If we take a look at long-distance running, I will have to introduce you to a legendary coach: Arthur Lydiard. He invented the term ‘jogging’ and got famous for his strategies to achieve peak performance in long-distance running events.
When the runners started to run longer distances, they got more efficient and achieved better endurance.
LSD (Long Slow Distance) improves your peripheral adaptations, which means increased capillary density, more myoglobin, more mitochondria, better use of free fatty acids as fuel, and larger glycogen stores.
Also, there are probably some neural adaptations that make running more efficient. Training at slow speeds has only very little effect on VO2 maximum.
Arthur Lydiard advocates for more Long Slow Distance training
In an interview with Chicago Athlete Arthur Lydiard advocates for much longer steady-state running: “LSD has its place. A long slow distance of three, four, or five hours certainly will enhance your capillary development well because you are engaging in the exercise for a very, very long period.
But the point is it takes longer to obtain the same result as if you were to do your aerobic training at a higher aerobic speed.
If you are a professional runner and all you have to do is to train all day long, you can afford to run five hours, but we couldn’t afford to do that in our days.
We had to obtain the best possible result in the limited time that we had and the best way to develop aerobic capacity was to train at higher aerobic speed.
My runners did a very hilly 22-mile course, with one hill of three miles, somewhere around 2:10 and 2:15. We used to do our Monday 10-mile run in about 55 minutes. They were all aerobic running, but we weren’t mucking around at all.”
When you read his comment, please remember that bike rides typically are much longer than running sessions, therefore 3 hours run is a very, very long training session. 5 hours of running is extremely long.
It takes time to build endurance
Arthur Lydiard believes that these peripheral adaptations explain why the best marathon runners are above 30 years old. We see the same thing happening in road cycling where the best riders are between 30 to 35 years old.
“Your aerobic development is a gradual thing. It takes years and years of marathon-type training to develop your aerobic capacity to the fullest. That is why, when in 1984 Carlos Lopes was running a marathon for the Olympics, people said that he was too old. I said that it would be to his advantage because he had developed a fine aerobic base through years and years of training. Another good example is Lorraine Moller.
In 1992, people thought she was too old. Her shoe company dropped her contract. She won the bronze medal. Now, that does not mean you should wait till the very last moment to run a marathon. I found out years ago, and this is the fundamental concept of my training program, that when I started to train for the marathon, my track time got better. This is because of all the long-running I started to do.
Barry Magee was a bronze medallist in the Olympic marathon in 1960 and he ran a couple of seconds off the world record for the three-mile run in 1961. He became a better track runner after he started running marathons.
You see the same thing with the English girl who set the world record for the marathon (Paula Radcliffe). She started running marathons last spring and she had the best track season of her life this past summer. It’s just a matter of balancing your training.” he said.
Training principles are the same for cycling
So how can we use the experiences Arthur Lydiard made in running? Well, the central and peripheral adaptations are the same in road cycling as in long-distance running.
Thus, if we convert his principles to a cycling training program it would result in similar progress. There are many examples of professional riders that have used similar training principles with great success. Training rides with a length of 6 to 8 hours are not uncommon among riders on the Pro Tour.
As cycling coaches are approaching a more scientific view of cycling training, there are still riders believing in the old principles of LSD cycling training with long rides at a steady, aerobically pace. Even with the introduction of power meters, there are still riders believing in ‘riding on the feeling’ among professionals.
Do training programs matter at all?
Why are these rider professionals even if they use these old training principles? Dedication to their training program could be the answer.
Motivation plays a major role at elite levels and if a rider can’t find the motivation for wattage-based training programs, then it is probably much better for him to stick to his old school cycling program. But that doesn’t mean that there is no difference in outcome between these training programs.
The better and more optimized your training program gets, the better results you will achieve.
LSD Cycling Training anno 2006
My version of LSD cycling training is not just a walk in the park. It is a hard aerobic effort at a steady pace. It is not a long slow ride but rather a fast ride with a steady speed. The last two seasons I have introduced my riders to longer rides (5 to 7 hours) and their experiences are good, so I will continue mixing these long rides up with more modern training methods.
LSD training is a time-expensive way to train but often it is one of the most secure ways to succeed. If you use LSD training sessions as I explained them, there is a good chance that you will be very strong in the coming season.