I sometimes see confusion among athletes about the Base period of training. This is the time of year when you train to train, not train to race. That means in Base you are preparing the body for the greater stresses that will follow in the Build period. Build starts immediately after Base ends about 11-12 weeks before your first A-priority race of the season. In the Build period you will be training with workouts that are very much like the stresses you will experience in racing. This is training to race.
There is a big difference between training to train and training to race and yet I see athletes in Base doing the very same workouts they will be doing a few weeks before their first big event, such as anaerobic intervals, lactate hill repeats, and hard group workouts. These are all workouts intended to prepare you for the stresses of racing, not training.
So what should you do differently in Base period workouts? I explained that in some detail in my four-part series on Base 1 (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). The training stress in the following two periods gradually increases so that by the end of Base 3 you are much more generally fit than when you started Base 1 and you are ready to begin training for the specific stresses of racing. This process takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 weeks. Here’s a quick look at the typical changes I make from Base 1 as the athlete progresses to the Base 2 and Base 3 periods.
Base 2 starts about 19-20 weeks before your A-priority race. There are two changes that I typically make now. The first is that I have the athlete cut back on weight training, not only in terms of the number of days assigned to it each week, but also the stress applied with loads, sets and reps. Strength maintenance is now the goal. “Functional” strength training may continue as before.
The second change is to introduce sport-specific muscular force training with hill work incorporated into steady, moderate effort bike and run workouts. I described these here. For swimming paddles and drag devices will help to create more force.
I’ll also include some 3-zone muscular endurance training now. This could be something such as 2 x 20 minutes (5-minute recoveries) or 3 x 12 minutes (3-minute recoveries). The hard part here is getting the athlete to hold back and stay in zone 3. Many want to bump it up to zone 4. There will be lots of time for that later on.
Aerobic endurance and speed skills workouts continue as before. The endurance sessions continue to get longer as the skills sessions continue as in Base 1.
The last Base period begins about 15-16 weeks before your A-priority event. Two more adjustments are made to the training now. Weight training is cut back even more to just once a week. In fact, if pressed for time it’s now ok to stop strength training altogether (I’d rather see it continue, but specificity is now starting to trump general fitness).
The second change is that muscular endurance training is increased. This involves long intervals in the range of 6 to 12 minutes done at about the lactate threshold (zone 4) with very short recoveries that are about 25 percent of the work-interval duration. Twenty to 40 minutes of cumulative lactate threshold training within one workout each week (per sport for triathletes) is generally quite effective. Build from low to high volume in this workout over the course of Base 3.
Aerobic endurance, speed skills and force training continue as in Base 2.
It is usually best for athletes who recover slowly, such as older competitors and novices, to do four, three-week periods instead of three, four-week periods (the last few days of each of these multi-week periods is for recovery). So these slower-recovering athletes will follow a plan including Base 1, Base 2, Base 3 and Base 3 again. Each period is three weeks. They will still end up with 12 weeks of Base training but will have more frequent rest.
And as for rest, both groups, whether doing three-week or four-week periods, will recover with short and low-intensity workouts for three to six days in the last week of each Base period. This will help to prevent overuse injury, illness, burnout and overtraining.
By following a Base training program such as this you will arrive at the start of the Build period some 11-12 weeks before the first A-priority race with good general fitness. In the Build period the workouts will take on the characteristic stresses you expect to encounter in racing. I’ll discuss that more at a much later date.