Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Endurance Training

Being more than a little excited from viewing the Taupo Ironman event over the weekend, I decided to write up a short but fairly comprehensive training guide for endurance athletes to get them started.  This was meant as a starting place for some students at my school who are interested in endurance training.  I also thought there was enough value to share this here.  
If you want to download a pdf of this info (2 pages) you can download the file here.  

Endurance Training
The focus of good endurance training is on forming a lifestyle which develops:
  1. Your aerobic energy system
  2. Fat burning capabilities (fat is a primary aerobic fuel),and 
  3. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle to ensure over-training does not occur

Think of nutrition as more about taking in the right drugs/nutrients which control your hormones the best (and less as just fuel).  Your hormones control fat burning, energy levels, growth, and much more.  The right mix gets your body functioning best which is essential for physical and mental performance.

For best performance: eat the right balance of protein, low GI (slow release) carbohydrates, and fat (about ⅓ of your energy from each) + a good mix of vitamins and minerals (rainbow of veges).  Unprocessed foods, as close to natural as possible, is the best source of quality nutrients.  Sugar, including most fruits, is to be avoided.  Processed dairy is also to be avoided (runny whipping cream + unprocessed cheese is okay).

Find your maximum heart rate to train at and spend your training session at the intensity which keeps your heart rate within about 10 beats of this.  If age 16 or less, use 165 as your max.  Otherwise 180 minus your age and modify if needed:

If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, a rough guide is training at an intensity low enough that you can breathe comfortably through your nose.  A cheap heart-rate monitor is worth investing in (less than $50 on TradeMe sometimes or cheaper and with free shipping from

Spend 15 minutes warming up and 15 minutes cooling down at about 20 to 30 beats below your max, e.g. for me for a 1hr training: 15 minutes at about 120 beats per minute + 30 minutes between 139-149 + 15 minutes at about 120.

Training this way encourages development of slow-twitch (aerobic) muscle fibres, development of mitochondria (which convert fuel to energy in your muscle cells), and development of capillarisation (provides nutrients + fuel to muscles).  As you develop, this means you go faster at the same heart rate and your recovery improves.

Effective training includes enough rest to allow recovery from effort and adaptation of your body (to better cope with your training load).  Life is full of more stresses and physically draining activities than merely training.  Because of this you need to consider the rest of your life when allowing for rest.  

A busy social life, work, study, sports, etc. all contribute to stresses on your body.  Ensuring plenty of sleep and appropriately scheduled days off is essential to performance gains.

Two quick ways to know if something in your training plan is amiss (too much training, too intense training, poor nutrition):

  1. It will become increasingly difficult to motivate yourself to train.  Training should be pleasurable and you should end a training session “energised”
  2. Your performance will decrease according to a standard test (which you should try to perform monthly)
How to test your progress
Improvement will show when you can maintain a faster pace at the same heart rate.  This means your body is working more efficiently.  To test your fitness, warm up properly and then record your time every kilometer for 5 or 6 km while staying in your aerobic range (10 beats below your max).  You should notice improvement from month to month, even if it is small.  If you see no improvement over 2 or 3 successive tests then it is time to reassess your nutrition, training plan, or stresses.  You might be ready for some higher intensity anaerobic training, e.g. sprint interval training.

Sample training journal
The length of the training session includes your warm up and cool down period.  If you only have a half an hour just warm up and cool down - it’s still worth it.
DateLength of Session (min)Notes
(how I felt before, during, after - technique ideas - etc)

Further resources: (20 time Ironman finisher) (Coach of legendary Ironman athlete Mark Allen) (Peter Attia - endurance swimmer)