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The Fundamentals of off Season Aerobic Base Training

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

What is aerobic base training? And, why is it important?

For those of us living in the Northern hemisphere, it's crucial that we brave the elements. Making sure we get adequate time in the saddle. Aerobic base training is a key phase of training where the primary focus is placed on building a strong level of aerobic “base” fitness.

It forms the first phase of any endurance training block, typically November through to January. In this way, it serves as the “foundational stage”, as it sets the support framework for future training blocks. And specifically, for the more intense and event specific training that will follow in the later phases of training.

As such:

''Developing a greater foundation of base fitness is considered fundamental for achieving peak performance.''

1. Base training should focus on low and moderate intensities

During base training, the majority of training should focus on low and moderate intensities. In fact, we know that most elite endurance athletes tend to complete as much as 80% of their training at these intensities.

The rationale behind this approach is that by keeping the majority of training at low intensities, you are able to build a larger foundation of aerobic fitness, reduce the risk of injuries, and improve recovery. You will also be better conditioned for more intense and race specific training.

2. Base training should be progressive

Whilst aerobic base training often focuses on aerobic fitness and conditioning, the overall focus is not always significantly different from other training phases. Rather, it’s the emphasis placed on certain key sessions that changes, as we move towards the preparatory and competition phases. For instance, often there is a progression towards increased race pace training, or high intensity interval training.

With base training, the progression takes the form of a gradual and progressive increase in training volume, rather than an increase in intensity. This should involve a gradual increase in weekly and monthly training volume. It should also involve a gradual progression in the volume of individual training sessions, such as your weekly long endurance ride.

3. More base training = greater peak performance

The more attention you place on developing aerobic base fitness, the greater your endurance potential.

This can be better understood by considering the training phases as a pyramid structure, with base training forming the base of the pyramid. As you move up the pyramid we'll see an increase in intensity.

When viewed this way, you can appreciate how having a wider base to the pyramid (greater level of base conditioning) allows for a higher peak, or greater race performance level.

While, there are a number of different approaches used to develop an efficient aerobic base, the main emphasis is on developing aerobic fitness and conditioning.

The main difference between approaches comes down to how much emphasis, a coach or athlete, places on other areas of performance – strength, power, speed etc – during base training.

4. Intensity is still important

One important consideration is: successful endurance athletes, still include intense training during the base phase. After all, if a training method works, then why would you only use it during one phase of training?

Whilst, intense training should still feature during base training, there tends to be less emphasis on race specific training.

The key point here is:

While the emphasis may change during different training phases, you still need to include all key training elements within each phase of your plan.

In this way, it’s important to continue to work across a range of different intensities including:

  • Submaximal intervals

  • VO2max intervals

  • Supramaximal intervals

  • Sprint Intervals

5. Use this opportunity to develop strength

In addition to building aerobic fitness, the base phase of training is often used to develop strength and conditioning. And with good reason: the base training phase is actually one of the best phase's for endurance athletes to develop strength.

When we do this, we set ourselves for greater long term performance gains.

This can be through specific endurance focussed strength training such as hill repeats or lower cadence cycling, or using more traditional forms of strength training such as weights, circuits or core strength exercises.

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