How Long Should a “Week” Last?

 

Most people will answer “seven” because that’s the Mon-Fri calendar week everything else depends on and which sets many routines.

But is that the best way to organize a training schedule?

I’ve heard over the years that professionals, especially endurance athletes set their schedules in blocks that disregard the seven day calendar week. This makes sense for a typical racing schedule, where races are infrequent, compared to team sports where is a distinct and shorter “season.” For North America, the race season starts in earnest in March, not letting up until late October. And there are winter events, such as indoor track at the college level, or cyclocross. For higher latitudes and altitudes, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing are available. So for periodized planning and preparation, perhaps longer “blocks” make sense than a typical Mon-Sun.

But the main reason is to get adequate recovery from the harder workouts. Trying to fit different kinds of “hard” or “quality” workouts in seven days may not leave enough days for easier recovery and aerobic training. Leading to injury, illness, and burnout. Trying to fit a long effort, intervals, and strength all in one seven day week, may be too tall an order fora an athlete.

I got Meb Keflezighi’s book for my niece for Xmas, and while flipping through it and ignoring the advice to eat lots of animal protein Meb’s training schedule caught my eye. Instead of a seven day week, Meb schedules his workouts over a nine day “week.” This allows for two days of recovery between hard sessions.

A traditional 7 day week for running might look like this:

M: Strength
T: Intervals
W: Easy
R: Intervals
F: Off/Recovery
Sa: Tempo
Su: Long

Nine Day Week:

1: VO2 max intervals
2: Easy
3: Easy
4: Long Intervals or Tempo
5: Easy
6: Easy
7: Long
8: Easy
9: Easy

Each hard workout gets two easy days for recovery before another challenge, compared to a more typical schedule. Strength workouts, which challenge the body differently, could be worked into the easy days. The problem with this is that the workouts will fall on different days of the calander week every time which could get confusing, or inconvenient. Particularly for a cyclist, whose long rides are typically 3-4 hrs, such a workout falling on a weekday could be a problem.

Joe Friel described this programming as a good option for master’s athletes in his Fast After 50 book. Since recovery is even more of an issue for older athletes, and Friel believes in not sacrificing intensity, a longer week makes sense, to make sure one is recovered before completing another hard session.

A famous athlete example of this comes from legendary mountain bike racer, Ned Overend. When asked whether he’s changed his training, his response was that he does the same thing he always has, it just takes him longer to do it. Overend has always belived like Friel in high imtnsity training. So he does the same workouts, just fewer of them over the course of a season, because there’s more recovery in between efforts.

An approach I’m considering, along with some “reverse periodization” to account for greater need for strength training and some El Nino supplied ski days.

Anybody experiment with a non-traditional schedule? How did it work?

Holiday Reading 1: Joe Friel

I read and re-read Friel’s Training Bible books for years. When it come to heart rate training, he’s one of the best, and if you’re a cyclist with $, his work with power meters is just as good. But when Fast After 50 came out, I gave it a pass. I already know his training method, and it clashes with Maffetone, which is my preferred way. Plus, I’m not in that age group anyway. But I heard a great review from a friend who competes in the 60-65 AG, and who successfully used Friel’s methods to self-coach his way to the XTERRA World’s for his AG. I listened to a few podcasts with Friel, and it sounded intriguing, so I added it to my holiday reading.

http://trailrunnernation.com/2015/07/faster-after-50-with-joefriel
http://www.nourishbalancethrive.com/podcasts/nourish-balance-thrive/joe-friel-world-class-coach-elite-athletes/
http://www.enduranceplanet.com/week-of-kona-joe-friel-your-training-bible-and-the-secret-to-ironman-success/

This book is definitely different from the others because of its narrower focus on aging. It also has much more of a personal story to it, since Friel just turned 70. He has also coached a zillion athletes, including many masters. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research on aging athletes. Exercise science is pretty young anyway, and it’s only recently that there were any aging athletes to study. So, a lot of what we know about aging is based on a sedentary population and will be different for athletes. Friel dug into the research to see what was available and combined it with his own decades of experience as an athlete and a coach. It’s all definitely a work in progress, because there are no definitive answers. Not yet. That’s what makes this so exciting.

