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The Science of Base Training(33 posts)

The Science of Base TrainingRockyMountainRacer
Nov 4, 2002 12:48 PM
Check out this excerpt from a Rick Crawford article on

Here's what you are trying to accomplish during base. First, you will increase your residual fitness through strict progression of low intensity aerobic training. This will be accomplished by keeping your heartrates in a very narrow low-pressure range through an eight week period. At the low pressures you will maintain during base, capillaries will push into new tissues, increasing the vascular network, and respectively increasing the capacity to deliver oxygen to the muscles. Capillaries are extremely delicate physical entities, almost microscopic in size, and are the end of the oxygen supply system. To give a very oversimplified analogy, like a balloon, a capillary will grow under low pressure, but will rupture under the stress of a high-pressure burst, basically ending the growth cycle, leaving the vessel in a state of homeostasis that is not easily overcome. That is why it is critical to remain at low pressure throughout the cycle and not interrupt the progress. Great gains in residual fitness can be made during this phase. These gains in vascular density proportionately affect VO2 max.

Here's the link to the article:

Anyway, what do you all think about Crawford's claim that "gains in vascular density" are made only with low blood pressure exercise? The reason I ask is because I took a few exercise physiology classes in college, and actually learned something contradictory to this. I was taught that high intensity exercise was actually beneficial to the formation of increased capillarial density because the high blood pressures resulting from high-intensity would help help push new capillaries into existing tissue. This is the first I've heard that high-intensity exercise could actually be detrimental to this goal. Comments?
Been around a long timeSherpa23
Nov 4, 2002 3:00 PM
The idea that low intensity cycling increases capillary growth has been around since the 70's. Mike Walden was a proponent of it. He also said that high intensity exercise would kill the newly formed capillaries. So, Rick seems have gotten this straight from Mike Walden, which is not a bad thing, or a big deal. Does it work? I was told by an excercise physiologist that it does not necessarily work. In my experience, there is a lot more to do with capillary growth, like pedalling style, cadence ,etc.
Tudor Bompa53x11
Nov 7, 2002 9:33 AM
I met Rick earlier this year and he referenced Bompa frequently as being very important in his thinking. He may have also gotten stuff from Walden too. Anyhow, I think Rick will tell you this stuff has been around a long time.
re: The Science of Base TrainingBruno
Nov 4, 2002 4:25 PM
bodybuilders form huge veins all over. Would this contradict the theory that only low pressure work develops capillaries?
veins are not capillariesKerry
Nov 4, 2002 5:47 PM
Capillaries are the very tiny vessels that actually feed the muscles directly. The blood goes in one end rich in nutrients and oxygen, and comes out the other end depleted of nutrients and rich in CO2. You cannot see capillaries. Think of veins and arteries as the main roads, and capillaries as the side streets.
veins are not capillariesBruno S
Nov 4, 2002 7:30 PM
so wouldn't an indication of how many capilaries muscle has be directed related to the size of the veins and arteries? Why would you develop large veins and arteries for any other reason than feeding the capillaries?

I bet Johan Museeuw knows all about veins, arteries and capillaries.
That's a picture of Andre Tchmil, not Museeuw. nmMr Good
Nov 4, 2002 7:43 PM
anyway, he's one of those Belgian guys. nmBruno S
Nov 4, 2002 8:28 PM
Nov 5, 2002 4:22 AM
he was a Soviet back in the day, then a Moldavian after the collapse of the USSR, and only relatively recently became a Belgian citizen (who strangely enough lives in Italy).
we have a lot in commonBryanJL
Nov 6, 2002 5:39 PM
we all have veins very similar to this super lean powerhouse; they're just obscured by a wee (maybe more than a wee) bit more fat. His veins aren't really that much bigger or way more plentiful; they're just much, much easier to see since he's so lean (no fat for veins to nestle in, muscles are a firm backdrop).
The idea that you can destroy capillary...Wayne
Nov 5, 2002 4:20 AM
development by high pressure or avoiding lactic acid is total BS. This is one of those cycling myths that is perpetuated by people who don't read exerc. physiology literature. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it's been demonstrated that high pressure in arteries/capillaries actually stimulates capillary growth.
I would imagine capillary development is mostly determined by the time spent with an increased blood flow going to the muscle (i.e. cycling).
Wayne's right...Jon Billheimer
Nov 5, 2002 8:07 AM least that's what I was taught in both A & P and Ex Fizz! Crawford's about the only coach around still advocating that theory. Even Lance---and most other pros---are doing at least tempo intensity pickups during their base preparation phase. The body adapts to stresses put on it, which means capillary growth to feed muscle fibres under stress, not the opposite. Furthermore lactic acid is not destructive to any tissues, and in fact is taken up and used as fuel by neighbouring muscle fibres.

