ATC 278: How Bad is Zone 3, Preparing for Altitude, Strength Training for Triathletes, and more!

January 18, 2019


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In the episode of Ask the Coaches with Brock and Lucho, we answer listener questions about: is it bad to train in zone 3, how to prepare for racing at altitude, what type of strength training is good for triathletes, and more!

In the intro:

Kate asks:

My normal winter involves xc skiing and ski touring or Skimo racing, both of which end up with me spending most of my training time in zn 3. This year we are so far, having a low snow season, so I’m still running and have more choice about intensity. Bikers seem to obsess about not training in the ‘grey’ zone and runners don’t seem to be as bothered. I’ve reduced my training volume to around 10cardio hrs p. wk from a period of 15hrs a wk in an 8wk build up to an ultra in December.

Back then I focused on strength rather than speed and tired legs forced more zn 2 time which seemed perfect for ultra training in a short block of time with next to no running base. But now I’m wondering with only 10hrs per week how important polarised training is? If i devise and follow any schedules they are loose ones with mostly training according to how I feel and what I fancy doing, the terrain often dictating intensity more than anything else. But it would be a shame to waste my nice base

I’ll likely do a 2hr snowy running race towards the end of this month and a 3hr triathlon (run, MTB with skis and ski at the end of March, last time I placed 3rd despite my advancing years (50). I have one weaker hamstring which needs careful management and have adopted more strength into my routine along with regular yoga.

My only other goal is to be able to run all of my local hill (450 vertical metres with 3 sections of ‘too steep to run’). So I’m thinking – continue running as i feel like because i’m still getting faster with doing what i’m doing. Carry on with my ad hoc intervals fartlek style and up the strength side (currently been doing pre-run activation and a bit of finishing the legs off afterwards). Thinking about adding some plyometric and harder post run stuff. Todays run was quite typical 5% zn 1, 37% zn 2 (running down the hill), 44% zn3, 12% zn 4

Please see the attached picture which gives a glimpse of my insane calves for your amusement and to get your attention. You are right by the way, small calves are faster. Only ice climbers need ones this big but i’m stuck with them and at least they psyche out the opposition. When’s endurance planet coming to the alps?

The coaches say:

  • Zone 3 (tempo) is not the enemy, it has value.
    • Zone 3 is only a problem when you ONLY run in zone 3.
  • More worried about the 12% of training in Zone 4… that’s A LOT!
  • Don’t do the same run every day with the same intensity, unless you’re building your aerobic base in zone 2.
  • Some people do better with periodization but not everyone.
  • You can try it out but if what you are doing is working, that is great! It’s important that you continue to improve.
  • As a super fit person, it’s harder for you to “mess up” your training. Gravitate towards what you enjoy and don’t be afraid to experiment with new protocols. Listen to your body and make sure you are getting enough recovery.
  • Be careful doing plyometrics post-run. These can be very violent and break you down.  Focus on good form and don’t push through fatigue.

Amy asks:

My spouse and I will both be doing the Leadville 100 MTB race this spring. We need help with our training strategy. We live in an area with lots of climbs and hilly terrain, but we are at 200 feet above sea level, on the Eastern Seaboard. We can get to 2500-3000 feet driving, but there is no altitude anywhere around here. We’ve only briefly been at altitude and both did okay with it.

Short of an altitude tent (expensive), what can we do to prepare? Here are some ideas we’ve had:
1. Eat iron-rich foods.
2. Train in the heat (we heard this produces a similar effect/feeling on the body as altitude).
3. Train with ankle weights and/or a weight vest to make it suck more.
4. Get a fat bike so it’s heavy and hard to ride.
5. Lose weight.

We are staying in downtown Leadville and arriving 8 days ahead of time.

The coaches say:

  • Interesting study on Iron and Altitude
  • Eating iron-rich foods won’t help unless you have a deficiency; check your hematocrit to see. No need to avoid iron-rich foods, but they won’t really help with altitude.
  • Similarly, beets, cruciferous veg, and echinacea will help boost blood oxygen carrying capacity, but these aren’t going to make a huge difference in your training and racing either.
  • Heat training will be huge for you! Consider layering up and getting very uncomfortably hot while training, and also spend considerable time in a  sauna.  Getting used to feeling overheated will help you deal with feeling the effects of altitude (it all comes down to the Central Governor).
  • Similarly, try some hypoxic workouts
  • Ankle weights are just messing with mechanics. Focus on upper back, shoulders and neck. Rows and push-ups are solid go-tos. Farmer carries will help with grip strength.
  • Avail yourself of the hills around you rather than relying on an artificial challenges like a fat bike.
    • You might consider getting heavier training wheels.
  • Once you’re at altitude, switch to higher carb diet and stay hydrated.

Kris asks:

Short intro: I’ve been doing some short course triathlon for 2 years. Background in Olympic Weightlifting and Crossfit. Started swimming to rehab back and used to cycle everywhere I went in my 20’s (now 32, but do not consider myself old or even starting to get old). While I know that I probably overdo the endurance portion of training a bit considering I’m still a beginner (I have a nagging case of plantar fasciitis 6 months +), my main question is about the incorporation of strength training.

So I understand periodization and have a degree in Exercise Science but most of my experience is strength oriented. I’m still incorporating 2 lifting days per week (I put on muscle easy so more would be counterproductive) and it seems like the weight I have to lift to produce a stimulus is far heavier than most and then my runs suffer a little or I have DOMS. If I lift less than it’s just easy and seems like time that can be better well spent.

This season I’ve started with 3 weeks (hypertrophy 8-10 reps at 70-75%) then moving to strength with 4 weeks at 80% and 6-8 reps 4 main exercises and a lifting tempo of 40X1 for the main lifts. So far it hasn’t been too bad but I feel like the lifting is affecting the endurance training (not so much swimming) more than the endurance affecting the lifting.

The coaches say:

  • Check out Brock’s Get-Fit Guy post about PF
  • Alternative Protocols:
    • Trying dropping the weight and lifting slower.
    • Lighter weights higher reps.
    • Switch up your lifts; dial back on 4 main heavy lifts and shift focus to strength training stabilizing muscles for endurance sports.
    • Stop lifting entirely while you focus on sport-specific fitness. Once you get endurance sports up to par then you can bring in the heavier lifts if you’re missing it.
      • If your priority is to get stronger in triathlon then cut strength training entirely; you’re strong enough.
      • Weight training doesn’t make you fast. So choose your priority and sacrifice accordingly.
      • It might be satisfying your craving to kill yourself if you focus on PRing in the 5K and FTP.
  • Other Resources

One Comment

  • Michael (The Ultra Dad) says:

    The book you were looking for might be “Unbreakable Runner”. As for the CFE protocol in general, there was a (recent) podcast with Brian MacKenzie where he talked about how they were moving away from the general CrossFit Endurance framework and instead building a new brand / methodology under Power Speed Endurance. I can’t recall the podcast, but beyond that I know very little detail. Cheers and thanks for all that you have done!

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