Category Archives: Training tools

Will cardiovascular training kill strength

One of the most poorly understood interactions in the sport and fitness world is that of cardiovascular training and strength levels. One of the most prevalent misconceptions is that cardiovascular training or “Cardio” will hinder or even reduce strength levels. In particular low intensity, high volume cardio has been touted as a strength killer.  Many will agree with this statement and anecdotally it seems to hold a lot of truth. Then we look at field athletes such as rugby players for example. Some have pretty impressive strength levels as well as excellent cardiovascular conditioning. How do they achieve this if the training methods counteract each other? In addition why do so many scientific studies with tight control and experimental design show conditioning to be improved alongside strength and power? There are similar misconceptions of strength in the endurance world. Endurance athletes believe strength training makes them slow and bulky.  How can so much confusion and mixed opinions exist in this.

 

The answer all comes down to one simple factor -Load! When we use the term load we are not referring to load as a weight, we refer to it as external stress. In this case the stress is training volume or overall training load. Typically cardiovascular training, especially the low intensity variety, is done in high volume to have effect.  Large volumes of training have high energy demands. These demands can be hard to meet nutritionally. In addition to this, large volumes of training can accumulate considerable microtrauma and damage to muscle cells. In practical terms there is an accumulation of fatigue.

 

If one wishes to increase or maintain strength levels one must train to the upper limits of one’s current ability. The neuromuscular system improves when its current capacity is placed under higher demands than it is capable of meeting. Over time and consistent stimulus it responds and adapts becoming more efficient. This is the basis of a strength program. Progressive overload is the simplest mechanism for adaptation.

 

An athlete must lift enough to elicit adaptation and increase strength.

An athlete must lift enough to elicit adaptation and increase strength.

When we train while fatigued it has obvious implications for what can be achieved. One will simply not be able to reach a level of intensity that would be considered maximal or required for any real stimulus. In short we cannot train hard enough to push our limits. With the result that the mechanism of progressive overload is never achieved as we remain well within our limits. Not being able to train maximally or at our upper limits will make it extremely difficult to see any improvements in absolute strength. In addition, prolonged periods of training in which we fail to reach intensity will result in detraining. If we don’t use it we lose it. We can lose strength as we don’t really get to the point where it is stressed.

 

Large volumes of cardio training take up a lot of time in our schedules. Larger volumes have been shown to be very effective in terms of improving cardiovascular conditioning. The issue is allowing enough time in a week to complete cardio, recover and then train strength. If it is not scheduled carefully there is bound to be latent fatigue when going into the subsequent training sessions. This is where issues arise and cardio begins to have a negative impact on overall training effectiveness.

 

Another argument is that physiologically the adaptations of cardio training counteract those of strength training. This is usually the argument used to explain why cardio kills strength. In reality the structural adaptations are largely defined by genetics. Smaller people tend to suit endurance sports just like larger individuals are suited to power type sports. Yes there is some influence of training but generally speaking we naturally sort into the sports we are suited to at a young age. Our size will influence our success in a given sport and there’s not much an individual can do about it. Larger people can be very well trained cardiovascularly but must move more mass and therefore tend to be slower as a result. Likewise smaller endurance athletes can be very strong pound for pound but will simply lack the mass to shift heavier weights. This is a major reason for weight categories in strength sports such as weightlifting.

Successful distance runners are physiologically suited for the sport. They have lighter rangier frames. Perfect for covering distance efficiently.

Successful distance runners are physiologically suited for the sport. They have lighter rangier frames. Perfect for covering distance efficiently.

 

In short genetically we are predisposed to certain characteristics which fool us into thinking the type of training we do is the reason for our abilities or weaknesses.  When looking at concurrent training the main factor that influences our improvements is fatigue. If training is carefully planned and one does not overtrain a capability or underecover from sessions, we can improve both simultaneously. Looking practically it is a lot easier to focus on one or the other but this is not always a possibility.

 

The point of the article is to highlight the fact that one can train strength and cardio simultaneously and see improvements in both. Strength can go unhindered and endurance can be improved with increases in strength. Poor understanding of the relationship between the two has led many individuals to neglect their conditioning in favor of strength or vice versa. When planning a training program one should consider the length of time it takes to recover from different training types. Progress will be ensured if one considers the differing timescales of recovery and appropriate training stimulus needed to promote adaptation. When this is accounted for concurrent improvements in both strength and cardiovascular conditioning are very achievable.

 

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Building a Big’Ole Bench

The bench press is one of the most common exercises in the gym. It was once the most popular lift that could be done. Recently it has become a victim to trends; what is old and mainstream tends to get cast aside and vilified. Now many coaches will be of the opinion that having big bench numbers will not make you a better athlete. I say that anything that increases overall strength in any movement is useful to any athlete. While not critical it is certainly something worth having. The bench press is still one of the best upper body compound movements there is.

