Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Base Building for Cyclists

How many training books does a person need, especially if that person is old, fat, and has no intention of racing? Allow an old man his hobbies, goldarn it, I like to read training books. And surprisingly, I seem to learn something new, something I can use, from each one I read. "Base Building for Cyclists" (hereafter Base Building) was recommended to me by someone named jbithaca who commented on one of my blog posts. Jbithaca worried that I was doing too many rides that were too fast, so recommended this book to me as an antidote. At the time, I skimmed it and then set it aside to read later. In my last post, I reviewed a study comparing different training strategies, and in the course of writing that post, began to reconsider the intensity of some of my rides. This finally inspired me to go back and read this book. Based on that reading, I have some ideas for future blog posts that I expect will use this book as a reference, so thought it made sense to describe this book before doing so.

So what is this book? Like most training books, it is written for bicycle racers, the same audience for whom "The Cyclist's Training Bible" (hereafter The Bible) is written. In fact, Thomas Chapple, the author of Base Building, is an associate of Joe Friel, author of The Bible, and Joe wrote the Foreword to Base Building. Friel explains the relationship between these two books as follows: "I tried to explain [base training] in The Cyclist's Training Bible but somehow many cyclists failed to learn the lesson. In Base Building for Cyclists, Thomas Chapple devotes an entire book to the concept I tried to explain in one chapter." The assumption both of these books make is that the reader has already decided to devote a significant part of their life to winning a few bicycle races each year. The reader is assumed to have a life outside of bicycle racing, but in the context of these books, winning races is the goal. Thus, when judging training plans, the plan that better promotes a long and healthy life (for example) gets no credit for that1, its virtue relative to other plans is judged only by the number of bicycle races won. A second assumption is that there is a bicycle racing season corresponding to the calendar year; that the races one wishes to win occur roughly at the same time each year, so that there in an annual cycle of preparing for the annual bicycle races, racing, and then recovering until the next year.

What is base training? For a bicycle racer who uses periodized training, the training season is commonly divided into four major phases; Base, Build, Peak, and Transition. Base is the longest of the four, lasting 8 to 32 weeks, or even longer. What is periodized training? It is an annual training plan where there are qualitative changes in the kind of training done over the course of an annual racing season.What is the rationale for periodized training? As best I understand, it is two-fold. The first rationale is that one can reach peaks of fitness that cannot be sustained. The goal of a periodized training plan is to reach such a peak at the time of a race one would most like to win. After that race, fitness will inevitably fall and will need to be rebuilt first by resting and then by a new cycle of periodized training before the next important race. The second rationale is that fitness is not a single thing, but a collection of traits; endurance, strength, and speed, for example. Some of these take a long time to develop, some can be developed more quickly. In general, endurance takes a long time to develop and speed can be developed quickly. Thus, to reach a peak of capabiity ("form") at the time of a bicycle race, one first develops endurance, and then quickly, before endurance fades, develops speed. Base training has many goals, but perhaps its primary purpose is to build endurance. To put this into context, the Build phase then builds speed, the Peak phase restores energy while maintaining endurance and speed, and the Transition phase is the recovery period after the race. Having given this description, if one looks at actual training plans like those presented in Base Building, one notes that they are more of a continuum than separate blocks of training. If one looks at them carefully, however, one notes that this continuum does in fact build from endurance to speed.

What does this book add to The Bible? At first glance, very little. You can and will develop essentially similar Base phase training plans using either book. (The advantage of The Bible is that you can then use the same book to develop plans for the remainder of the season.) I argue, however, that this is a naive conclusion. The best piece of advice my father gave me when I left for college was to always read multiple books on a subject, not just the textbook assigned for the course. Even though these books cover the same material, each has its own way of explaining it, and what I failed to understand from one I might learn from another. Such is the case with The Bible and Base Building; they are both teaching the same thing, but if you read both, you will end up with a better understanding. Besides, there are a few bits of information in Base Building not in The Bible, not so critical to its main mission, but of particular interest to me.

I am not a racer, does Base Building have any practical value for me? It does. My whole reason for reviewing Base Building is because I plan to use it as a reference for future posts. A quick list of some of these topics:

  • Signs and symptoms of overtraining or improper training.
  • How to juggle rides of different intensities in a training schedule.
  • Fat burning vs carb burning during exercise.
  • Weight training exercises that benefits cycling.
  • Cycling skills that improve cycling efficiency.

Why should we believe what Base Building says? That is a very good question, especially in the context of my recent posts which have been very critical of careful scientific comparisons of different kinds of training. There is no science in Base Building, no comparisons, experiments or clinical trials - or is there? There is no explicit science in Base Building, but I know that Joe Friel reads the scientific literature on training. I don't know if Thomas Chapple does, but even if he does not, he is part of the same community as Joe Friel, and the results of scientific research certainly infuse that community, and so books like Base Building represent, to some degree, a review of the scientific literature on training. In addition to that, Friel and Chapple speak from experience. Experience certainly does not replace scientific certainty, but scientific certainty is rare, and in its absence, experience allows us to move forward with our lives. Thus, I still wait scientific confirmation of much that I take away from Base Building, but will use what I learn from Base Building while I wait.

Why did jbithaca recommend Base Building to me? Only jbithaca knows, of course, but if I had to guess, it is because the single clearest message of this book is that it is a mistake to train too fast too early. It is pretty clear that jbithaca thought I was training too fast. Does Base Building support jbithaca's concern? It turns out that is not as simple a question as it might first appear, and as of the time of this writing, I have not yet formulated my opinion on the matter. I expect to be addressing this in future posts. Stay tuned.

1) I assume that Joe Friel, Thomas Chapple, and the serious bicycle racers who make up their readership all believe that bicycle racers are healthier than couch potatoes. Thus, everyone involved believes they are healthier as a result of their hobby. My point is that having adopted this hobby, they feel like the health issue is covered so that, when comparing training plans, enjoyment of the hobby, that is, winning bicycle races, is the thing. If my assumption is correct, I agree with them.

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