Article on metabolite clearance post training as featured on BOXROX magazine.
Follow the link to the article
Article on metabolite clearance post training as featured on BOXROX magazine.
Follow the link to the article
Traditionally endurance athletes tend to avoid doing a lot of weight training. The reason being that they don’t want big blocky muscles which they will have to carry around during a race. This perception is starting to dissipate with modern endurance athletes, as they realize the benefits of weight training. I will discuss a number of these benefits and how they can improve endurance performance.
The first and most obvious benefit to weight training is improved strength. This strength comes from a number of physiological adaptations. Muscle fibres develop so they can produce a stronger and faster contraction. In addition the recruitment of muscle fibres is improved. Neural patterns become better trained allowing for more efficient contractions during movements. Ligaments also become strengthened which also increases the amount of force we are capable of applying.
This strength increase means that relative workloads become easier for an athlete. It requires less relative effort to maintain a certain pace or power output. They will find it easier to sustain a certain workload and will be capable of working more than they could previously. They also have the higher maximal power output which may be useful during sprint type scenarios.
Weight training strengthens ligaments and tendons. This means the ligaments and tendons can tolerate greater amounts of force. This will significantly reduce the risk of injury as they are much more resilient to damage, which may occur during intense exercise. High loads through the joints are common for all athletes during athletic movements. Making the ligaments stronger would be a good way to prevent any damage occurring.
When we spend large amount of time training a particular skill or movement the muscle involved becomes more developed. Often their opposing muscle group lacks this development leading to imbalances. This not only affects movement patterns but can also heighten the risk of injury. Weight training can be an ideal time to correct these imbalances.
I refer to core strength on its own purely because I want to emphasize its importance. Having a strong trunk and core allows us to transmit force through our body much more efficiently. A tired runner or cyclist tends to wobble back and forth in their upper body. This is an indicator that their core has fatigued as they cannot maintain efficient posture. This is a waste of energy and a waste of effort. A strong core allows for more efficient and direct movement. This can help an athlete conserve energy without sacrificing pace. Weight training is a superb way to strengthen the core and help coordinate the body.
Weight training promotes certain hormones which can be beneficial to all athletes. It can help promote lean body mass and reduce fat mass. This means that you carry less “dead weight” in favor of muscle which can contribute to your performance. As an athlete you will become more energy efficient.
The most important thing for any athlete to remember is to favour movements over muscles when weight training. Their goal is performance orientated and their program should be different to that of a bodybuilder. If they train compound multi-joint movements with an emphasis on form and the goal of getting stronger, they will see a benefit.
Most endurance athletes fear weight training for fear of getting too big. In reality this is quite unlikely. Our capacity for hypertrophy is largely determined by genetics. We tend to identify our body type shortly after puberty. Heavy, more muscular individuals are unlikely to ever succeed in a sport that favors slender, lean bodies like endurance running or cycling. While we can influence our size, it is usually quite apparent we are naturally suited to some sports more than others. We enjoy sports that we can compete at. If we are the wrong shape or size we tend to avoid that sport because we don’t do so well at it. A high level endurance athlete is unlikely to gain the amount of muscle mass that would hinder his performance. They can still however, see significant strength improvement without muscle gain. They should not fear weight training as it is likely not to become a problem unless they are struggling with an unfavourable body type to begin with.
In summary, athletes of all types will benefit significantly from weight/strength training. They should always approach it from a movement perspective and not try to isolate muscles unless prescribed for prehab or rehab purposes. Endurance athletes are now realizing that an appropriate strength program should not be feared. It can and should be implemented to their program as they are likely to see quite noticeable improvements in the areas discussed.
Practical approach to recovering from training featured in BOXROX magazine. Useful for any athlete!
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Crossfit can seem like a daunting undertaking for many coaches. It’s not so different to other sports. It should be viewed similarly to team sports where there are multiple components required to perform. One thing I think needs to be addressed is the intensity of a WOD (Workout of the Day). Many believe that if you aren’t redlining or pushing the limits then it’s not tough enough or productive. While skill and strength work may be done at lower intensity I feel Metcons are a source of concern. They tend to neglect lower intensity steady state work. Several big names in crossfit performed poorly in the endurance style events. 2011, 2012 and 2014 had events which brought some of top competitors to their knees.