I've read this kind of stuff from Crawford before, and strictly on the basis of his scientific knowledge would never hire him as a coach.
So am I missing the boat if I only train in zone 2 ?hrv
Nov 5, 2002 9:02 AM
What about the '1000' miles of easy , zone 2 cycling that people like Friel recommend for at least the base 1 phase? Pure zone 2 will be impossible for me with the hills here but I was planning to hold off on keeping up with the group ride hot heads and just go easy for awhile. Why spend so much time in the easy zones if it doesn't promote capillary growth, etc.? Plus I'm getting into mtn. biking and it definitely is impossible to stay in zone 2 when you add big rocks to the climbs!

From the posts above maybe I shouldn't focus on doing only easy miles? Who here does the '1000' miles of base 2, or something similar, and has noticed big improvements?

So am I missing the boat if I only train in zone 2 ?RockyMountainRacer
Nov 5, 2002 9:27 AM
I don't think anyone here is arguing that you shouldn't periodize your training, I am most certainly not and I started the thread. I doubt anyone here would tell you there isn't a time of year for emphacizing speed and intensity, and time of year for emphacizing duration and endurance. That is the fundamental idea of base vs. build in my opinion.

But you are very right when you say it is very hard to not go deeply anaerobic at times when doing some fun mtb rides (I am primarily an mtb racer, so I am on that bike as much as possible at this time of year, soooo much fun!) Sometimes you hit that technical climb and if you want to clean it, you have to hammer and make the legs burn and pant like a dog. And since most of us are not doing intervals at this time of year, I think it feels damn good to redline it on occassion, it reminds you of what racing and hammering and just pushing it and having fun are all about. Doing this in an unstructured manner reminds me of how I felt when I first started riding and was doing it for pure fun, not competition.

I actually thought of this thread while doing a tough mtb climb last week. I was fully anaerobic, had just read the article that day, and heard Rick Crawford in my head telling me I should be staring at a HRM and keeping my BPM below 140 while spinning along easy on my road bike. I say screw that. This is the time of year for having fun on the bike and riding however you feel like it. What I learned in college tells me his claims about training adaptations are bogus, but more importantly my heart tells me that as well! I just wanted to see what everyone else thought about it, and it's a great discussion so far.

Still, I have never done 1000 miles of strict zone 2, and couldn't tell you if I'm really selling myself short. I never go on group road rides untill March though.
So am I missing the boat if I only train in zone 2 ?Jon Billheimer
Nov 5, 2002 9:37 AM
As the above poster says, there's nothing wrong with periodizing your training. Backing off to Zones 1 and 2 training following a heavy race season is a good idea, both mentally and physically. The body does need to rejuvenate itself with a little r & r. However, if you stray into threshold territory occasionally it's not the end of the world. I wouldn't, however, go out and hammer with the Type A's on group rides at this time of the year, as you might find yourself mentally and physically burnt out mid-season next year. Have fun now, but be sure you're getting lots of time for recovery and you're staying mentally relaxed.
Maybe there is a simpler way...willin
Nov 16, 2002 8:09 AM
I like to use the concept of precieved exertion--on a scale of 1-10, with 10 full max out (almost bever hit), 9 very hard, anaerobic, 8 hard exertion probably corresponds to 85-95% of LT, 7 is moderate hard, 6 is moderate, 5 is easy. (1 is on your butt eating Doritos in front of TV)

Folks speak of riding your base miles , stay moderate, and thats that, really,. Idea is not to tax your body, but still be at an aerobic level. After all moderate is not "easy". And 1000 miles goes by fast if you're serious about building miles. So, why not ride at a moderate pace for a month and a half on the off season, then you have created a nice base upon which you can ramp up your strength and speed traing without overtraining can get fast quick by doing intervals if you have the base.

And also, if you have been riding for a year or two or more seriously, then you already have a base. Maybe you dont need to build a base, but rather, maintain one, which is quite different.

But I agree with you, biking is fun, and it's silly to get too technical...there is no hard and fast rule and noone says you cant go warm up your legs, hammer for a few minutes, then slow down. Just listen to your body.

here in Miami,FL, the racers are still doing hammer rides 1x or twice a week, just not as intense, and they dont burn out, as the rest of the week they are putting on "moderate" miles.

I am 43, go on one two or three fast rides a week, then spend three days riding moderate miles. I will probably slow down a bit in November/December holidays, then pick it back up January for the season which starts here in Feb. Also if I feel any symptoms whatsoever of overtraining or burnout, I back off the hammer rides. If work takes more time then I expected I will have the base I need to back off and still be fit for the season start.