Still an important exercise for overall strength and power

Still an important exercise for overall strength and power

While the bench press may seem relatively simple, it is often performed pretty poorly. Before you start working on building up your bench press have a look at any of Dave Tate’s bench press videos. His technique description is about as good as it gets. It is simple and gets you in the ballpark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QnwAoesJvQ

From my point of view there are two key parts.

 1) Build a solid base: Jam your feet into the floor and your shoulders into the bench. Make sure you keep your head down too. If you are rock solid on the bench then when the weight becomes a struggle every bit of energy will move the bar rather than squirming you’re body around. Feet flailing in the air will never help you get force through the bar. Being solid allows for all your effort to be transferred to the bar. It is also a lot safer than being unstable.

A good stable base and keeping the elbows tight to the body makes this lift much more effective.

A good stable base and keeping the elbows tight to the body makes this lift much more effective.

 2) Keep the elbows tucked. This means elbows closer to the body which will result in the bar a bit lower on the chest at the bottom position. While this helps keep forces moving through the shoulder in a much safer way, it also helps with the first point. Wide elbows when on the bench tend to result in the chest compressing towards the bench. The shoulders then protract slightly as the athlete begins to struggle. They then begin to wiggle and one arm inevitably shoots up in an awkward path and the bar goes in every direction but up. Not the most scientific explanation but very common when novice lifters begin to fail. Failing to keep the elbows tucked can be a result of scapular instability as well. Maintaining some scapular and upper back strength exercises are a great supplement to pressing movements.

In terms of reps and sets, it depends on the goal. Generally speaking some initial volume work is great to build up musculature and help ingrain the movement pattern. For increasing strength, back off sets work wonders for bench press. After you follow a basic starting strength program this can really take things to the next level. 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler would be my suggestion for anyone starting strength. It is simple, effective and works even with the most experienced lifters. https://www.t-nation.com/workouts/531-how-to-build-pure-strengthTo work back off sets effectively, I suggest working up gradually to max set of 2 repetitions. These should be comfortable reps with no slow grinding lockouts. It will be approximately 90% of max or slightly below. Then simply complete a couple of sets of slightly higher reps at a lighter weight.

A session might look like this: (Example 1RM of 100kg)

Work up to a heavy double

Bar X5

60kg X5 reps

75kg X3 reps

80kg X3 reps

85kg X2 reps

88kg X2 reps

89kg X2 reps

Then calculate your working percentage (This example taking 75%)

Complete two sets of 6 at 75%

There is quite a large amount of activation of motor units when working up to a heavy double. When you back off the weight feels light. You can really explode off the chest with each rep. This does wonders for training the neural aspect of strength without overloading the joints too much. Reps are quicker and smoother which is exactly how you want to train. I have used this method several times with many different athletes and without a doubt it is the most effective method for rapidly increasing bench press numbers.

There are many tools to do many jobs. The bench press is a great tool in building upper body strength and power. Use it safely and effectively to increase the potential of you or your athletes performance.

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Recovery Review: Cryospa!

I recently had the opportunity to have a session in a Cryospa. Cold therapy is nothing new. It is perhaps the most utilized method of recovery in one form or another. Ice baths and ice packs have been used for decades to treat minor and acute injury and help athletes recover from tough sessions. There are now much more advanced forms of cold therapy commercially available. We have many new tools such as cold compression/pump garments and cryospas. The cryospa is very much like an ice bath except it has integrated water jets. This allows for a steady flow of cold water around the body. In the past the water adjacent to the skin would warm up a little with body heat. While a very small factor, this has now been overcome. In addition these jets help add a massage effect into the mix.

First a little theory behind cold therapy. The main mechanism is thought to be vasoconstriction. In reaction to cold stimulus our body constricts blood vessels to reduce blood flow to cold regions of the body. It redirects blood flow through vasodilation back to the core to help maintain core body temperature by reducing the blood’s exposure to cooler temperature. Doing this is thought to help reduce swelling around injuries and also force metabolites in the blood produced from heavy exercise away from the muscle. It is also thought that once the cooled areas begin to warm blood flow is increased as constriction ceases. It is theorized that this returning blood from the body’s core and organs is oxygenated and carries a fresh supply of nutrients to help aid recovery. For this reason cold is often used in conjunction with heat which has the opposite effect of promoting bloodflow.

Cooling the body is thought to help switch the body from sympathetic to parasympathetic. In short it goes from fight mode to rest mode. This should help athletes to relax and sleep after exercise. It will also allow digestion to become more efficient helping refuel the body. This downregulation of the body’s nervous system can be very important in the recovery from exercise as this is when adaptation is most likely to occur.

Ice Baths are one of the most popular forms of recovery.

Ice Baths are one of the most popular forms of recovery.

While there are some solid theories and evidence behind the use of cold therapy there is also some conflicting research. Some argue that cold therapy may interfere with the body’s natural recovery mechanisms. This review will not become a critical analysis but it is important to note there is some valid disagreement in the literature.

