Written by Taylor Thomas of Thomas Endurance Coaching
When athletes think of a “base” they often think specifically along the lines of base training during the offseason. However, base fitness is much more than that. It’s foundational strength, both aerobic and muscular, that allows the body to handle the rigors and demands of race-specific training. Without a proper base level of fitness, athletes are much more susceptible to injury, burnout, and overtraining. While race preparation and focus often occupy most of an athlete’s mental energy, it’s base building that should occupy the majority of their time. These critical steps are what sets the tone for both near and long-term goals.
Identify Long-Term Goals
Without a critical look at what it is an athlete wants to accomplish there’s no way to define the direction of the training focus. Take a step back and look further ahead than near-term priority races. Often athletes are guilty of focusing on what’s directly in front of them, and not thinking about what’s to be accomplished down the road. This puts both athletes and coaches in a position to be reactive instead of proactive. Once goals are outlined, then the task of identifying what it is that needs to be done can be accomplished. Laying out a broad approach that allows for plenty of “runway”, ensuring the process isn’t rushed, should be the first step. Then working backward towards goals allows for the pieces to be put in the right place. A foundation starts with a direction and knowing what that direction is sets the course for everything that follows.
Focus on Weaknesses
This can be scary for many athletes. It’s hard to stare down the things we’re bad at or struggle with. It’s much easier to target strengths so that training is filled with consistent “wins”. While these wins are nice to have and are certainly a part of a proper training approach, weaknesses are where growth will come from. The first step is identifying what these are. Past training and race results are where these insights are most often found. What was it that kept things from going as planned? Where was it that things didn’t line up? Answers to these questions are where weaknesses can be identified. This process is uncomfortable for many because it forces athletes to confront mistakes that were made, or areas where more focus and attention can/should have been paid. While it may not be the most enjoyable part of planning and base preparation, it is arguably the most important. Strength comes from confronting our weaknesses head-on and committing to make them better.
While this may sound like a “no-brainer”, it’s often the component that many athletes are the quickest to toss aside. Strength is what allows every athlete, no matter the discipline, to excel. Muscular strength is the cornerstone of any type of training and must be integrated properly into the process early and often. While the specifics of the approach can vary based on the specific athlete, their focus, ability level, and goals, there are a few things that remain the same.
- Work the primary muscles responsible for the specific discipline. Don’t shy away from strengthening the prime movers that drive the sport. Ie. runners and cyclist should focus on legs.
- Include weighted strength work. At certain times of the year, it’s important to integrate weights into the regiment. This not only helps bolster bone density for low impact athletes but also creates foundational strength and power to be used later in the training cycle.
- Be dynamic and progressive. Don’t stick to the same exercises and the same weights for the duration. Actively integrate different exercises and work to increase the load throughout the program.
Depending on a particular athletes focus and goals, volume is an important part of preparation. However, volume is often the thing that gets added too soon and with too much frequency. Athletes are quick to resort to “just ride” approach when building their fitness thinking that if some is good, more is better. The goal should be to focus on critical areas that will prepare the body for the later integration of race specificity. This is accomplished by individualized intervals that keep intensity appropriate, and volume in check. When the time is right, and the proximity to goal events is appropriate, then volume can be layered in to increase the ramp rate of fitness. It’s at this point that the body will be able to handle the increase in training load after a thoughtful base has been built.
Base building should be a critical and productive process when athletes prepare for the future. This is done by both thinking long-term about what needs to be accomplished, as well as confronting the things that kept goals from being realized in the past. Focusing on foundational strength work prepares the body for what it will eventually encounter on race day, as well as the increase in training load needed for race preparation. Take care to control the overall volume, and pace fitness such that it peaks in conjunction with priority events. Base building is much more than a small blip in the offseason, it’s what drives the ultimate success of all goal-oriented athletes.
Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) and has more than a decade of experience in the endurance sports industry as an athlete, coach, race promoter, and team organizer. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels and specializes in both a scientific and metrics-based approach to endurance sports. They guide athletes in all disciplines of both running and cycling. For more information on their personal coaching and training plan options visit http://www.