For what its worth...
Lance "off season" trainingtrekkie1
Nov 5, 2002 9:37 AM
If anyone has figured this out, he and Carmichael have:
Great article; great threadAnaerobic_Nut
Nov 5, 2002 11:56 AM
I believe Chris and Lance are right on; the offseason is the time to work on strength and power. I've done this the last few years with great success. About 95% of my on-bike training is zone 2 & 3 rides during my base 1 & 2 periods. However, I do get those legs going 4-6 times during these rides to keep them conditioned for high output. I notice a big difference if I don't do this compared to when I do. It must be due to muscle memory and racing.

I tried the Zone 2 only a while ago and was totally flat starting the season. I didn't feel like I'd made much improvement and suffered more that year than any other. Therefore, I think 5% is a small amount in the grand scheme, but certainly helps me to maintain condition for when I ramp it up.
LeMond would agreeRockyMountainRacer
Nov 5, 2002 12:37 PM
He didn't like to lift at all, because he was afraid he'd bulk up. However, he was a big proponent of working on strength and power in the off-season by doing sprint workouts twice a week all year round (following a transition). Just like Lance and Carmichael. You'd be hard-pressed to say Armstrong and LeMond were doing anything wrong with their training!
Yes, but the difference ishrv
Nov 5, 2002 12:47 PM
they have/had like, what, 500k - 1 million miles of endurance built up? I wouldn't think either of them would need to do many easy miles at all: wouldn't add much to their aerobic engine that's for sure. Whereas my aerobic tank is pretty much between empty to 1/8, theirs' was constantly full!
Lance and Carmichael ARE wrongshirt
Nov 5, 2002 3:44 PM
For me, anyway. I've been reading a lot of stuff over the last two years on training, and it still seems that most training programs don't understand the difference between the following types:

1. A professional roadie who specializes in grand tours.

2. A 40-something working man who has a little talent in the sprint and not much else. Including time.

I think weights are valid for some groups of cyclists and not for others. As well as a bunch of other things...

Anyway, my (hopefully) incendiary topic is intended to point out that whatever works for Lance won't necessarily work for you.

Point Taken (nm)RockyMountainRacer
Nov 6, 2002 7:36 AM
Stength training is important for ALL cyclistspeloton
Nov 7, 2002 9:23 AM
I firmly believe that there isn't a cyclist in the world who couldn't benefit from a smartly implemented strength training plan. Training with weights doesn't mean that you are going to bulk up. Especially if you are a cyclist to begin with. Most people can only make use of about 35% of the strength they have in their musculature due to limitations the CNS puts on you to keeping you from hurting tendons and others musculo-skeletal systems. A well trained power lifter maybe takes advantage of about 50% of the strength his or her musculature could put out. This is why you hear stories of people performing incredible acts of strength under exteme stess situations when adrenaline is pumping.

If a cyclist were to get a on a strength training program, I would say on average they could make strength gains of about 35% percent before any additional muscle tissue is formed. The body would rather make use of what is already there because it is more efficient. The body does this by increasing innervations ot the muscle you alreay have to make use of it. This is additional, functional strength that the cyclist now has without any gains in bulk.

Not only that, but cyclists are imbalanced creatures. A properly designed strength training program is going to take care of your muscle imbalances. Weak hamstrings and the like. Cyclists are also notoriously weak in their core strength. Cycling activates your abdominals very little surprisingly enough. Better core strength is going to allow you to make better usage of the strength you have in your limbs. Getting rid of muscle imbalances will also help to make you more supple on the bike, less likely to get overuse injuries, and all around a more healthy person.

With all due respect to Lemond, sport science was in the dark ages when he competed. I would look more to what Lance is doing now with much better information than Lemond.

Strength training is important to all cyclists, and it doesn't mean bulking up.
Nov 7, 2002 9:39 AM
Great post peleton. The end goal is increasing watts/kilogram--not big biceps. I think Friel and Burke both have excellent discussions in their books on this.
Stength training is important for ALL cyclistsRockyMountainRacer
Nov 7, 2002 9:42 AM
Dark ages or not, LeMond obviously knew what he was doing. The point I was making is that he was ahead of his time. Although I would disagree with his hatred of the weight room (like yourself), the point is that LeMond WAS following a "smartly implemented strength traning plan", he just firmly beleived in doing his strength work on the bike. Sprints and power starts, big gear grinding and the like. All racers should do on-the-bike strength work at some time in their training program.

