Ralph Heath, a 62-year-old cyclist and former client of mine, asked me recently if what I was suggesting in my previous posts is that older athletes should do high-intensity training even in their “off seasons.” In other words, was I now proposing that as you move into your 50s, 60s and beyond that fast intervals should be included in the Prep and Base periods. After all, I didn’t come right out and say it in the blog although it seemed to be implied. And this way of training wasn’t included in my Training Bible books.
My answer was that occasional high-intensity workouts should probably be included weekly and year-round as we get older to maintain aerobic capacity which appears to decline rather rapidly with age, and probably at a greater rate when the system is not challenged. This is probably more important for experienced, serious athletes than for those new to endurance sport. For novices, simply putting in the time will maintain and even boost aerobic capacity. For the seasoned veteran this high-intensity training doesn’t have to be frequent or done with structured intervals as described in a previous post. I suggested to Ralph that he might consider doing short “fartlek” workouts (fartlek is Swedish for “speed play” and essentially means unstructured: go as fast as you want, when you feel like it, on whatever terrain you enjoy, for as long as you want, with recovery whenever you want it, and stop when you’ve had enough) once a week in those early season periods to help maintain aerobic capacity.
These don’t have to be grueling workouts that leave you wasted for a couple of days. In fact, in the Prep and early Base periods it’s probably best to avoid such anaerobically produced, deep fatigue – as is often the case with Anaerobic Endurance intervals as described in my Training Bible books – in favor of developing a broad base of aerobic fitness through less strenuous but long, steady workouts.
And, by the way, there is no research I’ve ever found which even suggests that there is “damage” done to one’s aerobic development in the Base period by doing infrequent high-intensity training. Some athletes and coaches use this as a reason why anaerobic efforts should be avoided early in the season when Aerobic Endurance is the focus. But I do believe there is a limit to how much of this you should do in Base as it can make for a long season and put you at risk of training-related breakdowns. Doing high-intensity interval training week after week throughout the year can also become monotonous and de-motivating. (My next post here will be on the subject of age-related training breakdowns.)