Tag Archives: Training modalities

It’s never wrong to be strong!

There are very few sports where absolute strength is unimportant. Regardless of whether or not the athlete’s bodyweight is important to performance, strength is always beneficial. A strong athlete will often be able to make up for skill more often than we like to admit. We have all seen clumsy, brutish athletes simply overpower and overwhelm more skilled opposition. In combat sports the argument is that two fighters of equal skill, bodyweight will be the defining factor. This is the reason for weight classes. Now, in a particular weight class we recognize that the stronger fighter will have the advantage.

Despite this we still argue that strength isn’t everything. While I believe other factors are just as important I will present a case for absolute strength being a critical factor. First we will look at the debate of relative strength. The Powerlifter/strongman vs. Olympic lifter is one such example. On one hand we have the Olympic lifter, a master technician who can shift weight more efficiently than most other athletes. They have incredible strength relative to bodyweight. Then we look at a powerlifter or strongman. They demonstrate tremendous strength while not being as technically efficient as an Olympic lifter. They also have much greater bodyweight which diminishes their strength to weight ratio. The following video shows how they compare when asked to squat their own bodyweight for max repetitions.

While the strongman and Olympic lifter achieve the same total reps the powerlifter has a greater total load lifted. Work done is an extremely important factor in all sports. This simply demonstrates that despite him not achieve the same reps his absolute strength allows him to beat more efficient lifters.

In the case of endurance athletes the argument may not be as obvious. Endurance athletes must sustain workloads in order to be successful. Our initial thought may be that their conditioning is going to be the critical factor. Again this is not the case. The greater an athlete’s maximal power output is, the easier he can manage submaximal work. Relative workloads become less intense. An athlete who must sustain 300watts when his max is 350watts will struggle against an athlete who maintains 300watts with a max of 400watts.

Crossfit athletes are also a very good example of this. They are often prescribed workloads which disregard any differences in the size or strength level of an athlete. In this case an athlete who must complete 20 deadlifts of 100kg, having a max effort of 150kg will need to work much harder than an athlete who has a max effort of 200kg. The first athlete is lifting 75% of their max in comparison to 50% with the second. This allows for a large advantage which may be too great to overcome even with a more efficient technique.

While I do not advocate neglecting technique or conditioning, it is important to realize the advantage that absolute strength provides. A weak yet technically good athlete will automatically be at a disadvantage. For this reason it is a very good idea to ascertain strength standards which athletes should look to achieve in their discipline. If they fail to do so it may highlight where they might struggle during competition. Very often direct attention to strength development can make a very significant impact on an athlete’s performance. Neither coach nor athlete should ever disregard the benefits of an effective strength program. It is often overlooked especially in technical sports. At high levels of competition this oversight may be the weakness that gives the opposition the opportunity they need to win.

4 Ways to improve lactate clearance!

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.

The after effects of excessive lactate accumulation during a race. Source :www.windsorstar.com

The after effects of excessive lactate accumulation during a race. Source :www.windsorstar.com

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.

Building the engine!

Our cardiovascular system is basically an engine. The bigger it is the more power we can produce. Like any powerful engine its performance is based on its efficiency and size. When we look at our body in terms of conditioning we should think of it like an engine. We must first build it and then fine tune it to be efficient for what we want it to do.

When we look at training we can look at it the same way. First we need to assemble the basic parts, this is the base miles in the offseason. This is what promotes the structural changes in our physiology. Our heart becomes larger and more powerful, capillarization occurs improving blood supply to the muscle fibers and in addition numbers of mitochondria increase within the cells. This process is gradual and is stimulated by large volumes of aerobic training. It is a relatively slow process but has a long lasting effect. Because longer duration is required the intensity must be relatively low in order to accumulate adequate volume without overtraining. This will gives us the foundation for our conditioning. Increasing aerobic capacity also has a vast amount health benefits associated, such as reduced blood pressure and a strong and efficient heart.

