We're finishing up the last week of our latest cycle, "Big L." The focus during this 5-week cycle was to develop aerobic endurance - a modality that is often forgotten in the age of high-intensity interval training.
During this cycle we began with 40 minutes of constant effort training sessions, 3x/week. We progressed the time to 50 minutes, and then finally 60 minutes over the course of four weeks. The sessions were split into two to three training segments, normally around 15-20 minutes each.
The remaining two days were focused on developing a baseline on simple speed and agility drills (teaching the body proper mechanics) as well as lower body, single limb strength and upper body pulling strength.
The important note for athlete's during this cycle is to find a steady, maintainable pace for the duration of the training session. We don't want you redlining out of the gates and falling flat on your face 15 minutes in. 65-75% effort (which normally runs parallel to your heart rate) is what we're looking for.
The cue was to be able to speak a full sentence at any given moment during the training session. If the sentence is broken up because you're out of breath, you need to slow down. Able to speak a paragraph without stopping? Pick up the pace.
Aerobic work (which utilizes the oxidative system almost entirely past the 30-40 minute mark) has several benefits.
- Increased efficiency & recovery
According to the to National Strength and Conditioning Association, "Prolonged activities have been reported to induce muscle glycogen depletion and to acutely increase the rate of fat metabolism, while chronically leading to an increase in stroke volume, mitochondrial density, and a more efficient oxidative capacity." These traits are a important component to the 360 degree perspective on fitness. Increase your body's ability to do work by developing the systems that charge it, which in turn allows for a decrease in the amount of time needed to recover.
- Increased volume of work
The construct of the sessions allows us to increase the total volume of work accomplished without overtaxing the musculoskeletal system. We use light loading split between upper body, lower body, and total body work in conjunction with running and step ups. We don't use a ton of squatting movements if you look at the cycle as a whole - super high rep squatting with lightweight simply adds a stress to the joint that isn't necessary to accomplish the goals of the cycle.
- Mental Fortitude
Some things in life just take longer than 15-20 minutes. Anecdotally I've found athletes hit a mental wall somewhere around the 30 minute mark. Pushing through that wall develops a sense of accomplishment beyond what you thought you were capable of. Most of us here in the gym aren't training for the olympics or an ultramarathon, but knowing you can consistently work hard over a progressively longer period of time gives a taste of the hard life that we might not otherwise get.
This was an undoubtedly hard cycle, which is why it's only 5 weeks long (including a deload week). Keep grinding - it'll pay off.