Strength development - part 4
In a previous post we discussed the morphological adaptations that take place following strength training. But what should your training look like to trigger these adaptations, and how do they occur? One of the key morphological adaptations to strength training is an increase in muscle cross sectional area, aka good old-fashioned muscle hypertrophy.
There is no shortage of reported ways to train for muscle hypertrophy, the typical 3x10, manipulating the time under tension, occlusion training, training to muscle failure are just a few that spring to mind. So let’s take a slightly deeper look at how these adaptations occur, so we can begin to understand where some these methods of developing muscle hypertrophy came from.
Muscle hypertrophy occurs in part due to the metabolic response to resistance training. The metabolic response to resistance training refers to the build up of metabolic by products, mainly lactic acid, within the muscle which causes an increase the secretion of anabolic hormones and increased muscle damage, adding to the training stimulus. Now, if we are trying to maximise lactic acid production then all of a sudden using training methods like occlusion training or training to localised muscle failure using things like drop sets seem to have a bit of merit. If we think back to the energy systems we use during exercise, then using moderate to heavy loads for sets lasting between 20-40s is predominantly going to require energy produced through the glycolytic pathway meaning lactic acid is going to be produced.
This accumulation of lactic acid leads to a change in the muscle environment, reducing muscle PH, increasing muscle acidity and causing a build up of hydrogen ions which is what stimulates increased motor unit activation, increased secretion of growth hormone and increased muscle damage. Taking occlusion training as an example, Takarada and Ishii (2002) found that motor unit activation at 40% 1RM with occlusion was almost the same as using 80% 1RM loads with no occlusion, providing some evidence that the increased lactic acid as a result of the occlusion does lead to increased motor unit activation. In a similar study on occlusion training Takarada, Nakamura and Aruga (2000) found that growth hormone secretion was 290 times higher when occlusion was used versus without.
Training to muscle failure is a method often employed by bodybuilders and does also lead to increases in lactic acid production. The thought process behind this is that as fatigue increases so does motor unit recruitment, leading to more muscle fibres being trained and more adaptation. However, fatigue is a multifaceted thing comprising of both the local muscle environment, but also the central nervous system (CNS), so training to absolute failure may not be optimal, can increase the risk of injury and have a negative effect on the quality of the movement pattern.
With regards to programme design, programmes that have the primary focus of muscle hypertrophy tend to result in the largest increases of blood lactate in comparison to programmes that focus on building strength as a result of neural adaptations. Kraemer, Fleck and Dziados (2003) compared performing 3-5 sets for 5 reps with 3 minutes rest, to performing 3 sets of 10 reps with 1 minute rest, and unsurprisingly found a 433% increase in blood lactate in the 3x10 protocol most likely as a result of the greater workload and time under tension. Considering 3-5 sets of 5 are a very typical rep scheme for strength training, and 3x10 is a very typical rep scheme for hypertrophy training, the difference in the type of adaption these rep schemes produce and how those adaptations occur is clear.
Eccentric training, in the form of pure eccentric only training or increasing the length of the eccentric phase of a movement using tempos has become a popular training method for people looking to develop strength. So does this method of training help induce muscle hypertrophy? As mentioned above, using occlusion training or the classic 3x10 with 1 minute’s rest increase the production of lactic acid which in turn lead to an increased metabolic response and increased muscle hypertrophy. So does using eccentrics or tempos have the same effect? Firstly, let it be said that there are a number of benefits to eccentric or tempo training aside from increasing muscle hypertrophy, but for now that is the only measure we will be focusing on. Cadore et al (2014) compared eccentric and concentric over a 6 week training programme, training twice per week. They found there was no significant difference in muscle hypertrophy between groups but did find a host of other advantages to eccentric training which we will discuss in another post.
In contrast to this Norrbrand, Fluckey, Pozzo and Tesch (2008) found that over a 12 session training programme, muscle hypertrophy when eccentric overload was applied resulted in a two fold increase in muscle hypertrophy in comparison to a regular concentric-eccentric movement pattern. The difficulty in drawing a definitive answer as to whether eccentric training is beneficial more muscle hypertrophy lies in the fact that studies use varying protocols and loading patterns, producing different results.
