What is Low Intensity

I posted a workout on the facebook page for the Stuck At Home Rowing Club, and someone made the mistake of showing the slightest interest in what I was doing.  Now I will make her regret it.

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Q: What kind of low intensity pieces am I doing?

A:  Let’s start by defining low intensity.  The terms Low Intensity and High Intensity are generally used in the context of a polarized training, so let’s start there.  Polarized training applies the knowledge that there are different systems to power your muscles, depending on how hard you are working.

Here it is in graph form, from this article

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So, on the bottom of the plot is how hard you are working as a percent of your maximum power output.  Think of that as your VO2Max, or when your heart rate is very close to it’s maximum.  As fast or faster than 2k race pace.  On the vertical are two different things.  The graph that starts high at low power output is the percentage of the energy expended that comes from metabolizing fat.  The other curve, that starts low and climbs is how much power you get from carbohydrate (glucose/glycogen).

Where the cross over occurs can be moved by the kind of training that you do.  If you do a lot of training below the cross over point, you can increase your ability to metabolize fat and essentially push the crossover gradually to higher and higher powers.  The opposite can happen too, if your training focuses on more power and sprinting work, which stimulates the sensory nervous system, the cross over point can move down.

OK, so what does this have to do with polarized training?

Well, to get faster over typical 1K to 6K race distances, we need to have both power and endurance.  But we need a way to organize the training so that we get the benefit of power development, while minimizing the how much we can move the cross over point to the right.  Luckily, a lot of people have done a lot of good work to figure this out.  One of them is Stephen Seiler, and wrote a great survey paper about it.  It seems the an optimal approach is to put in about 80% of your training time at low intensity and 20% above.  This has been shown to be a good ratio for elites who train a ton. and for recreational athletes (like me).

Great, so that why polarized training works, but what does low intensity mean?

Low intensity means that you are training at a power below your cross over point.  There are a bunch of ways to figure out what that power is.  The key concept is that it is much better to make the mistake of going too easy than going too hard.  I have known this intellectually for 7 years and I still get it wrong all the time.  I have such a stubborn belief that I have to push as hard as possible that I am always sabotaging myself.  Don’t be an idiot like me. go easy and you will be miles ahead.

So, with that caveat, here are a few ways to test whether you are going slow enough.

  • RPE:  Stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion.  If you care, it’s a fancy scale from 1 to 17, but what it means is if you can’t speak in full sentences while you are exercising, then it isn’t low intensity.
  • Heart Rate:  My favorite, but a pain in the neck.  If you keep your workout below 75% of you maximum heart rate, you are doing it right.  Some people think 70%.  But to do this you need to get an idea what your max heart rate is, and that has it’s own complications, which I helpfully described here.
  • Lactate Measurement:  Incontrovertible evidence, but a massive pain in the finger.  You can measure directly whether you are using fat or carbs by measuring the by product of carb respiration (which is lactate) as it accumulates in your blood.  If it is below 2mmol, then you’re doing it right.   The challenge to this method is that you have to stab your finger and dab the blood on an expensive test strip that you plug into an expensive meter.  I did this for a year or so, and still go back and do it ever once in a while, but it’s way to master rower nerd-core for daily use.
  • 20-25 seconds slower than 2k pace.  Right now, if I had the guts to do a 2k test, I would probably pull a 1:45 split.  I do my steady state between 2:05 and 2:10.  This isn’t a great method, but if you are doing your steady state 10 seconds slower than race pace, then it isn’t low intensity.

So, the main thing is to make sure that your low intensity workout is low intensity enough, what else matters.

