Long Slow Distance is not Chronic Cardio

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I used to really be against long distance "cardio" work. And for good reason, I spent much of my early athletic life thinking I was an endurance athlete.

It was the "right" thing to do. It's easy to pick up a weight and sit down and rest. It's harder to go for a long run. At least that's the culture I was around.

I always imagine how much stronger and healthier I would be today if I spent my teenage years lifting weights rather than running Cross Country. The anabolic effects of a teenage guy's testosterone is like PEDs. Add some weightlifting to that, and you have instant beastmode! Instead I was going catabolic with long runs. Bah.

When I did finally make the switch to heavy weights, I had a bit of a backlash against the cardio world. I think I may have been a bit harsh in my denigrating endurance work, so I'll step back a little from my hard line.

I still think that most people you see on the road and the trail are doing it wrong. I still think that most training programs prescribe it wrong. But there is a good way to train for endurance - or more specifically, to use endurance training for life.

As you can tell from these posts (one, two, three, four), I've gone down the mitochondrial biogenesis rabbit hole. Having more, and more healthy mitochondria is key to living a healthy, happy, energetic life. Just about all chronic disease has some relation to poorly behaved mitochondria, so the single most important thing you can do for your health is to eat the foods mitochondria want (saturated fats) and train in a way to stimulate your body to make more mitochondria.

Proper training is what I want to clarify a bit. When you see folks go out for their run or ride - heck even when I used to go out for a run or ride - most of the time is spent "getting a good workout". I guarantee that the paces you see out there for most folks is squarely in that glycolytic pathway. This is that "chronic cardio" work. You know, the stuff that everyone thinks is healthy.

Hint: if you need sports drinks or energy gels to not bonk, you're burning sugar! 

Hours pounding the pavement in sugar burning mode is no good for you.

So what's the right way to train? I'm going to separate "Long Slow Distance" from "Chronic Cardio" here. I think of there years it's all been lumped together. But LSD is different. LSD is SLOW! Slow enough that you're not ever going glycolytic. 

How do you do that? You learn to listen to your body. Or you can take the shortcut and say that your work needs to be so easy that your heart rate is always BELOW 180 minus your age. It's been a well tested formula and works for just about everyone. But once you know what that feels like, you don't need the heart rate monitor - if you can stay honest with yourself.

Last week I had a cold. And when I have a cold, I always back way down on my workouts. I still wanted to move, so I just put my current program on hold and did a short detour into LSD land. I figured doing something that wouldn't tax my body would be a good idea.

I did 3 days of rowing, 40 minutes at 140 bpm. I didn't pay attention to my pace or my stroke rate or anything. I just rowed and payed attention to my heart rate. 

Day 1, my average pace was 2:41 and my average heart rate was 139 bpm. Day two, 2:35/137. Day three 2:27/137.

I can attest that the perceived effort for those three days was the same. So using the heart rate as a proxy was good for me. The biggest surprise for me was the quick improvement in speed in only three days. I have a feeling that if I spent a month or two at it, I could easily be sub 2:00 with the same effort. (But there is a problem with LSD - it's long. I can't sit on a rower for 40+ minutes every day. I'll go insane!).

I'm betting that this is all mitochondria biogenesis and the fat-burning power pathway getting stronger. Kevin thinks that it's my rowing efficiency getting better from practice. There may be some truth to that, but I row everyday for a warm up, so my stroke is grooved in well already.

We see this all the time with AGT-style kettlebell work, the forums are full of people who just work long and slow and all of a sudden realized how fast they are. I remember reading a post from a guy after the last TSC - he did 120 snatches in 5 minutes (a good score, but not earth shattering). Everyone was shocked at how slow he was since he was known for being great in that event. Then he posted his heart rate trace, and he never once went glycolytic during the event. I have to go to my dark place to get 120+ snatches, he can do it as LSD. That's why we want to train that pathway.

Another good way to get LSD? Go ruck with Blake on Saturdays!

Michael Deskevich