How to maximize your fitness- Duration vs Intensity


The most common refrain we hear from amateur athletes about including larger volumes of easy training into their programs is that they do not have the time. They are squeezed between family obligations, work, school, and life in general. With that time limitation, training can get pushed down the priority list or they are tempted into the thinking that they can make up with intensity what they are not doing with the duration of their workouts. Of course, adding intensity does improve your fitness quickly. However, without a strong base of aerobic support, training at high intensities above Z-2 will never allow you to maximize your fitness potential. Our goal with this article is to explain how to maximize your fitness, not give you a quick-fix prescription.  But implementation remains up to you.

Long ago, coaches recognized the impressive results that high-intensity training had on their charges. Like most of today’s acolytes of intensity, some of them thought, “If a little is good, more must be better.” In other words, why waste our time training slowly when we could train fast for less time? This set the stage for a perfect real world test of the two opposing endurance-training philosophies of endurance.  The laboratory was competition, especially at the world-class level.  The stopwatch is unforgiving and provides the ultimate test of training theory.  The final outcome of a century’s worth of battling training ideologies has been that athletes who supplemented a large volume of aerobic endurance training with event-specific high-intensity work have much better outcomes than athletes who rely on a steady diet of high-intensity training.

An historical review of the improvement in times that have occurred in the distance events in rowing, swimming and running during the past fifty years is a powerful demonstration of the evolutionary nature of training theory. These sports make good case studies because of their comparability and the minor equipment improvements during that period.  The test results, verified in the competitive arenas of the world throughout much of the twentieth century, tell the same story: An endurance athlete cannot achieve maximal performance on a diet of high-intensity training.

What does this mean to the time crunched SkiMo racer?

A lot! The sad reality is that you will NEVER reach you ultimate performance potential utilizing short high-intensity training exclusively.

Why is that?  Simply, that short high-intensity workouts target mainly the anaerobic glycolytic metabolic system for adaptation, thereby improving its capacity. The energy provided of any event lasting longer than 2 minutes is supplied predominately by the aerobic metabolism and thus needs to be the primary target of training adaptations for endurance events. Training at high intensity does not, as the HIT sales pitch like to say, train both systems at one time.  The adaptations to different training stimuli  (workouts) are unique, so seeking different adaptations (aerobic vs anaerobic) requires the use of different stimuli (workouts).

Uphill Athlete Luke Nelson ascending Corbet's couloir while racing.

Uphill Athlete Luke Nelson ascending Corbet’s couloir while racing.

Anyone who tells you that you can optimally stimulate aerobic and anaerobic adaptations with a single training stimulus is either ignorant or deceptive. In either case you should politely disregard what they tell you. To be on the safe side, I would recommend that you not buy a used car from them either.

SkiMo involves a lot of time spent at high intensity in races so how can this argument hold.  I mean after all, when you are kicking in the last 200 vertical meters toward the transition your HR is pegged right?  Your metabolism is running max-out with both the anaerobic and anaerobic systems shoveling as much coal into the boiler as they can muster.   You’re not lollygagging up the track talking to your buds about the incredible newest ski from XYZ company during the race. So, why should you be doing that in your training?

This is where the plot thickens , the slope steepens and the lifting gets heavy.  Our next article in this series is going to dig deep into the reasons WHY.  We don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression so……For now, let’s just say that in SkiMo, as in any endurance activity, the high-intensity training plays a critical role in ensuing success in competition but, and this is a big BUT:  It is only a small supplement to (not an replacement for) an already substantial aerobic base of training.
Till next time…