Through the off season, I have tried to lay good aerobic foundation with paddling, running and cycling in my aerobic zone, but as race season approaches I feel a need to develop my anaerobic zone (a weak point for me, in general). With the competitive phase approaching fast, I had a question on developing this system. How many interval sessions can I perform per week without depleting my energy or injuring myself? Thanks so much
This is such a good question but before we can answer it we need to take a little detour to make sure we are all on the same page. In your question you mentioned that your anaerobic zone is your weak point. That very well may be true BUT in the last 20 years of coaching, every (well most anyway) athlete says that their anaerobic zone is the weak zone. In most cases, however, this is not true.
These athletes, erroneously belive that because they didn’t go as fast as they want they need to to train their high end speed. Now, if they were track sprinters and their race was 9 seconds long that might be the case. I do not, however, know of any cycling race, paddle race, or trirathlon that is 9 seconds long. Paddling is an endurance sport. Your first order of business is to make it to the end of the race with the front pack. Until, you get to the end of the race your anaerobic speed is probably not your weak point. Moreover, even if you are with the front of the pack and there is a sprint for the finish your absolute speed over 9 seconds if you were fresh won’t determine if you will win the race if you are too smashed to sprint. Most (not all) endurance races are wars of attrition – not absolute speed. In an endurance race your aerobic fitness and fitness around your LT is what will determine how fast you are in a race. This is all why we generally say that you need to go slow to get fast
The bottom line so far is that we encourage you to focus on your speed over a race rather than your absolute sprinting (anaerobic) speed in your overall training program. This, however, is not a hard and fast rule and it does not IN ANY WAY suggest that you should do zero speed work. Even in your aerobic training phases (and in the base/aerobic phases of our 16 week programs) you will find speed work. You should be doing some short quick training including intervals and accelerations at sub maximal efforts to work your neuromuscular system and keep a feel for your high end work so when it comes time to go hard you can more easily make that transition. Interval and speed work in your building phases are short so although there is some adaptation benefit there is little metabolic or energy cost so it will not interfere with your workout or overall periodization.
All of that said, if all you do is go slow all the time you won’t reach your potential. Intense (speed) training is critical there is no doubt about that which brings us to the second part of your question which is “How many interval sessions can I perform per week without depleting my energy or injuring myself?”
That, is an excellent question. There is, however, no real easy answer. It varies greatly between athletes. As a general rule, most coaches who I know and respect find that 2 intense workouts is as much as most endurance athletes can handle per week. I have many athletes, however, where we go with only a single intense workout each week. This is the case especially in older athletes with work/family/etc vying for their time and energy. In the rare case, I have an athlete who excels with 3 (or more) intense sessions a week but these are usually outlier “responders” or professionals.
This often comes as a surprise to athletes who read magazines espousing high intensity training with multiple high intensity workouts each week. Although there are some authors who suggest high intensity regimens for endurance athletes, in my experience, I have seen athletes do well on these programs for a little while then they go over the edge with injury or burnout. Most times, however, the high intensity articles are not directed at endurance athletes but normal people who are interested in changing their body composition. If that is your main goal, please disregard the previous discussion. If all you want to do is burn fat and build muscle and getting to the podium is less of a consideration you are talking about a different discussion. In that case, get in the gym. Do more intensity. Disregard all this nonsense about aerobic capacity. You might not win races but you will look good in the mirror.
Assuming, however, you are still looking to do well in endurance races, including paddle races, we will continue our discussion on intensity. If you are going to follow our rules, when we talk about doing intensity you need to be going hard – REALLY HARD in some of your workouts. These workouts are not comfortable. Many paddlers without a history in endurance sports often do not go hard enough for their intense workouts. Get a heart rate monitor. Know your training zones. Intense means intense. If you do your interval workouts right, chances are you wont want to do it more than 1-2x per week.
I guess what we are saying is that the short answer is 1-2x per week is what works for most athletes when incorporated into an overall race training program. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that this the formula we follow in our 16 week training programs at Riding Bumps.