Many wondered why the “Fittest Athletes on Earth” struggled on “Weekend Warrior” style activities. Some blamed the lack of skillset, others the heat and the competition intensity. Physiologically I think there is quite an obvious answer. These athletes are over reliant on glycolytic metabolism. When you train at high intensity repeatedly you adapt to that environment. Glycolysis is the dominant energy system and it will increase in terms of capacity when training.
Oxidative metabolism can be improved when training at high intensity but only through a few mechanisms. Many processes involved in oxidation can only be improved with volume and duration. This is neglected by short high intensity type training. I believe this is a major missing link.
Our glycogen stores are relatively small and can be exhausted quite quickly. The greater our glycolytic capacity, the quicker we deplete glycogen. We cannot sustain activity of this type for long. We need an aerobic base to support our performance. Fat oxidization is a much more sustainable source of energy. The greater the oxidative capacity the higher the sustainable workload. One way to look at this is thinking of our aerobic base as our cruising speed. Our anaerobic and ATP-CP systems are our afterburner.
The following graphic shows three athletes. Athlete A has a strong base (Oxidative system), an above average anaerobic capacity (Glycolytic system) and an above average ATP-CP capacity from his HIT training. Athlete B has an above average aerobic system but relies heavily on his anaerobic capacity. His ATP-CP stores are again average. Athlete C is our average weekend warrior for comparison. While athlete A and B are quite close in their overall work capacity, Athlete A has a better sustainable work capacity. His aerobic base allows him to maintain a high work rate. Athlete B almost matches Athlete A overall, but will never be as competitive when activity is of long duration. He may be able to complete short intense workouts with similar or better performances than Athlete A, but can only maintain high intensity for a short period.
It is essential for an athlete’s conditioning that some period of his training regime include LSD style work. This ensures that he has a strong aerobic foundation to build upon. Longer duration, volume style training promotes structural changes which have great benefit to the cardiovascular system.
Athletes of any sport should never neglect their aerobic work. It may seem boring and time consuming, but it is necessary. Recent media has given LSD style training a bad name, and cast a shadow over it. While HIT style work may be very effective overall it does not cover everything. Over utilizing it or neglecting other areas will undoubtedly create weaknesses in an athlete’s physiology. In a sport like Crossfit, these small holes in an athlete’s capabilities may cost them dearly in competition.
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It is common for athletes to travel long distances for both competition and training. Seasonal differences may make travel essential in sports where weather is an important factor. Jetlag becomes an issue when an athlete has to cross multiple time zones. The reason is that human circadian rhythms are not synchronized with the surrounding environment.
This post will discuss the cause of jetlag, the impact it may have and some ideas for managing it. In addition to jetlag there are other travel related issues that can contribute. I will discuss those separately as they deserve direct attention.
The body clock is a system which co-ordinates hormones in our body in response to environmental factors. This allows our body to cycle through periods of readiness and rest. It is essential that we have this ability to avoid over stressing our systems. Sunlight is one of the major influences in this cycle. When we wake in the morning sunlight stimulates the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) through the retina of our eyes. This is basically our start up switch for the day. When the sun sets, the pineal gland, which is linked to the SCN, is stimulated to secrete melatonin. This hormone promotes sleep. During daylight this secretion is suppressed. This process can also be influenced to a lesser degree, by artificial light. The body clock disruption also impacts other natural body rhythms such as body temperature, blood pressure and appetite.
This disruption to circadian rhythms can cause sleep disturbance, fatigue, disorientation, headache, loss of appetite and a generally poor mood state. It is not unreasonable to believe this will cause a decrease in motivation in the athlete. Decreased alertness and readiness to perform have obvious implications for performance.
In terms of management there are a few ways to totally avoid jet lag. Serious athletes need to make a record of their experiences with jet lag and how they feel and cope individually. Each athlete is different and there are varying degrees of susceptibility to the symptoms. Some find the effects lessened depending on direction of travel. Eastward travel appears to have the greatest impact on jetlag.
It is generally accepted that for each time zone shift. 24hrs is required to return to normal rhythms. If possible an athlete should plan to arrive at a venue with this time frame in mind. If they travel through 7 time zones then they should aim to arrive with 7 days to adjust back to normal. In addition the athlete should try and adopt the schedule of the new time zone as soon as possible. This means setting their watch to the new time and making an attempt to eat, sleep and exercise on this new schedule. Some of this may be possible in the weeks leading up to travelling. For example an athlete can train later in the day or go to bed a little later etc. This may be advisable when they are travelling close to competition without adequate time in the new venue.
