The Point Of Base Training

Lots of long slow distance. Well, that is what most people think of when they think of base training. It forms the basis of so many training programs and has been popularised in the running community by the misinterpretation of Lydiard's training principles. I don't believe Lydiard advocated distance runs at slow paces just for the sake of volume, instead there was more structure and he used the term "best aerobic pace." Check out the article Miles Makes Champions. It is generally considered that the more low-intensity, high volume training you get behind you, then the better and bigger your peak can be after you add in some speed work.

This approach does work for many people, but for me I find it a path leading to overtaining and injury. Plus I now have to keep a limit on my total training hours due to other committments in my life. This begs the question of how do I approach my base training. In an attempt to find an answer and develop a sound approach I eventually thought to ask, "What is the point of base training?"

I tossed around a few ideas that included:

  • to develop the aerobic engine
  • increase exercise tolerance
  • enhance fuel metabolism
  • develop ability to go the distance

None of these quite satisfied me. They were just individual components that did not encompass all aspects of base training. I took a different angle. Base training is performed before the more specific training. Sounds obvious. The ability to handle compeitition specific training is enhanced by a good base training period. Again this seemed obvious. Therefore, a suitable definition of base training would be:

To develop a well balanced athlete capable of optimally
responding to the stress of competition specific training.

Following this definition I consider base training to be a period of building up the body across all areas of fitness. It involves gradually extending the body's ability to tolerate training stress, while taking care not to provide too much of an overload to invoke the risk of injury, reduce the immune response or cause too fast an adaptation which will develop an early peak in fitness. One way of achieving this is through a prolonged and gradual increase in the volume of low-intensity training. I fault this one-sided philosphy. I believe it neglects the other important requirements in developing a well balanced athlete.

Low intensity training does not develop the different fast-twitch muscle fibres, the specific neuromuscular recruitment patterns required for fast movement, the ability to metabolise fats at race pace, or the ability of the connective tissues to handle the high force loads of racing fast. The solution is a simple one. Include an aspect of all fitness requirements throughout base training. That is include some fast high intensity work, mixed with strength and plyometric training, enhance static and dynamic flexibility, develop the different indicators of aerobic performance from pure endurance, abilities at around the so-called anaerobic threshold and ability to handle VO2max paces.

The trick here, is to be very careful with the load of individual sessions, plus the overall weekly load. In order to keep things simple, and based on my previous training experience, if a session takes no more than one day to fully recover from (meaning I should feel capable of repeating the session two days later), then it is probably appropriate. With the exception of the occasional race, if more recovery is required, then I am training too hard.

This does not mean all training sessions feel easy. In fact, I expect to be hurting during a fair amount of my training, but I also expect to be able to recover quickly and not be dreading the next day of training.

Because my roster changes a few times over the next two months, I am unable to outline a typical week of training. Instead I offer the components I plan to include in each 6-10 day period. For the shorted weeks I will combine two sessions into one. For example, instead of running a threshold run one day and a VO2 max bike ride the next, I would change it to a brick set of say 4x3min VO2 on the bike followed by a 20-30 run at threshold pace. It's not set in stone, and I believe the variety will help too.

Here are my components of base training:

  • Swim straight aerobic swim, progressing from 1000-2500m
  • Swim balance drills plus AT set of say 10x100 with short recovery
  • Swim stroke drills plus short VO2 set of 3x200m with long recovery
  • Bike long aerobic (don't worry about heart rate too much) of 3-4 hours
  • Bike AT of 2x20min or 1x30min
  • Bike VO2 of 4-6x3-5min plus some sprints
  • Run long aerobic at 70-80%HRmax of 2.5-3 hours
  • Run AT of 2x20min or 1x30min
  • Run VO2 of 3-5x1000-2000m, plus some sprints
  • Plyometrics
  • Weights full body general x2
  • Extra core strength/shoulder stability work
  • Optional extra aerobic cycling if feeling good

"The future belongs to the competent.It belongs to those who are very,very good at what they do.It does not belong to the well meaning." - Brian Tracy


  1. I'm glad I ran across your blog. That has to be one of the most clear and concise definitions of base training I've ever seen.

  2. JPrunner here. Thanks for this info I sheds some interesting light on what I have been struggling with. Great perspective and definition.


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