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Finding The Balance: Aerobic Work Vs. High-Intensity Training

Going all-out as often as possible is not the answer.

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Q. My coach prefers more aerobic work over a lot of threshold and high-intensity training. Am I missing out?

A: I get that training in your base zone isn’t sexy, can be frustrating at times (especially when your friends #humblebrag about their hammer fests), and can feel like you’re not doing all that much. However training between 60 and 80 percent allows for similar training adaptations to the upper zones, helps balance other stressors and allows you to train consistently for long periods of time without interruptions like fatigue or injury.

Similar benefits: You’re still increasing plasma volume, lactate threshold, muscle glycogen storage and your VO2max while training in your aerobic zones. When implementing higher intensities—FTP wattage, 5–10K pace work on the run, etc.—I keep the durations fairly low and sprinkle it in when appropriate for personal development. It’s probably less time than you think.

Physical stress: Trying to balance all of life’s stressors (crabby boss, relationships, lack of sleep and training) can be very challenging. By backing off the intensity a bit, you greatly limit the risk of injury, sickness and fatigue from stretching yourself too thin. The days surrounding higher intensity will be fairly light to help balance that single day overload.

Consistency: It is far more effective to string together days, weeks, months of consistent workouts of appropriate stress versus having 2–3 smashfest workouts per week that leave you too tired or sore to do anything else. Your body fares far better with a steady load of training.

RELATED: Train Slower To Race Faster

Sample Workouts

Long ride or run with Zone 3 and 4 segments
Warm-up: 20 min easy
Remainder of ride: Repeat 5 min at 80–90 percent, 15 min low/mid-Zone 2.
Use the last few minutes to cool down.

10K build run
Warm-up: 15 min building into Zone 2
Main set (four times through): 45 sec building to 10K pace (last 30 sec at 10K effort), 4:15 in low/mid-Zone 2
Cool-down: 5 min easy jog
Follow up with 3×50-meter strides, with a walking recovery back to the starting point.

Andrew Shanks is the head triathlon coach at Concordia University and founder of Shanks Coaching in Germantown, Wis. He also has a master’s degree in exercise science.

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