So the book lays out what research shows, as closely applicable as possible to athletes and explains the limitations. It’s much more of a discussion than a prescription, though he does give his best guesses.

He identifies three factors for an aging athlete:

Decreased aerobic capacity
Decreased muscle mass and strength
Increased body fat

These are the factors that aging causes, and athletes are no exception, though compared to the average Joe, they will still be way ahead.

To fit these issues he suggests:

“High” intensity interval training (high here is relative, and specific to his method)
Year round strength training, planty of it intense
Strict diet (high fat paleo for him)

He believes aging athletes slow down because they start training slower all the time. As for intensity, it’s not necessarily as hard as you might think, and not as much as you might think. It sounds very similar to 80/20 training, as another aging concern is recovery. Focusing on intensity means being very careful with recovery to avoid injury, illness, and burnout. The evil trifecta of overdoing it. As an exapmple, he interviewed Ned Overhand, one of the legendary pioneers of MTB racing and still very active and fast, who explained he still the same training he always has, it just takes him longer to do it. One of his suggestions is to rearrange training cycles into nine day “weeks” instead of the traditional seven day calendar weeks.

The good news is, according to his research and experience, a lot of fitness and speed can be maintained until age 70, when there is an inevitable drop. Serious athletes who are also data nerds might notice a decline begin at any point from the mid 30s on, but that’s only if they always trained and competed without taking any real time off. So many of us leave sport for awhile, or don’t take it up until later in life. Good news for us, a lot of that decline we thought was inevitable may really just be inactivity.

A good read, with a lot to think about. This book is for those who want to be as fast as possible. This is not about what is necessary for good health. It’s for those who have tougher goals. The whole idea of aging athletes is fascinating, and with baby boomers that started a lot of it getting older, there will be lots more to learn.

Should I change trains, and move away from Maffetone towards a higher intensity plan? If so, at what point in the season? Food for thought.

Northstar LQS: Fully Cooked

IMG_0007

The coveted Leadville coin

“Crash” training worked. Sort of. By packing in the aerobic hours leading up to Northstar, I did get a big bump in fitness. I felt great throughout the race, made the time cut-offs, then was the second name called in the lottery. So finally, I’m off to Leadville!

Leadville Trail 100 August 13, 2016

I wasn’t fast, but I was smooth. My times for the first and second laps were very close. And even though I pushed hard the second lap knowing I was close on time, I still felt good. So crash training delivered the goods as promised.

It also delivered the “bads” as well as the goods. The risks of crash training are slipping over the thin line from “overreaching” which builds fitness, and overtraining, which erodes it. I didn’t rest quite enough after the hard endurance block before the race. I took enough days off to do well, but I needed a little more time absorb that training. I needed a few easy days on the bike to put it all together. I also should have done some more overt stress reduction during the block and as recovery after. Meaning I should have done some yoga and meditation to help everything along.

But none of that was clear during the race, because everything worked. I felt pretty beat up afterwards, but it was a race after all, that’s normal. My low back was pretty sore, which I attributed to 8 hours of pounding on an aluminum hardtail, but had other causes, more later. My pervious season’s hip flexor issue reappeared, but on the other side. After a week of barely doing anything, I eased back into triathlon training by doing a short morning run, and a short afternoon bike. Nothing like what I was doing in the pre-race block. All training done at MAF, and I kept it at the low end just to be careful. That crash block paid off, as I was definitely faster, even at the lower heart rate. I felt great.

Until I didn’t. My HRV scores looked a little wonky, but I thought it was OK. Then degradation set in. I got slower. A lot slower. I kept all my workouts short and strictly MAF. But I didn’t improve. My sleep didn’t seem to be working, plentiful though it was. The fatigue, while not extraordinary, just didn’t go away. It took me awhile to realize it was a form of overtraining. That often happens after a peak. The crash block, the long, hard race, and training afterwards dug a hole I fell into. What makes it so dangerous is that you feel so good, right before you fall in. The wonky HRV was a subtlety I hadn’t noticed before that showed by nervous system was out of whack, even though the software thought it was good. HRV is highly individual, so it takes some experience to be able to interpret the measurements in a relevant, personal way. Lesson learned. I turned to traditional Chinese medicine to help my recovery, I learned that my low back pain was not directly and only related to the MTB, but depressed “Kidney” function. (The organs in TCM are utitlized differently than in the West) A little self-diagnosis revealed the pattern.

