base training

We hear everyone talking about base training, but what is it and when is it applied?

Base training is the first and foremost priority of an ‘off-season.’ It is an opportunity to develop your aerobic base while you give yourself a well-deserved ‘break’ from hammering away, both mentally and physically. In its essence, it’s endurance training during your off-season. And yes, you DO need an ‘off-season.’

Base conditioning workouts are higher in volume and lower in intensity, training specifically your aerobic system (without training your anaerobic system). These training sessions are performed at a lower % of your heart rate max (HRmax) (around 60-75% of your HRmax), and the period lasts anywhere from 6-12+ weeks depending on your season.

So, what happens during base training? 

Let’s look at the science behind it—or rather, what’s happening inside your body.

During base training, muscular adaptions occur and improve the delivery of oxygen to the muscles and increase mitochondrial density. Mitochondria are like little power motors of your cells that produce energy by using the glucose that you have stored or consume (via carbohydrates) and turn them into energy (ATP). The denser these little motors are, the more efficient your body will be to convert energy into a useable form for your working muscles—increased mitochondrial density = faster and longer training sessions.

During this training cycle, we also increase capillary density, which allows for growth. Our capillaries (part of the body’s vascular network) increase oxygen and nutrient flow to the muscle fibers they surround; therefore, if they become denser, they will deliver more oxygen to your muscles, which means faster repair for your muscles (faster recovery = sooner next sessions = gainz!)

In addition, aerobic training increases the stroke volume of your heart, which allows for more blood per beat. More blood=more oxygen to your muscles! More oxygen to your muscles, longer sustainable aerobic performance.

Just from the above, you can see how at a cellular level, things are changing to help improve your ‘base’ levels. These are things that SLOWLY adapt, and you (obviously) can’t seem them happening, but rest assured, they are!

With proper base training, you can support your entire body, at the very small and powerful cellular level, for your entire upcoming season. How cool is that?!

Nutrition During Base Training

As far as nutrition goes during aerobic training, your body is now improving its ability to use fats as the main fuel source (rather than carbohydrates, which anaerobic performance uses). The GOAL is to allow the body to get used to using fast as fuels (and, in turn, teaching it how to store glycogen for later use). Fat has been shown to reach the highest rate of oxidation at 62-63% of VO2 max and is inhibited around 75%, which is why it’s so important to understand your HRmax and monitor your training zones while in different areas of your season (to be able to utilize these fuels properly).

Therefore, it’s essential to keep in mind, we can fuel our longer low-intensity training sessions with low glycogen (carbohydrate) intake. Daily caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown will vary depending on the person and their specific training sessions and season goals. However, allowing the body to learn to use your stored fats for fuel is an excellent benefit of aerobic training and specificity.

Increasing volume and intensity

As your ‘off-season’ moves along, both volume and intensity will increase, but studies have shown that the increase in training volume should not be more than 5-10% per week. And intensity should only increase as much as your goal HR % allows.

How does this all apply to progress? 

Say, for example, your current ‘base’ paddle (which is around 60-75% amount of your HR max) is around 11min/mile. Ideally, increasing your volume and intensity 5-10% each week will lead to a faster min/mile pace at the end of your ‘base training period.’ This will allow for improvements from your previous season. Only as long as you continue into the season with a properly structured training program.

Using the example above maybe at the end of your base training you will be at 10:30min/mile. (Just using these as an example, but the goal is to increase your fitness over what it was when you started base training.) You see how this can be used at ALL levels, even for professional, fast paddlers. You are already paddling a 10min/mile, well how about a goal of 9:45min/mile? etc. See how it works?

Resist the urge to train harder than prescribed

I get it! It’s HARD to train at such a slower pace. Especially when you’re coming off your season, in which you are probably fastest and feel stronger than you have been all year. But it’s important that you stick to the plan. Even going over your aerobic zones ‘occasionally’, can pull you away from the end goal of an increased aerobic base. Yes! You will sacrifice some of your anaerobic systems during base training. You won’t be able to perform near lactate threshold like you do when you’re anaerobically trained. But, that’s what the rest of the season is for! And this time, you will be at an even higher base to start off with than the last season!

For more specific individual programming (whether it be nutrition or land/water training), check out the options I offer on Paddle Monster and watch Larry’s recent Facebook Live on Off-Season/Winter Training.