BRIDGING THE GAP
RESEARCH and PRACTICALITY
In order to assure continued progress in a training program it is essential that you begin slowly and develop a base level of condition before training too hard. Laying a foundation of conditioning is essential for long-term success.
Training at a low intensity and slowly increasing training volume (a combination of training frequency - number of days per week you train, and training duration - length of each workout) - during the first months of any new program or sport gives your body time to adapt to the new stresses being imposed by the activity.
Exercise is a stress. A good stress, but a stress none-the-less.
As a stress, exercise depletes energy stores that need to be replaced, and creates damage that needs to be repaired. If you aren't properly prepared for the stress, you are very likely to get injured, get sick, or lose motivation - all of which slow your progress, and create road blocks to your overall progress and rate of improvement.
By slowly increasing your training overload, you give your body's systems time to adapt to the stress, and to build strength for future workouts.
Before doing any interval training as part of a cardiovascular workout, or any repetition maximum (RM) sets as part of a lifting workout, your connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, and joints), endocrine system, nervous system, ... which are all the physiological systems involved in the activity need to be exposed to the stress of the activity and prepared and adapted for greater workloads.
Long steady distance (LSD), low-intensity, cardiovascular (CV) workouts build a proper base in aerobic activities - and prepare your body for interval workouts that come later as fitness is gained. Non-repetition maximum sets, which are light lifting, prepare your tendons, joints, and muscles for heavy load lifting in RM sets and keep injuries from occurring.
How long you do low intensity workouts depends on many factors, some of which include:
1) your prior experience with the activity - the more experience and the more years of prior training you have (even if years prior at a young age) the shorter the base conditioning period.
2) the time between prior participation and renewed participation - for seasoned athletes, who have taken a couple of weeks or months off between competitive seasons, and have a higher initial level of fitness coming into the new season, the base-building phase will be shorter than a relative newcomer to the sport.
3) your current health status, or your fitness level - the lower your fitness level is, or physical limitations are, will require a longer base conditioning period.
4) the intensity of the activity itself - the more impact and stress the activity or competitive aspect the sport involves, the longer the base conditioning period will be. For example, more base conditioning is necessary when training for a marathon than a 10K race. There is much more connective tissue and endocrine stress when running 26.2 miles than 6.2. More weeks of LSD runs will proceed interval workouts or higher intensity runs.
5) current or prior limitations - if prior weaknesses or injuries persist during the base conditioning phase, then low intensity training will allow for those injuries to heal, and fitness gains be made, without adding undue stress that my knock you totally out of activity.
This isn't to say that high-intensity intervals are for everyone. While RM loads are essential for improving musculoskeletal strength and fitness, plenty of benefits can be gained from LSD training - particularly for those who are doing CV workouts for weight loss, weight maintenance, or for general conditioning and not for performance or optimal conditioning goals.
Whatever your reason for training, setting long-terms goals will allow you to establish a training program which is structured and varied in overload. Long-term goals will maximize your progress and gains in fitness, and eliminate or minimize set-backs due to injury, illness, fatigue, or over training.
In coaching, this type of programming is called periodization - using different training programs, or different periods of the year in a series of progressions which moves the athlete from one fitness level to another. Each fitness level builds upon the previous one, ultimately helping you reach a higher level of conditioning.
A structured, periodized workout program assures that appropriate overload levels are applied at a time when your body can handle them, and allows for the maximum amount of fitness gained.
Starting slowly - even if you are anxious and excited to begin a program, it is truly the wisest path. A path which will keep you active for years to come. Save some of that excitement for later when some of the newness of the activity, or program, wears off.
Written by Dr. Sternlicht for www.jeffshealthclub.com on 3.12.06