In order to get the most out of the session I decided from my own knowledge and opinion that it was muscle soreness I wanted to examine. Soreness from training or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is extremely common in athletes. In the days prior to the session I decided I would try and induce as much DOMS as possible so I could see how the cryopsa helped reverse or reduce it. I did the things I know cause soreness for me and it was not a schedule I would recommend to anyone. It was designed purely to enduce soreness and not for any training benefit. My training looked like the following.

Day 1- Lower body strength training (Focus on Intensity)

            5X5 Heavy deadlift @85%approx with 2-3 minute rest

            3X 15 Split squat supersetted with Walking lunges with 1 minute rest

            3X Rounds of 5 reps Front squat @50%, 10 Jump squats, 15 bodyweight squats with 1min rest

Day 2- Sprint intervals

            10X 20m sprint walk return rest

            5X 200m with two minute rest

Day 3- 60minute TT cycle with hills.

I was sore after day one but day two and three really built upon that initial session. After the cycle on day 3 my legs felt dead and aching. I felt tight and my glutes and quads had definite soreness moving around. Range of motion was also quite poor due to the tightness. On the afternoon of Day 3 I had my session in the spa.

The spa itself can be filled with epsom salts and magnesium which are also thought to help increase rates of recovery. I was given little neoprene booties to keep my toes from going numb. The water temperature was 4°C. Stepping into the spa was pretty unpleasant as expected. I felt winded and wanted out. This died down after a minute. I was submerged up to waist level but it can also be done with only ankle and knee submersion or all the way up to the shoulders. The whole cycle lasted 10minutes with the jets on full blast. The jets definitely made it feel colder than a standard DIY ice bath.

The spa was pretty user friendly despite the initial shock getting in.

The spa was pretty user friendly despite the initial shock getting in.

When I left the spa my legs were cold and a little numb. As the heat came back into them they definitely felt fresher than when I walked in. Over the course of the day as they heated back up I didn’t really notice any major soreness which was different to before I completed the session. It almost felt like the cycle session was removed from my week in terms of it’s after effects. The dull throb and deadness was gone from my legs and I felt a bit freer moving around. I did feel a little stiff still and there was still a bit of soreness but not quite as bad as before. I would love to have done some performance measure but there is plenty of literature out there and I wasn’t looking to do a full experiment. This was to satisfy my own thoughts and curiosity.

Legs were pretty numb leaving the spa but quickly warmed up.

Legs were pretty numb leaving the spa but quickly warmed up.

The bottom line is I have some doubts on cold therapy as with most things. In saying that I genuinely felt the spa session took an edge off my soreness. If I had full access I would definitely utilize it on a regular basis. This is a very subjective opinion but one cannot discredit the mental impact of recovery. If an athlete feels better and fresher regardless of their actual physiological recovery it is a major benefit.

Different things work for different people and there are tools and methods I simply find useless. The Cryospa is not one of those. I highly recommend trying it or something similar. See how you feel and if it works for you. A lot of being an experienced athlete is trial and error and simply learning your body. A certain amount of individual experimentation is necessary to do so.

I would like to thank Bodyright Physiotherapy (http://bodyrightphysio.ie) and Cet Cryospas (http://www.cetcryospas.com) for the opportunity to try something new. I hope some of those who read this may find my experience useful to them and encourage them to experiment with things for themselves.

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Train smart! Auto regulating your training

For most of us when we train we use a predetermined load to dictate intensity. For endurance type training we may use split times or wattages. Strength athletes may use % of 1 rep max (1RM) This all ensures we are working within the desired ranges to get the most progress. As technology becomes more accessible we are relying on the numbers from our training more and more. This is partly because our scientific knowledge is improving and partly because we are now quite a tech savy society who like gadgets and gizmos. For the most part it is good that we can organize and be more accurate with our training.

Human nature often takes us to the extreme. The numbers can become a dictator rather than a guide. Many athletes become bogged down in the numbers. If they fail to hit a certain target on a given day the session is a disaster. This can do strange things for motivation. Some may become despondent and others become frantic in making up for failure. A panicked athlete tends to make strange moves and this can have a detrimental effect on the overall plan.

Something we all need to remember is our training status. This is also referred to as readiness to train. In many cases the pre determined numbers don’t consider this. In some cases they do. If our percentages are based on our best performances then we are comparing ourselves to us at our 100% best. This can create issues. For example if we lose sleep or have exams or any sort of emotional stress our body will not be at 100%. Dehydration, hot weather, cold weather, missing a meal or even the wrong shoes can impact on performance. Our targets on paper may not take this into consideration. Many determined athletes may force a performance in training as a result. This has some major implications for performance and recovery down the line.

In order to avoid such a scenario from occurring an athlete may incorporate some form of auto-regulatory management of training. This basically ensures that the athlete alters load based on readiness to train.