  1. Duration:  More is better.  And then even more.  Miles make champions.  Since going harder is counter productive, your main variable to get better is more time.  If you are just getting started, then 30 minutes will be beneficial, and over time, the improvements will start to slow down and you will need to add more time to get more gains in endurance.  I find that I can make very slow gains with 60 minute sessions and much better progress with 80, but having a life keeps me from being able to do that volume consistently.
  2. Stroke rate:  I read the wolverine plan years ago and it made a ton of sense to me.  The basic idea is to keep the amount energy you put into a stroke about the same, and scale down the stroke rate to do low intensity training.  If you think about it, that means that the drive phase of your stroke stays the same in duration whether you are racing or cruising, but you will take far fewer strokes per minute, so you go slower.  To be fancy you can can call it Work per Stroke.  So, I do my low intensity training at low rates, maybe 60% at 18 spm, 30% at 20spm, 10% at 22spm and above.
  3. Breaks:  80 minutes is a looong time.  I’ve read a bunch of stuff that recommends breaking up long rows into 20 to 30 minute chunks so that you can stretch, adjust and hydrate.  So, I do almost all of my low intensity work in 20 minute work / 2 minute rest format.  I will sometimes do a continuous half marathon to prove I can do it, but it is much more civilized to take short breaks and I think it helps to avoid back injuries.

Here are few example workouts

3 x 20′ / 2′ L4

3×30’/2′ steady state at 165W

And here’s an example of a workout that I pushed too hard and ended up in the “black hole”.  To intense to build endurance and not intense enough to build power.

So, a long answer to a short question.




What are my goals? (Really?)

I’ll get the the deep thoughts.  But first, a quick rundown of the spotty training that I’ve been doing.

Saturday, July 28:  10K hard.

Well, it wasn’t supposed to be that hard.  I just wanted to do 10K at around a 2:00 pace.  2:00 turned into 1:59, and I broke around the 7500m mark.  I got it back together and finished at pace.

          Workout Summary - media/20180728-1350240o.csv
Workout Details

Sunday, July 29:  75km bike ride.  Cape cod rail trail.

I was with my friend Jon and it was a great ride.  Parts of it were reasonably fast, but overall it was low intensity.  It did take nearly 3 hours, so it was a fair amount of work.

Later in the day, I decided to go kayaking.  I was launching the kayak from the top of the seawall and i let it go a little too soon.  I slid down the rocks and launched itself.  It was heading out to sea without me in it.  I rushed after it, lost my footing and stumbled on the rocks, scraping my left ankle pretty badly.

After swimming to go get the kayak, I jumped in and looked at my ankle.  It was bleeding pretty freely, but there was no way I was going to be denied my voyage.  I paddled for a about 40 minutes or so.  Back at the house, I washed the scrape and put on a bandage.  As it turned out, I should have taken the wound a bit more seriously.

Monday, July 30: 3 x 20′ / 2′ on Slides

Down on the cape, in the basement.  A bit too windy for a real row.  Just bopping along.  My ankle was throbbing in pain after I finished from my sock rubbing on the scrape.

         Workout Summary - media/20180731-0125260o.csv
Workout Details

Tuesday, July 31:  No Training

I needed to drive from the Cape to work.  It took nearly 3 hours, from 5am to 8am.  Then I was in meetings all day and into the evening.

Wednesday, Aug 1: No Training

I had an 8am meeting, and I didn’t get to sleep until after midnight, so I blew off rowing in the morning, intending to row in the afternoon.  As it turned out I was at work until 8pm, so no rowing.

Thursday, Aug 2: 8km steady state OTW

Pressed for time, because of an early meeting, but I really wanted to do something!  First time in my Fluid since July 11th.  I was very rusty.  But it was very nice to be back rowing.  I really enjoy the feeling and the concentration it requires.

Friday, Aug 3:  No Training

My wife and I headed down to New York City.  We had tickets for the Saturday performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play on Broadway.

Saturday, Aug 4: No Training


Sunday, Aug 5: No Training

Came home from NYC.  Had a bunch of work stuff to do once we got back.  Starting to get very frustrated at not having time to workout.

Monday, Aug 6: No Training

Staying up late on Sunday, resulted in getting up late on Monday, resulted in not rowing.

Tuesday, Aug 7: 14km steady state OTW

In Newton.  focused on technique, at r18.

Wednesday, Aug 8: 14km steady state OTW

In Newton.  today I was working on rowing with a lighter touch at r20.

Thursday, Aug 9: 14km steady state OTW

In Newton, same as Wednesday.  Just trying to get back some form and basic aerobic fitness.  My ankle was not healing right.  It was swelling up, and was red and hot around the area.  It also felt tingly in the area.  I decided to get it looked at by a professional.  After a very long wait, the doctor pronounced it infected, gave me a tetanus shot, had the nurse clean and debride the wound (which hurt, a lot), bandaged it up, and sent me on my way with a prescription for an oral antibiotic and instructions to change the dressing twice a day.

