Monday, June 21, 2010


I know I mentioned a few months ago the PACE program (Progressively Accelerating Cardiopulmonary Exertion) and how I had been experimenting with using this to get in better shape and attempt to burn off the excess pounds that had turned to fat after the IM. A short description of the program means lots of interval training that progressively gets harder and faster. The end result of this is to gain increased strength without even lifting weights, improving body composition by burning fat rather than hanging on to fat through hours and hours of aerobic exercise, and last but not least building lung capacity.

It has been proven that by the time you're 50, you've lost 40% of your breathing capacity. As you age, cells in your lungs start to die off faster than you replace them – causing your lungs to shrink. That's bad news for your strength, stamina and disease-fighting power. Researching this theory and the PACE program has led me to some different ideas of what's healthy in exercise and what is not. From my own perspective, I found out that hours and hours and endless hours of "aerobic" exercise really left me not as healthy or as strong as I was before I took on all these endurance events. What I noticed most was the loss of lung power. It was so obvious. I was finding myself getting slower and slower on my runs, not able to maintain a fast pace on the bike, and while I could swim endlessly--at an aerobic pace of course--I was unable to kick it up a notch or two or three like I attempted to do during masters swim classes. That was almost a total waste of time, since I got no faster in the 3 months of twice a week workouts than I was before I started, and only left me totally frustrated.

Its always easier blaming these problems on getting older, but I found out it was much more. While I was getting older, my body--especially my lungs--were aging faster and faster with the type of exercise that has been recommended for decades now as being the best thing for you. For me, it wasn't.

I realize and understand the importance and need for endurance training--if you are going to be doing endurance events. Otherwise? A complete waste of time, at least according to the new way of thinking about exercise.

I had had a clue about the high intensity interval training as long as 4 years ago, but until I actually backed off on the long endurance stuff for a while and worked at improving my cardiovascular system by practing the PACE method, I did not see the true benefits.

Now, after 3 months, all my workouts have become so much easier. I am not out of breath on group open water swims, nor was I during my recent triathlon; I am finally able to pump harder on the bike to the point where my race pace was over 16 mph, much, much faster than anytime in the past 4 years; and while I am still working on developing a faster run, my mile pace has dropped and I am actually able to sprint at the end of the workouts without the lung bursting fatigue I suffered just 4 months ago. And I believe I have better immunity as well, after being sick on and off all winter with respiratory ailments. My stamina has also improved.

So I believe there is something to not only increasing but maintaining lung power as you age. You have to believe it when you see the athletes who stay fast and competitive within their age groups even into their 50s and 60s and beyond. I don't believe they could stay on top with lungs that were losing power as they aged.

I guess what I'm saying is while endurance events are obviously here to stay which necessitate training for endurance as well, it certainly can be beneficial if you could spend a month or two rebuilding your lung power and then maintaining it with a once a week fast workout or race. I have to wonder how much better we might all do adding in some serious interval work.


Lily on the Road said...

Interesting read Vickie, I'll certainly look into especially since I was so sick this past fall and winter.

I've been struggling trying to catch my breath running and cycling,especially hills. I hate using my Ventolin, but whatever works I suppose.

Thanks for sharing.

chia said...

I'm really glad you posted this. After smoking like a chimney for the last 6 months I think this would be something cool to combine with my "respiratory support diet" (a.k.a. a lot of green leafies and allergen free) after a few months of normal cleansing. I'm adding this to my to-try list for next month's training.

Lisa said...

very interesting. i'm already noticing that my lungs are the weakest link (when i'm not injured).

Anne said...

A startling statistic about the reduced lung capacity by 50! I've recently switched from endurance to speed and hope to see the improvements you've experienced after three months.