Endurance

In endurance sports many athletes work off wattage based on physiological testing conducted prior to their training block. Both wattages and Heart rate (HR) are normally measured during these tests. The great thing about HR is that it reflects readiness to train. HR variability is a good indicator of fatigue. Higher resting HR suggests greater fatigue or an incomplete level of recovery. An elevated HR will also be present during training. So for any given load or wattage the HR will be elevated. If the athlete used HR as the determinant of training load he might still cycle at 40% of HR max but the wattage may be lower than an optimal 40%. This does not matter as the athlete is at 40% capacity for that given day. If that’s his plan for the day then he will achieve the same thing without exceeding recovery. If an athlete only used wattage he may force his body to reach a wattage but his heart rate may increase to 60% and exceed daily prescriptions. If he does this regularly he or she will be following a different program than originally planned. They will actually be training out of their zones. For that reason many athletes may want to use HR to dictate training load and monitor wattage or split times as a means of feedback on performance.

Heart rate based training is quite effective and may be more beneficial in the long term to reduce overtraining.

Heart rate based training is quite effective and may be more beneficial in the long term to avoid overtraining.

Strength

Strength athletes are just as susceptible to these issues. Normally strength athletes train based on 1RM which may be tested at monthly intervals. While this is a very practical and largely successful method, some advanced athletes may run into problems. We can see that for team sport athletes weekly competition makes percentage based training very problematic as weekly loads vary massively. Again mundane things like work schedules, study and diet can also impact our daily readiness to train. It is extremely difficult to control all factors involved. 80% today may be more like 90% tomorrow. For the tech orientated individual something like a Gymaware or Tendo unit may be a good idea. There are good guidelines available which can be used to monitor the speed of the barbell. This can be used to keep you within the ranges acceptable for your goals. It will also take into consideration how you lift on that given day. As long as you are within speed ranges you avoid exceeding your training intensity.

Another less scientific method is using a daily training max. On a given day you may work up to a 1RM for a given lift. This would not necessarily be a true 1RM but something that can be achieved without needing to get fired up, or creating any substantial fatigue. Some may put a time cap on establishing this 1RM, for example 10mins to establish 1RM. The athlete would then perform working sets based on a percentage of this daily 1RM. This can be a very effective way for an athlete to train without any additional technology.

Regulation of training intensity is very important for an athlete. Most athletes now understand that training smart is as important as training hard. While we don’t want to go overboard with the concerns around our training we do want to give ourselves the best possible chances to progress. After all that is why we train. A good coach should be looking to factor in methods of both monitoring and prescribing appropriate loads for training. It is quite easy to push an athlete; it does not necessarily mean that you are improving them. Experiment to see what is practical and effective for your athletes and training. Always remember consistent progress is the real goal!

 

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The Ultimate conditioning tool: Threshold intervals.

There are many conditioning methods and tools out there. One of our favorites is threshold sessions. The goal of these sessions is get some volume of training in and around lactate threshold. Training the vicinity of lactate threshold has proven to be very effective at improving ones conditioning. Traditionally it was considered an endurance athletes concern but team sports have shown great success with this type of training.

Implementing this type of training is relatively simple but does require a little bit of preparation. The most efficient thing to do is go to the nearest performance lab and perform a lactate test. This basically establishes your work load and heart rate at lactate threshold. The DIY option is a little less accurate but can still be quite effective. One simple way to establish a decent estimate is the method described below.

DIY LACTATE TEST

After a comprehensive warm-up conduct the following.

  • Run, Row or Cycle a 10min time trial on an even surface. Try and maintain as steady a pace as possible for the entire 10mins. Make note of heart rate and or watts/pace every 30secs for the final three minutes. The average of these will be a pretty close estimate of your lactate threshold. It will be accurate enough to use effectively but not 100% as you would get with a lab test.

Once you do this you can construct the sessions. The intervals should reflect the nature of your competition. Longer distance races deserve longer intervals. The work:rest periods should be 1:1 or 2:1 for longer intervals. 3-4 reps performed twice a week will be enough to start seeing improvements.

Here are some suggestions for some popular sports that have shown to help improve overall conditioning in a short space of time.

Rugby/Soccer/Hockey

4X 4mins with 4mins rest @90% of Lactate threshold (Pace or Heart rate) twice per week

Rowing/Sprint Triathlon

3-4 X 5-10min with 5mins rest @85% of lactate threshold (Pace, Watts or Heart rate) twice per week

5k, 10k or Half/Full Marathon

3-4 X 5-10min with 5mins rest @85% of lactate threshold (Pace, Watts or Heart Rate) twice per week

If using Heart Rate, with each successive repetition heart rate will creep up about 2-3% to maintain pace or wattage. This is normal. If using Wattage or pace there should be a similar decrease with each progressive rep. As fatigue develops across the session less work will be possible at the lactate threshold point. The 2-3% shift accounts for this fatigue. Do not panic if you see this relatively small drop off. The session will still be effective.

In summary these sessions are a great method for improving aerobic conditioning. Not everyone has access to a lab so the DIY test is a very useful and cost effective alternative. It is accurate enough to still use the sessions effectively. Which sessions you choose will depend on what sort of sport you partake in. Add a few of these into your sessions and you should notice a solid improvement in your conditioning within a matter of weeks.