Friday: Aug 10: 8km technique work OTW

In Newton. After so much spotty training, having 3 days in a row was pretty cool, but I was sore and tired on Friday morning.  I decided to focus on technique, especially balance by alternating 2 minutes of square blade rowing with 2 minutes of r20 steady state.

After the workout I had a jam packed day until around 2pm.  Then I left to go home and then head to the cape.

Saturday, Aug 11:  No Training

My wife’s sister, her husband and two teenagers arrived in the morning for a visit.  The day was a blur of swimming, eating, drinking and talking.

Sunday, Aug 12:  3 x 20’/2′ on slides

At the cape.  We had a nice day, we kayaked around the island.  Jumped off the bridge at high tide, went out for a giant feast of fried seafood, and then went minature golfing.  We got home around 8pm, and I had to make a choice.  Have a beer, or go workout.  I chose the latter.  I did an hour of steady state on slides.

The rules of this workout are:

  • r20
  • HR limits
    • 1st rep: 145
    • 2nd rep: 150
    • 3rd rep: 155

          Workout Summary - media/20180813-0140260o.csv
Workout Details

Monday, Aug 13: 3 x 20′ / 2′

On Saturday, I felt like my ankle was getting much better.  I decided to leave off the dressing to let it get some air and scab up.  Then on Sunday, I think water immersion was a bad thing.  It hurt a little in the evening and then in middle of the night, it hurt enough to wake me up and keep from getting back to sleep.  I finally gave up and redressed the wound.  The ointment and the pressure did the trick and the pain calmed down after a little while and I got back to sleep.  I decided to stay out of the water on Monday.

Monday afternoon my sister-in-law and her family went off for a nature walk.  My wife and I stayed home and that gave me a window for an erg session.  Same rules as the Sunday session.  I needed to slow down a bit more in the 2nd and third interval to respect the HR cap.

          Workout Summary - media/20180813-2135260o.csv
Workout Details

Tuesday, August 14:  No Training – Travel

This morning at 3:45am, I got up, showered and headed out for the airport from the cape.  It’s about a 2:15 drive and I had a 7:13am departure.

I got to the airport exactly an hour before my plane took off, and by the time I got to the gate, my flight was boarding.  I didn’t even have enough time to grab a coffee at the airport.  I guess I’m lucky I didn’t run into more traffic.

I’m heading out to San Jose today for a couple of customer meetings, and then tomorrow I head to Austin for more customer meetings on Wednesday night and Thursday.  I head home on Thursday night.  I’m hoping I can get fitness center sessions in on Wed and Thursday mornings.

Whew!  I’m glad I took the time to write this out.  It pretty clear that I have to re-evaluate my goals.  One of the most important training principles is consistency, and right now I am not succeeding at being consistent.  I am trying to do too many things to be able to sustain the same training load that I was carrying a couple of years ago.  All of these things are, arguably, more important than competitive rowing.

  • My job has gotten harder.  There a big organization that is relying on me for strategic leadership and we have some serious issues to confront and solve.  I worked thirty years to get to this job and I want to be successful.
  • My relationship with my wife and family.  Some people have spouses with a common interest in sports.  I do not.  Time that I take for rowing is time that I take away from being a good partner.  That’s fine, up to a point.  But, especially since we got the cape house, there is a lot of logistics that we need to work on together.  I love being there, but the travel time and visitors have reduced the amount of free time that I have to train.
  • My health.  I have learned that I perform better in my job and I am a better person to be around if I am getting at least an hour of exercise a day.  With my families history of heart disease, I think it is also critical to make sure I don’t drop dead at an early age.  So, it’s a big deal to maintain some sort of structured training plan.  But I have also lost the habit of doing my PT exercises and I’ve noticed that my hip is starting to hurt again.  I’m making some bad choices right now.

I tried numerous times in my adult life to lose weight, and never succeeded until I took up rowing.  I think the main difference was that the purpose of exercising changed from “getting exercise” to “getting faster”, and the online community for indoor rowing provided a way to measure my progress and hold myself accountable for my training.  I need to continue to train “publically” and try to be honest about how I’m doing.  I think the primary change has to be in the ambition of my goals and structure of my training.

