Base Training: More Than Just Running


Ugh, I've reached a plateau. But I really want to get to the next level!”

I can't seem to make further progress despite doing a bunch of hard workouts each week.”

I seem to get hurt every time I try to raise my mileage.”

My endurance is pretty good, but I just don't have any speed.”

I'm totally new to this whole training thing and I really want to do things right.”

Many of my clients come to me with these exact concerns.  And surprisingly, there is a common thread that runs through all of them: a faulty “base” or foundation. Here's what I mean.

Whether you want to do x, y, or z, you'll always do better if you have a base of support holding you up. When it comes to training, I'm talking about 3 bases: Movement, Strength, and Aerobic.

The Movement Base

It is absolutely critical that if you plan on training in any way, shape or form, that you are moving well before cranking the intensity or duration. It is only a matter of time before you break down if you're putting in the miles while you have a basic mobility or motor control issue. For example, you can't bend over to touch your toes or you can't balance on one leg.

I use the Functional Movement Screen to give me a quick overview of where someone may be having issues with their movement patterns. It's not that I need every client to move like an elite gymnast, just move well enough.

When your movement base is adequate, then you're more likely to tolerate higher volumes and intensities of training. And you can focus your time and energy on the other two bases. If you've got movement issues, address them FIRST and you'll save yourself from tons of frustration and time undoing the damage later.

The Strength Base

Whether you want to run, play golf, sprint up a flight of stairs, or do ANYTHING that requires some speed and power, you need a base of strength first. The act of propelling your body through space (even if it is at 13:00/mile) requires a certain amount of


I've written about strength in the past (and I recently started a strength group for women - contact me if interested) and how valuable it is for things like body composition, health, performance, and even self confidence.

The bottom line is that without a proper base of strength – enough strength – then your athletic performance and life performance will be limited. I'll go so far as to say that if you're too weak, then you've likely got some movement issues, too. So make sure you are strong enough!

Here's a little observational normative data for ya. Where do you stack up?

The Aerobic Base

Lots of runners are taught about this one. The basic idea is that the bulk of your time, around 80%, should be spent running or cross training at low-moderate intensity. (So, heart rate 120 to 150-ish, nose breathing, conversational, etc.) This runs counter to our cultural belief of “no pain, no gain” as well as the message you get from people promoting a quick fix and fast results.

Building an aerobic base isn't typically facebook status worthy (JUST RAN AN EASY 30 MINUTES!!! <3 <3 <3 ), but it sure is effective. Instead of thinking that it isn't a workout if you're not dying or suffering at some point, try wrapping your mind around the idea that every workout should serve a purpose, even the easy ones.

The purpose of an aerobic base building workout is to improve your conditioning without adding extra stress to the body. In fact, lower intensity sessions can actually have a restorative effect on the body if you've been doing a lot of high intensity work. If you have a lot of stress in your life outside of training, then these are EXACTLY the type of sessions you should be doing – NOT more high intensity intervals!

The person who has put in their time and gradually built a solid aerobic house will have MUCH MORE success than the person who hasn't. They can recovery more quickly between high intensity efforts and they will be able to tolerate more high intensity work without breaking down.

Assess Yourself

So think about the three bases. Which one do you need to prioritize? Perhaps all three? Hey, it's all good. In order to make progress you've got to have a starting point.

I think no matter who you are, you can't go wrong by consistently and continually developing your bases. Even an elite must not lose touch with their three bases or things will unravel quickly!