Tis the season to start thinking about preparing for next season. Your re-entry into a training plan may have already started or may not occur until December or January, but in any case some thought about how to best maximize your time and improve your fitness and performance for 2009 is a good idea.
We, and many coaches and forums, are often questioned and debated with about approach to 'base' training. Specifically, does it make sense to put in 'base miles' or Long Slow Distance (LSD) for several months prior to increasing intensity as the season approaches. The answer to this question, like any training, physiology or science question, is not easy or the same for any one person because an athlete's limiters and time available must be taken into account.
Our methodology usually involves a series of tests, normally including a FaCT test, to assess the athlete's limiters. If it is apparent an athlete is very limited by basic endurance then we would likely look at including long rides at 65-75% of Max HR until it became apparent that the athlete was no longer limited, or as limited, by basic endurance. Often once this limiter is addressed we may include more intense training, even during the traditional 'base' period.
The limitation to spending 1-4 months doing only LSD work comes when athletes are not able to ride enough to stress the fitness they have already built. For an athlete with 'unlimited' time to train a period of basic endurance can be an effective component of yearly training because they can ride long enough to stress their existing system. However for athletes with limited time to train it can become difficult to add additional stress with only endurance rides. It is for for these athletes that a diversion from conventional periodization is often an effective alternative. An athlete with restricted training time could aim to get in 1-2 long days at 65-75%. The rest of the week would then consist of shorter rides focused on muscular endurance and depending on the athlete a day or 2 of harder intervals (sprints or Vo2 work). This methodology could potentially allow an athlete's weekly level of stress to gradually increase and their fitness improved despite a static weekly volume.
The key for those with limited volume is to keep training interesting (varied) and focused on limiters (vs. a generalized plan that may or may not address your limiters). Certainly take a few weeks to get back into training with some easier/shorter rides before trying to add in intensity but the idea of periodizing your stress may be the key to improving on a limited volume this Off- Season.
Thanks for the question ... keep them coming !