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Basic Endurance Training 101

This article was written for professional and elite level cross-country ski racers in Norway. It is an excellent article and has many applications to other disciplines of endurance training. The training plan carries over best to bike racing and triathlon training. Endurance runners will find that they have trouble maintaining the quantity of training prescribed in this plan. If the runner is suitable motivated, we recommend adding a significant amount of cross training to build up the total volume of the training being completed.

When using this training program for marathon training choosing acceptable cross training is important. Cycling, hiking, and cross country skiing are probably the best cross training exercises for runners. However, care must be taken to avoid excess development of upper body muscles not used in running and muscle imbalances. Adding cycling to a running training program will cause an overdevelopment in the quadriceps and glutious maximus muscles. Care should be taken to lift weights in the gym to also build the hamstring muscles. In addition, care must be taken to use keep a high cadence when cycling in order to keep the ability of running with a fast, quick stride.

The general training philosophies of the Scandinavian system are presented below.

- Most of the training should be endurance training and should be done at below lactate threshold (LT) intensities.
- Build the program around weekly high intensity training/intervals.
- In General, Avoid "Middle of The Chart" Intensities.

I think that before I delve into this topic in more detail, I need to describe lactate threshold a little better. In races lasting from 30 minutes to 1 hour, well trained athletes also perform at an intensity above LT, but by a small margin. Consider your LT as the pace that is 4-5 minutes below your 10k time. Thus, when we say “training should be done below the LT threshold intensity,” we don’t necessarily mean “go easy”. We mean that you should not be going all out. Runners World magazine refers to this pace as “slightly below marathon race pace.”

The volume of training at this intensity can be quite high. At the extreme, these sessions can be 4-5 hours long in elite athletes who are accumulating 25 hours a week of training volume. For XC ski racing, if something has to be reduced, it is the low intensity volume, not the interval volume or quality. The operative Norwegian word here is "overskudd" or overshoot. We want the athlete to feel psychologically ready and be physically rested to perform those hard, high quality sessions. In IronMan and marathon races, the endurance part is more important than in XC skiing. However, the importance of completing quality intervals cannot b e overstated.

The low intensity training is vital because it builds the muscular endurance foundation necessary to allow the cardiovascular system and lactate removal systems to be stretched to their limits during the intervals without overstressing the recovery capacity of the athlete. Only 10-15 years ago, elite training programs paid almost less attention to the training intensity, instead focusing on the duration.

The primary adaptation achieved with a high volume of low-moderate intensity training is at the muscular level. Mitochondrial density increases, capillary density increases, and cyctosolic enzymes involved in fat metabolism are enhanced. It appears that these adaptations can take years to be fully realized. Large volumes of endurance training cause improvements without the pain of lactate acid. You can stress your endurance training system without feeling the “burn” that you get from excess accumulations of lactate in the muscles.

High intensity interval training is not an ideal method for inducing muscular adaptations such as mitochondrial proliferation and increased capillary density. The adaptations induced by high intensity sessions occur relatively quickly, but are also more quickly lost with inadequate volume of high intensity training. Despite the fact that the very best junior skiers have VO2 max values that are similar to the best senior skiers, no junior skier has ever won a world title. The increasing training volume that is adapted to over several years of high level training seems to be important, even after VO2 max has plateaued.

Top skiers are now reaching their peaks later in life. In Norway, it has been suggested that one of the problems is that junior skiers do not put in the training volume they used to. Kenyan children are putting in higher training volumes than Westerners have who as a result, chase them from a widening distance.

Cross country (XC) skiing races are won by athletes with very high maximal aerobic capacity. These athletes have the ability to utilize a high amount of oxygen while exercising in an aerobic state. This ability requires both good genes and hard training.

The Scandinavians generally complete two interval sessions per week. These interval sessions focused on intervals in the three to eight minute range. This 2 hard session/week rule of thumb is a consistent feature from the junior level all the way up to the international class. Actually training volumes for elite juniors were in the 1.6 to 1.9 sessions per week range. International medal winning athletes who are 10 years older or more and competing at the international level, are still averaging 2 hard sessions per week, according to their coach. The jumiors (skiers in the 18-19 year old range) skied around 9hrs per week during the competitive phase of their year, more in the prepatory phase. Intervals should be completed in all but the off season. The Olympic athlete skied more.

In XC skiing, intervals are not emphasized in May, June, and July. In bike racing and triathlons, it is generally advantageous to avoid hard intervals in the months October, November and December. Hard intervals are a very important part of a training program. However, it is important to realize that they are just that - a part of the training program. High volume, low-intensity work builds the basis for extending the athlete's performance capacity with the hard sessions. The two are complementary. At the elite levels, both are necessary for success.

The interval/hard sessions have the primary effect of stressing the cardiovascular system. These sessions also are important for stressing the lactate clearance and buffering systems which are stressed during competitions.

The Progressive Overload Principle In Action Here are some guidelines for yearly training volume (hours of actual training), in relation to age. These numbers come from material presented by current Norwegian men's national team coach Eric Røste.
Annual Training Volume in Relation to Age:
12-13 250 hours
14-15 300
16 380
17-18 ? dependant on maturation
19 520
20 580
22 650
25 750
Upper limit (males) approx. 1000

When the training is broken down into percentages of hard and "easy" training, it comes out to around 15 to 20% hard and 75-80% "easy" or "steady." Coach Røste also points out that there is some hidden intensive training that occurs during the long steady state bouts (big terrain changes).

I hesitate to use the term "easy" this describe this low intensity form of training. The actual Norwegian term used is "langkjøring" or long running. Distance, not time is of the essence here. As seen above, it is still far removed from a casual walk around a lake and a three hour bike ride doesn’t count if it included five 10minute rest breaks.

This point is important, if we Train too hard on the easy days, we soon find that we are worn out and end up training too easy on the hard days. The hard days are the most important ones, and we need to be sure that we can train well on these days. You might think of the endurance training as providing a base that you can use to work out hard on your hard days. If you ride to hard on your base days, instead of making it easier to go hard on your hard days, you will be worn out and have to take it easy.


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