The main focus should be on adjusting as fast as possible to the new time zone. The effects of jetlag are hard to avoid. Instead of trying to ignore or avoid it, an athlete should accept the situation and learn to manage it. Over time the individual will learn what works best at minimizing the effects allowing them to perform at their best. Hopefully these strategies can help them to do this.
This post comes in response to a question we received from a reader. “Why is getting a good night sleep important before competition?”
Sleep is restorative and not preparatory in terms of physiological function. When we sleep there is a down regulation of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). This is our “Fight mode” which reacts to stress and allows us to “Perform”. The opposite is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). This is our “Rest Mode”. It allows the organs to dial back on activity and gives them a chance to recover fully. When in rest mode the immune system is highly active. Time and energy goes into repairing damaged tissues and resupplying fuel stores. If we were constantly in fight mode the body would eventually break down and the safety stops would be activated. Our immune system would also become depressed and we would become more susceptible to infections and illness.
Studies examining the physiological response to impaired or reduced sleep prior to competition have shown no significant negative impact. It does not have a direct impact on physiological capacity or function. However, mental and cognitive function are significantly reduced. This on its own will cause noticeable decrements in performance. In terms of an athletes mood state there will be a drastic decline in motivation depending on the individual. Their ability to push themselves mentally and stay alert will be reduced.It is also important to note that we are discussing lack of sleep rather than a night on the town. The later has many other factors added to the mix which can cause issues.
When an an athlete may be competing or training for multiple consecutive days, sleep plays a restorative role. It becomes a major part of the bodies natural recovery system. Disturbed or impaired sleep my hinder the restorative processes that have been mentioned from taking place. The ability of an athlete to recover is vital in maintaining performance when there are multiple days of activity.
From a practical perspective, an athlete should always try to get adequate sleep. The optimal amount will vary from one individual to another. If an athlete misses sleep before the competition has started they should place their focus on mental preparation and motivation as this will be the site for concern. After the race they should look to get sleep for both mental and physiological benefits. Inadequate sleep will result in poor recovery which will likely result in a drop in performance on consecutive competition days.
Athletes should make note of what is normal for them and what lets them perform at their best. Having a record of sleep is a good tool to allow an athlete identify when there might be an issue. This can be useful in the grand scheme as certain trends in sleep patterns can be identified and managed. Many athletes suffer from sleep disturbances as a result of nutrition, travel, stress and a wide range of factors which can be managed.
In conclusion, a lack of sleep before a big competition is not ideal preparation for an athlete. It is not always avoidable and so it is important for them to understand how it might effect them. It is a factor which should be monitored and managed as part of an athletes routine.
Olympic lifting has long been a popular component of team sports’ strength and conditioning programs. There are great benefits to gain from it. It trains the triple extension movement effectively, which is the basis for many athletic actions. It also teaches an athlete to produce and increase their ability to produce power. Additionally it can help athletes build muscle, become more agile, and improve functional mobility.
So what’s the problem? In short these lifts are sometimes too technical for a team setting. For an athlete to really benefit from them they must be reasonable proficient in executing them. In a team environment there is usually a big spread in technical ability and experience. There are also a lot of individual needs and scenarios which make technical lifts problematic. These lifts require significant time to be focused on them in order to teach and learn the movement. Additionally, mobility can often be an issue that needs to be addressed first before an athlete can attempt new lifts.
There is a theory referred to as “Physical Literacy” it relates to how we learn to move in our early years and how coordinated we become. Some of us are more physically literate than others. It is usually the product of having more practice or experience. Children who played a wider variety of sports tend to be more well rounded in terms of movement and adapt to new skills quickly. We cannot assume all players are at a similar level, so constructing a team-based program there must be compromise. In some cases we have the time to develop players and teach them new skills, other times we only have a few weeks to prepare them for a coming season.
Time and experience must be considered when building Olympic lifts into a team program. Getting the best “bang for your buck” is the preferred approach when choosing exercises. Often when we have a short time frame and sticking to the basics is a more effective approach. Jump training covers achieves most benefits, and with a fraction of the skill requirements. It can be quite easy to spot a “muscle clean” over a fast and technically sound clean. This is what we try to avoid as there is no benefit to performing inefficient lifts.
