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Theory of Training: Supercompensation & Training Zones Dec 16th, 2013

By Alain Parent


The reality of training is that after a workout (and sometimes the next few days) you are weaker and slower! However, at some point the fatigue of the workout dissipates and you adapt to a higher level.

To optimize your training, you need to find the correct balance between training and recovery. Hard and/or long training sessions cause immediate fatigue and tissue breakdown. Depending on the difficulty of the training session, you may require from 1 to 5 days to completely recover. Your training session also provides a stimulus for your body to adapt to a higher level (called overcompensation), but time is needed for recovery and to allow your body to adapt and improve. If there are no further workouts or the stimuli is not large enough, the body's fitness level will slowly decline back towards the initial fitness level (see graphs below).





Training at the right intensity is crucial to improving fitness. Many cross country skiers and biathletes tend to train too fast which works against developing aerobic capacity (the engine for endurance athletes). The following table explains the relationship between heart rate, lactic acid and training zones. These guidelines are useful for athletes aged ~14 and over.

ZONE 1: Main aerobic capacity zone
Training in Zone 1 represents the main contributor to the aerobic aspect of training and uses mostly slow twitch fibres and fat for fuel. Training in this zone will improve aerobic adaptations and develop efficiency of aerobic metabolism. Skiers should do most of their endurance training at this intensity since it will improve the ability to deliver more oxygen to the muscle cell and process more energy from aerobic sources.

ZONE 2: In-between zone - try to stay away
Training should be rarely done in this zone. It is not the most effective way to develop good aerobic endurance.

ZONE 3: Just below anaerobic threshold zone
Zone 3 training is when slow twitch muscles are removing lactic acid and fast twitch muscles are producing lactic acid at a high rate. This zone is especially important to develop the ability to clear lactic acid. Training at this intensity will raise lactate/anaerobic threshold as a percentage of VO2 max. As well, it will maximize the rate that lactate can be removed from your system & improve its use as an energy source. Work time varies from 5 minutes to an hour.

ZONE 4: Just above anaerobic threshold zone
This zone is the usual racing zone for short distance races. Training in this zone can be continuous or by intervals. Lactic acid will accumulate (more production than removal) forcing you to slow down after a while. This is the optimal training zone for improving VO2 max. Training adaptations include an increase in stroke volume and improved lactate buffering capacity.

ZONE 5: Anaerobic training zone
This zone represents the anaerobic zone. Lactic acid rapidly accumulates in this zone. Training in this zone occurs only occasionally and increases anaerobic capacity and lactate buffering ability. Work time rarely exceeds 2 minutes without a rest.