Once we build up a foundation we must then tune it. Now anaerobic style training comes into play. Anaerobic training up-regulates enzymes which promote glycolysis, the energy system utilised during high intensity. It also improves the ATP-CP energy system used during sprint type activity. The effects happen over a much shorter period of time and remain effective for a short period if training is not maintained.

HIIT has become popular because it yields results much quicker than LSD training. The issue is that the physiological changes that come from it are really only the icing on the cake. Without a strong base prior to HIT an athlete is neglecting a big part of their physiology. This is noticeable in a lot of team sports. An athlete may perform quite well at high intensity but struggle to utilise fat for fuel, causing him to tire late in a game. They also tend to recover relatively slower as their oxidative system does not have the capacity to remove lactate as effectively.

Rocky-Elsom-hands-on-head

Athlete catching breath between play. Source:http://www.rugby365.com

If an athlete wishes to have good conditioning for their sport they must build a big engine to begin with and then tune it to be suitable to their activity. Whether they use threshold work or sprint intervals to do so will depend on the nature of the sport. The point I emphasise is that a strong aerobic base should never be neglected. Regardless if the sport is an endurance sport or not a strong aerobic system will be of great benefit to most athletes as it is still a major part of their physiology.

Fat loss for athletes!

Body composition and body mass are important for most sports. The success of an athlete can rely heavily on falling within the norms of their sports, especially where a weight category is involved. Nutrition and training are both vital in the role body composition and weight management. I will not discuss dietary strategy as it is not my are of expertise. Instead I will discuss the training considerations and strategy.

Step one is for an athlete to identify whether he needs to reduce bodymass (weight) or reduce body fat. Bodymass deals directly with bodyweight on the weighing scale with no concern for body composition. Body fat deals with body composition with possibly no influence on overall bodymass. When reducing body mass the main focus, is to create a consistent calorie deficit. How one trains doesn’t really matter as bodymass will decrease over time if calorie expenditure exceeds consumption. The issue is that this reduction will not be selective in terms of tissue loss. Both muscle and fat tissue will be lost but this is not such a good thing. In many cases an athlete will need to retain as much lean mass as possible and may even need to increase or at least maintain it. This creates a more complicated scenario where fat tissue must be the focus for reduction while avoiding any muscle tissue loss. The training strategy becomes a little more complex.

We know that in terms of metabolism, exercise at lower intensities utilise fat as fuel more effectively than high intensity exercise. The main drawback is that in terms of time efficiency it takes a relatively long period to burn sufficient calories. The other issue is that low intensity work can promote adaptations that are not so favourable for an athlete. Long periods of low intensity (LSD) training can promote a conversion of type 2 muscle fibers into fibres which more resemble the characteristics of type 1 muscle fibers. The athlete runs the risk of losing strength, speed and power. So this method must be used sparingly.

High intensity training has been touted as the magic pill for fat loss and performance in recent literature. Calorie expenditure is higher for a given work period and metabolism is elevated in the post training period. Sessions must, however be shorter as they will be more demanding. It is in this post training period where an elevated metabolism and active oxidative system plays its role in metabolising fatty acids. HIT may also promote strength, power and conditioning through a number of adaptive responses. At first glance this seems to be the obvious choice. As with most training methods it carries its disadvantages. By focusing on HIT we become reliant on the Glycolytic system during exercise. This system utilises carbohydrate metabolism and is always active even at rest when the oxidative system is dominant. Over time an athlete may promote the use of carbohydrates during metabolism which will in fact spare fat cells. If they do not consume enough carbohydrates there can also be a reduction in lean tissue as muscle cells do not get enough energy to survive.

The best strategy is to utilise both methods in an appropriate fashion. LSD can be made more effective in reducing fat and improving fat oxidisation by adding fasted LSD sessions into a program. Done before breakfast or immediately following a training session, enzymes active in fat oxidation must up-regulate to compensate for glycogen depletion. This means that less time is needed to initiate fat oxidation. HIT should then be performed in a fuelled state in a separate session to make use of its benefits. When both types of sessions are used in a balanced way that does not impede the athletes recovery, they can see all the benefits while negating the disadvantages.