As you can see, training for the specific adaptation of increased muscle cross sectional area can be done if you apply the right principles. However, whilst increased muscle hypertrophy is one component of developing your strength it is certainly not the only one. In the next blog post we will take a look at methods which can be used to develop some of the neurological adaptations to strength training, before discussing how these may be used in conjunction with each other.
Strength development - part 3
Mechanisms of Strength Adaptation – Neurological adaptations
As well as the morphological adaptations to strength training we mentioned in part 2 of this series, there are also a number of neurological adaptations that occur following strength training which are arguably even more important when it comes to generating maximal force. Your nervous system is what causes your muscle fibre to contract in the first place, so without these adaptations changes in muscle physiology aren’t going to have much impact.
Your nervous system is responsible for recruiting motor units – bundles of muscle fibres grouped together. It is the recruitment and firing frequency of these motor units that is responsible for both maximal muscular contractions and the speed of repeated contractions. Motor units are grouped by fibre type, and during muscle contraction type 1 muscle fibres are recruited first, followed by type 2a and type 2b as the need for higher levels of force production increases. This is known as the size principle. The size principle holds true for muscle contractions at both low and high speeds (ballistic contractions) and during isometric holds. The amount of force different motor units can produce can vary by up to 50 times so the recruitment of motor units containing type 2a and type 2b muscle fibres is of great importance when we want to produce maximal force.
Following strength training, it is thought that more motor units can be recruited, but also that the threshold at which high force output motor units can be recruited is reduced. The combination of these two factors is highly beneficial when we want to maximise the force we are producing in each contraction.
Motor unit firing frequency, is the rate that neural impulses are transmitted to the muscle fibres. Firing frequency can impact on both the amount of force generated during a single contraction, as well as the rate of force development during repeated ballistic contractions. The combination of these two factors means that firing frequency plays a big role in both maximal force development and power. Strength training has been shown to lead to greater motor unit firing frequency.
Motor unit synchronisation occurs when two or more motor units are activated at the same time, which as you can imagine has been hypothesised to lead to increased force development – two is always better than one right? This is a neurological adaptation that leads to the coactivation of numerous motor units enhancing maximal force and rate of force development. Again, this is thought to be something that is enhanced through strength training.
Now, whilst all this is happening in the muscles that are contracting to produce force in the direction we want it too, lets not forget that muscles work in antagonistic pairs. With agonists contracting to produce force and antagonists relaxing. The co-activation of antagonists during muscle contractions is always going to counterproductive when we are trying to produce maximal force but is also somewhat necessary to prevent overextension of joints and provide stability. There is also some evidence that following training, that the co-activation of antagonist muscle fibres can be reduced allowing for greater force output.
As you can see, developing your strength is an interaction between both morphological and neurological factors and to maximise your improvements we need to develop both. Typically when you first start strength training you see rapid improvements, often referred to as beginners gains. These improvements tend to be more neurological than morphological as these adaptations occur much quicker. Once you reach this point, the adaptations required to continue gaining strength become more physiological, requiring longer periods of training and different training methods. In the next blog post we will begin to look at how we may elicit these adaptations using different training methods.
Strength development - part 2
Mechanisms of Strength Adaptation – Morphological Adaptations.
As we mentioned in our previous blog post, improving your strength is primarily dependant on improving the muscles ability to generate force. This can be done in either by triggering adaptions in the muscle tissue itself, or by neurological adaptations.
Adaptations in the muscle tissue are referred to as morphological adaptations, and these occur in the muscle tissue itself. These adaptations include things such as muscle fibre type, the cross-sectional area of the muscle, and something known as the angle of pennation of the muscle fibres. In this blog post we will talk about each of these three things in a bit more detail.
Muscle fibre type –
It is well known that muscle fibres come in three main types. Type 1, Type 2a and Type 2B, each with different physiological properties and force development characteristics. Type 1 muscle fibres or slow twitch muscle fibres contract with less force than type 2a or type 2b muscle fibres, but can maintain that level force production for multiple reps. As a result a high proportion of type 1 muscle fibres are found in endurance athletes.
Type 2a and type 2b muscle fibres can produce 3-4 times more force than type 1 fibres but fatigue much quicker. They have a lower number of mitochondria and can therefore produce less ATP to drive muscle contraction via aerobic processes. This means the muscle fibres are dependant on anaerobic energy production which produces more lactate and leads to a faster rate of fatigue. Type 2 muscle fibres have a much shorter contraction time than type 1 muscle fibres, allowing them to produce more force quickly, just what we need when we want to improve our maximal lifts.
