Is it necessary and how much is enough?
All cyclists have heard the term "base training" and most understand this to be a period in the training plan (or just because everyone else seems to be doing it) where riders head out to "log some K's". Apart from the rather abstract objective of "building endurance" what is it that we are trying to achieve? And how much base (if any) should cyclists do?
In a nutshell, base training involves cycling for long periods of time at an intensity that is below the lactate threshold, or at a relatively comfortable pace. The thinking is that this type of riding stimulates aerobic pathways and increases efficiency, in some way preparing the rider for the higher intensity work that will come later. Base training is part of just about any endurance training plan (for all sports) that employs a structured, "periodised" approach. So far so good.
The real question is not whether or not a road cyclist needs to do base training (almost ALL do), the more important issue is how much base is best? Most age group cyclists are a little time poor and base training is incompatible with busy lives. The last thing time-strapped cyclists need is to be spending time on the bike that is producing little benefit, or worse still, counter-productive. So, what does one do?
A physiological assessment can allow a coach to measure aerobic efficiency (AE) and it is this AE that (mostly) determines the need for base training. Cyclists with very low AE MUST do a significant amount of base training, those with very good AE can get away with doing less. AE is a product (again mostly) of recent and long term training as well as genetics and (despite the influence of DNA) it is highly trainable. If AE is very good then a rider is able to spend more time during pre-competitive training, doing sessions to build strength or even work on skills.
So, as with most things in sports conditioning (strength, power, fatigue-resistance) the key is knowing your own unique physiology and the ONLY way to do that is have it tested. A small time and money investment will yield a MUCH greater result than any new frame or set of wheels on the planet.
If you are local to the Gold Coast and would like to organise a test (or just chat about it) feel free to email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Bubba Cooke
Exercise Physiologist, coach & cycling tragic for 30 years. Love the freedom, reward and sense of achievement that one can only experience in our amazing sport.