As with any type of training, a logical progression must be in place. The mistake is when people try to rush things. We would rather have athletes do ten minutes of skill practice with just a bar and then some jump exercises, than a full session of sloppy Olympic lifts. There is a time and place for every exercise. The key is to narrow a program down to what’s effective, then look at adding things in the offseason when there is more time to give direct attention to weaknesses.
Recovery is one of the most important factors when it comes to human performance. There are many recovery methods available all dealing with certain physiological mechanisms. In this post I will discuss the use of compression garments and how they seek to increase recovery rate.
The use of compression garments has, become quite popular recently and there are several brands providing many different options. The basic theory upon which they work is quite simple. When we contract our muscles, the fibers squeeze against the surrounding blood vessels. When we relax these vessels are released. This natural process can aid circulation as it helps promote blood flow through the vasculature. This is particularly beneficial to the lower limbs, where the blood pumped back towards the heart must compete with gravity. This return flow is known as “venous return”. It takes blood that has been deoxygenated by the muscles back to the lungs for re-oxygenation. It then returns to the heart which pumps it back around to the muscles again.
Compression garments provide external pressure on the limbs, artificially causing a similar compression on the blood vessels. This extra compression helps venous return in the same way contracting muscles do. When we exercise we increase the rate at which the blood becomes deoxygenated and must in return, increase the rate of re-oxygenation. In this case compression garments can potentially be beneficial during exercise by promoting circulation. They have a number of other benefits during exercise but I shall focus on the recovery aspect for now.
When we are exercising our muscles produce a large amount of metabolites. These metabolites will eventually break down and dissipate with some rest. The issue is that when we stop exercising we generally rest in a fairly stationary position. Sitting stationary these metabolites do not clear as well and can accumulate in the extremities. Having compression garments may provide the improvement to venous return without having to do much physically. This is where compression garments could have their greatest influence on recovery rate as they can work will the athlete rests.
Compression garments can also help prevent and reduce swelling. During intense exercise we can cause damage to cells which leak fluid into the surrounding tissue. This produces swelling. In most cases swelling can be considered part of the healing process. It can also cause a sense of tightness and discomfort. In this case, extra compression may prevent excessive swelling and tightness during competition and training days.
In terms of performance, research on compression garments is still largely inconclusive. There’s a fairly simple reason for mixed results. For garments to work they must provide adequate compression. Owing to the fact that we are all sized a bit differently, generic sizings for garments may not work for everybody. Anecdotal evidence suggests different brands work better for different people based on individual fitting etc. Despite this we recommend their use as its another tool in an athletes arsenal. They can be useful during activity, at rest, and during travel.
Such garments will not turn a weekend warrior into an Olympian overnight. They can however, when used in part of a larger scale strategy, allow an athlete to recover at a slightly faster rate. When dealing with recovery it is important to try be as thorough as possible as it is a factor that is largely controllable.
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In this post I will discuss the physiological components that make up physical strength. In general the strength of a muscle is determined by its cross sectional mass. When we assess the improvement of strength in a muscular contraction, we see a significant increase in force output in a short space of time with no change in mass. This shows us that there is also a neural component that plays a significant role in strength. In order for a muscle fiber to hit a peak contraction it must be stimulated fully. A beginner to strength training will be unable to reach his true max because he will be neurally untrained. This means he is not capable of using all his muscle fibers or even capable of using the select few to their full potential.
When we want to move, we send a chemo-electrical signal from brain to the muscle which results in a contraction. The more signals we send the more forceful the contraction. In order to achieve maximum contraction we must have a constant and rapid train of impulses coming from our brain. The route the impulse takes down the nerves must be capable of sustaining and transmitting these signals. Early in our training it is these nerves which improve at delivering stimulus, that results in strength improvements.
There are several factors which can prevent us achieving maximum contractile forces. We have safety mechanisms which prevent us reaching our limits in order to prevent damage to our muscle tissue. These mechanisms are largely involuntary and are not simply a case of pushing harder. When we train the thresholds for these “safety switches” raise, allowing us to lift more. This is partly because our muscles become more conditioned and less susceptible to damage but also because our overriding mechanisms improve. We can prove this theory by using a simple maximum voluntary contraction test on a muscle. An athlete produces their strongest contraction and when it peaks we add extra stimulus externally with an electric impulse. The peak will increase significantly higher than voluntary stimulus could achieve, proving there is more force possible.