There is some debate as to whether it is possible to change muscle fibre type through training, or whether it is inherited, but there is some research to show muscle fibre type can change following periods of training or detraining suggesting there is some degree of plasticity in fibre type composition. High volume strength training is thought to lead to the hypertrophy of type 2a muscle fibres at the expense of type 2b fibres which may improve peak force, but at the consequence of peak power.
Cross sectional area of muscle fibres –
Regardless of fibre type, the amount of force a single muscle fibre can produce is proportionate to its cross sectional area (CSA). Increases in CSA of muscle fibres are brought about by increasing both the size and number of myofibrils within the muscle and are as a result of hypertrophic responses to strength training. The increase in CSA of muscle fibres is dependant on the intensity, volume and frequency of the strength training and the level of adaptation has been shown to diminish as training age increases.
In order for improvements in force production to occur following training, the training period must have included training that utilised loads heavy enough to elicit this adaptation. Whilst performing high rep light load resistance training may lead to muscle hypertrophy, the low loads used during this kind of training do not lead to increases in maximal strength. Instead protocols that use heavy loads (75%+) and low to medium reps (3-8) have been shown to be most effective at increasing the cross sectional area of the muscle fibres and facilitating increases in force production.
Angle of Pennation –
The angle of pennation of a muscle fibre refers to the way muscle fibres are aligned in relation to the joint they pull on. Muscle fibres are either aligned in series or in parallel. Think of them as been arranged like a train - lots of carriages attached in a straight line (in series), or all lined up next to each other ready to pull on a single joint (in parallel). The more muscle fibres that are aligned in parallel, the greater the angle of pennation, and the more force is produced in each contraction. The angle of pennation can be increased through heavy resistance training.
As you have probably picked up on through this article, resistance training can lead to adaptations in muscle fibre type, CSA and the angle of pennation. All three adaptations are also all beneficial, and work in conjunction with each other to allow muscle fibres to produce the maximum amount of force possible. But, whilst these three factors are important in improving your force production there are also a number of neurological adaptations that occur that are just as important, which we will discuss in our next post!
Strength Development - part 1
Developing your strength takes time and effort, so make sure you are maximising the return you get from your investment. In this series of posts, we will look at what exactly we mean by ‘strength’, how to develop it and some of the science behind it.
Strength is a multifaceted thing and is often broken down into sub category’s, each with their own performance characteristics, methods of training and applications to sports performance. Here are some of the most common you will see –
Maximal Strength – As the name suggests, is the maximum force you can produce for a single repetition and is often tested using 1 repetition maximum (RM) testing.
Strength Endurance – Strength endurance is a specific type of strength that allows you to perform multiple repetitions at a submaximal load over a longer period of time. This could be tested using something like a 20RM test or performing a maximum number of reps in a given time frame.
Reactive Strength – Reactive strength is a measure of how well the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) functions. It shows your ability to change quickly from an eccentric to a concentric contraction and your ability to develop maximal forces in minimal time.
It is important not to confuse strength with power. Strength is force, whereas power = Force x Speed. When we talk about strength development we are focusing on developing force, and depending on the athlete and the test, this may or may not be the area of weakness. If we are talking about improving an athletes 1RM Back Squat or Deadlift, then yes, improving force production will lead to an improvement in the lift. But, if we are talking about improving an athletes 1RM Snatch or Clean and Jerk then we may also need to develop the lifters power production, which requires a slightly different approach.
When deciding whether it is purely strength, power, or a combination of the two that needs developing we need to look at each athlete on a case by case basis. In an ideal world we would be able to bring them in and run a range of tests using force plates and Linear Position Transducers (LPTs) such as a GymAware, to construct a graph showing their force velocity curve. This would show use their greatest are of weakness and allow us to focus their training in that direction. However in a lot of cases this isn’t possible. Instead we can use gym based tests such as 1RM’s, jump tests and video analysis to create a picture of which area of an athlete needs to develop to meet the goal of the training period.
Initially we will take a look at how to develop an athlete’s maximal force. Before moving on to look at methods of power development.
