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Everybody Needs Endurance

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Here is one of the most erroneous questions I’ve regularly heard in a Spinning® studio:

‘I am already fairly fit and I do not have a real weight issue so why should I do endurance rides, let alone 60% of the time?”

In short, the correct answer is: “Everybody needs endurance.” But maybe you need a compelling reason why! So that is exactly what I will explain in this article.

  • Do I spend 60% of my training time in the Endurance Energy Zone™?
  • Are most of my cardio sessions comfortable all throughout the year?
  • Do I have periods of six to eight weeks each year where I train without losing my breath at?

As the hype grows for ‘high intensity interval training’ yielding fast results, we have to re-emphasize the importance of remembering the basics of the body! And it is an instructor’s task and duty to make it clear in the studio why we are focused so much on the Endurance EZ.

Do not expect highly technical explanations to come in the words below. If this comes as a relief to you, great! If you are an instructor struggling finding a very basic explanation for all the weekend warriors in your classes saying no to endurance training, I hope you will find some words to help you make it clearer to them that not doing endurance is not an option. If you are non-endurance rider by conviction, please read on!

Most of us have probably already heard of having to train at lower intensities to use fat as the main energy source while working out. And yes, as a novice participant this is definitely your first stop for good fitness and health. I don’t think we can warn our participants enough about the danger of quick-fix solutions that go in the direction of a ‘no pain, no gain’ culture. Of course, not all exercise can be at low intensities, and at a certain time, you will have to go through some serious workloads for increased results.

However, rule number one of efficient cardiovascular training is and will remain getting your base training right, which means at least two to three months of aerobic, comfortable (without gasping for oxygen) training. These are facts you cannot deny if you are trying to achieve long-lasting fitness, health and body composition goals!

Here is a metaphor I like using. Let’s consider ourselves as being like a hybrid car using both fat and glycogen (in comparison to electricity and gas). When you drive your hybrid car, it moves by using a mixture of electricity and gas. It is recommended to save the gas as long as possible as this will cost you at the pump or, failing to get to the pump in time will make your car stop all together! The electric battery recharges itself while driving downhill and during other “off” moments, and hence if the car is used wisely you will be able to go longer on one tank of gas.

This is exactly how the body works, and this is where it so often goes wrong, resulting in overtraining, decreased fitness and health levels, fatigue, burnout, loss of motivation and, believe it or not, even weight gain in the long term!

So let’s compare our bodies to the hybrid car above. At all times our bodies consume energy, even while sitting in a couch. And the energy we consume is always a mixture of both fats and glycogen (let’s leave protein out of the equation for simplicity’s sake here).

The general rule is that when training or just exisiting at lower intensity levels, the mixture of energy used is predominantly coming from fats. We all have a specific heart rate (per sport) at which this mixture shifts to predominantly glycogen.

The real catch about these energy sources is how much your body has in stock of each and this is exactly why everyone, especially fit individuals with performance goals, have a real need for endurance training.

An example (see graph below): An average male with only 12% of fat in his body (which is not excessive), still has 94,500 calories available from fat! However this same man will only have about 1800–1900 calories available from glycogen 94,500 calories is pretty much a limitless pool of energy you‘d rather use before spending the more scarce 1900 calories from glycogen. Once you have used these 1900 calories, you will be slowed down or even stopped, just like the hybrid car that runs out of gas!

Source: Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance (Human Kinetics)

You could say that you could eat while training to keep this stock of glycogen up. This unfortunately will not work to keep it up completely. You body can only take up a few hundred calories an hour before your digestive system kicks in heavily and slows you down. Training at too high a heart rate will eventually slow you down and make you stop.

This is exactly why endurance training is needed for everyone, not only for novice participants or people aiming at weight loss. If you wish to be a healthy person and perform well at endurance sports (especially efforts over 90 minutes) you WILL NOT get away with insufficient endurance training.

I hope this sheds some light into the matter, which so often is not understood or not explained clearly.

Enjoy your comfortable rides…

Author: Peter Pastijn

Peter is the former National Squash Champion of Belgium (64th in the world) and Belgian National Squash Team Coach, Ironman triathlete and Spinning Power Specialist Master Instructor. He has a Master's Degree in Applied Linguistics. After his sport career, in 2007 Peter started Proud2b, a service provision company in the fitness industry, based in Brussels, Belgium. Proud2b is now growing thanks to the hard work of Peter and his partner, Gizem.


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