Fortunately, Maffetone style training is beneficial. I continued to train, but always short, never over 90 min. and always under MAF. I didn’t want to lose fitness, and I didn’t get worse, so I plugged on. Some yoga, meditation, and qigong worked their magic on my nervous and endocrine systems, as well as the energetics as used by TCM.

It was a valuable learning experience. I’ve overtrained before, but this was different, and not so bad. My only regret was that I lost the enthusiasm for racing, and so missed out on some great fall races. But that lack of enthusiasm is a very important signal, and I’m glad I heeded it. I kept riding throughout the remainder of the dry fall weather, so I haven’t lost much fitness. And I have some good experience to draw on in preparing for Leadville.

Diet Wars: A Fable

Diet Wars: A Fable

A short time ago, very close by, we forgot how to eat.

For over 10,000 years, home cooks and gardeners took the bounty of the land: starches, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices and lovingly crafted meals to nourish body and soul. In touch with the seasons and the local powers of nature, generations of trial and error yielded a treasure trove of foods that sustained, and when necessary, healed. On rare occasions, special foods could be gathered for celebration as kinfolk would come together and praise.

Then a Dark Power began to emerge. The relaxed pace of working with the land and plants sped up as the Age of Machines arrived. With increased mechanization, the droid machines began grinding up our precious food. The Dark Side of Food sent its minions out into the world in search of the largest and cheapest sources of fat, sugar, and salt. They added this unnatural bounty to our food, concentrating the addictive power, enslaving the consumers with the Pleasure Trap. No longer was a simple bowl of rice with fresh local vegetables and spices adequate. Our taste buds and brains screamed for more! The Dark Side responded by colonizing much of the galaxy with their military-industrial power enslaving the locals to produce the much needed sugars, oils and Himalayan Celtic Black Purple Sea Salt. Not satisfied, the Dark Side turned to our animal companions. Huge factory farms replaced pastures, and their eyes shone with terror instead of peace.

Just as farm animals to slaughter, people ate these food-like products, and developed many chronic diseases. As the rich food of the Empire, people celebrated “progress” while they developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. Deadly diseases never seen before became commonplace, heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. Then the ultimate Dark side disease emerged, cancer. A mysterious disease that eats away at you when your own cells rebel. Another Dark Power emerged to “manage” these conditions with even more chemicals at an enormous cost. Laboratories worked into the night to create medications to “cure” these new diseases. No cure, just inefficient management of the symptoms. But plenty of profit swallowed by the gaping maw of the Empire.

All was not lost. Some people managed to reconnect eating and health. On the fringes of the Empire, a perceptive few noticed something a bit odd. Some noticed that the colonized natives eating their “poor” diet were actually stronger and healthier. If violence ensued, these skinny locals were difficult to put down without fancy weapons. Dr. Burkitt treated patients from both sides and saw who was healtheir. He realized the value of the ancient ways, and sought to spread this knowledge to improve the health of Empire citizens. “Fiber!” he cried out. Meanwhile, in the heart of the Empire, a near implosion took place with two Great Wars. Food was disrupted, stolen, and redistributed. People had to reconnect with the “poor” food of their past. And despite the stress, became healthier. But despite a few lean years, the Empire was back on track, making their addictive “food” concentraed in flavor even cheaper and more convenient. Buy and eat you meal in your vehicle in five minutes? You bet.

Meanwhile, a small Rebel Alliance was born. Pioneering Jedi such as Chittendon and Kempner led the way. Chittendon challenged the protein myth, showing simple foods were best. Kempner solved incurable health problems. Others, like Pritikin, discovered the now arcane art of eating and disease reversal through their own study of the Force of health. John McDougall saw simple folk from far side of the Empire eat thier traditional diets with better health. Other Rebels, at the fringes of the galaxy, revived their marginalized traditions of native plants such as macrobiotics and ayurveda. A crack appeared in the Empire’s armor, when these Rebels applied simple foods to complex health problems and succeeded.