When planning your training year, particularly if your using the block method of periodisation, it is important to have an understanding of restitution periods so that the sequencing of each block is optimal and allows for peak performance in competition. This is of even greater importance in a sport like CrossFit, where there is a requirement for a large range of physical capabilities to be optimised to allow an athlete to perform at their best.
As we mentioned previously the restitution period refers to the length of time adaptations to each training stimulus will remain once training has stopped. This is different for each adaptation as well as each athlete, so it is important to have an understanding of your athlete’s capabilities. The restitution period of each different training adaptation can depend on your athlete’s natural predispositions, training age and training history, as well as how much time an athlete has spent working on a specific element. Generally speaking the longer the athlete has trained an adaptation, the longer the adaptation will remain once training has stopped.
Developing aerobic fitness in an athlete requires a prolonged period of time working at submaximal intensities. The very nature of the training means its time consuming, and in athletes with limited training time it can be either overlooked or shortened meaning the adaptation never occurs. However, an athletes aerobic capacity and be developed to a much greater extent than their anaerobic capacity as a result of the number of adaptations that occur, and aerobic fitness has a much longer restitution period of around 30 days.
Anaerobic capacity on the other hand can be developed much quicker, but the limited number of adaptations that occur mean that there is an upper limit and that these improvements will reside for a much shorter time than aerobic adaptation, particularly for completely maximal short efforts (e.g Fran). Anaerobic adaptations can start to decline as quickly as 5 days after the cessation of training, and as an important element of competitive CrossFit, it is important this loss of ability is minimised in order to peak for competition.
Typically this is why at times furthest away from competition an athlete may focus the majority of their training time on developing their aerobic fitness, and then focus on shorter intense efforts as they get closer to competition. It is also important to consider a trade off between both aerobic and anaerobic capacity to allow an athlete to perform at their best. If aerobic capabilities begin to decline after 30 days, but it takes longer than this for an athlete to achieve optimum anaerobic capabilities which decline very quickly, a coach may happily trade off 10% of an athlete’s aerobic capability to achieve 100% Anaerobic capability, if that is what the competition requires most.
The same is true for strength and power. Athletes with a good strength training background may be able to retain maximal strength capacity for up to 30 days post training. However sprint ability, maximal power and ballistic exercise performance may begin to decline within 5 days. The relationship between the rate of decay of strength and power adaptations, is very similar to the aerobic/anaerobic relationship, likely in part due to the energy systems involved and adaptations that occur. Again, this has important implications in the planning of the training year to allow an athlete to compete at their peak.
An important factor in all of this is an understanding of your athlete, their predispositions and their level of ability. For example, if you have an athlete who can row a 30 minute 10k, but takes 5 minutes to do Fran, then it would be perfectly acceptable to allow their aerobic fitness to decline and spend time working on anaerobic capacity, as that is more likely to be a limiting factor in their competition performance and overall placing. Similarly, if an athlete can deadlift 300kg, but struggles to clean 100kg, in the context of competitive CrossFit the athlete will gain more from spending time developing speed and power. Of course the opposite to both examples can also be true and would require a different solution.
In summary, periodisation is an important, if not essential tool to allow your athletes to train year round, injury free, with continued progress and to peak for competition. Taking the time to plan the training and competition year or multiple years will pay off, as well as making your life easier as a coach. Always bear in mind the demands of the sport, the end goal and the athlete, to ensure the most success.
Periodisation isn’t a new concept, with its origins going all the way back to Ancient Greek times and the preparation of athletes for the Olympic Games. In more recent times periodisation has evolved with the demands of modern day sport, sport science, and coaching practice.
Traditional periodisation methods focused mainly on the cycling of volume and intensity in order to bring athletes to a peak for competition. As we mentioned in our previous post, athletes would work through phases of accumulation, transmutation and realisation, timed to bring them to a peak. As the modern sporting calendar has evolved into a multipeak season this method of periodisation also evolved, and two common methods of periodisation used today are the undulating method, or block method. In this post we will take a look at each method and consider the pro’s and con’s. The key think to remember throughout the post is that specificity is key, and you should use the method that fits best with your athletes and their sport.
Undulating periodisation works around the idea that the training stimulus is changed on a weekly or daily basis, allowing a relatively large number of adaptations to training to be achieved at once, whilst still working through periods of high volume and low intensity and periods of low volume and high intensity. The change in training stimulus can be done on a weekly (weekly undulating periodisation) or daily (daily undulating periodisation) basis. So how might this look? Here’s a basic example of how a weekly undulating periodisation (WUP) mesocycle might look.