So, here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Keep racing, just a little bit.  Maybe one or two small races in the fall.
  • 5 sessions a week, not 6.  If I have extra time, I can add a sixth.
  • Simple workout plan, basically a variation of the Pete Plan
    • 2 “hard” sessions a week.  Aiming at <=60 minute work plus rest in each.
    • 2 endurance sessions.  As much duration as have time for
    • 1 Technique session 60-80 min.
  • Regular testing.  This is the hardest one to do because I hate to see the results.  But I think I need to at least do one 6km test per month.
  • Daily PT exercises.  Instead of doing these at the start of a session, change to do them at night after dinner.



Tuesday: 5 x 2000 / 2′ (1500 @ 22, 500 @24)

Tuesday was a bit of a jumble.  I had to be at an offsite meeting at 8am to give some opening remarks, so no morning workout.  Then by 9am, I was on my way the office.  I couple of meetings brought me to around 12:45pm, when I headed off to the gym to do my planned session.

  • 5 x 2000m / 2′ rest
    • 1500m: r22, 2:01
    • 500m: r24, 1:55

Before that, I did the ever expanding set of corrective exercises from the PT.  These are starting to be a real time sink.  I hope the benefit is worth the training time that I am devoting to it.  The exercises have 3 purposes.  First to correct the imbalance between my hips and glutes.  Second to work a bunch of adhesions out of my quads and IT bands and improve hip flexibility.  Third to strength the helper muscles in abdomen to improve my ability to rock over and hold a strong position at the catch and finish with a very stable back.  I guess this is the perfect time of year to work on these issues, but I find it to be maddening drudgery.  I have to look at it as if it was a standard medical prescription and take my medicine.

I noticed that I felt more fatigued from my PT exercises , and I wondering if I was either coming down with the cold that was going through my family last week at Thanksgiving, or just worn out from my battles with the dynamic erg.  At any rate, I thought the erg session would be a struggle, and it was.  This is the same session that I did on 11/17 and 11/21.  The one on 11/21 was remarkably good.  This was a lot more like the one on the 17th.  High heart rates, but otherwise entirely manageable.

I started with a 2000m warmup, basically starting around 2:15 and speeding up to do the last 500m at my target 2:01 pace.

Then into the intervals.  I still want to pull a bit faster at r22 than a 2:01 pace, so I really needed to focus on light strokes, limited layback, and fast hands away to keep from either pulling 1:59s at r22, or 2:01s at r21.  This was actually a really good way to keep my brain engaged in the technique notes that I’ve been getting from Marlene.

As I said above, my HR was high, but I felt good through the session and pleasantly tired, but not beaten up at the end.

I finished with a 2000 happy ending cool down.


          Workout Summary - media/20171128-1920330o.csv
Workout Details

Wednesday is a planned rest day.  I’m flying down to Texas for a couple of meetings.  I’m going to try to find a crossfit box for a workout tomorrow morning. The planned session is a nice easy endurance workout.

  • 3 x 20′ / 3′
  • Cat VI (r18, 2:06)

I’m pretty pleased with how things are going lately.  November is going to be my highest monthly training time in almost 2 years. Here is training time per month going back to May of 2013.  The last time a set a PB was January of 2016.  Do you notice something different in the graph before January of 2016 and after?  I sure do.


By a strange coincidence, I got a promotion just about 2 years ago and the amount of travel and work hours ramped up at that time.  If I look closely at the months with low training totals, some of them correlate to months with a ton of travel (Feb-17, July-17), but other correlate with injuries (12-16 – knee surgery, 9-17 – back injury).

So, my conclusion is that I can probably manage about 30 training hours a month.  This would include rowing hours plus aerobic cross training.  It does not include PT stretches and exercises.  If I am traveling heavily, there will be more cross training hours and fewer rowing hours, and most likely a couple of extra “no training” days.

I think one adjustment that makes sense to is approach my schedule to do longer “easy” sessions when I have a time window to do it, and even extend them from 80 minutes to up to 2 hours, if I have the time.  I think there is a strong correlation between total training time and results.


