2023 Season Prep #1 — Aerobic Base Building

Looking to the future for the 2023 amateur golf season this summer has lead me to think of some issues I’ve had on the golf course, and research ways to improve them. With this, I’m going to write a few posts talking about the changes I’ve been making, and looking to keep doing for the next couple months before the weather warms enough to get out on the grass. First up, fitness.

I think the thing for me is seeing in some of my athletes, this whole, like, non existent aerobic system. People just don’t have one.

Polarizing Your Training — 37:04.

One of the most beneficial results of aerobic training for alpinists is the adaptation of the muscle cells to prefer fats for fuels at a relatively higher intensity, which before training would have required glycolytic metabolism (the breakdown of sugars) with its inherently very limited fuel supply. Fat can provide a vast source of energy for the well-trained alpinist. By well trained, we mean your body can produce energy from fats at the rate required to sustain moderate power outputs for hours on end.

Training for the New Alpinism. If you substitute “golfer” for “alpinist”, hopefully you can see the benefits that come from sustaining moderate power outputs for hours on end (while walking a course day after day).

What these quotes are saying, and something I’m able to admit, is I don’t have any bit of an aerobic system. I’m not using the best energy source to survive 18 holes, let alone 18 holes multiple days in a row. If I do the right aerobic training, I can teach my body to use the much more efficient aerobic, oxidative system. This will give me tons more energy that round, and make recovery easier for the round the next day. Thinking back to events these past few years and how tired I’d be at the end of rounds, I’m betting doing these trainings can shave strokes off my scores.

Workout Zones

If you’re following other fitness trend talking points (somewhat bro-sciency), you might have heard the phrase “Zone 2” training being brought up more frequently. If you research energy zones, you’ll find tons of examples of any numbers of zones. Below you’ll see three graphs of intensity vs blood lactate levels. The rising line shows that as intensity increases, blood lactate stays fairly level, and then increases at various rates. You’ll also see two vertically-dashed lines. Those refer to thresholds (or turnpoints, pick your T) that indicate changes in lactate levels. The difference between the charts, though, is where and how they define zones.

The first chart has three zones, whereas the second has six of different sizes. The important thing to look at though, is those lactate thresholds. The bottom has no zones, but two cutoffs and better descriptions. I put all these charts in here to help show there are many names, one might be slightly different from another, but they all show the same overall information. For me, I’ve found I prefer to refernce them in “green”, “yellow”, and “red” style rather than numbers.

source for second graph, and this is an excellent article to read on this topic. Much of what I’m saying here matches what is written. Third graph is from Training for the New Alpinist.

No matter what amount of intensity you’re giving, you’ll be using both the glycemic and oxidative systems. But as you move up in intensity, above the first threshold, your body switches from mostly using oxidative system of energy to the much less efficient glycemic energy system and lactate starts to build.

The more lactate your body produces, and if its unable to recycle and reuse for energy, it 1) makes you feel more tired and not as strong that day (think the end of a round how you can struggle to finish) and 2) a longer recovery time while your liver and kidneys try to remove it (meaning more tired the start of the round the next day).

What this means is that for someone to have a body for competitive golf, the higher their first threshold is, meaning the more time they spend using the aerobic system, primarily with fat metabolism, compared to the anaerobic inefficient glycolytic system of mostly sugar.

If you can do that, you’ll have more strength and won’t feel as tired at the end of a round, as well as feeling much better the start of the next round the next day.

What’s a good level of workout?

The two main points I want to drive home is are that 1) We don’t nearly do enough time in any workouts that train our oxidative system and 2) workouts for non professional athletes that do train the oxidative system are way less intense than we think.

Starting with point number one, if you do any searching for training regimens that elite endurance athletes use, you’ll find that the vast majority of workout volume is spent below LT1. Like, 80% of the time. You’ll also hear things like no matter which the event they’re training for, they’ll all do the majority of their workouts below LT1.

In fact, the talk in the higher end of cycling endurance, they say the big difference between amateurs and well trained is that when people are “going at the these harder intensities, you’re seeing the more elite athletes with this better base fitness, better able to handle pH better able to do the work aerobically with fat oxidization, where you’re probably seen in the less trained, they’re relying a lot more on anaerobic metabolism”. The elite know the importance of this. The non-elite think that more effort is always better.

As for the second point, a 2018 paper was published where the aim of the study was “to assess metabolic flexibility across populations with different metabolic characteristics.” They ran tests of various kinds on three types of individuals – professional endurance athletes (PA), moderately active individuals (MA), and patients with a conditions termed metabolic inflexibility (MtS). These graphs show what the first quote of this post says — us normal people don’t have aerobic systems.