These rebels faced opposition in the form of convenience and the Pleasure Trap powers the Dark Side had made ubiquitous. But they trudged on. The Force began to speak to new warriors. McDougall, Ornish, and Esselstyn, struck out against the Dark Side from within the belly of the Beast. Setting up scientific studies in the Empire’s own language, they proved where much disease and suffering came from, and better, how to fix it. Farmer’s markets grew rapidly, organic standards were set and enforced. Gardens began to replace lawns. People were beginning to see the Light, then . . .

The Empire Struck Back

On the covers of national magazines, the new low carb warriors fought back with pictures of bacon, butter, and steak. “Fat does not make you fat!” they exclaimed, and Darkness gathered once again. Grass fed is OK, your brain needs saturated fat and cholesterol. Upset about the past 10,000 years, these Dark warriors went even further into the past, to fabricate an entirely new paleo paradigm. The foods that nourished and healed generations was bad. Only the rich foods of the Empire can save you!

These are turbulent times. The Dark Side is strong. It is quick. It is easy. It is seductive. It is tasty. Those concentrated flavors and nutrients enslave you.

But there are plenty still willing to fight for good, whole, natural, healthy plant food. New doctors continue to step away from the Empire’s health practices to help patients see the Light side. Athletes, chefs, gardeners, writers, and bloggers spread the word amid a cacophony of Darkness.

The battle rages on . . .

With the greatest respect, admiration, and gratitude for George Lucas

The Hay Is In The Barn

Pile it on, pile it up

Pile it on, pile it up

How much hay, and whether or not it will be adequate remains to be seen.

Sat. July 18 is the Tahoe Trail 100K MTB race. Another attempt to qualify for Leadville. To prepare, I created a version of “crash training.” For a cyclist, it’s a terrible name. And a runner couldn’t really do this sudden and dramatic increase in volume without serious injury risk. But I gave it a go.

I learned of this through an article by Chris Carmichael called “Spring Break for Cyclists” and another reference in Joe Friel’s The Cyclist’s Training Bible(p. 150)

Carmichael describes how as a junior in Florida, he would see groups of cyclists come down from colder regions to train every spring. They would pile on the miles during a week or so, ending red as lobsters, but with a nice effect on their aerobic fitness. A lot of cyclists and triathletes try to take a spring training camp as a vacation, but Carmichael came up with a plan for regular folk who can’t take off the time. Instead, it focuses on a long weekend.

Friel describes a Dutch study where cyclists took on a very heavy block of dramatically increased workload for two weeks, followed by two weeks easy for recovery. More detail is in The Triathlete’s Training Bible. ((p. 290-1)

In both cases, it was planned overreaching, then planned recovery, in about a 1:1 ratio.

I tackled a mini-crash with 5 days 3-4.5 hrs riding, including a MTB race in the middle, then time off. Then, two weeks out from the Tahoe Trail 100, I tackled an 8 day brick of increasing rides, from 1h to over 5, totaling 25h. It rained. It hailed. There was thunder and lightning. Got a couple cheers from motorists as I flogged myself in Belgian weather. Then I shut it down for a week, only doing a couple short 1h road rides which didn’t feel that great. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good. Strong every day, I was tired at night, but every morning woke with a good HRV score so I kept it up. Until day 9, which should have been a 1h ride. I was fatigued, so I skipped it.

Carmichael claims that his program can get you ahead a month in aerobic development. I don’t know about that, but I really needed those long rides to be ready for 8h at the Tahoe Trail 100, and similar races.

We’ll see.

Race Reports and Fueling Insights

People are way too concerned about pre/post exercise fueling and taking in calories while exercising.

I’ve posted on this before, but I tested it out in two races.Two trail half marathons, pre-race breakfast of potatoes or sweet potatoes. Black tea or yerba mate. Very little fueling during the races and I felt fine. Except my legs.

You don’t need to. Just eat your regular meals and snacks according to hunger. Feeling like you’re “running out of gas” during exercise is an incorrect metaphor. You’re not out of gas, you’re out of fitness. You don’t need more fuel, you need a bigger engine. It’s not that the gas tank is empty, it’s that you’re trying to tow a trailer with a Smart car instead of a diesel pickup. You can put as much gas as you want into the Smart, it won’t increase its horsepower or torque.

Same with our bodies. As long as you’re fueled up on starch, your carbohydrate and fat stores give plenty of energy. It’s the fitness that needs to improve, and it will, with regular training, and as it does, more can be done with that stored energy. Trying to eat your way out of the fatigue doesn’t work, but it might so upset you stomach that it ruins your race. Ask me how I know.