More musings on Lactate

Comparison of two lactate tests.


Roughly similar, but lower readings for the powers below the aerobic threshold.  I think that’s a good thing.  4mmol power is about 5W higher now, also good.  HRs are right on top of each other which is just plain weird.

So I see this as a very hopeful sign.  I went from this baseline to setting most of my distance PBs using lactate based training.  There’s no reason I can’t do it again.


Look back over the last 3 months

This season has been tough.  Lot’s of work travel, family vacations, high stakes business meetings, and most recently a back injury.  I’ve been doing my best to use Stravasix to examine training load.  Here’s the past 4 months


I reached my peak fitness close to the end of june, by the Stravastix scale my fitness was a 105.  After that, there was a couple of back to back trips and meetings at work that squeezed my time.  I also spent more than a week on a family vacation where my training opportunities were limited.  By July 29th, my fitness had declined to 79.

As I got into August, I was able to be a lot more consistent and my fitness started to recover, getting back to about 90 by the 22nd of August.  Then I went into another heavy week at work and my training suffered.  I came out of that week and got a few good sessions in, but then my back gave out.

Over then next few weeks, I did some walking, running and cross training, but nothing with the necessary intensity to maintain my sharpness, and nothing with enough duration to maintain my endurance.  My fitness suffered.  By the 17th of September, my fitness was down to 65.8.

The good news was that the rest, core exercise and back hygiene had worked and my back had recovered to the point where I could start rowing again.  Over the past couple of weeks, I have gotten in a lot of very solid sessions and my fitness has recovered to 81.

At this point, I have to start to be careful about over training.  My fatigue level is quite high.  The sort of good news is that I have a trip this week and will need to take at least one rest day because of that.

The thing I want to do is maximize the training stimulus during this week and next week and ramp back the following week, right before the HOCR.

After that, it will be time to take stock and figure out where I go from here.


Why a week?

A very talented rower, who goes by the handle boston_sculler on twitter posts some interesting stuff. Today he posted a link to an article in Runners world.

Why Masters Runners Should Try Longer Training Cycles

I read through the article and it made a lot of sense to me.  Right now I work on a 7 day cycle.  Generally with 3 hard sessions and 3 endurance sessions.  I often feel like I am inadequately recovered by the time I need to do another hard session.  The article talks about an old marathoner who adopted a 9 day cycle.

There are pros and cons.  The pro is pretty easy to define, you can fine tune the training cycle to match up with what works best for you.  The con side is a bit more subtle.  So much of how we plan our lives and communicate about our training is based on the one week unit.  Breaking out of that paradigm has the potential to be very isolating, unless others will be following a similar pattern.

I’ve spent a couple of seasons creating custom fine tuned training plans and I think that they have the potential to get me in better shape than using an existing plan unmodified.  The problem that I am having is that I am giving up an important source of motivation and support.  It is easier to get motivated to do a specific workout if you are part of a group following the same plan.  Every one gets to congratulate and cajole each other as you go along.

I know that I should be internally and intrinsically motivated by my objectives, but I think friends would help.

So, I think that’s where I am at right now.  Once my leg is fixed, I think I will look for a few training partners and we can come up with a common training plan and agree on things like cycle length, numbers and types of sessions, mesocycle purposes and the lot.  The way I’ve been working this is making me feel lonely.


Strength Training Thoughts

I posted the following on the Rowing Illustrated forum.

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I got back a really great reply from a user SDSweep which I would like to share.

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So, my winter training plan will include:

  • 2 strength sessions a week.
  • These sessions will be tacked onto the end of a shortened endurance session (probably 40 minutes of endurance and 30 minutes of strength work)
  • The plan will be very simple including 4 exercises per session
    • A compound lift emphasizing the rowing muscle groups
      • squats
      • deadlifts,
      • power cleans
    • Something for upper body rowing muscles
      • Pull ups
      • Chin ups
      • Lat pull downs
    • Something for counter muscle groups
      • Push ups
      • Bench press
      • Standing press
      • Seated Press
    • Core
      • Ab roll outs
      • planks
      • leg lifts
  • In terms of reps and sets.  I will probably use some advice from some other folks to mix this up in blocks.  A couple weeks of lower reps, more sets.  Then a couple weeks of higher reps and less sets.  Generally, I will be going for 20 to 30 total reps.
  • Weight.  I will progressively increase weight, but follow the guideline that I will stop at least one rep before failure.