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The warm-up and performance!

A winning team or athlete will undoubtedly want to achieve two things every session. One, perform at their best for that given day and two, prevent any injury occurring. With this in mind athletes are paying more attention to their warm-up procedure as the impact of an effective warm-up has shown to play a significant role in achieving those goals. Competition tends to encourage us to find an edge or advantage over our competitors. In some cases this allows us to be innovative and improve, in others it creates distractions. The warm-up has become a monster in some cases. It is not uncommon for some teams and individuals performing excessive warm-up protocols which show more harm than benefit.

Quite recently I attended a rugby tournament and witnessed the warm-up routines of other teams. One such team’s warm-up lasted from the time we left our team bus to the kick off of our first match. A period of about 90mins. They had a wide arsenal of stretches, mobility drills and activation exercises. They also had 21 points scored against them in the first ten minutes of the game by the tournament’s wildcard entry. In my opinion they missed the point of the warm-up, which was to prepare them for the game.

An effective warm-up will prepare you for the task ahead. In order to be effective an individual or team coach must identify what they are preparing themselves for. The following will discuss the main components of a warm-up. By understanding what is needed one can structure a warm-up that is fit for their purpose.

Body temperature

This is the main priority of the warm-up. By increasing core and muscle temperature we elicit a wide range of responses which have been proven to improve performance. 1° C increase in muscle temperature from resting is associated with approximately a 4% increase in power output. The ideal temperature being approximately 37.5°C. Excess of this will likely have detrimental effects. The most effective way to increase warm-up is to perform moderate full body exercise (Approx 80% of lactate threshold) for 5-10mins depending on environmental factors. This increase should level off after approximately 15mins in normothermic conditions. Optimal muscle temperature allows for faster nerve transmission and muscle contraction.

 

Even endurance sports benefit from an effective warm-up

Even endurance sports benefit from an effective warm-up

Cardiovascular

When we begin to exercise our cardiovascular system reacts. Blood vessels dilate and constrict to direct more blood to working muscle and away from inactive muscle and organs. Increases in heart rate also allow for increased cardiac output and blood supply.

Joint mobility and flexibility

Activity and movement reduces viscosity of synovial fluid in the joints which act as a form of lubricant. In addition, stretching may be utilized to promote elasticity of muscle fibres. Some theorize that this can prepare the muscles for rapid loading and increase ranges of motion (ROM), reducing the possibility of injury. Some have argued that increased range of motion may be problematic for joint related injury depending on the nature of activity to follow. It is wise to exercise caution with the use of stretching prior to exercise. Foam rolling has also become a popular method to promote muscle elasticity and ROM. It has shown little evidence for increasing performance where ROM is not a limiting factor. Mobility drills may also be used to promote ROM but have again shown little evidence for promoting performance where issues with ROM are not present. In short unless there is tightness or an issue with mobility it is not essential.

Dynamic stretching may offer a more beneficial alternative. Basic drills can be used which closely replicate movements required during competition. Increased specificity will prepare the athlete more appropriately for their sport.

 

Stretching should be used appropriately in a warm-up routine.

Stretching should be used appropriately during a warm-up routine.

 

Post activation potentiation (PAP)

Leading on from the previous point, an effective warm-up will also provide some PAP response. This can be read about more in a previous article here https://hamiltonsport.com/2015/01/post-activation-potentiation/. Some basic ballistic style movements and dynamic stretching can provide this. It is wise to do this following the temperature increase portion of the warm-up. Some progressive bounding or jump type movements are appropriate in most cases. This may increase nervous system activity which can allow for better contractile function of the muscle. This can improve force output and reaction times.

Competition specific

Technical drills should be used to prepare the athlete mentally for the tasks they must perform. Including some technical, skill focused drills will allow for further warm-up physically which will be specific to the tasks they must perform.

 

Warm-up drills should also prepare the athlete for contact.

Warm-up drills should also prepare the athlete for contact.

 

The recommended order of warm-up should look like this.

  • Temperature ramp (Also covers cardiovascular preparation)
  • Mobility and dynamic stretching (Covers PAP response)
  • Competition specific

A full warm-up should last between 15 and 30 mins depending on the sport. It is important that the athlete’s warm-up is as efficient as possible and wastes little time. The warm-up is not the time to address mobility or flexibility issues. These should have dedicated time given to it. A warm-up is preparation for the task. I feel that far too much time is given to mobility drills and foam rolling and these have become the core of many warm-up routines. The popularity of movement as a performance variable has allowed some to go overboard and neglect other aspects of their preparation. The main priority is getting the desired increase in body temperature, especially in colder environments. It must also be noted that warm-ups should be performed as close to the event as possible and great care should be taken to maintain body temperature if there are periods between the cessation of the warm-up and the start of competition.