So…

I’ve been seeing how little I can fuel my workouts, and found I don’t need much. Usually just water up to 2 hrs. But I usually train at low intensity 140-145 BPM. What about high intensity, like a race?

I recently ran two trail races, one lasting 3 1/2 hrs, the other a little under 3 hrs. In one I had two small rice balls, two dates and a gel. Far from the conventional recommendations. of a gel every 20-30 minutes. Yesterday I ran 3 hrs on 20 oz of an experimental amino acid drink with negligible calories and one gel at about 2 1/2 hrs. No hunger, no bonk, felt great. The only suffering was in my legs. Heart rate in the 160s. I don’t think I really needed that gel. Sorta like a security blanket.

Build fitness, not the GI tract. Don’t fall for the sports nutrition industry’s sales pitch about what you need. Pushing the limits of your fitness can sometimes be a little uncomfortable, but food won’t solve it. It is true that at some point, some fuel will be needed, but my experience is that it is less than I thought.

So yesterday’s race was good because I met my goals. I was slow, but that was OK. My goal was to finish in under 3 hrs without killing myself, and focus on learning about pacing, perceived exertion, and heart rate for running, which could be different than mountain biking or triathlon. I was pleased that I kept a consistent effort, around 165 BPM that felt good for hours. This is similar to what I’ve seen in both triathlon and cycling, so in this case, Maffetone seems to be right about the primacy of heart rate and not activity. I was very pleased that monitoring my heart rate led to a very even pace. The first and second halves of the race were very similar in pace. The last two miles were hard, and my heart rate came up, but I finished without feeling like death. The course was rolling, no huge climbs or descents, and somewhat technical, which made it good for practice with pacing effort. My legs felt trashed, but in a good way, as in muscles that were stressed and will now get stronger. Not having been running much, and still dealing with imbalance due to last summer’s hip flexor injury, I was happy that nothing hurt in a bad way.

I took a leap of faith that this distance would be OK this early on, and I stuck the landing on two feet. A lot of what I wanted to work on was the brain. It’s just as important to train the brain as the heart and legs. The brain needs to learn by doing that a certain effort is not life threatening. Funny that the brain shuts us down long before we must quit for reasons of physiology. So the group effort of a race and the excitement is the perfect time to try something new and convince the brain that the limits have now been exceeded. Now I just need to take that speed, and extend the endurance to do it four time in succession in Leadville. And find another lung to bring along to help with the 10,000 ft altitude.

Recovery:

I used electric stimulation for 15-30 min an hour or so after each race, and again in the late afternoon. I napped with pulsed electro magnetic field device to lull my brain into an alpha state or relaxation and shut down the adrenaline stream that a race effort involves. I slept all night with it, as usual. The results? My legs are sore today, but not outrageously so, in part because there were no long steep descents. My sleep was very good, so I feel good today. No workout today, but I’ll go for a walk and do some yoga later to loosen up and get some blood flowing. Unlike the past, I didn’t try some new recovery food recipe. I snacked on clementines, potatoes, and hummus. I bought a burrito for lunch. It all worked. No green juices, superfood smoothies or whatever. The supplement experiment was using BCAAs and essential amino acids before, during and after. The whole package worked well.

Well, time to zap my legs again, and plan the next race.

 

 

Fat Tuesday is Gone, a Lean Six Weeks Ahead

Running, cycling, lifting weights. Added mobility work after reading Kell Starret’s Ready to RunHealed up some weird back pain from adding barbell work. Need to get back to Eric Goodman’s Foundation training as recommended by my chiropractor to reduce injury risk.

But Lent means discipline, even to the point of a lithe deprivation, and reflection.

Time to get to racing weight. Too many vegan goodies left over from the holidays and rationalizing “this little bit” won’t matter. The little things can add up faster than anyone wants to admit. Even healthy food, if its too calorie dense. The Pleasure Trap is real, folks. So, time for a new plan. A good plan. Then, work the plan. And give the plan time to work.

The plan?

Tried true, the McDougall program for Maximum Weight Loss, or MWL for short. With a couple of modifications excuses. But in reviewing the rules, I realized that there was too much of “a little this, a little that” that added up.

