More on “Aerobic Base”

I asked Jack Blatherwick to address his viewpoint on establishing an aerobic base. Jack is with the Washington Capitols and was conditioning coach for six American Olympic Ice Hockey teams including the 1980 “Miracle Team”). The following is his response:

Establishing an aerobic base

by Jack Blatherwick, Ph.D

This question comes up often: is it appropriate for young sprinters and athletes in sprint-interval team sports to establish an aerobic base with long, slow distances?

With few exceptions -- perhaps professional athletes recovering from an intense season -- the answer is "NO," for the following reasons:

1) The word "base" is used inappropriately quite often. For sprinters, of course the most important base would be speed -- in concert with strength and power. It is a waste of time -- and perhaps counterproductive -- to train with long slow distances. Aerobic/cardiovascular fitness is essential for all young athletes, of course. The important question is how to acquire it.

For most team sports the definition of endurance (or "in shape") would include ... the ability to compete just as FAST and SKILLFULLY at the end of a game as at the beginning. The key words (FAST, SKILLFULLY) should determine how one would train for an endurance base in these sports.

2) Regarding team sports that require skill and athleticism, the mistake made by many fitness coaches is to "compartmentalize" the training into separate workouts -- aerobic endurance, anaerobic power, anaerobic endurance, skill, agility, strength, etc. etc. etc. Of course in a game, all of these attributes are required at the same time, so we should be looking for more ways to incorporate the various elements into "integrated workouts."

Compartmentalizing the metabolic training is analogous to isolating each muscle separately in our strength workouts, and it is just as non-productive.

Attempting to identify which portion of the endurance and performance in a team sport is "aerobic" or "anaerobic" often leads to compartmentalized training. Athletes who follow this mythical tradition in preparing for a season, invariably will say, "I did a lot of endurance training this summer, but I don't feel like I'm in HOCKEY SHAPE or GAME SHAPE." Their terminology is much more profound than the Latin words (aerobic/anaerobic), and should cause us to re-think our training advice.

Furthermore, anaerobic interval training is highly aerobic, and can be a more intense cardiovascular workout than what fitness gurus would call a "cardio" workout. College hockey players doing six weeks of dryland training composed of "anaerobic intervals" for quickness and power made greater gains in aerobic and cardiovascular measures than if they had trained with aerobic distances for the same period (see Overspeed.Info and click to Recent Articles).

3) Establishing a metabolic base: It is well known from scientific research, that much of the supply of energy during an anaerobic workout is aerobic. Note: the only way an anaerobic workout could be truly anaerobic is if we didn't breathe!!! Oxygen utilization is high, and slow twitch muscle fibers are supplied with carbohydrate from lactate produced in fast-twitch, glycolytic fibers. This process is called the Cori cycle (do a Google search) and for team sports like hockey, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, football, etc. this is the metabolic "base" upon which endurance is built.

4) There is a neuromuscular consequence for everything we do -- including endurance workouts. This means we are forming habits at all times -- physiological habits that might be very difficult to break. If marathoners do too much long distance training, they establish a comfort zone, running below their anaerobic threshold. To improve times, they must run faster, of course, above their threshold -- and there are quite severe respiratory and cardiovascular consequences. This is a physiological habit, not a psychological one, and "speed" work must incorporate intervals to elevate the comfort zone.

Patterns of slow strides are imprinted just as "permanently" into our neuromuscular memory as the quick strides that a sprinter would like to record. Just as a golfer would not intend to include repetition after repetition of "bad" swings when he practices, neither would a sprinter.

5) Recent research shows that "game-like" endurance training is highly productive for team sports. Most coaches would have as their goal for training … "to prepare my team to compete faster, more skillfully, without decrement for a longer time."

Given this, it is obvious we should re-think our compartmentalized approach and add "overspeed practice." This means pushing the team out of their present comfort zone -- to perform skills and make read-react decisions at a faster pace, using appropriate intervals. Then, as the training season progresses, increase the length of the intervals and total length of the overspeed practice.

This approach certainly does not include long, slow distances, because "slow" is not part of the mission.


At 3/13/08, 7:36 PM, Blogger Charles R. said...

This is a great post, and my experience says it's absolutely true.

I was training a world-class volleyball player a few years back. She moved to another city (Chicago) to play for a professional team, so I didn't work with her for a month or so. When we finally got back together a lot of her explosiveness was gone.

I asked her what the heck she was doing. She said that she couldn't run outside and do any kind of sprint program, so she was using a stair stepper inside because that was the only workout she could do.

It was so obvious that training slow had made her slow, but it had happened gradually so she hadn't really noticed. As soon as she stopped the stair-stepper, her speed and explosiveness started coming back.

At 3/13/08, 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post by Dr. Blatherwick! I couldn't agree more...save for a BRIEF time in the initial off-season program where I recommend general aerobic conditioning to re-establish fitness following a long, grueling season and a period of active rest, metabolic system specificity is the focus the rest of the summer. Train like you play!

Mike Bahn

At 3/13/08, 8:56 PM, Blogger Dr Craig S. Duncan said...

Great Post Vern Thanks and great to hear from someone with so much success and experience speak so much simple sense. Thanks again for your must read site

At 3/17/08, 11:19 AM, Blogger Swim Coach Tom Sweeney said...

A thought-provoking comment that raises questions.

1. Is an endurance base inappropriate for young (9-12 e.g.) competitive swimmers?
2. Need one choose, at the outset of a season for age group swimmers, between steady, continuous swims and various paced efforts, including intervals? Why can’t both be employed? Jack’s point #2 seems to suggest using both (integrated workouts).
3. In swimming it has been shown that technique rather than power/strength is most important.
4. Is slow swimming to learn proper technique appropriate?
5. What are the dangers/consequences to young athletes of a steady diet of interval training?
6. A “new” term, turbulence training seems to indicate that young athletes can benefit from integrated workouts that include some endurance distances as well as a range of interval training, e.g. 15-20 yards true sprinting, swim-active recovery of 30 seconds, a minute, 1.5 minutes, 2 minutes and then back down again.

At 3/19/08, 12:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vern, Sorry to digress a little, but since we are talking about GPP and building work capacity, what are your thoughts on Army style obstacle courses as a training tool for GPP in sports? Is this not a dangerous and unregulated way to train and risk of injury is high? I mean climbing an 8 feet wall and jumping down etc. is really unnecessary unless the trainee is training to climb walls?


Post a Comment

<< Home