So how do we increase strength? There a couple of areas which can be improved. First we need to train the movement. Becoming more accustomed to the movement helps us learn the pattern of muscle activation required to perform the action effectively. Second we must improve stimulation and muscle activation. The obvious method is working closer to our maxes which in theory requires a “close to max muscle contraction”. Become accustomed to producing maximum force will improve the mechanisms involved over time. This can be taxing on both the central nervous system (CNS) and the muscle structure itself. It will require structural recovery which takes time. Speed training is an excellent variation as it allows us to improve the rate of impulses coming from the brain. More ballistic type exercises such as jumping are a good way to improve rate of neural transmission. Adding bands or chains to sub-maximal weights for particular lifts can also be another variation to include. The increased resistance over the range of the movement requires an accelerated contraction.
These types of training are excellent ways to improve the neural component of strength without needing any structural recovery. They are demanding on the CNS and as always adequate recovery is necessary. The next area to work on is increasing muscle mass. This involves hypertrophy of the muscle fibers which occurs over a much longer period of time.
Becoming strong is important to all athletes but understanding what makes them strong can be just as important. The body adapts quickly and so a multidirectional approach can help progress in terms of consistency. Often athletes employ the maximal lifting approach exclusively and plateau quickly. Combining different methods over a periodised training plan can make sure that an athlete continues to improve in the long term and achieve full potential.
The accumulation of lactate is deemed to be a major determinant of performance during competition. Lactate is a byproduct of glycolysis. The accumulation of lactate in the muscle is linked with a significant degradation in contractile function and power production. Having the ability to prevent accumulation has a significant impact on the ability of an athlete to sustain performance. The onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) is deemed to be the point at which its production exceeds its clearance. In order to delay this point an athlete must train to improve his ability to clear lactate during exercise. Here are four effective strategies to improve lactate clearance.
1) Long slow distance training (LSD)
Also referred to as “Steady-State” training LSD has great benefits for lactate clearance. Even though LSD is performed at low intensity it greatly improves the aerobic system. Having a strong aerobic base usually comes with good proportion of type 1 muscle fibers. Recent studies have shown these fibers to be very efficient at consuming lactate as fuel through a shuttle system which transports it from the blood into these muscle cells. LSD training in conjunction with Lactate producing activity can teach the body to consume lactate in this way, helping to prevent accumulation during higher intensity competition.
2) Threshold training
Threshold training is performed at and around the point of accumulation. This is arguably the most effective zone to train at as it is the “Threshold” at which the body can balance accumulation with clearance. Improving workload at this zone will transfer directly into sporting performance. It is considered to be the sweet spot in terms of sustainable workload. Performing volume at this zone will result in effective lactate management in the body. It up-regulates enzymes which promote the metabolisation of lactate and clearance. The body will also learn to buffer lactate more effectively using intercellular bicarbonate. These sessions can range between 3 and 10 minutes in duration at or around OBLA.
3) Tempo runs
These are somewhat of a combination of the previous methods. During a longer session an athlete will perform a series of high paced intervals spread throughout a longer interval held at a lower, sustainable pace. During these intervals blood lactate concentrations will increase. When the athlete drops eases of intensity, the body will now be able to clear lactate to manageable levels. This promotes how the athlete recovers from lactate accumulation while still exercising. This can be useful in competition where there are varied intensities throughout a race or short rest periods between bouts.
4) Sprint intervals
Short sprints result in a very rapid production of lactate as large type 2 fibers become very active. The body does not have sufficient time to respond and so accumulation occurs just as rapidly. By using short rest periods you only give the body a very short period in which to re-establish homeostasis and so it is forced to up-regulate clearance mechanisms. Training of this type not only improves clearance but also the athletes tolerance to lactate. Sessions of this type can vary in duration for both work and rest. The ratio of work to rest can be manipulated to achieve different results in terms of physiological response.
In general any activity that elevates the concentration of lactate in the blood will elicit a physiological response. Like any stress appropriate recovery is necessarily. A multi-directional approach must be taken to ensure that an athlete has an adequate exposure to lactate without over taxing the bodies recovery capacity. This can be a difficult balance and must take into consideration a number of factors including the age and background of the individual. If done correctly any individual will benefit greatly from giving focused time and training to helping improve how they handle lactate in their body.