As with most strategies a balance is required for optimum results. The body is exceptional at adapting to stress. Overemphasising one method over another will only display short lived success and may create problems in the long run. In the case of managing body weight and body mass a strategy must be formulated to suit the needs of the individual. A gradual and monitored approach is best for achieving long term and consistent results.

Make it quick!

An issue I have encountered with younger athletes is the issue of bar speed during lifts. Typically younger athletes that I’ve worked with have come from school sports. In some cases these school teams have an organised lifting program attached. Most of these programs centre primarily around the weight lifted. This causes a slight problem as from the very onset of training these athletes create a mindset where weight on the bar is all that matters. As long as the weight increases when moving the bar from A to B, they are progressing.

I have a fair amount of “Dynamic” or “Power” work in the programs I set. I think it’s obvious that athletes benefit from speed work as well as strength work. The issue arises during these sessions. I’ll use the power clean as an example. Many of the athletes I work with believed that as long as they get the bar from floor to the front rack position it is a successful clean. Luckily they understand for the most part that this should be a smooth and fluid motion and rarely do I find them in compromising positions. However, bar speed was often compromised. As long as the bar is heavier they believe that they are improving. At times these lifts become a slow heave to move the weight, accompanied by a massive spread of the feet to get into the catch position. I believe this acquired technique is the product of simply trying to shift weight.

I spend a lot of time detraining this mentality. At times the purpose of certain exercises in our program is to build power and speed. They should therefore be done as fast as possible even if that means decreasing the load. I leave the strength work to the core lifts like Squats and deadlifts etc. When we do power work I want their mentality to be focused on speed and explosiveness and a precise and swift movement. When we incorporated banded bench press into the program I think the athletes realised that a lift which they typically considered a “How much do you lift” exercise, could be utilised very differently.

After a few months we now squat and bench press at near maximal loads weekly, as well as incorporate their more dynamic variations successfully. I was happy to be able to change their way of thinking when it comes to bar speed and purpose of the lift. It’s great to now hear feedback on how lifting more quickly and more explosively has helped some very strong players become quicker on the pitch.

Everything works!

I heard a really good quote recently from rising UFC star Conor McGregor. He said “Everything does work. There’s a time and a place for every single move”. I think this really applies to training and human performance. I regularly see trainers and coaches making sensational claims about different training techniques and simultaneously bashing others. I think it really reflects a poor understanding of human physiology when these types of claims are made. From my experience every technique or protocol is beneficial in its own way. The trick is to know what works when, and why.

The body responds accordingly to any stress it’s placed under. How it responds varies greatly from one thing to another. A perfect example for training protocols is the LSD vs. HIIT debate. The recent consensus is that HIIT is far more effective in promoting cardiovascular endurance and that LSD is a waste of time. What may take three hours of slow jogging can be achieved in minutes with hard sprints, making LSD totally redundant. HIIT has been proven to be an effective training tool but so too has LSD on numerous occasions. Both methods create different physiological impacts which cause adaptations, which in time lead to improvements in overall performance. Despite this, LSD has taken a huge amount of criticism in recent years. The same goes for several other training techniques.

The worst possible approach we can take is to think that there is a black and white in terms of training. There are so many complexities in the way our body functions that we cannot possibly assume to understand it fully. We need to accept every concept, every theory and every idea. We don’t necessarily need to act on them all but we must at least consider them.

Part of the reason I became so interested in human physiology was because of the endless ways in which we can make improvements to performance. I felt that by understanding and studying human physiology I could make the best use of the vast amount of training techniques to achieve a goal. So McGregor’s quote is something I’m pretty fond of. I believe there is a time and place for every technique and by learning more about how our bodies function we can utilise an appropriate strategy to achieve the desired result.