Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Chicken or the Egg?

I've recently been discussing lactate threshold. I sometimes tend to overanalyze or mathematically dissect and issue to death because that's part of the allure to me. But I also think that anyone who would like to be a stronger rider can ignore the more simplistic approach to training at their own peril. Eddie Merckx's advice might be the best two word training advice ever: "Ride lots."

I've always wondered if the strongest riders have been riding many years because they are good at it (most people naturally enjoy activities that they are good at) or if they are good at it because they have been riding for many years. This post from the Google wattage forum gives this less gifted athlete a little hope that the latter argument holds true:

Intervals do well improving ones fitness in the short term, but they lead to burnout. Long term improvements comes from chronic long term training specific to the sport of interest. In order to do that, it's best to keep what ever cycling training you're doing enjoyable. Keep a long term focus, without obsessing on the details and you'll do fine.

This is exemplified by a study of 14 competitive cyclists with nearly identical VO2 max values that differed substantially in their lactate threshold determined during cycling (ranging between 61 and 86% of VO2 max). When the cyclists were divided into a "low" and "high" LT groups (66% vs. 81% of maximal oxygen consumption), it was found that the two groups differed considerable in the years of cycling training (2.7 compared to 5.1 years on average). However, they did not differ in years of endurance training (7-8 years of running, rowing etc.) When the low cycling LT and high cycling LT groups performed a lactate threshold test while running on a treadmill, the two groups were no longer different. Measured while running, the lactate threshold in both groups averaged over 80% of VO2 max.

In other words it wasn't genetics, but the length of chronic training and competition that made the difference. What's most important is that it be enjoyable so that you'll stick with it and make it into the second group.

My VO2max is about 65 mmole/l/min, which is pretty decent. Maybe that means my LT will gradually rise with time. And if not, it'll be a good long term experiment anyway.