Power Training Zones

My friend Sander has updated the rowsandall.com online tools to provide the ability to analyze workouts in terms of power.  Many athletes, especially cyclists, use power zone training extensively.  The concept2 erg provides direct readout of power, and power can either be derived for OTW rowing or directly measured by new products coming from folks like NK.

The power zones on Rowsandall.com are based on definitions from trainingpeaks.

link to training peaks article

This defines power training zones based off of your Functional Training Power (FTP).  FTP is defined as the power you can hold for a 60 minute time trial.  I haven’t done a 60′ all out test for a while, so I used my recent 10K CTC result.  I held an average pace of 1:51.4 for the piece.  Based on Paul’s Law, I estimated that I could hold 1:54 for the full hour.  (my all time best was 1:52.0 pace).  This translates to a FTP of 236W.

So, my training zones based on the Coggan article are:


The power values show the upper bound of each of the levels.

I was curious how that compared to the power zones defined along with the HR bands from the Terry O’Neil  Interactive plan from the indoor sport services website.  These levels are defined as % of 2K power, not FTP.


So, comparing the two is a bit of a challenge.  The boundaries are quite different.  The upper end of endurance differs by nearly 20W (177W vs 195W).  Tempo is roughly in the neighborhood of UT1, but the upper end is quite different (215W vs 228W).  Threshold level from ISS goes a bit higher than the Lactate Threshold band from Coggan.

I wonder a bit if the Coggan bands are more optimized for cycling and the O’Neil bands are optimized for rowing.  A quick check indicates that both rowing and cycling have a cube law relationship between speed and power, but since the cadences and muscles used are so different, I am not sure if the bands would align.

I’d welcome any thought about this.

What’s next? Good question!

Well, I haven’t quite figure  things out yet.

I have a bunch of potentially conflicting objectives that I need to sort out.

Here’s a quick list of the events that I am thinking about competing in.

  • January 28th: Northeast Erg Sprints – 2000 meters indoors (trial event for the Crash-Bs)
  • February 12th: Crash-Bs – 2000m sprint, indoors
  • Mid-May: Essex River Race: 5.5 mile open water race
  • Mid June: Festival Sprints – 1000m OTW sprint
  • Early July: Cromwell Cup – 1000m OTW Sprint
  • Mid July: Blackburn Challenge – 20+ Mile open water race
  • Mid-September: CRI Fall Classic – 5k head race
  • Early October: Textile River Regatta – 6K head race
  • Mid-October: Quinsigamond Snake Race – 4K head race
  • Late October: Head of the Charles – 5k head race
  • Early November: Merrimack Chase – 5k head race

Now there is absolutely no way that I will have the time to do all of these races.  So, I need to prioritize what is most important to me.  I think the two key events that I want to do are the Blackburn Challenge and the HOCR, everything else is optional.

Training for the Blackburn will require a much different training plan than training for the early summer sprint races, so I suspect that I will either blow them off, or just do the Cromwell without training specifically for it.  Basically just include some starting practice into my workouts in June.

A plan for the Blackburn will have two components.  The first is endurance, since it is longer than 20 miles in a boat that is 15% slower than a flat water single, which is about 15% slower than an erg.  So, we are talking about 3 to 4 hours of rowing depending on the conditions.   To do that, I think I will give the marathon training plan from the ISS site a try.  Dave C. seemed to do really well with it as prep for his OTW marathon this year.  The other component is getting used to rowing in rougher water.  That means as much open water work down on the cape as I can do on weekends over the summer.  The Marathon training plans want a full 26 weeks, which would mean that I would need to start in mid-January.  Since the indoor racing season will finish up in mid-February, I will probably lop the first month off and just pick it up in the second month.

So, that basically sorts out the period from mid-February to Mid-July.  What about now?  I think that there are two options.

  • Option 1:  Do a 3 month block periodized plan similar to last year to try to take a run at my 2K PB.
  • Option 2:  Do a 3 month block of strength training and base aerobic work and not take a run at my PB.

