Long Slow Distance Posted on April 28, 2013, 2 Comments

I don't believe in Long Slow Distance (LSD).

Actually, let me clarify. I don't believe in LSD like I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy. I realize many athletes do lots of long, slow miles early in the season--supposedly to "lay the foundation" for fitness. Coaches have been prescribing long, slow miles since the days of Pheidippides (but look what happened to him). So, yes, LSD does exist. What I don't believe is that LSD works very well, especially for athletes with limited time. That is, unless the objective is to be slow over a long distance. And if the goal is to be slow over a variety of distances, then I think this type of training is a raging success! Hell, then LSD is the cross training activity of choice!

Train slow = Be slow.

The SAID principle is illustrated quite nicely with LSD. Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands is what those letters stand for. And don't ask me what's with all the acronyms. I'm an endurance athlete. And like most endurance athletes, I've become a master of efficiency. You may call it laziness. But if I hand you your ass next time we race together, don't automatically blame it on genetics. The truth is, I don't stand when I can sit. And I don't sit when I can lie down. And when writing, I don't spell it out if I don't have to. So if you don't like it, please just STFU! There's a point to all these abbreviations.

But what's the point of LSD? Enhanced utilization of fatty acids for fuel? Sure (though that's not necessarily a good thing as I mention in other posts on this blog as well as my nutrition book: http://triumphtraining.com/collections/books/products/spot-on-nutrition). Improved glycogen storage? Yep! What about increased capillary density? You got it. And these adaptations all add up to increased endurance--no question.

But what about speed?

I'm gonna make a broad sweeping stroke with my stereotype brush and say that most athletes would like to go faster. Yet endurance training inhibits strength and power while strength and power development actually enhance endurance. This apparent paradox is explained in more detail in my first book (http://triumphtraining.com/pages/holistic-strength-training-for-triathlon). But to keep it brief, let's just say it has to do with motor unit activation, the differences in muscle fibers recruited, neurological impulse intensities, and a whole bunch of other terms which only the Cliff Clavins of exercise physiology would have any interest in.

What I'm saying is that you can go long without going long. More specifically (and, perhaps, more obviously), you can cover longer distances faster by going FASTER! Who woulda thunk it?

Additionally, strength and power peak in the average male at the age of twenty-five. Endurance, as its name suggests, takes more time to develop and, therefore, typically peaks when a man is in his thirties or later (and even later in females). Thus, for the aging athlete--and all of us fall into that category until we're dead--our time would be better spent working on what we lose as we get older if we don't use as we get older.

Train your weaknesses and race your strengths.

An athlete can receive all of the aforementioned benefits of long, slow distance with my definition of LSD--Long, STEADY Distance. The emphasis here is on steady. Slow is for recovery days. And long and recovery just don't mix very well. Not for most endurance athletes, at least. In fact, if I had to pick the most common training error I see when I analyze a person's training log before they begin working with me, I'd say it's not resting enough. And if you don't rest well, you can't train well. If you're never fully recovered, you don't have the reserves to train at the higher intensities necessary for peak performance. Your training speeds have less variation as everything from your easy days to your hard days become middle of the road. And your results inevitably reflect that mistake.

There's a term used among some of my old cycling buddies: "Drew Slow". On my recovery days, I ride SLOW! Like one of my coaches once told me, ride like you're going to the bakery. And I'm gluten free, now, so that tells you how slow I can go. But that kind of rest makes it possible for me to go really fast when it matters. In fact, variations in training speed are a good indication of how proficient you are in your sport of choice. When I first started swimming, I had one speed--Don't Drown. Now, after years of working on my weakness in the water, I have a few more gears from which to choose (though they're all built on that primary instinct). The more gears you have available for use, the better an athlete you are. So make sure there's no grey area between your rest days and your training days.

Back to my definition of LSD.

First let's look at Long. Specific to the individual and/or the event for which the athlete is training, long is really anything over about 45 minutes. More than that is going to push most competitors into a sympathetic dominant state, requiring the athlete to have prepared properly for the session (which should happen before attempting the workout anyway). Additionally, taking the appropriate measures during the workout to minimize the adverse consequences via specific protocol targeting thoughts, respiration, hydration, and nutrition will make the athlete more resilient to the stress of higher density training. Cause let's face it, most competitions go well over 45 minutes. And though most of the benefit of actually going long may be mental, a successful competitor must develop beyond the physical. After all, fatigue and pain are really just emotions. Strictly speaking, the athlete with no limbic system is probably going to be faster. But he'll be incapable of enjoying his time on the podium…

Now let's examine the second term: Steady. Instead of slow, this definition is a bit more sport specific. In events where the main competition is against the clock (e.g., time trials, triathlon, etc), the fastest times will usually be elicited by a flatter power profile. So the key here is to go fast but with as little effort as possible. This is true even when racing against a field of competitors as it's not always the strongest who wins--it's often the smartest who has more left in the tank when it matters most. Higher cadences of 90+ with continual pedaling/running and heart rate parameters tightly controlled in zones 2-3 (the aerobic zones) are characteristic of this type of training. For swims, the focus would be on a decreased yet consistent stroke count and smoothness. Included on a weekly basis, these workouts allow the athlete to develop neuromuscular efficiency, a sense of pace, and maintenance of form under increasing levels of fatigue. Even better, training "hangover" is minimized so that the arms and legs as well as the heart and lungs can perform during the next training session. Indeed, if a workout leaves you so trashed you can't train the next day, you've wasted both yourself and your training.

Finally, let's define Distance. The body doesn't measure distance--only duration. While it can tell whether you're working at a high intensity or not, it doesn't have a built in odometer. And if you're going up a hill at a certain effort level, you're not going to cover the same amount of ground as you would with the same exertion across flat or downhill terrain. Thus, my use of long refers to time rather than length (which also allows me to make certain boasts, if you know what I mean...). So I guess my D stands for Duration.

So, there you have it--LSD--Long, Steady Duration. And including the right dose at the right times in your program will make you a better athlete regardless of distance or discipline. Save slow for your rest days. I'm pretty confident that my definition of LSD will serve you better than the traditional one. But if you still think good old LSD is the best way to enhance your performance, go for it. Though I gotta say: you must be tripping!