Build Your Foundation on Lower Intensity Training

With MaccaX12, MaccaXPlus, and our MaccaX triathlon training plans, our athletes do a mixture of sessions at different intensities. The principle behind this is found in our Ultimate Triathlon Training Guide.

Four-time world champion Chris McCormack uses lower intensity work to help lay a good foundation of fitness. Here’s his take on it:

Lower intensities result in 1. You burn fat, and 2. You lay a better foundation.

Let’s put it this way: when you’re training too hard, you can only stay at that intensity for short periods of time. So, when you’re talking about threshold, there is a way you can push your threshold up, or you can pull it up. And pushing it up is training just below your threshold. You can stay there for 15, 20, 30, 40 — 50 minutes! That allows you to push that threshold up over time.

Now, if you’re training above your threshold, you can only stay up there for a couple of minutes before you bonk. So you’re only there for short period of time. You can get fit quick by smashing yourself above your threshold, but there is no way you’re holding that form for a long period of time and it’s very hit-and-miss.

"You can get fit quick by smashing yourself above your threshold, but there is no way you're holding that form for a long period of time."

My opinion is you cannot substitute aerobic work. Long slow distance. The old fundamentals are never ever gonna change. You need to build base. It’s more important to build the base. If you have none, if you come from nowhere, then you only build the foundation through long slow distance work sub-aerobic or aerobic first for long periods of time.

Training at lower intensities gives you a lot more control over what you’re doing in the training. If you start getting in the higher intensities, you start to lose control. You’ll need a lot work with your coach, a lot more people there to watch what you’re doing, and a lot of mistakes can happen. You can overcook it.

High intensity work is a very, very delicate place to be, and you need a lot of people there, to make sure you’re hitting those numbers. You’re doing a lot of work in that upper echelon, closer to aerobic threshold for longer periods of time. But please, you need to be careful. You need to be very, very careful. The good thing with long slow-distance work, aerobic work, you can make mistakes. You’re building foundation, you’re not gonna pay for them as badly as you will when you start hitting the high-intensity stuff.

The high-intensity work is the new king, if you have a foundation. The people who are telling you high-intensity workouts are the “big bang for your buck” are probably guys who have been doing it for 20 years. I think if I go to the high-intensity work I could probably get away with it for period of time coz I have a foundation or platform to build it up. But I have always found that if I’m doing too much high-intensity work, not enough foundation, I can get injured. The peak that I get for that high level of fitness is very wobbly, you’re not there for long periods of times. You get sick a lot easier.

When I went back to the short-course racing, I started to do high-intensity work. I’m going like Superman. I’m doing a track session thinking “I’ll squeeze one more lap out” because you just feel like you’re not doing much. So, bang! I ended up lame, pulled a muscle, and I was out.

"The old fundamentals are never ever gonna change. You need to build base."

It’s so important for you to make sure you’re working in a structure  – maybe three weeks of base work, one week of high-intensity work, then maybe two weeks of base work and so on.

Base first, high intensity second. If you’ve only got 10 hours a week to work, very important for you to get your weekly structures right. And rotate between foundation building, and then high intensity work, then drop back to foundation.

For myself, the more I train just below threshold, I get more bang for my buck, and more length in the foundation of that threshold all together. It’s not a “house of cards”. I’ll be racing well for 10-12 weeks off that.

Noelle De Guzman
Noelle De Guzman
Noelle De Guzman is a freelance writer with ten years of experience in the field of fitness and wellness. She blogs at about endurance sport in the Philippines and beyond.