These are the core components of an efficient warm-up. The exact drills and procedure will depend largely on the sport itself. If your warm-up is lacking any of these components then it would be very beneficial to look at ways of adding them in. In summary a warm-up should be time efficient and fit for purpose. It should have both a general and specific portion and should always look to establish optimum body temperature. Too many mobility drills may distract the athlete from purpose and would be better placed in a training session dedicated to addressing mobility issues. It takes a little experimenting to find a balance between effort, time and effectiveness. If exercises are too intense fatigue can become an issue. It is always best to establish protocols outside competition first to avoid any issues on the day.

If you have any questions or concerns about your warm-up then do not hesitate to contact us.

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The Science of Hiking

Photo credit: Robert Deaves

Photo credit: Robert Deaves

Hiking is perhaps one of the most miserable sensations in sailing. It is absolutely necessary to hike in order to maintain good boat speed. The trade off is that to achieve decent boat speed you must endure a lot of pain. Over the years I have heard many explanations for this excruciating burning sensation in the legs. I have also heard many training methods to improve hiking endurance. Scattered throughout all this, there have been many inaccurate explanations and absurd suggestions on how to deal with hiking. Hopefully this article will clear up some confusion and give an insight into how our body deals with hiking.

Hiking involves several major muscle groups. Quadriceps, glutes, spinae erectors and abdominal muscles are all heavily involved. We often refer to hiking as an isometric contraction. This is a little inaccurate. Isometric contraction involves an application of force through the contraction of a muscle which is at a fixed length. In actual fact there are gradual and slight changes to the length of the muscles during hiking making it more quasi-isometric in nature. The process of fatigue however, remains the same.

When we contract our muscles the blood vessels are squeezed and blood flow is restricted. During dynamic contractions there is a relaxation phase during which the blood vessels are released again. This contraction relaxation process actually promotes bloodflow. This is absent in the case of hiking as we rarely have a full relaxation phase. The restriction of bloodflow forces our muscles to generate energy for contraction through anaerobic means as oxygen is in short supply. The primary anaerobic energy system is called glycolysis. The major by-product of this is lactate. Normally muscle is activated from its low fatigue, low power type to high fatigue, high power types. These are known as type one and type two muscle fibres. Each fibre type is reliant on a different energy system; type one Oxidative and type two glycolytic. In the absence of oxygen, type two fibres must become active. Normally as type one muscle fibres fatigue, type two begin to activate and take over some of the work. During hiking we don’t really have that option as most type 2 fibres activate very early. Fatigue of this type can be witnessed by assessing surface electrical signals in the muscles by Electromyograpic (EMG) analysis. The image below shows EMG during a hiking endurance test. EMG activity increase as more muscle fibres are activated to maintain power output.

EMG trace of fatiguing leg extensor musculature. Activity increases as fatigue develops

EMG trace of fatiguing leg extensor musculature. Activity increases as fatigue develops

 

There are several reasons why these muscle fibres fatigue. Firstly the production and accumulation of lactate can interfere with muscle contractions. Secondly, there must be an adequate supply of energy substrate ie. glucose or glycogen. Thirdly repeated high intensity contractions damage muscle cells causing a leakage and reduced chemical gradients essential for efficient contraction. These combine to cause a reduction in sustainable force output.

The question now is how to manage this. Generally speaking larger cross-sectional muscle areas generate larger isometric force. So bigger stronger muscles will cope with loads much more efficiently. Adequate strength training is essential in order to cope with the forces required for hiking. In addition to this we must improve our ability to deliver oxygen and promote bloodflow to the working muscle. Capillarization of the muscle occurs when it is subjected to long durations under mildly ischemic conditions. For most of us we achieve this through cycling. The problem is that this process occurs over a long period of time and is quite gradual. That is why there is a need to complete many long duration cycling sessions in the offseason. It cannot be accomplished during a short training camp.

Improving the aerobic system also helps us to remove lactate and reduce the effects it has on muscle contraction. The main issue with large volumes of aerobic type training is that it induces an adaptation which is not favorable to muscle growth or strength improvement. It is essential to find a balance between the two. If we rely too heavily on aerobic conditioning we inhibit strength. The stronger we are, the relatively easier hiking becomes. If we do not have a good strength base then we will struggle even if we are well conditioned.

In addition to land based training we can have a big influence by actually going sailing. While the physiological adaptations to sailing are probably a little more modest we can gain a huge amount of technical advantages. Learning to shift tension on and off the muscle can help prolong endurance. Holding more efficient energy saving postures can also buy us time in relation to fatigue. Our tolerance for hiking is also improved. The more we train and become accustomed to certain processes the better we cope. Inhibitory sensors within the muscle can be somewhat overridden with training. In short, hiking more allows us to manage the fatigue more effectively.

 

Photo credit: Robert Deaves

Photo credit: Robert Deaves

Hiking is a pretty complex process. The biggest mistake is to assume that it is purely a reflection of aerobic conditioning. While aerobic conditioning will help endurance, strength and experience also have an enormous influence. The stronger the knee extensors, the easier hiking becomes and the less reliant we are on conditioning. Do not neglect strength work and likewise do not neglect aerobic training. They are both essential to hiking endurance. Travelling and lack of facilities can be detrimental to progress and maintenance of endurance. One should make sure that organized and consistent training is maintained throughout the season.

