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Methods of Endurance Training: Winter 2010/2011 Part 2

On Tuesday, in Methods of Endurance Training: Winter 2010/2011 Part 1, I provided a bit of background and described what I wanted to do entering the winter base period for the 2011 outdoor speed skating season.  In short, with the primary goals of developing my aerobic engine and not going too nuts, I had decided on using cycling, running and the elliptical as my general aerobic conditioning methods.

Most of the reason was simply variety for varieties sake though I walked readers through a rather tortured theory on why they might be synergistic.  It was a start for my training plan but I was far from done.  Today I’ll look generally at how I decided to fill up the rest of my workouts, starting with the issue of skating.


But What About Skating?

The next question I needed to answer was about skating and skate-specific training.  Regardless of what else I did, I needed some type of skating specific training to make sure I got some transfer from general means to my actual sport, there are also muscles used in skating (adductors for example) that just don’t get hit much with any other aerobic activity.  And given my dislike of training in the cold (and sketchy winter weather in Austin), my options were pretty damn limited.

Outdoor inline was out for sure; yes, you can argue that I should skate when the weather is nice but I tend to prefer less variety and more control/consistency in my training.  If I couldn’t skate consistently in the winter, I don’t want to skate outdoors at all.  I’m not just being psycho here (just mostly); it’s just problematic switching back and forth from skating to the slideboard and back all the time; you get sore from the change in the modes, it’s hard to control progressions, etc.

Ultimately, for whatever reason, I had to pick one or the other; since outdoor wasn’t guaranteed on a consistent basis that was out.  Which left the following options: ice, dryland conditioning, the slideboard, and indoor inline skating.  I suppose no skating specific training was an option but that’s not even on the table.

First and foremost, there’s no ice to be had (Chapparal here in Austin doesn’t have a short-track program and they never answered my email about setting one up) so what got me through the winter in SLC wasn’t available.  I suppose dryland conditioning was available but it tends to be a bit too anaerobic for a lot of the movements which doesn’t fit my physiological goals of building my aerobic engine.

Make no mistake,  dryland is great for ice speed skating conditioning (which is a more anaerobic sport), not so much for inline in my opinion, not at the half- and full-marathons anyhow.  I also didn’t have a space where I could easily do it indoors (some of the drills require a big area to move) so that was out.

That left me with two choices: I could slideboard (I got an excellent one from Ultra-Slide) or I could skate indoors at the roller rink (no disco ball that I’m aware of).  Of course, I could do some combination of the two; it wasn’t an either/or situation here.   But realistically, that was all I’d have access to.  But the question was what to do exactly.

That meant looking at the look at pros and cons of each type of training (or some mixture).  As I’ve talked about in previous articles, outdoor inline skating is mostly straightaways and aerobic (like the slideboard), indoor skating (both ice and inline) is mostly corners and anaerobic and this isn’t a trivial distinction.

Case in point, I’ve run into skaters from the rink at the Veloway.  These are folks who can utterly dust me indoors because they have the corners; I hand them their ass outdoors because I have the engine and know how to skate a straightaway.  The real point being that indoor inline isn’t really good preparation for outdoors without a lot of other work (e.g. the kid who beat me last year is an indoor skater but also races cycling time trials and spends a lot of time on the slideboard).

As well, as I discussed in the Methods of Endurance Training series too much anaerobic work hurts aerobic adaptations; that’s on top of pushing me into overtraining/depression land.  And I’d have to do what the coach wanted indoors which goes against my control-freak nature; it had been hard enough giving control to Rex but as I discussed in Just Do the Program, he was the expert and I trusted him.  He also knew what he was doing.  I don’t like how the indoor coach here coaches (it’s standard ‘grind them down and see who survives’ training) and that’s an issue for me.  Those were all huge points against skating indoors much (or at all).

In contrast, on the slideboard, I could keep it aerobic and work on what was important (straightaway technique and conditioning).   On top of controlling the workout/workload as I tend to obsessively do.  I already have a tendency to overtrain and crater, being forced into too much high-intensity work that isn’t good for me indoors was not a good thing.  So huge points for the slideboard from a physiological standpoint.  But physiology is not the only consideration.

The slideboard is just staggeringly boring which is bad psychologically, especially in a winter without a lot of fun training.  Point against the slideboard.   Comparatively,  indoor is more fun/interesting; if nothing else it engages you mentally since you are trying not to die.  And there are people/chicks around.  Points for indoor.  But it’s just not as specific to what I’m doing.  Points against.

Depending on the course, corners aren’t usually that relevant to outdoor racing anyhow; they certainly don’t determine who wins or loses most of the time.  Even when a course has lots of corners, you really need both left and right hand turns  And indoor is all corners but only to the left; the straightaways don’t matter much.  So points against indoors.

Of course, indoor keeps my on my skates (there is a concept of skate legs: the balance, fine motor control to stand on them and skate well).  Points for indoors.  But the slideboard is ultimately more physiologically relevant and specific.  Points for the slideboard.

It didn’t help that the first race on my schedule is the Road Rash in Round Rock in early May; it’s very early in the year and that means only a few weeks on skates outdoors once the weather gets better before it’s time to race.  I’d have to jump straight into outdoor skating and that meant at least some time on my skates before the weather changed.  Especially if I move to the full marathon where I belong.  With only a few weeks, I can’t lose any outdoor workouts as ‘break-in’, I have to jump into longer workouts from the get-go.  Which is points for indoor since it at least gets me on my skates.

