Sweden Niels van der Poel, who only started speed skating competitively in 2019, recently dominated the 5,000m and 10,000m speed skating events at the Beijing Winter Games, winning two gold medals and beating the 10,000m world record. After winning the medals, van der Poel released a 62-page training document outlining his training philosophy, training splits and intervals before the Olympics, and, speed skating being somewhat akin when running, we were curious.
What Van der Poel discovered is that all endurance sports require strength, core stability, high VO2max, and a powerful aerobic motor. “When you put all these pieces together, you will become an immaculate endurance athlete,” says Van der Poel.
Speed skating is a lot like running, in that your most important asset is your aerobic capacity. Van der Poel approached his training thinking that his puzzle had only two pieces: competitive speed and aerobic capacity.
Let’s use the 10km track and road distance for this example: it’s easy for the race to go wrong if you go out too hard, but everyone should run the same distance. “You have to build capacity first,” says Van der Poel. Three months before the competition, the skater began to build a base, which saw him training six hours a day in HR recovery zones. “I developed the aerobic capacity while running and on the bike to skate a 30 mph lap, then structured a personalized recovery program so I could skate a 30 as often as possible for long periods of time.”
Van der Poel uses low heart rate training to build his aerobic base, so his body can learn to run further and faster at a lower heart rate. This allows him to work aerobically longer before switching to anaerobic activity, which means exercising longer and faster before getting tired. Runners can also do this.
Using the Olympic champion’s training regimen as an example, he would often push his body through six hours of active recovery from running and cycling each day to build up his aerobic level.
An example week of Van der Poel’s aerobic construction:
Mon: Six hours of cycling at 220W – Tu es: Six hours of cycling at 220W – Wed: Six hours of cycling at 220W – Thusday: Six hours of cycling at 220W – Fri: 10K of running plus three hours of cycling at 210W. Total hours = 28. Van der Poel often took a day off on Saturday and Sunday.
The longer the race, the more you rely on your aerobic system, so it makes sense that Van der Poel took HR training to the extreme. (Building a strong aerobic base is also helpful for shorter races like the 800m, so you can rely on it more at the start of the race.) Low heart rate training to build aerobic capacity is helpful in all endurance sports.