Heads up on NYT: "Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Olympian?"

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  • #8341

    Interesting NYT article, noting positive competitive impact of long slow workouts (“easy”, at 80% HR) of the most decorated female Olympian, based on her detailed daily workout journals since age 20:

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    Anonymous on #8349

    Thanks for this link. Here’s the back story:

    With her last Olympic Gold, Marit Bjoergen has just gone from being the most successful female winter Olympian to the most successful winter Olympian. While her results are nothing short of phenomenal her training methods are standard fare for top athletes across all endurance sports.

    Here is the study referred to in the NYT article. It looks in details at the training history, especially the distribution of intensity in her overall volume by examining her training logs in detail.

    While Bjoergen’s intensity distribution was about 90-10 (90% of her training done at low intensity-LIT / 10% done at high intensity- HIT) Seiler’s seminal 2006 study showed that world class athletes across the full range of endurance sports (XC skiing, rowing, running, cycling, swimming0 trained with an intensity distribution in the 80%-20% LIT to HIT training volume.
    Here is that study:

    The NYT writer makes the conclusion that Bjoergen is a single data point so it is hard to draw a conclusion. This is wrong on several counts.

    1) Before the 2006 Olympic season Bjoergen changed her training to include a much higher volume of HIT and reduced the LIT sessions using a HIT training protocol favored by a Norwegian researcher Jan Helgerud. Helgerud’s research is still used as one of the principle supports for the current fitness fad of using HIT as a short cut to aerobic fitness. Her results suffered all season. She went on record after that season as saying this had been a mistake and returned to the traditional training methods. The subsequent results speak for themselves.

    2) The previously most successful woman in XC skiing Bente Skari used a very similar training intensity distribution trough out her career.

    3) Seiler’s studies have shown that these two are not outliers, as the NYT writer implies, but instead, they fit the training model of all the most successful endurance athletes.

    One interesting thing that we see when digging into the training logs of both Skari and Bjoergen is that through their careers they added LIT volume while holding the volume of HIT rather constant yet they continued to improve.

    High intensity training is very important for all endurance athletes. But what get lost in the popular press is that HIT is a supplement to, and not replacement for LIT.


    xcskier on #8553

    Bjoergen self-reported training zones are quite a bit higher than
    typical generic zones. Based on the published data:

    HRmax = 173
    Aerobic Threshold = 150
    Anaerobic Threshold = 160

    Her aerobic and anaerobic thresholds are within 6.5% of each other
    and her training zones are

    LIT: 67% to 86% HRmax (target zone 67% to 75%)
    MIT: 87% to 92% HRmax (target zone 89% to 92%)
    HIT: 93% to 100% HRmax (target zone 93% to 98%)

    So, if she was just following generic zones (eg, for MIT: 82% to 87%) she might have
    been doing a completely different training.

    A few other interesting observations:
    1. She appears to do very little to no training near hear aerobic threshold.
    2. She seems to do no intervals shorter than 4 minutes (apart from actual sprint
    competitions which would be around 3 minutes).
    3. She does a lot of high altitude training year round.

    If one trains at high altitude (like Norwegian skiers or Kenyan runners), how are
    training intensities and training zones adjusted?

    Anonymous on #8654

    Your observations about Bjoern’s zones is exactly why we suggest getting a lab test for those interested in maximizing their training effectiveness. Generic intensity prescription based on % of max HR are based themselves on averages over large populations and not specific to any individual.

    What you see is typical with a high endurance trained athlete: Very High AeT relative to AnT and Max. This is what the term “big aerobic base” means. Here MIT or Z3 is very small (10 beats). For athletes in tis condition we see that their speeds at AeT are around 85+% of race pace. As such the neuro-muscular load is very high at these speeds, even though the metabolic load if low (aerobic). These athletes cannot do much training near AeT as it is too tiring. This is when 2 training becomes the black hole we speak about in our book. Not the case for those with aerobic deficiency whose pace is slow at AeT. She like other elites must do more Z1 and Z3 and 4. A more polarized training model.

    High Altitude means a lowering of HR zones.


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