You should read the part of his book on training. Very simplified, easy to use stuff that is very relevant even today.
In the lab and clinical setting...Wayne
Nov 7, 2002 10:31 AM
that I work in we regularly test people's quadriceps using a burst of electricity (to activate any muscle not being activated volitionally) superimposed on a maximal quadriceps contraction. Most people are very good at producing 95+% of their maximal force volitionally, typically the only people who have problems doing this have knee injuries (and anything below 80% is indicative of a clinical condition which we call "inhibition"). Muscle is a dynamic structure that responds to the stresses placed on it, if you only activated 35% of your muscle the other 65% would quickly atrophy.
I think you're probably right about strength training being important for all around health, but I remain unconvinced that it does much of anything to improve cycling performance. "Weight-training" seems to be the "stretching" of the new millineum! Everyone "knows" it will make them faster but anytime someone looks at it in a controlled manner they can't find a performance advantage.
I also disagree that sports science was in the dark ages when Lemond was around. I can only think of two real principles of training that have made any difference to performance, periodization and interval training, both of which were around when Lemond was competing. If people are going faster today than when Lemond was racing it's probably because of better equipment, better drugs, or better monitoring of physiologic status (maybe this is what you mean by sports science?) so that the rider isn't under/over trained, but I don't think training techniques per se are anymore effective today than they were 20 years ago.
Iab related questionspeloton
Nov 8, 2002 7:58 AM
Now when you say 95% of their maximal force, do you mean 95% of the force that they can put out or 95% of the muscle fibers are activated?

What I have seen and read is that we can make large differences in strength without increases in cross-sectional muscles size. A lot of this comes from better innervation recruiting more motor units. Wouldn't autogenic inhibition of the muscle fibers from structures like the GTO/muscle stretch receptors be a big factor in why untrained individuals can not make usage of all the strength that they do have? I saw a study in which untrained individuals were hypnotised, and told that they were stronger than they really were. These individuals were able to lift more than they could when in a normal state of mind. It would suggest that the CNS has a lot to do with the number of motor units we can recruit at once. I've also been under the understanding that we don't contract all our muscle fibers at once at any given time. This protects our tendons and other musculo-skeletal structures. Is this mindset outdated or misinformed? I think of 1RM as well. If I can squat 450 once, why not twice? I surely haven't depleted the energy systems, or done significant muscle damage. Isn't this also an example of the CNS protecting the body from exerting too much force on it's structures? In my studies of ex phys I've been told that it's not so much that your muscles couldn't do more, it's just your CNS is trying to protect you. Just from the strength gains I have seen in individuals without increases in cross sectional muscle size suggests that increased nueral activation is a big factor in motor unit recruitment . I imagine most people have the capacity to be far stronger if they had the nueral development to just make usage of the strength that they do have. It would really blow me away if most people could already make use of 95% of their availible strength without some CNS development.

I also don't think that weight training is going to suddenly make someone blazing fast on the bike, but I would bet money that they will get hurt less if they do weight train. I imagine that some individuals may also get faster due to improved biomechanics if they were to cure some of their muscle imbalances. I think of someone who can't hold a low position due to a weak, tight lower back or hamstrings. I feel certain that someone with an imbalance like this, if it were cured would be more comfortable on the bike, and therefore faster.

I think Lemond was pretty cutting edge at his time, and a lot of what we see today is because of him. Lance's training for specific events is because of Lemond, and ideas he brought to the sport. I would say that we have come a long way in a short time though in sport science. Look at heart-rate training, and some of the misconceptions over the years there. (Maybe this goes as far back as Moser) I would say that we have also come a long way in understanding sport specific training, and it's importance. I think in a lot of sports we trained some factors that didn't really make a big difference. The better monitoring of physiologic factors is probably the big one as you said though. I think we have much better consistancy because of this- keeping people from overtraining, and peaking at the right time. I think we may see more Tour winners who do it year after year because their training is so highly developed, and this makes it more likely they will be at their peak at the right time.