Each of these options are attractive in different ways.  Option 1 would be highly motivating and I will enjoy pushing hard and having a really challenging goal to get after.  Option 2 is attractive for three reasons.  One, it might be nice to ease up on the competitive pressure a bit.  Two, I am interested to know whether getting a lot stronger would help me get faster in the boat next spring.  Three, I would like to lose weight and I think it might be easier to do that if I am not pushing every workout to the brink.

So, I need to think this through and make some decisions.  Until then, I just keep doing 3 long and easy and 3 hard sessions a week to keep things going.

Friday: 3 x 20′ / 1:30 rest w/ lactate

Thursday:  As expected, no time to train.  I took the redeye home from San Jose.  I was not able to get any reasonable sleep on the plane.  Highly unpleasant.

Friday:  I arrived in Boston at 6am.  Then drove home.  Almost immediately, I turned around and drove my wife to the airport.  She is off to visit my daughter in St. Louis.  I was home again by around 11 am.  My eyelids were drooping severely but I managed to stay awake to attend a work conference call at noon.  After that, I took a 3 hour nap.  My intent was to get up around 4, head out to Lake Quinsigamond and do a long and easy technique session.  But, when I was packing my things, I got a text from a friend of mine telling me that there was a wakeboarding competition going on and the whole lake was a really treacherous place to be.  Time to go with Plan B.

Plan B

  • 4 x 20′
  • 1:30 rest
  • Power target: 10W x stroke rate
  • HR cap: around 150
  • Lactate target: 2.0

It was massively hot and humid.  Around 95F and 70% RH.  Rowing at 190 watts felt pretty easy for the first 10 minutes.  Then the room warmed up, I started sweating, and it started to feel like a lot of work.  By the end of the first 20 minutes, my HR was still OK, only around 144, but my RPE was really high.  I was breathing hard, and my first lactate reading was 3.3mmol/l.  Way too high.

So, my intent was to dial it back to 170W from 190W and just take it easy.  After the rest, and a big drink of water, I started again.  It felt like really hard work, and I seriously considered just bagging the whole thing.  I even coasted to a stop about 2 minutes into it, but I thought better of it and decided that I should at least finish this 20′ piece.  I felt a lot more comfortable at 170W, but it was still a pretty sweaty affair.  After this one, I tested out a 2.8mmol/l.  Still too high.  But my RPE was right on.  My breathing was easy, and my ending HR was again around 145.

Well, I had come this far.  I had another drink, and decided to just paddle through one more 20′ piece.  This one I started off thinking I’d target 150W, but ended up pushing that up to 160.  Still very slow.  After this, my lactates were 2.6mmol/l.  RPE right on target, but HR had climbed up to be close to 150 by the end.

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The session seems to add some weight to a few thoughts that I have been pondering.

  1. My aerobic fitness is not so good right now.  I need more low intensity minutes working on my ability to metabolize fat.  My high lactate numbers show that I am crossing over to CHO respiration at pretty low levels.
  2. The effect of heat and humidity on endurance training is pretty profound.  I think it could as much as 10 or 20 watts impact in terms of what power you can hold and maintain a <2.0mmol/l lactate.
  3. I haven’t seen any research to back this up, but I feel like there is some hysteresis in the crossover between fat and CHO metabolism.  Something like this.  I feel like I have to go way down in power to “shut off” CHO metabolism once it has been started.  I think this is another reason why some folks have found lower ultimate lactate readings if they start with a few minutes at a very low warmup power before they slowly increase to their target.


I think this is fascinating because it brings a physiological angle into a age old debate around how to do HR capped training.  The question that I have seen asked over and over again is this…If you are training to a specific HR cap, is it better to start faster than what you think you can hold for the whole piece, and then start to bleed off pace once you are in the training HR zone and approaching the cap, or is it better to hold a constant training power and adjust that power so that you are around the cap at the very end of the workout?

I have seen recommendations about this from very credible people that are entirely opposite of each other.  One conclusion that one might draw from that is doesn’t matter much in terms of training effect.  But, on an individual basis, if you are trying to specifically train fat burning endurance, it probably makes a lot more sense to slowly build power, or hold it constant  versus bleeding off pace.  Anyway, its food for thought.