In the upper graph, the line for the PA matches quite nicely with the generated graphs in the pictures above. They can output a ton of energy and keep lactate from building. For the MtS patients, theirs spikes so quickly. For the “moderately active healthy individuals” line, it spikes up very quick as well, much more matching the MtS compared to the PA. Pretty much showing that if we give any amount of energy aside from sitting, our lactate spikes. We give any amount of energy aside from sitting, we’re above our LT1. The bottom graph shows fat oxidation rates for intensity, and again, the MA line drops instantly. If us MAs do any amount of work, we go right into burning sugar rather than fat. In order to be more efficient, we need to train at a much, much lower rate than we think because we’re not professional endurance athletes.

Pretty much all our workouts are too intense to train our bodies to use the oxidative system. There are so many charts that say what percentage of max heart rate you should be using to be using aerobic systems. I think these are incredibly wrong for most people. These articles are focused on people with a strong aerobic base, which most of us don’t have. We need to lower that heart rate range for aerobic system.

In order to determine your LT1 intensity, there are clinical or home done tests that involve testing your lactate levels. If you feel like it, got for a $400 lactate meter, that you can do to figure out your LT1. But also you’re able to decently do this by listening to your body. A common description I see that can indicate you’re below LT1 is that you should be able to have a conversation with someone, but that the other person can tell that you’re currently active. Another method is if you’re able to nose breathe consistently.

What kind of workouts should we be doing?

I think so many recreational are scared of not training hard enough. And that’s not what they need to be afraid of. What they need to be thinking about is, is training easy enough and long enough in the low intensity sessions to build that biological durability so that those high intensity sessions really can be developmental, they can really push and handle them. And I think that’s where a lot of athletes get it wrong.

Steven Seiler — 25:05

Those two methods for determining if you’re below LT1 seem to work, but the best I’ve found from my own self-testing is to find a steady state that I know I can keep going for hours. You need to be honest with yourself to know if you can go consistently for that long a time frame. Being on a golf course is close, but not like that. A good workout of this type doesn’t include time standing on a putting green or tee box waiting for someone else to hit. It’s continuous movement.

It’s very common these days to hear that HIIT workouts are the best use of our time. You might go into a workout saying “I only have an hour so I better go at this as hard as I can to make it worth it and get that heart rate up!”. Running hills, doing sprints when on a treadmill, or any of the gym classes that are offered (cross fit, Orange Theory, Peleton classes, take your pick.) What this really means is you’re training the wrong energy system for being able to be on a golf course all day.

In my non-lifting workouts, I pretty much only did HIIT, running up and down one of the hills near Lake Michigan. I figured a higher heart rate is better than a lower one. This is now clearly incorrect. I want to make changes to move my LT1 further to the right so I can use that more and more on a course, be less tired at the end of rounds and recover much quicker for the next day.

An example of the workouts I’m doing now can be seen here from the Whoop I use. I went to a treadmill with 20 pound backpack (hence the hiking distinction), and walked at an incline and slow pace. I found a pace that I considered being able to talk to someone and listen to podcasts and mentally able to understand what was being talked about. Over the hour long walk there were times when my heart rate spiked and I could feel my body saying something was changing, and I’d lower the speed and inclination to get the heart rate and bodily feeling lower.

My average heart rate was a paltry 100 bmp. That barely registers as a workout (which is a big problem for Whoop and other wearables), but my energy level was consistent. You can see at the first two thirds how the HR was moving up and down and adjustments were made. But then you can see at about the 50 minute mark, something changed. I noticed this while walking that I didn’t need to make adjustments to the incline or speed, and I didn’t need to hold the machine to help me keep pace. This is exactly the feeling I want to train in for help my aerobic base.

In fact, the article linked above talks about how to use HR to know if you’re sustainable. “A true sustainable effort will be at a flat or very gradually rising heart rate (approximately one or two beats every 10 minutes).” This is what my HR was doing at the end.

I’ll keep doing this leading up to the season, especially while it’s cold and snowy outside and I don’t feel bad spending an hour indoors. My hope is that in a couple months, I can have the same body feeling I had when doing the workout from above, but the speed and incline I can do this at will increase. By the start of the season, and throughout the summer, I’ll be using more of the oxidative system.

Because that’s what racing comes down to is holding power when the other guys are fading out.

Steven Seiler — 43:19.

Substitute “golf” for “racing” and this rings true.

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