The Rules:

No meat.

No problem here.

No eggs.

Vigilance required. Some noodles have eggs, but that will be handled elsewhere…

No dairy.

I will always be a cheese addict, so to avoid possible trigger foods, no more homemade vegan cheesy things. They’re a bit rich, and can encourage overeating.

No oils.

Vigilance required. No restaurant food, with the excuse of doing “the best I can.” Not even sesame oil for Asian dishes, the one oil Mary McDougall, and I, ever use.

No high fat plant foods.

Guilty! Avocados have been cheap and so good! Nuts, seeds, and their butters have been creeping into my diet. No walnuts in my oats. And soy foods. No more tofu or tempeh, which I love. Sauces, tahini, mmmm, no. Not till Easter.

No flours.

Guilty! I’ve been eating a lot sandwiches lately. And while I use a good sprouted bread, I can easily overeat on bread. No pasta. Sort of.

Eat whole grains and potatoes.

I’ll try some Mary’s Mini style meal plans by focusing on one starch at a time. Potatoes for awhile, then rice. Small potatoes for snacks.

Eat legumes.

The McDougall program usually limits legumes, but they have a great track record for weight loss, and are bug part of Blue Zone diets around the world. So I’ll go heavy on legume dishes.

Make green and yellow veggies one third to one half on your meal.

Guilty! I know it’s a starch based plan, but I could lower calorie density with more veggies.

Eat uncooked foods.

Guilty! More salads with raw veggies helps lower calorie density, but I am remiss.

Only two servings of fruit. No dried fruit or juice.

Not a problem. Not a big fruit eater. I like berries on my oats.

Simple sugars sparingly.

No big problem, no sweet tooth. But, I do like sodas sometimes…

Additional Rules:

No liquid calories.

There’s no satiety. No sodas, no juice, no microbrews, no Sonoma county vintages, no sports drinks. Water or herb teas only.

No caffeinated drinks.

An experiment. No coffee (haven’t anyway) no green or black tea except decaf. This comes from a recent discussion on caffeine and sleep. I’ve never felt tea made a difference, we’ll see. Caffeine can be a performance enhancer on race day, but one needs to abstain long enough to be re-sensitized to its effects.

But, But, the Exceptions.

Or excuses. I’m sticking with my typical oatmeal breakie unless I really have to give it up. I use dried goji berries , raw cacao nibs, chia and maca for added flavor. I’ll keep them, but skip the walnuts.

White rice and rice noodles for races and exceptional training days. Rice or soba noodles are my favorite pre race dinner and post race lunch. White cal rose rice is needed for a sticky texture to make onigiri rice balls and rice cakes. I only have a couple of races, so should not be a big deal. Nobody gets between me and Asian noodles.

Soy only in the form of whole edamame in a stir fry or miso soup. Tofu for pre/post race noodles.

Whole wheat pasta once a week if I want. It has a similar calorie density to whole grains.

I might bend the fruit rule a bit if it gets hot and while training.

I think Lent allows a cheat one day a week on the Sabbath to re-appreciate the good things. Good or bad idea? Don’t know.

It’s a good plan.

Now to work the plan.

And give the plan time to work.

4o days should be enough, right? Just in time, because the Saturday before Easter is a Beast of a race, SoNoMas!

 

Strength is My Weakness Pt. 2

So I made up my mind, this is the year of strength training.

So far so good. But a much bigger problem: How to best go about it?

That question opened a huge can of worms that I’ve spent a couple months trying to sort through. There are A LOT of opinions out there, and a lot of conflicting advice. Especially for endurance athletes where strength training is cross training. Low reps and big weights? High reps and moderate weight? Metabolic conditioning? Crossfit? Train like a powerlifter? Like a bodybuilder? Like an MMA fighter? Maybe vigorous power yoga is enough?

My head was spinning. The elephant in the gym is bodybuilding. It requires a certain style of high volume training, frequently going to failure, and lots of isolation exercises. Most people who “just wanna get in shape” and choose the gym are bodybuilding, whether they admit it or not, because what they want is to look a certain way. Mostly just looking good nekkid. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not my goal. I want to get stronger, and most importantly faster, so is bodybuilding the best way?