 

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Bang for your buck: Girls new to the gym

This article was a request from a close friend who wanted simple advice for a girl starting out in the gym. No fashion or beauty advice just straight up practical advice. Normally we focus on team and sports training but the principles that ensure progress are still the same. This article will put you on track or even back on track if you’ve become lost in the vast sea of female training advice that we see in the media.

1) Lift heavy

Your number one goal in the gym should be to become stronger. In order to do so you must challenge yourself enough so the body must adapt. The weights must be heavy enough to tax your body enough that it promotes it to adapt to be capable of lifting heavier weight. In order to prevent injury you must first learn proper technique and how to lift safely. At the beginning it is a very good idea to get a few sessions with a trainer so you can learn proper and safe technique from the beginning. Choose a reputable trainer and exercise common sense. Have confidence and know that everyone gets stronger if they give it time. Don’t be put off by lack of experience; you must start somewhere.

2) Eat

There is an exceptional amount of dietary and nutritional advice out there. You must eat for fuel. You must also ensure you eat protein in order to recover from weight training. This helps grow and maintain healthy muscle. Many females believe that eating is the enemy when achieving a beach body. Eating less can often stall fat loss and muscle gain. Often eating a little more and ensuring adequate protein can kickstart the progress you want to see. Check our nutrition articles to help you learn the basics about eating for exercise. https://hamiltonsport.com/category/nutrition/

3) Have a plan

This may sound obvious but it is essential. There are days when the gym is the last place you want to be. Having a plan keeps you on track and making progress. It cuts out having to decide what to do, often you may not want to ask as it shows inexperience. Never hesitate to ask for help, we are always learning. It is hard to know where to start but there’s no point wasting time being lost in the gym. Ask a trainer at your local gym for a beginner plan; you can always contact us for advice on training if you need to.

4) Log your training

This may seem like it’s for the hardcore trainers but it is a great tool. We are motivated by progress. Progress is often hard to see on a daily basis. By keeping a log of what you do in the gym not only does it motivate you to keep training but it also helps with your plan. You know what weight you can lift and what a reasonable increase is for you each week. This can be a very powerful tool in achieving your goals.

5) Enjoy it

There are few places in the world where your efforts and dedication will be so visible. Results in the gym are very consistent and more obvious than other aspects of life. Enjoy your time in the gym and see it as a productive and healthy way to spend time. It’s easy for a beginner to be nervous and a little standoffish when it comes to lifting weights but this passes with time. The more you enjoy it the easier it will be to commit. Don’t let the fear of the unknown stand in the way of your goals.

Getting started with gym training can be daunting. Advice in the media can also make the gym very confusing. Know that we all start somewhere, follow these basic tips and things will be a lot easier. Find a trainer who you respect and trust but more importantly gives you the time and effort required to get you to your goals. Don’t be afraid to shop around with gyms and trainers so that you find one that suits you. Once again, enjoy it and good luck.

Complexes for fat burning!

There are many solutions for burning fat. The general theory is the energy balance, in the form of calories in, calories out. An energy or calorie deficit will undoubtedly lead to weight loss. The question is, will it create fat loss? Weight loss and energy balance are tricky as we assume that weight loss is in the form of fat. This is not always the case; energy usage is fairly unselective meaning it will burn both fat and reduce muscle. In fact, some suggest that during chronic energy deficit, muscle may be lost as part of a survival mechanism. The body adopts a philosophy where it looks to reduce energy consumption via muscle and retain energy stores ie. fat. This leads to a reduction in overall bodyweight but a retention of body fat.

In order to lose fat we must create a mild calorie deficit so as to avoid this survival mechanism and promote or at least retain lean muscle. One great method is through the use of complexes. Complexes string together a number of resistance exercises as a form of superset. The involvement of multiple muscle groups with little rest creates a large metabolic demand. The resistance aspect also promotes muscle adaptations and potential hypertrophy. By switching through movements one can use a relatively heavy weight as local muscle fatigue is reduced. Overall it ticks the boxes of what we try to achieve when looking to specifically target fat.

A complex can be relatively short and completed within a 10minute timeframe. It can be used effectively as a finisher style exercise at the end of a regular training session. It can also be combined with some traditional cardio to create a conditioning session.

Here are some examples of complexes.

Pure Complex

  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell bent over row
  • Hang clean
  • Push press
  • Back squat

Rotate through the exercises for one rep and repeat 6 times for a full set

Conditioning Complex

Beastly circuits are a popular form created by ex Allblacks coach Ashley Jones

  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell Row
  • Power Snatch
  • Overhead squat
  • Back squat

Complete 6 rounds then 3minutes on treadmill for one total set, repeat for 6 sets with no rest.

