Monthly Archives: February 2017

The wonders of low intensity running.

Heavy athletes tend to hate running. It takes its toll on the joints and tends to feel like hell to complete. It is not comfortable and it certainly isn’t enjoyable for most. Recently I read 80/20 by Matt Fitzgerald. It focuses on using low intensity running for the base of a runner’s training. The concept is not new but is firmly supported in scientific literature and anecdotal evidence. It made me wonder if its concepts would apply for larger, non-runner athletes. I had seen similar concepts being used elsewhere for large powerlifters but had never really considered it a practical option beforehand. I tried it and can definitely say it worked amazingly well for improving overall fitness.

Humans by nature are task oriented individuals. We tend to want a result or some measure of how we complete a task. For running this generally revolves around a distance quantified by time. This is the mistake for many non-runners. If you are heavy you will more than likely be slow, in many cases embarrassingly slow. This can be the root of distaste for running. The thing to bear in mind is that absolute aerobic ability is often better in a larger athlete than a smaller one. They are not unfit or untrained, just hauling more load around. This means they will run slow even though they may actually be aerobically well trained. Take a prop forward for example. 130kg is a lot to move around for 80 mins and requires a massive aerobic engine. This does not get reflected once normalized to bodymass. If one can accept this then one can forget about how well or how fast they run, and focus on what matters, what they are running for.

Low intensity aerobic work is great for a number of things. In general it creates a number of extremely beneficial structural adaptations. Most of these relate to remodeling of the heart and vascular system but there are a number of other responses. In addition, low intensity work can improve fat metabolization and overall body composition, things which are nearly always concerns in a heavier athlete’s life. These are all positive but not the main points of the article. In addition it should be noted there are some aspects of low intensity work that are considered negative influences on power type sports. This was discussed in a previous article which can be found here To summarize very briefly, low intensity work very rarely makes anyone slow if used appropriately.

Low intensity running in this case is running which is restricted by some measure of effort rather than speed. Heart rate or Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) both work well. Heart rate should be around the 70% of heart rate max point or an RPE about five out of ten. The speed is dictated by this, not the other way around. If these increase then slow down to a shuffle or walk if necessary.

So what makes low intensity running so wonderful? Firstly, aerobic conditioning always provides an excellent base for all athletes. Running is something which uses a large amount of muscle mass and definitely produces beneficial adaptations to aerobic capacity. Perhaps one overlooked aspect is the ability for it to teach an athlete to relax on their feet. By forcing yourself to run slower to meet heart rate one eventually learns to be more efficient with technique. While on a run the individual should focus on playing with style and stride to keep heart rate down. After a while one will learn to relax the upper body and breath nice and steadily so as to not waste effort. With some practice the ability to relax and settle into a run can be a very useful tool. It effectively allows an athlete to learn to recover while on the move, something which can drastically improve overall work capacity throughout competition.

Running slow and relaxed also saves the joints. When one becomes more efficient and fluid with style the wear and tear on joints is reduced. This will partly become a result of better technique from practice but slowing oneself down also reduces impact. By focusing on low intensity, one generally feels like things are less of a struggle and more enjoyable, making it more likely to repeat the session. Recovery from the session is also improved for the above reasons. The day after, aches and pains are very much reduced.

It should be noted that little of the above happens overnight. It will take weeks to become relaxed and efficient. The point is that limiting the session by factors other than speed makes the training more manageable, enjoyable and overall more effective. After some time, the interesting thing is athletes will run faster and faster without breaking the intensity limits. This happens quicker than many expect and after a while those who hate running can become quite good and really begin to enjoy it.

It will take time to be a comfortable runner. Being fast is not nearly as important as the process.

A lot of the above seems obvious. If one gets better and fitter at running one will be faster and enjoy it. There is no rocket science there. The point is if one shifts the focus it can really foster the training effect without creating issues that so many athletes experience when running. The slightest change in perspective can make a massive difference to the process. Heavy athletes are more susceptible to experiencing issues with running but the process should remain the same for all. There is a right way and a less effective way to approach things, in some cases a completely wrong way. In this case if running has never been something you or your athlete has used or enjoyed try shifting the approach and give low intensity running a try. With a bit of patience and diligence the benefits can be quite astonishing.


