is needed for ….. carrying out aerobic- base training. Strength, after all, is specific to speed of movement, and strength at slow velocities translates poorly to strength at faster paces. In short, the strength built through base training does not necessarily provide strength for the high-quality training which inevitably follows.
But if we put quality training ahead of volume work, won’t that increase the risk of injury? If we begin our programs by attempting to run 20 miles per week at vVO2max, this may well be the case, but if we very gradually expand our quality work, just as we would fatten slow miles with traditional base-building, the risk of injury is very low. Bear in mind that the single best predictor of injury among runners is a prior injury. The second-best predictor is not the number of miles run quickly; rather it is the total mileage run per week.
Note, too, that starting with high-quality work instead of building a traditional base would mean that longer runs would inevitably be conducted at faster paces because underlying fitness would be greater. Thus, the benefits of increasing mileage would be magnified – since average training intensity would rise.
（The above idea of doing mileage later in the training cycle, having prefaced volume with quality, is discussed in the M2 Article Training Backwards, the Pyramid Turned Upside Down. Again, this has been standard M2 practice for a dozen + years)
Unfortunately, just as high-quality running is left out of traditional base periods, so is running-specific strength training (rsst). Resistance training which mimics the mechanics of running improves fatigue-resistance and running economy – and is very likely to reduce the risk of injury. Wouldn’t this be a great thing to include in any base period? Yet, rsst is almost-never mentioned in articles about building a base. (M2 practices base training with strength and threshold/quality training – again, Rethinking Base Training article – have been doing this for more than a dozen years now)
The bottom line? It’s true that getting more oxygen to your leg muscles and enhancing the capacity of your leg muscles to utilize delivered oxygen will make you a better runner. But, oxygenated water and traditional aerobic base periods are both examples of oxygen hype. You’ll increase the oxidative capacities of your leg muscles more effectively by inserting reasonable amounts of high-quality running into your training program, right from the beginning. Adding running-specific strength training – moves which mimic various aspects of the gait cycle – to the early mix will also be very beneficial, because it will keep you away from injury and will enable you to run at higher percentages of your max aerobic capacity. The latter effect is a proven way to give your leg muscles a sizable “oxygen boost.”
(Multi-sport athletes and cyclists should consider that cycling and swimming are non-weight bearing activities, where injury risk is much less than running. Traditional base-building protocols of LSD or simply low intensity training for many months to build a base in these disciplines represents significant squandered training opportunity ).