Excellent example of a barbell complex (Courtesy of www.defrancostraining.com)

Complexes are great for promoting lean muscle and muscular endurance. The fact that they burn a lot of calories is a major bonus. They should be used to promote fat burning where strength levels are a priority. Traditional cardio is also a popular method but may not support strength levels as effectively. Complexes can be a useful tool for athletes who must improve body composition but also maintain strength levels. They can also be used as a conditioning tool as it supports muscular power endurance which is beneficial to many sports.

A coach can be quite creative in structuring complexes but it must be noted that technique can be compromised under fatigue. Simple multi joint exercises are most effective; Olympic lifts and gymnastics should only be attempted with technically advanced athletes. They are an effective tool which can cover a lot of needs in a fairly time efficient manner.

Training masks; the science behind them!

People like new toys and gadgets, especially ones which can improve their performance. In recent years breathing masks and gas masks have become popular amongst athletes and fitness enthusiasts. The idea originated from firefighters and the military who experience some extremely intense, physical situations while wearing breathing apparatus. The experience of wearing these masks in such scenarios can be quite overwhelming. In order to familiarize themselves with these situations they began to train while wearing their equipment. Obviously the more accustomed to something we are the more comfortable we are with it. Shortly, after we saw them to be used in the fitness community. They started to use similar equipment in search of more intense training methods.

In very recent years breathing masks have been produced commercially and specifically for the fitness and sports industry. Like any new training tool it comes with many benefits. This article is aimed at examining the physiological theory for the use of such masks. By understanding the physiological processes taking place we can make better use of such equipment.

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The major misconception which seems to have formed with the use of these masks is their ability to replicate high altitude. High altitude has been linked to many physiological benefits to cardiovascular conditioning. The concept of this relates to the partial pressure of atmospheric oxygen. Oxygen (O2) molecules move from lungs to blood and the blood to muscle through a process of diffusion. The molecules travel across thin membranes from areas of high, to low pressure. If ambient oxygen pressure is low, as it is at high altitude, less molecules cross from lungs to the blood and so forth. The amount of O2 in the air remains exactly the same (20.93%) but overall air pressure (Barometric Pressure) is greatly reduced. In order to compensate, our body first increases breathing rate and take bigger breaths. This allows us to utilize a larger portion of the lung and alveoli allowing more O2 to diffuse into the bloodstream. Another reason is to excrete Carbon dioxide (CO2). By blowing off CO2 we drop the pH level of the blood and create something known as “Respiratory alkalosis”. This allows more oxygen to be absorbed by our red blood cells. This process occurs similarly at sea level.

When exposed to this over long duration (16hrs+ per day for a minimum of two days)(Chapman et al, 1998) our body increases a hormone called Erythropoietin (EPO). This hormone when combined with iron stimulates the creation of new red blood cells, a larger amount of which allows us to transport more O2 around the blood. In addition our muscles respond to training by increasing mitochondria and capillarization of the fibres. This allows our muscles to consume more oxygen. The issue with altitude training is that our breathing rate can only increase so much and the other adaptations are relatively slow to occur. As a result the intensity of our training significantly drops. This is why many athletes choose to live at altitude and travel to sea level to train. It allows the adaptations to occur without training intensity suffering. This limitation is well documented.

Breathing masks do not alter the partial pressure of O2. They simply restrict airflow. They do not specifically filter O2 from the air. We compensate for this restriction by breathing more forcefully creating positive pressure to overcome the resistance. This is similar to techniques adopted by individuals suffering with breathing difficulties such as asthma and COPD. Pursed Lip Breathing is an excellent example of a breathing technique used to compensate for resistance. It is also something we automatically do when wearing a gum shield or mouthguard. We do not experience any increase in EPO as pressure gradients are maintained. The processes taking place at altitude are different from the ones taking place when using these masks .

In order to compensate for resistance we must breath with more force, both when we inhale and exhale. We use the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. These muscles are like any other; they become stronger when a stress stimulus is applied. When using these masks we are in theory strength training our breathing muscles. This can allow us to utilize a larger portion of our lungs, making our breaths more efficient and deeper. It also allows us to develop our breathing muscles, which will make breathing easier in normal conditions. This is of great benefit to an athlete’s conditioning as the effort in breathing will be greatly reduced.

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In addition to physical adaptations we can also experience some mental benefits. In scenarios where breathing is restricted we get a sense of breathlessness. This often causes panic. In a competitive environment panic can be a debilitating experience. Like firefighters and military servicemen, becoming accustomed to that feeling can have a great benefit. Learning to be comfortable and to relax allows our breathing to settle. Having the experience to know how to breath efficiently in such a scenario can allow an athlete to maintain composure. I believe this to be a very significant benefit to the use of such masks.

Like any new tool or training method it is very important to understand the processes taking place and the adaptations that come with them. Unfortunately there is relatively little research available on the use of breathing masks. I believe them to be an effective tool when used for the right goal. With any training an athlete wants the best results. Examining the physiological process taking place we can often learn to make best use of the tool. While science cannot always give the exact answer it usually puts us on the right track.