Week 1 – 5x8-10 reps @65-75%1RM
Week 2 – 5x5-6 reps @75-85%1RM
Week 3 – 5x3-4 reps @85-95% 1RM
Week 4 – 5x2-3 reps @50-60% 1RM
Week 5 – Deload/recovery week.
The mesocycle is therefore covering all aspects of developing strength and power, from hypertrophy on week 1, strength on week 2 and 3 and then power on week 4. Daily undulating periodisation (DUP) works in the same way, however changes in stimulus occur on a daily instead of weekly basis. DUP can also be manipulated in a way that a wider range of training stimulus can be trained within the week, for example as opposed to just focusing on strength, day 1 may have a strength focus, day 2 may focus on aerobic capacity and day 3 may focus on anaerobic capacity. When you think about that for a second, it doesn’t all sound to dissimilar to CrossFit does it?
In a team sport setting, where athletes need to peak on a weekly basis and maintain a level of performance across a large range of performance metrics, DUP done properly is a great tool. Taking rugby for example, where players need to maintain a level of strength, speed, power, aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity for anywhere up to 9 months of the year, using DUP in season makes perfect sense. The downside of WUP or DUP, is that in elite athletes with a high level of training experience, the frequent changing of training method may not provide enough of a stimulus to cause adaptation, and in some cases may even lead to a decline in performance.
Now lets apply that to CrossFit. The average man or women starts CrossFit having had little to no exposure to high intensity exercise, the Olympic lifts, or gymnastics and enter a setting where they rotate between the various methods of training on a daily basis. The upside of this is it minimises the risk of injury, as if the programming is thought through there isn’t enough of one thing to lead to overuse injuries or burn out, as well as providing enough of a stimulus that consistent adaptations occur across the board. The same is true for beginner athletes in all sports, or young athletes who are beginning to use strength and conditioning methods to boost their sports performance.
The downside of this comes 1-2 years down the line, when the body has got used too and can tolerate doing 5x5 back squats once every 10 days, and the gains train begins to grind to a halt. Enter the block method.
The block method involves much more concentrated training stimulus, each with a specific goal. As opposed to changing the training stimulus on a daily or weekly basis, 1-2 training stimuli will be focused on for a 4-6 week period before moving onto the next. For an example of this see below –
Week 1-4 – 5x8-10 @65-75% 1RM
Week 5 – deload
Week 6-10 – 5x3-4 @85-95% 1RM
Week 11 – deload
Week 12-16 – 5x2-3 @50-60% 1RM
As you can see, we are still working through hypertrophy, strength and then power, but we a focusing on each stimulus for a longer period of time. Again taking this back to a CrossFit setting we may work through periods where we focus on strength, aerobic capacity or anaerobic capacity but instead of trying to develop all of these things at once we do it one (or two) at a time.
The benefit of this is of course we are spending more time providing a specific stimulus for adaptation, whilst taking away any training that may conflict with what we are trying to achieve, in theory leading to greater adaptation. However just like WUP or DUP, there are downsides too.
Spending a prolonged period of time focusing on strength for example, may increase the risk of injury or burnout. Hence why it is important to make sure the athlete has the physical capacity to follow this kind of programme. Then there is “the fear”. Whilst focusing on one or two things can lead to great improvements, inevitably the areas that aren’t been worked on may start to slide a little. This is to be expected, but that doesn’t mean your athlete will like it! This is where having a clear season long or even multi season long plan can help, so you can show the athlete where they need to peak, and how they’re going to get there.
In team sports, or CrossFit, the athletes need to be at or close to their peak capabilities for a wide range of components of fitness all at the same time to perform at their best. The key to making block periodisation work in this setting, is to make sure the sequencing of the block is correct so that this can be achieved. The answer to that problem, lies in knowing the restitution period of each component of fitness.
Put simply, this refers to the length of time adaptations to each training stimulus will remain once training has stopped, and is different for each different adaptation. This is something we will talk about in more detail in our next blog post, so stay tuned!
An introduction to periodisation.
As we mentioned in our previous post, it is well worth planning your season in advance. The technical term for this is periodisation, and we are going to dive into this in a little more detail in this post.
