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To get an idea of what I'm trying to do and why I think it's possible, check out the following entries, they'll help get you up to speed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Logical conclusions (back into the fray)

I've always really enjoyed logical arguments and I've had one playing out in my head the last few days and it seems pretty good to me - but i realize i'm far from infallible, and so i thought maybe i'd get some input from other folks as to whether my ideas are sound or not.... and if not, why not.  The BT (beginnertriathlete) crew is a pretty opinionated bunch and offered some good perspective to my ideas the first time i posted on their site, so i figured i'd give it another go.  to this end  i started a thread under their 'ironman training' forum (link here) with the below text.

A defense of ultra-low volume/high intensity training as a viable alternative to endurance training for individuals with requisite mental characteristics
  • Premise 1:  High intensity interval training produces the greatest physiological adaptive response of any type of exercise. Research over the past 15 years seems to support this claim (here's a recent NY times piece reporting on some of the research). One study found that tabata style intervals produced the same or similar results as more traditional interval work focused on maximizing time spent at or just above lactate threshold (ie 4 x 6 minutes of cycling at race pace separated by 3 minutes rest).  Most folks would consider event the latter to be 'interval training', and use it only occasioally in a training program aimed at an endurance event.
  • Premise 2:  High intensity interval training can produce increases in endurance capabilities equivalent to more traditional longer duration/moderate intensity training.
  • Premise 3:  There is a physiological limit as to the amount of high intensity interval training that a person can perform - this limit is a function of the individuals capacity to recover.
  • Premise 4:  High intensity interval training requires bouts of MAX EFFORT, which are mentally very demanding.
  • Premise 5:  Pragmatically speaking, the limit of one's capacity to perform HIIT is also a function of the ability to meet these mental demands during workout sessions.
  • Premise 6: High intensity Interval training is the most time effective means of producing physiological adaptations in our aerobic system.
The logical conclusion that I draw from these premises is that the most efficient way to maximize fitness (in terms of time cost of fitness gained) is to determine training volume in such a way as to maximize one's ability to do genuine high intensity training.  

One possible logical 'challenge' i can see is that perhaps it is possible for one to be training at the high intensity volume limit and add more training at a lower intensity without affecting recovery or impacting the ability to continue to make that high intensity time genuinely so.  For me, i find this is not really that possible - unless the added activity is of sufficiently low intensity that (for me) it not only doesn't really qualify as training, but probably offers negligible fitness gains above and beyond what the high intensity stuff alone provides.  Honestly assessing my own capabilities along these lines is why i cut my training from 3 hours a week to 2 nearly a year ago.  I was having great workouts, but at least one of my efforts every week was less than i knew it could be - in my case mostly for mental reasons.

I also sense that one objection to this reasoning might come in the form a claim that limited volume training can't prepare one for ultra-endurance events.  Fair enough - at least for someone with no background in protracted physical efforts.  But this challenge is based more on ones mental preparation for such an event, not how well the body itself (in terms of the actual physical machine) is capable of handling the challenge.  And this is where it gets tricky - it is much harder (at this point) for me to feel i've got a platform that challenges a conventional wisdom that says 'to prepare for iron-man you better learn (mentally) how to suffer so that you know how to respond race day and the best way to do that is to do long runs/bikes/bricks and experience it first hand' as opposed to one that says 'to only/best* way to physically prepare for IM is to put in your time and dedicate 10-20 hours a week to training'.  The latter statement is what i disagree with, and in my opinion, it represents the framework that is assumed indisputable by the vast majority of triathletes (and endurance athletes in general) out there. 

*based on my own experience and the limited experience i've had with others trying to take my approach, conventional wisdom/high volume approaches to endurance training probably do represent the easiest way to be successful at endurance events, simply because sticking to a training program focused (almost) exclusively on high intensity work requires a mental commitment and ability that, if not possessed at the outset, appears to require more effort to develop than what is required to carve another 10 hours of training time into the week.


    1. I agree that the type of workouts you describe are beneficial, if not mandatory, for optimum performance. I'm just not sure what you're actually trying to claim. "Fitness" is a vague goal. "prepare" for an IM is also a vague goal. Are you racing or just trying to finish. Racing implies you are not just trying to finish, you are not just trying to do your best, you are trying to do better than everyone else's best. That requires a complete training regime that includes intensity, volume, technique, experience, and mental three different sports.

    2. mike - come on man! i, you, everyone races to do as well as they can. but you do this with what you show up to the start line with. its priorities. you could race faster than you do - but you'd have to make sacrifices, or throw money at it (coach, personal masseuse, etc) or stop working or whatever. if you're making money/getting paid - if 'racing' represents nearly all your priorities, fine. but otherwise its a much greater balancing act. i'm still racing if i know i'm not going to win. just because i could spend less time doing other things and more time training and improve my performance doesn't mean i'm not racing when i toe the line.....

    3. Dear Six (not Two) (not Three) Hours A Week,

      Besides stating quantitative goals, you also need to include race time and distance in your training totals and averages.

      1. mike - without a doubt the only reason this works for me is because of my racing, you're right, if i add in my time (particularly for some of the expedition AR i do) my 'hours' would come up quite a bit. i guess though my thought was that if someone is looking to, say, do an ultra marathon, the convention would be to talk about the time they are spending preparing for this event when talking about weekly commitments and not necessarily include, say, the previous ultramarthon you did 20 weeks ago. i've mentioned (in previous posts) that in order to use low volume (on a regular weekly basis) to prepare for serious endurance events, you actually got to do some of those events and use those to learn how to deal with the logistics of long efforts as well as the mental components required, because you're not going to get that from your training. when's your next race btw?

    4. That is not the convention at all. The vast majority of athletes in any sport use races as preparation for other races. It is recognized as an integral part of their training. Any discussion of their performance or preparation would absolutely include past races, even from 20 weeks ago. So for you, your impressive Frozen Otter race will be relevant and a significant contributing factor, mentally and physically, to your future performances for a while yet.

    5. Mike - i guess i'm going off of triathlon training. Most IM programs will assume some sort of history (beginner programs assume less history - but many 'advanced' programs targeting sub 13 hour races assume or recommend that you've had a season or two of Olympic IM and have completed a number of marathons and/or HIM prior to trying a IM. In comparing the type of training i'm proposing to such a programs, then you'd need to consider the similarities (both have 'lead up races') that are assumed and the differences (number of training hours in the program itself). Similarly for Ultra's too - in my experience when an ultra runner with a calendar of 3 Ultra's over a season says his average training weeks are 40-60 miles - he's not spreading the actual ultra miles over these weeks. Yes - it is important to consider the races when looking at the overall training picture. In fact the only way i think minimalist training can be effective for ultras or other ultra-endurance activities, is with at least a somewhat (3-4 events per year) steady diet of them. I'm not sure i'd fare as well on something like FO if i only did one event like it every four or so years, with only 2Hrs per week of training during the duration in between. but interestingly - i always feel like the long events tear me down pretty good - i have to reset my baseline and build again after each one. They probably do play a significant role physically, but in my opinion are even more important mentally.