Training For Endurance – How to build your endurance while training for athletics

At 2Madeira, we’re passionate about all things sport. As an Athlete, training to build your endurance enables you to perform physical exercise over longer periods of time without becoming exhausted. In this article, we’ll be exploring training methods designed to build endurance, working at a higher and lower intensity to achieve optimal performance.

There are many variables to consider when creating a personal training plan, so we’ll explore some examples and explain how different levels of activity, in specific heart rate zones can help you build your endurance, and allow you to see improvements in your athletic performance.

How is the Intensity of your training measured?

In order to measure your training, we can begin by separating it into two parts—part one, Training Volume, the frequency of your training sessions, and part 2-, Training Intensity, the amount of time you spend in different heart rate zones.

In the following examples, we’ll focus on the three-zone model which we call Low Intensity, Zone 1, Medium Intensity, Zone 2, and High Intensity, Zone 3.

  • When training in Zone 1, an Athlete can train for long periods of time, like during ultra-endurance events lasting 24 hours or longer. In Zone 3 however, the high intensity of the activity can and should only be sustained for a short period of time, approximately fifteen minutes.
  • The amount of time an athlete spends in each Zone can be dictated by the sport or activity. For example, cycling for five hours in Zone 1 can be achieved fairly easily, but running would prove to be difficult. This can be demonstrated by the amount of time cyclists and rowers train for, considerably longer periods than runners.

There are several different methods of calculating how hard an athlete trains, with some methods leading to substantially different results. All methods have their strengths and weaknesses, but calculating the percentage of time spent in each intensity zone is straightforward and can give us a good indication of performance and improvements through training over time.

The above chart demonstrates common training durations within either Zone 1, 2 or 3. Low Intensity (Zone 1) reflects approximately 70% of the maximum heart rate zone. Moderate Intensity (Zone 2) accounts for 80-90% of the maximum heart rate and High Intensity (Zone 3) equates to 90%+ maximum heart rate.

Intensity Zone (HRTZ)

One common method is working out the percentage of time spent in each intensity zone based on our athlete’s heart rate values. The heart rate time-in-zone approach.

One problem with this method is that the high-intensity zone (Zone 3) is often recorded inconsistently. This is because the heart does not adapt quickly to changes in exercise intensity. For example, when making a high-intensity Zone 3 run, it often takes 1 min or longer for the heart rate to rise to Zone 3 levels for reporting.

Referencing the chart below, using the heart rate time-in-zone method, you can see that based on the heart rate recordings 82% of the weekly training was performed in Zone 1, 11% in Zone 2, and only 7% in Zone 3.

Session Goal

Another common method is called the session goal approach. This is based on the main goal of the training session and its intensity zone, irrespective of warm-up, cool-down, or breaks in between intervals.

Using the session goal method, you can see that the same training resulted in only 40% Zone 1, 20% Zone 2, and 40% Zone 3 training. So, based on the method, totally different numbers in each zone will be calculated.

How do endurance athletes train?

To explain some of the training methods athletes use, we use the term Training Intensity Distribution, (TID). TID describes how an athlete distributes their training across the three intensity zones. Several TIDs are commonly used by athletes and have been studied by sports scientists. Using the three-zone intensity model we have described, the following TID patterns are possible:

The illustration above demonstrates different training methods or Training Intensity Distributions (TIDs), in endurance sports.

  1. If the major proportion of the training is low intensity (Zone 1) and typically of longer duration (Volume), it is called a high-volume low-intensity training (HVLIT)
  2. High-intensity training (HIT) has a big focus on Zone 3 and only a minor focus on Zones 1 and 2
  3. Pyramidal TID has an emphasis and the highest proportion of training in Zone 1, followed by a decreasing proportion in Zones 2 and 3
  4. Inverse pyramidal training is just the opposite, with the largest proportion of the training in Zone 3, followed by Zone 2 and Zone 1
  5. When the primary training focus is on Zone 2, it is referred to as threshold training
  6. Polarized training has the main focus on Zones 1 and 3, with almost no training in Zone 2—the main training is performed in the two extremes (or poles) of the intensity scale
  7. Inverse polarized TID has a greater amount of Zone 3 training compared with Zone 1
  8. If all three zones are trained in equal proportion it is called uniform, even, or equal TID

How do endurance athletes train over the course of a year?

Over a year, the amount of hours an athlete can train varies, depending on the type of training, sport and event goal. An Olympic Cross-Country Skier could train for upwards of 600 hours, whereby a Biathlete could train for 900 hours and more, representing a difference of 50%.

Sports scientists have found that these athletes train up to 500 times per year, in about 8–14 workouts a week. Most of this training is in Zone 1 (70–94%), with less in Zone 2 (4–22%) and Zone 3 (2–11%), in either a pyramidal TID, with the greatest amount of Zone 1, followed by Zone 2 and Zone 3 training. or polarized TID.

There is also a lot of variation in the way endurance athletes space out their training over the course of the year. But, there seems to be a pattern across the training season, from a focus on high-volume, low-intensity training (HVLIT); to a TID with a major proportion of the training in Zone 1. during the preparation phase.

The first month within a training year; usually this period starts some weeks after the termination of the competition phase. (the 5–6 months training period at the start of the training year), toward a pyramidal TID during the pre-competition period (1–2 months before the start of the first competition), and a polarized TID during the competition phase. The period where the main competitions take place. (the 3–5 months where the main competitions take place). The monthly frequency of Zone 3 sessions (high intensity) increases from the preparation phase to the pre-competition phase defined as the 1–2 months period before the first competitions begin, and remains unchanged throughout the competition period, while the amount of time in Zone 1 decreases.

Training intensity distribution (TID) during certain phases of a training year. For instance, in long-distance running, the preparation phase starts around May and ends in August, followed by the pre-competition or specific preparation phase, from September to November, and the competition phase from December until March. By splitting the training into monthly high-intensity intervals, you can monitor the heart rate zones consistently. You can see that the TID changes from a high-volume low intensity (HVLIT) oriented TID in the preparation phase, to a pyramidal TID in the pre-competition phase and a polarized TID during the competition phase.

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