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Are you underperforming?

A lot of athletes may be underperforming without really knowing. Dealing with large numbers of young athletes in a number of sports is great for noticing trends. Many athletes underperform without ever really examining or noticing the cause. There are many reasons why one might underperform and many ways to spot it. A common issue which this article will focus on is the combination of under eating and over using high intensity training.

It may seem like an obvious problem but it can very easily occur in many athletes. Generally young athletes serve two masters. The first is their appearance. Young athletes want to look in shape and the media has had its fair influence on expectations of appearance and how to achieve it. In addition athletes want to get picked for their team and move on to higher levels of competition. The mix of the two creates an usual issue which leads to a number of problems down the road.

When athletes become concerned with appearance, an obsession with diet and their image becomes a big part of their lifestyle. The first thing that happens is they can become very concerned with eating too much and specifically start becoming concerned with carbohydrate intake. They also start worrying about body fat levels on a constant basis. Slight fluctuations in weight make them very concerned. Quite often their bodyweight and bodyfat levels may genuinely be higher than optimal. From a coaching perspective diet logs become the first point of reference. That’s the first giveaway. The athletes more often than not, are eating significantly less than expected and too little to perform well, yet they have less than optimal body composition.

When team selection draws near, athletes will look for an edge to get ahead of their peers. Often this involves adding training sessions outside of their training program. These sessions are commonly of quite high high intensity, most likely due to the massive media attention on the benefits of high intensity training on body composition and conditioning levels. Athletes also feel their sessions are more beneficial if they feel completely exhausted after. The implications of extra, high intensity work should be fairly obvious as the recovery demands are increased massively. Endurance athletes may also train out of their training zones. Designated intensity for a session will be ignored in an effort to work harder and hopefully reap the rewards.

In real life the combination of the above factors can be hard to spot but tends be quite recognizable once you put the clues together. Athletes will generally start with a stagnation in performance measures. Usually modest enough to not cause concern. Alarm bells usually ring when performance drops but not nearly as much when performance remains stable even with little or no improvements. The athlete tends to be irritable, somewhat fatigued but not to the point of raising any attention to how they feel. Usually it can only be noticed on casual questioning. In some cases the athlete will show slightly elevated bodyfat and possibly even bodyweight in comparison to norms. They are also usually pretty conscious of this and claim to be making dietary changes to manage it responsibly.

At face value nothing is extreme to cause major alarm. That’s possibly why the issue goes unnoticed. Two things need to happen in order to correct the situation. The first relates to training. It is massively important for the athlete to manage their training. They must stick to designated zones and avoid additional work. This takes out some of the recovery demands. The program should have a decent volume of low intensity work and a nice balance with the higher effort work. Additionally lower intensity work will improve fat utilization and body composition, something which may not occur if Glycolysis is the main energy system in use.


The second strategy is a little more dependent on the level of severity. If an athlete drastically under eats, they must immediately address this by increasing energy and or macronutrient intake as needed. In some cases changes can be slow as alterations in training may be enough to re-establish an adequate balance. These changes can be enough to release the brakes on their progress. It can often be met with apprehension by the individual. Training less and eating more is counterintuitive to most, but can be a simple fix.

Many of the above seem obvious and logical. It is perhaps the most common occurrence with skilled athletes who have taken a dip in form. Combine these issues with any sort of emotional stress and an over trained athlete will rapidly ensue. As a coach or an athlete it is important to think critically and logically when dealing with performance. Issues are often hidden in plain sight but ignored. Mentally tough athletes are often the hardest to manage as they suppress concerns which are quite genuine. Mature athletes are often ones who make mistakes and learn from them. They learn to recognize clues before issues occur. It is important to really learn to read the signs an individual displays. This is a skill in itself. Often a training log can be the best tool in managing your own individual performance or that of an athlete you work with. Taking time to evaluate things objectively can be more beneficial than any sort of training or dietary intervention.


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