I am curious to see what you are observing in the lab. What do you think?
Nov 8, 2002 9:50 AM
I'm saying 95% of their maximum force in a controlled situation where they are strapped into a dynameter kicking out (contracting their quad) against a fixed force lever (so isometrically, the muscle doesn't shorten significantly since the lever arm doesn't move). How do we know what 100% is? Well if you're kicking as hard as you can, and a burst of electricity comes into the muscle theorectically any muscle fibers you are not already activating will be activated and the force will increase. We typically see a small increase in force or none at all, but people with knee injuries (and a weak quad) often show big deficits in activation (so not surprisingly their quad has been atrophying). So at 100% of peak force, you are activating, necessarily, 100% of the muscle fibers in that muscle at or above their tetanic rate.
How does that extend to someone in the gym or under a less restricted situation showing strength gains without hypertrophy? I don't think there's a great answer for that. Conventional wisdom seems to be that, as you say, they weren't activating all of the muscle initially and now they are. I think it may have something to do with stabilization or improved endurance (remember most of these studies don't do 1 rep max's they do multiple contractions). Look at a guy benching for the 1st time, usually he's shaking all over the place, the bar is weaving here and there as he goes through the range of motion. In short order, most people get the movement down, the bar takes a much more linear path. Maybe alot of those early strength gains are just better stabilization of the body and directing the force in the appropriate direction (which isn't really an issue in the lab setting we test in). Anyway that's my speculation on an alternative explanation for strength gains without hypertrophy, since it would seem given the right conditions a person can maximally activate the muscle. And as I said before, use it or lose isn't just a truism, if a motor unit and muscle fibers aren't activated at least occasionally then they will atrophy. This wouldn't be a big deal if you could "rotate" the motor units you activate, but the evidence seems to point to a orderly recruitment of motor units under most instances. So necessarily if you could only activate a portion of the muscle it would be the same portion, and the other portion would quickly atrophy since it's essentially never being used.
If you think about Fatigue it ranges from not being able to do the 2nd rep of a 1 rep max, sprinting in the 100m dash (which is actually an endurance event since those guys reach peak velocity around 50-70 meters, and the guy pulling away at the end isn't out accelerating the others, he's just slowing down less), to something like the kilo on the track, to what we think of as "endurance events". Whatever causes fatigue is multifactorial and situation dependent. I agree with you in the case of a max lift, the reason you can't do a second rep is probably some sort of lack of the necessary neural drive to reactivate the all of the muscle. Is that protective? Well if the first didn't tear something, what's the likelihood the second rep will? I don't know, maybe it is increased because you can't stabilize the body as well.
My guess for fatigue in something like the 100m dash, is that what's limiting is the rate at which the ATP can be supplied to generate the huge power those guys are generating. When they start to slowdown correlates nicely with depletion of Creatine-Phosphate system.
Kilo riders are probably again limited by ATP generation although in this case, it's probably just the max rate that their glycolytic/oxidative system can pump it out.
Longer more traditional endurance events it's probably glycogen depletion in motor units as the event progresses or metabolic build-up of some kind (probably not lactic acid) in the short-order of producing high power for a relatively brief portion of the event.
What I do in the lab
Nov 8, 2002 10:23 AM
That's interesting. The idea of stabilizers creating a lot of strength gains makes perfect sense, and how the CNS would help with this in muscle memory would follow. I wonder if what you are seeing in the lab with 100% muscle fiber recruitment happens in the field as well. I was under the impression that we didn't activate all of our muscle fiber at once in order to prevent injury. WIth muscles spindles though, it is an all or nothing sort of situation when an impulse tells them to contract. If all the muscle fibers are contracting like you say, then this would truly be a maximal effort. Maybe this is limited by the Golgi tendon organ and other muscle spindle stretch receptors if the force rate production gets too high for connective tissue to handle, and backs this force off? Understanding that tendons/ligaments don't hypertrophy at the same rate as muscle, perhaps the body backs contractile force off in the field to protect these structures. In your tests you are using an isometric contraction, right? I wonder if these neural inhibitors would be activated to the same degree as in a concentric contraction.

Damn, now I gotta go to the library to do some research. Thanks Wayne. :)
Right on, Peloton. (nm)shirt
Nov 7, 2002 5:12 PM
re: The Science of Base TrainingVeloflash
Nov 7, 2002 9:31 PM
An answer to the same question can be found here

Actually, the exercise regime which produced the greatest increase in V02max, and therefore capillarization, was brutal ultrashort intervals. Now there is a real leg + lung burn for you!
re: The Science of Base Trainingbrains
Nov 11, 2002 3:27 PM
all of that having been said, what are some of the optimal weight training excercises for increasing on the bike performance overall? By overall I mean sprinting, climbing, and everything in between. We heard Chris Carmichael mention resistance training with at least one aperatus, a sqaut machine and somebody said core strenght training which I took to mean sit-ups crunches and the like. What esle is recomended?
There can be no optimal...Wayne
Nov 12, 2002 4:33 AM
given that the very idea that lifting weights improves cycling performance lacks any credible support. That being said, quads and glutes are the primary muscles you use in cycling. If you buy the weight lifting thing, then do exercises targeting those muscles. Squats, leg presses, lunges, leg extensions, deadlifts, etc.