It’s time to build your base - period
It’s time. It’s time to get organized and get going. Yes, the snow is here and the play should continue – if that is what you are about – but it’s time to take your fitness and your sports performance to the next level.
I’m talking to the fitness enthusiast all the way to the performance athlete. Whatever your exercise connection, the advice I am about to give is tried and true, well-tested, espoused by coaches smarter than I am, proven by results and applicable to any endeavor.
Periodization is the practice of dividing a certain block of time into segments emphasizing different aspects of training in order to prepare one for a specific event or season. Periodized training first builds a base for the work that is to follow, then includes an increase in strength and speed training, peaks for performance and then recovers with active rest. Whether you periodize the entire year to accommodate a season or whether you periodize months to prepare for one of several specific events or goals, the concept is all the same.
January is traditionally the Base Building Period. On a recent visit to the Livestrong website, I found “The Basics of Periodization Training” by Brad Kearns in which the author explains the Base Building Period. “Base training kicks off the annual training cycle. Here, you pursue workouts that are low in intensity and provide a general fitness benefit. For example, an endurance athlete will engage in aerobically paced workouts that prelude the more intense race-pace work in the peak season. Athletes who specialize in a particular sport will engage in numerous forms of cross training, including the strength and circuit training that provide an excellent strength and muscular endurance foundation for every sport.”
What does all this mean? Assuming you are neither a couch potato nor a competitive athlete, this will work for you.
For up to 12 or even 16 weeks at the beginning of a training year, it is wise to take the time to build a strong base for cardiovascular, muscular and mental endurance. Anyone, even the casual exerciser, benefits from wearing a heart rate monitor. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to show you your heart rate, or exercise intensity, as you progress through this period.
You will want to choose an activity in which your intensity can be managed and your effort can be continuous. For example, walking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, skating, swimming, Spinning® training, or use of indoor exercise machines will provide a venue in which you can determine your effort level (or heart rate) and sustain that intensity over the duration of time.
Your intensity will be moderate. Your heart rate should be within a range of 65 to 75 percent of your maximum. If you use RPE (rate of perceived exertion), on a scale of 1-10, your exertion should be rated as 6 to 7. This is not the time for sprints or steep climbs. It is the time for steady, rhythmic movement that teaches the heart, muscles and mind to become more efficient and effective.
Think back to your high school or college biology class. Do you remember that there are two energy production systems in your body that make your muscles work? One is the aerobic (the tortoise) and the other is the anaerobic (the hare). Consistent moderate stress to the body that requires oxygen is fueled largely by stored body fat. By teaching your body through practice to streamline the use of fat as fuel helps your body to streamline itself and build lean muscles while reducing fat. This is the aerobic system, the system that you are training during the process of Base Building.
In addition to improving performance, (though it seems counterintuitive, yes, base building ultimately improves speed), training in the aerobic zone results in lower heart rate, higher stroke volume, lower blood pressure and other benefits that are realized when the most important muscle in your body – your heart muscle – is strengthened. Aerobic exercise has been credited as helping prevent and treat many diseases while functioning as a powerful antidote to stress and depression. Motivation is stimulated, lethargy is reversed, recovery is faster and a sense of well-being or confidence result.
Anaerobic training, on the other hand, is that burst of maximum effort that requires available carbohydrate to fuel the all-out sprint or power. It is short-lived and supremely taxing, rapidly depleting the energy produced in the muscle. In a sport that depends on explosive performance, as well as an endurance sport, intervals of speed and intensity are mandatory – just not during the Base Building Period.
As you embark on the foundation of your sports performance or even holiday weight loss, keep in mind that determination, focus and self-discipline are needed. A proper assessment of your effort is a must. The dual pitfalls of working either too hard or too easily are common. You must remember, on one hand, that as you increase your fitness, your heart rate training zone numbers will rise so you will need to ramp it up a bit to stay in the moderate zone and not lounge about in the easy zone. On the other hand, the most common fault of the more fit is to work too hard. It is easy to grow impatient. Don’t.
Work diligently to build endurance. At the same time, add functional core training to your planned weekly exercise. This is the time to create a well-balanced machine to be driven later in the season.
Dr. Michael Yessis (2008) in his Secrets of Russian Sports Fitness and Training, stated “Endurance can be divided into two categories including general endurance and specific endurance. It can be shown that endurance in sport is closely tied to the execution of skill and technique. A well-conditioned athlete can be defined as the athlete who executes his or her technique consistently and effectively with the least effort.” (emphasis supplied; from Wikipedia) May you be that athlete.