Around and around it went in my head.  By the way, this is how my brain works ALL the time.  Pity me.

Ultimately my compromise solution (subject to change) was this: I’d spend the first 3 months of base (Dec-Feb) exclusively on the slideboard while I developed my aerobic engine under complete control-freak conditions and then move to at least one session indoors going into March; it’d be time to begin to introduce some more quality training anyhow on top of getting my skate legs back and getting everything ready for outdoor training to start.  With that in mind, here’s my slideboard setup at the new house.



This is where the boring happens.
This is where the boring happens.


And, even once I moved indoors, if worst comes to worst, I’ll just skate indoor warm-ups and then leave before the grinder training starts.    That’s more or less what I did this past summer.  Warm-up, do some drills, skate the warm-up laps to get some skate time and then pack up and go home before the dumb started.  It got me on my skates for about 45 minutes which is plenty.  And since the rink is near the gym that will not be named, I could always do more aerobic conditioning afterward if I were particularly motivated.

Approaching it that way would at least get me on my skates a few weeks to get my balance and such before I was able to skate outdoors.  My low back would be adapted, my stabilizers would be stabilizing and I could jump into inline distance training right away.  If I start to go nuts sooner than that I’ll drop one slideboard workout for indoor inline just for variety.  It will make scheduling a huge pain in the ass because the indoor workouts are only held on certain days and times and none of them really fit my schedule right now.


The Pump is Like Coming and Coming and Coming

The final question I had to answer was about the weight room and whether I’d be in it during the winter.  The girls had dragged me back to the weight room during the summer to help me with my depression; I hated it but they were ultimately right.   At a fundamental level, weight training really isn’t relevant to most endurance sports (running *may* be an exception) and most top level endurance athletes are usually better off doing their sport than goofing off with weights.

Certainly, skating is different due to the static glide position but I think I showed clearly that not lifting for over a year didn’t prevent me from staying with the lead pack this summer.  And yes, I’m aware of the new review paper on the topic on weight training and endurance performance; I don’t buy their conclusions yet.

At the same time, a lot of endurance athletes do lift weights in the winter even if it doesn’t probably really help performance.   There are a few reasons why, not the least of which is helping to fix imbalances or injuries.  Which I happen to have none of because I’m awesome (my only imbalances are mental).   But for folks with those issues, weights can correct it and keep them healthy.  And being healthy trumps most everything else; if you’re hurt you can’t train or improve.

It’s at least possible that weights could make up for quality training in the winter but most endurance athletes are focused on volume in the winter anyhow and they’d still be better off doing actual quality endurance work than weights from a specificity point of view.  An endurance cyclist is better off doing intervals on the bike than trying to accomplish metabolic goals in the weight room.  Friends don’t let friends do Crossfit is what I’m saying.

So why do most tend to do it if there aren’t many benefits (beyond injury prevention)?   Probably the main reason is this: it keeps you from losing your mind.  The variety of doing something different than sitting on a wind trainer 4+ days/week or running indoors the same goes a long way.  I’ve got the advantage of having four different aerobic modalities (slideboard, running, bike, EFX) to rotate between and I still go batshit nuts from boredom.

Pure endurance guys (cyclists or runners) usually do the same things every workout; they can cross-train too of course but it’s really not that helpful for a cyclist to run or a runner to ride the bike.  And they lose their ever-loving minds if that’s all they do during the winter.  Weights gives them a mental and physical break even if they’d probably  be better off doing more running or cycling.

I had also found purely experientially that the stimulus of weights seems to counterbalance all of the endurance work in some fashion; years ago I found that even a short weight workout would pull me out of the initial stages of over-training.  Whether the effect was hormonal, neural (e.g. a big sympathetic burst) or just mental I don’t know.  But something about a shorter high-intensity workout seemed to do good things.  I need to write an article about this sometime.  Or at least apply it more systematically to my own training.

As well, I’d spent the end of summer and fall in the weight room while I crawled out of my own ass getting back to a decent level of strength; I had missed lifting real weights for the years I spent in SLC and wanted to at least something in at maintenance levels.  Regardless, considering how nuts I went this summer, it was worth keeping in for mental reasons.

Going to the weight room, I’d get to hang out with my friends and talk to folks (I do all of my aerobic training alone), train somewhere different (not at home or at the gym I will not name), not be doing yet more endurance training and get to hoist some iron and feel like a man, etc..  So weights would stay in twice/week.  Whether it would stay in or in what form once real skate preparation started in March was debatable but at least it’d be there during the winter.

So now I had all of the pieces: my general conditioning, how I would approach my skate specific training and what I’d do in the weight room (at least in general terms).  The next task was to put it all together into a training week which would require further considerations.  And that’s what I’ll talk about next Tuesday.

And as a reminder, keep in mind that for the month of January, simply enter the coupon code ‘NEWYEARS’ to receive 10% off your order.  This can be combined with my standard discount of $10 off any two book order.  So buy two books and use the code and you get both discounts applied to your order.

Read Methods of Endurance Training Winter 2010/2011 Part 3

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