Throughout the year the coaches will ask the athletes to complete their training at a level, between 1 and 5. These levels indicate what level of effort the training should be completed at. Level 1 is defined as training with a heart rate between 60% and 70% of max heart rate. This is what the coaching staff considers fitness base building. In this article we will also talk about level 3 and 5, where a large amount of our training will occur.
Level 1 & 2 Training
As mentioned earlier, Level 1 is typically regarded as the phase where athletes lay the foundation for their base fitness. In fact, approximately 80% of their training effort is dedicated to this level. Despite being the most common, Level 1 can be challenging to precisely define and maintain for athletes. Technically speaking, Level 1 falls within the range of 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. While that may sound straightforward, it can be a bit elusive to gauge during an actual training run. To make it more relatable, we prefer to describe Level 1 as "conversation pace" or by what it isn't. Level 1 isn't about skiing at a snail's pace and leisurely chatting with friends, but it's an intensity where you could engage in conversation fairly easily if you wanted to. It's essential to understand that even though Level 1 is considered an "easy ski," it's still purposeful training and should be approached with diligence. On the flip side, it's also not an excuse to slow down significantly or resort to walking up a hill just because you fear your heart rate might creep slightly beyond the Level 1 range. Additionally, it's not an invitation to pass everyone on the trail when you come across someone you consider "slower" than you.
Level 2 presents a bit of a challenge in terms of defining and achieving it during training. It's often best described as being "just a tad more intense than Level 1, pushing you into a state of comfortable discomfort." Surprisingly, there are instances when we believe we're training at Level 1, but in reality, we find ourselves firmly in Level 2 territory. Level 2 is significant because it allows us to derive similar training benefits within a shorter timeframe compared to extended Level 1 training sessions. What sets Level 2 training apart is that we begin to tap into carbohydrates in addition to fats as sources of energy. This crucial aspect trains our bodies to access this essential energy source during the more strenuous efforts on race days. Given the time constraints faced by our team during the winter, we incorporate a considerable amount of Level 2 training to bolster our base fitness.
Level 3 Training
Level 3 training, both physically and psychologically, poses one of the most demanding challenges for athletes. Essentially, Level 3 training revolves around what we call "lactate threshold training." To simplify, the lactate threshold signifies the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate rapidly within the muscles. It's crucial to emphasize that this threshold varies among individuals and is virtually impossible to determine accurately without specialized testing equipment. One common reference point is that Level 3 corresponds to a heart rate of 85% of one's maximum, but even this can be challenging to gauge accurately.
Instead of relying solely on heart rate measurements, we prefer an effort-based approach to define Level 3 training. In this context, Level 3 training effort, or lactate threshold training effort, represents the maximum exertion an athlete can sustain for a duration spanning 40 to 60 minutes.
Now, why do we engage in Level 3 training? The primary goal is to enhance an athlete's capacity to sustain a strenuous effort without excessive lactic acid buildup in their muscles. This development directly contributes to improved performance in longer ski races, where endurance and resistance to fatigue are crucial factors. Level 3 training empowers athletes to maintain a high-intensity effort for an extended duration, ultimately translating to better results in those grueling races.
Level 4 Training
For our purposes we are going to define Level 4 as the level of effort that you could sustain for 4 to 6 minutes. This means that it is not a sprint or an effort that you could only hold for a minute or two. That type of effort would be considered Level 5.
Level 5 Training
In our training program, Level 5 represents the intensity level akin to running a 400m to 800m race, or, in simpler terms, giving it your all in a middle-distance sprint. When we talk about Level 5 training, we're delving into shorter, more intense workouts, typically consisting of 1- to 2-minute repeats with recovery periods that are at least half the duration of the effort itself.
The significance of Level 5 training lies in its role in enhancing an athlete's top-end speed and overall efficiency in both skiing and running. These shorter, high-intensity bursts provide a unique opportunity for athletes to focus on their technique and pinpoint areas where they can improve their overall efficiency.
During Level 5 training, athletes have the chance to fine-tune their form and make those critical adjustments that can make a substantial difference in their performance. Whether it's refining their stride, perfecting their pole plant, or optimizing their pacing strategy, these hard efforts serve as a valuable platform for honing technique and ultimately boosting their skiing or running economy.