Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Fitness Measure

I don't like to re-invent the wheel. There's so much research out there, and while fitness studies can often contradict and the terminology can often change or warp, some things seem to stay pretty constant.

One constant seems to be the concept of "Base Training". Now I'm not a coach, and I don't play one on TV or on podcasts, but to me, Base Training is the active pursuit of increased aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness / aerobic training is when you MOVE in such a way as not to push your heart rate and corresponding metabolic engines into oxygen depletion. I'm guessing (since I've probably read it and forgotten) that the point in which your movement becomes anaerobic corresponds not only to the build up of lactic acids but also to the thresholds of metabolizing glycogen (carbs) in the majority rather than fat.

You can get this measured for yourself at a place that actually measures your blood lactic acid levels and a few other things to come up with your own, personal hear rate zones, or you can use any one of a dozen or so formulas to derive not-as-accurate, but useful HR zones.

Why is this important? Well, popular research puts your glycogen stores at about 2 hrs (at anaerobic efforts) for well trained athletes, right? When the carbs run out, we bonk, plain and simple. We fight to replenish these stores on long efforts, and that fight is hit and miss, mostly miss, for many of us. We get a few gels in us, some Gatorade or what-not, cookies or bananas - and what happens? We get sick or our stomach shuts down and we push that 2 hrs to 3 or 4, maybe if we are lucky; so unless you're an animal and can finish a half Ironman under 4 hrs, or insanely good with your nutrition plan - flawless might be a better word - we need to condition our fat-burning anaerobic metabolism and fitness.

So what's the problem? WE ARE! We got these huge egos that make us want to ride or run or swim as hard as we can all the time and push, push push! How friggin' boring is it to ride in your aerobic zones for hours and hours? How sucky is it to stop and walk when the HR alarm goes off? Who really swims "within themselves"? The first time those riders zoom by on their fancy-schmancy bikes and you know they ain't really moving that fast, but you also know they are thinking about what a loser slow fat ass you are! Can't we just wear a sign that says, "BASE TRAINING TODAY"?

The payoff is huge, but the path is long. Big guys like me might have even more at stake with quality BASE workouts. Staying in the lower Heart Rate "fat-burning" zone (and yes, I know that in any HR zone, the body still metabolizes carbs for energy, but the thought is that the majority of energy comes from fat up to a certain threshold...) drops the pounds even faster. Keeping the workouts at lower intensities also, theoretically, lowers the chance of injury. Because I want to concentrate on my running in the months to come, but also know that at 280lbs, my running workouts are a roll of the dice as to which body part will fall apart first, I really need to concentrate on weight loss!

So, what we measure we can manage and what we manage we can improve, right? I like to look at my base training as a measure of heart beats per miles per hour. If you train with a power meter, you can get even more accurate (beats per watt) and it won't matter what terrain you train on or the wind conditions... but I've only got a HR monitor and a flat course to base train on. I stay in a base HR zone, these days for an hour, later it will be longer, and I then divide my average heart rate by my average speed - that give me my heart beats per mile an hour.

Six weeks ago, when I started training again, my base HB/MPH was 8.76 - today it was down to 8.16 - nice - I can see the fitness gain. I'll feel more like the "old" Bigun when I get that down to more like 7.6, and can do that for a 2hr ride instead of just one. But I'll shoot for one hr first. I don't want you to get the wrong impression - speed work is important even in this Base Phase! I get my speed work in after the hour of strict base work with a few Fartliks or intervals, but I know my priority right now is getting my metabolism better and more efficient at burning fat!

Lost 8 lbs in 4 weeks as well. 2 lbs a week - right according to plan! Oh, yea!