Periodisation simply refers to breaking down your year, into periods of recovery, training and competition. This allows us to ensure we reach our physical peak at the right time, without hammering our body all year round and ending up in a chronically fatigued state. Before we go any further, here is a few technical terms to get your head around.
Macro cycle – This refers to the entire training period. This can be a single season, or in Olympic sports can be the entire Olympic cycle (4 years).
Mesocycle – This is a particular chunk of the training year, typically 1-3 months, which will have a specific focus.
Microcycle – this is the smallest phase of the training period, 1-2 weeks, and contains the nitty gritty details about how your training will look, eg. sets, reps and rest periods.
Mesocycles are broken down into 3 phases, an accumulation phase, a transmutation phase and a realisation phase. The microcycles fit into these different phases and will match up to the desired goal of that weeks training.
When it comes to planning the year I like to look at the big picture first, when will the athlete be competing, training and recovering and then work backwards from there, where I will then plan the mesocycles. As we mentioned mesocycles are a specific training period, where we may focus on creating a specific adaptation, or we may look to maintain a number of adaptations if we are in a competition phase. The microcycles then fit into the mesocycle, and involve all the details as to how we are going to achieve the aim of the mesocycle.
So why do all this? Planning your year this way firstly keeps coach and athlete on the same page with specific goals to work towards. This can help when motivation to train might be going through a bit of a lull. It also means we are building towards competition in a sequential way, with the main goal of peaking when competition starts. Exactly what this looks like will vary from athlete to athlete and sport to sport. With some sports such as weightlifting requiring a very specific peak, to CrossFit where a large number of components of fitness are required to peak at the same time for optimal performance.
Planning ahead also means that any particular weaknesses of the athlete are ironed out, or given the time to be improved, as early in the training cycle as possible. Training time is limited in all athletes, but particularly those of you who don’t have the luxury of training 4-5 hours per day. This means that you need to prioritise your time to your biggest weaknesses, which may mean some of your strengths will slide a little bit. By doing this as far away from competition as possible, it gives us time to bring your strengths back up and make you a better all round athlete.
Finally, planning ahead can help prevent you entering competition under cooked, or over fatigued. As you approach competition it is easy to get sucked into doing more and more intense training, however this is likely to lead to you being burnt out come game day. By planning and sequencing your training appropriately, we can make sure you have adapted to training and then recovered from the training enough to perform at your best.
Of course there may be a need to make adjustments to the plan as you progress through the year, but engaging in this process in advance and with your coach, can lead to you being as prepared as possible when it really counts. In the next blog post, I will discuss some of the different styles of periodisation, the pro's and con's and why/who I might use each style with and when.
Should you take an OFF SEASON?
The huge growth in CrossFit and accessible competitive CrossFit has lead to a surge in competitions. Previously there where the big three competitions, the open, regionals and the games, and your season ended when you’d gone as far as you could go. There were also 2-3 national competitions which tended to be well spread through the year. These days, with team, pairs and individual competitions you could end up competing almost every weekend. This is great at first, but in the long run is it good for you and your long-term progress?
There are many upsides to competing in CrossFit, but there are also downsides too. For 99.9% of CrossFitters the sport doesn’t pay the bills, so alongside the stress of competition you also need to manage work stress, life stress and training stress. Of course, it is incredibly difficult to manage all 4 things and still give your body the recovery time it needs to adapt. So, if you want to progress as an athlete giving your body a break and planning your season is essential.
Every sport has an off season, and in most sports, whatever the level, it is enforced by the competition calendar. In CrossFit however, this isn’t the case as there are competitions all year, meaning you need to selectively pick and choose the competitions you want to do, and build your off season into the plan. Typically, I wouldn’t advise competing more than 3 times a year, ideally well spread although practically this isn’t always possible. Alongside this, I would advise designating an off-season period of 2-3 months.
So what is an off season? The term simply refers to a period where you aren’t competing, but what goes into it?
Firstly, it’s about making sure you give your body the time it needs to recover. Recovery is a multi-faceted thing and goes deeper than just whether you feel sore. True recovery allows the normalising of hormone levels, nervous system recovery and mental rejuvenation. Depending on the intensity of your training or competition, this can take anything from 2 weeks to months.
