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 above, level 1 is generally thought of as the level where base fitness is built. It is where 80% of training is going to be. Despite being the most common, it the hardest level to define and the hardest to stay in for athletes. Technically Level 1 is defined as 60-70% of your max heart rate. That is easy to say, but when you're on a training run it is hard to feel what that is. We like to define Level 1 as "conversation pace" or by what it is not. Level 1 isn't skiing slowly and chatting with your friends, but you could talk fairly easily if you wanted to. While Level 1 is an "easy ski" it is still training with a purpose and should be taken seriously. It also isn't slowing down or walking up a hill, just because you think your heart rate might climb a bit too high and leave L1. It isn't trying to pass everyone on the trail when you come up behind someone who is "slower" than you.
Level 2 is a bit trickier to define and even harder to personally find during training. It is best defined as "just a bit harder than L1 and comfortably uncomfortable". Often times when we think we are training in Level 1, we are actually training a bit harder than intended and staying in Level 2. Level 2 is important because in a shorter time window we can get a similar training benefit to training for a long time in Level 1. In Level 2 training we also start to utilize carbohydrates as well as fats for fuel. This trains our body to access this necessary energy source during the harder race day efforts. Due to our team's time constraints in the winter, we train a fair bit at Level 2 to build our base fitness.
Level 3 Training
Level 3 training is psychologically one of the hardest training levels to maintain. Level 3 training is best defined as lactate threshold training. Simply put, the lactic threshold is the point at which lactic acid starts to accumulate rapidly in muscles. It needs to be stressed that this is not the same for everyone and is impossible to determine without testing equipment. One benchmark that is often used is that Level 3 is when the athletes heart rate is 85% of max. Similarly to Level 1, this is a hard thing to judge. Rather than using the heart rate definition we will use an effort based definition. Level 3 training effort or lactate threshold training effort is the max effort that an athlete can sustain for 40-60 minutes.
Now that we know what Level 3 training is, what is the purpose of it? Training at a Level 3 will increase the time an athlete can sustain a hard effort without lactic acid accumulating in their muscles. This directly contributes to better performance in longer ski 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
We define Level 5 as your running 400m to 800m race pace or an equivalent level of effort. This is the pace that you would race a middle distance sprint. Level 5 training involves shorter 1-2ish minute minute repeats with at least half time recovery. This type of training is important to improve top end speed and skiing/running economy. These hard efforts are often the best time to think about technique and how the athlete can improve their efficiency.