Quite a while back I received the following question from a reader. It’s a good one, but it seems there is never enough time. I’ll just give a brief answer here along with links to related blogs I’ve posted as the topic is discussed from different angles in my Training Bible book series and in other books I’ve written.
Question: Now that most of us are in "base" period, your readers may be interested to know your thoughts on this: How hard should we be going during base? More specifically, is it "bad" to throw in some efforts? You see some riders who avoid going above a certain HR or power, like the plague. Is it sufficient to recognize that such early season efforts simply don't HELP much in terms of allowing the athlete to gain peak fitness, for an event that may still be may months away?
Answer: For most athletes (there are always exceptions, as I frequently mention here) I think it’s a good idea to focus on 3 things in base 1 and base 2 (or accumulation blocks 2 and 3 if you’re following a block periodization plan). The first is aerobic endurance. To improve this first ability I have the athletes I coach stay mostly in their HR 2 and 3 zones in these periods. The idea is to get as fast as possible at a low effort before taking the effort up in base 3 (block 4). If you keep your HR below zone 4 for these 8 or so weeks you’ll find yourself trying to ride moderately hard while at the same time trying to relax as much as possible in order to keep HR low. This is good as it improves economy. You’ll find a way to pull it off. Your power-heart rate and/or speed-heart rate ratio should gradually rise over these weeks if you do this (divide average bike power or average run speed by average HR to find the ratio).
Keeping HR low doesn’t mean you never do any challenging workouts. If you’ve read my books you know I advocate doing force reps and speed skills work in base 1 and 2 (block 1, 2, 3). These are brief efforts which can be very difficult but given how short they are and how much recovery there is between them the stress remains entirely on the muscular and nervous systems and not on the cardiovascular system.