Secondly, the off season is a time to really work on your weaknesses. During the competition period, when training time is limited, you want to maintain a level of performance in all aspects of fitness, so you can capitalise on your strengths and minimise the damage your weaknesses do to your overall placing. This is great, but eventually you will reach a point where you stop making any improvements.
At this point, you need to spend a significant period of time dedicating a large chunk of your training time to your weaknesses. The off season is the perfect time to do this as if your strengths start to slide you can pick them back up later in the year in time for competition. The net results of this is that by the time the season comes around again, your strengths are still strong but your weaknesses are less weak, making you a better all round athlete.
And that’s the name of this game right?
So take the time once you’ve finished your next competition to sit down and plan what your going to do next. Take a look at your strengths and weaknesses and decide what you need to attack. But don’t get too excited and dive straight in. Give your body a break first, it will thank you for it in the long run.
Is your body broken, or is it all in your head?
Or can you actually gain weight from eating too little?
Feel llike you aren’t eating enough but still don’t see the scale weight coming down?
Few reasons why this may be:
The law of thermodynamics:
Energy in < Energy out.
Thermodynamics is a way to express how energy is used and changed.
Put simply, we take in energy in the form of food, and we expend energy through activities like:
But measuring your exact metabolic rate is tricky and, not only that but the idea of “Im eating too little” is very subjective and more often that not a lot of the problems we face with undereating/over eating is perception.
What you can do about it…
Measure your intake.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Choose mostly less-processed whole foods.
Play with macronutrient levels.
Be in control of your decisions.
If you are still having trouble, get coaching.
In our last two blog posts we have talked extensively about lactate threshold, what it is and how to develop it. Your lactate threshold is mainly a predictor of your aerobic capabilities, so this week we have decided to focus on your bodies anaerobic capabilities.
Team sports, athletic events and some CrossFit workouts require athletes to be able to utilise anaerobic energy pathways. To recap, your anaerobic energy pathways are your ATP-PC system and anaerobic glycolytic energy pathway, both of which allow working muscle to produce large amounts of ATP quickly and without the need for oxygen. The downside of these systems, is that they can only produce ATP at this rate for between 10 and 90s.
In athletic events such as the 100-200m sprint, power events such as the shotput or Olympic weightlifting, team sports where short sprints are required, and short CrossFit metcons or team workouts, anaerobic energy pathways will be the bodies primary source of energy.
Anaerobic performance, is determined by a combination of anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity. Anaerobic power represents the bodies highest rate of anaerobic energy production, and typically occurs within the first 5s of maximal anaerobic performance. Anaerobic capacity reflects the maximal anaerobic energy production an individual can obtain before exhaustion. Generally if two players or athletes have the same level of skill/technique, the athlete who has the greatest anaerobic power and capacity will outperform the other.
Before we look into the different training methodologies to develop anaerobic performance, we must first be able to assess an athlete’s capabilities, to set a benchmark to measure improvement, and to identify how that athlete compares with athletes of a similar current ability, or against athletes competing at the level the athlete wants to reach.
The Wingate Anaerobic Test (WAnT) is the most common way of measuring an athlete’s anaerobic performance, allowing anaerobic power, anaerobic capacity and rate of fatigue to be measured. The test is performed on a cycle ergometer, and involves a single 30s
bout of all-out effort, against a resistance equivalent to 7.5% of the athlete’s bodyweight. As seen in the graph below, the test allows the creation of a graph, showing an athletes peak power, total work and rate of fatigue.
Rate of fatigue is calculated by looking at the difference between the highest power output maintained for 5s of the test, and the lowest power output maintained for 5s of the test. Rate of fatigue is an important output of the Wingate test, as in longer anaerobic events such as the 200 or 400m sprint, it is often the athlete who fatigues the least who comes out on top. But what causes this rate of fatigue?
A by-product of anaerobic energy production is lactic acid. This lowers the PH of muscle cells from 7.1 to 6.5-6.8, which has an inhibitory effect on various functions in the muscle cell, leading to a decrease in force production. The mechanisms of fatigue, and how we might train to delay the onset of fatigue, is something we will look at in our next post.
The tables below show targeted anaerobic performance levels for different levels of both male and female athletes. Of course, being able to conduct the test yourself to draw comparisons to this data require you to have access to cycle ergometers capable of producing this kind of data. In our next post we will also take a look at how you could adapt this test using the equipment you would expect to find in a gym, to allow you to benchmark your athletes.