My first answer was no. I thought back to previous gym experience and realized that bodybuilding training is what I was doing. It’s what everyone was doing. It just what you did when you went to the gym. It sorta worked. I did get stronger, but mostly I burned out. I just couldn’t recover adequately over weeks or a couple of months. I would be too sore to swim, bike and run, so I would  lose my aerobic fitness. Greater strength can get you through some situations, but over time it fades. Trends in strength training began to shift away from this bodybuilding style with what was called “functional training” to distinguish it. This became a catchall term for unstable training, inflatable balls, weird cables and all sorts of tomfoolery that may or may not work. I lost interest.

Enter Maffetone. To best train endurance, Maffetone believes in training aerobically, so that all the slow twitch fibers get stronger along with aerobic metabolism. Strength training generally targets the fast twitch fibers, so why bother? Or so I thought. Maffetone does advocate for strength training, as long as it does not interfere with aerobic development. Fatigue is the big problem, and bodybuilding style training focuses on creating as much fatigue as possible with things like training to failure and drop sets. Maffetone’s approach is “slow weights.” Pick a couple of basic, multi joint exercises, train with low reps, very heavy, but never to failure, or even close. Very low volume, and it doesn’t even have to be done all at once, it can be broken up throughout the day. What? How can this possibly work? I shelved it for awhile, and kept looking around.

That’s when I found the “Evil Russian.”

Famous for bringing kettle bell training to America, he has a whole bunch of very different training philosophies that focus on strength. Not bodybuilding. I’ve always wanted to read the essay that kicked off the whole thing, “Vodka, Pickle Juice, Kettlebells, and other Russian Pastimes,” but I could never find it for free online. But it was mention of Pavel’s book Beyond Bodybuilding in a Maffetone recommended book on strength training for better bones called The Endurance Paradox. that made me take a closer look. Both books were a bit of a slog, but it opened my eyes to different training. I sorta knew that real strength athletes, such as powerlifters and Olympic lifters trained very differently from the typical gym bodybuilder, but wasn’t sure what it meant. Pavel showed how strength athletes train strength as a SKILL, not a “workout” whose goal is to break you down. They train frequently, but with very low reps, and never to failure. This intrigued me. I moved onto Pavel’s book Easy Strengthcoauthored with Dan John, and who has a similar philosophy. I listened to him on a podcast explain his Mass Made Simple program. The mass program was intriguing, but too hard and not really applicable. But his humor and ideas intrigued me. I needed more, so I read Intervention.

But the books with Pavel fascinated me. Part of it was the idea that strength can be built without destroying yourself appealed to me. Pavel explains it’s not just the strength athletes that train this way, but other athletes that can’t lose training days for their primary sport because they’re too sore and wiped out from strength, “cross” training. Very Maffetone like. Pavel includes special ops personnel in this category, belying his background in the Soviet military. Such folks have to be strong, fit, and ready to go at a moment’s notice. They can’t destroy themselves with training before an engagement!

So I kept reading. Pavel’s trifecta: Enter the Kettlebell, The Naked Warrior, and  Power to the PeopleAll use a similar, minimalist philosophy for increasing strength and conditioning while allowing plenty of time for other pursuits. I needed more Dan John, so I read Never Let GoLike triathlon. Intrigued by the growing trend of bodyweight training, I read Convict ConditioningBodyweight training is especially appealing, because it is based on strength, not size, and relative strength, rather than absolute strength. Relative strength refers to the ability to move your own body weight, while absolute strength refers to how many pounds you can lift. Relative strength seems more important to an endurance athlete. When I swim, bike and run, what matters is moving my own body around. The training programs in Convict Conditioning are also pretty low in volume, leaving time and energy for other pursuits.

But I’m still attracted to some good old fashioned barbell training in the gym, so I tackled Rippetoe’s Starting Strengthwhich like plowing through a physics textbook it is so detailed. In a similar powerflifting vein, I read Marty Gallagher’s The Purposeful Primitiveand my current program is a combo of the two. Gallagher’s beginner program, which is dead simple: the three power lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) for three sets of ten, with constant review of the technique pointers in Rippetoe’s book. I train as close to every day as possible, taking an extra day as needed. I will stick with this for a couple months, then as I need to expand running and cycling volume, I’ll transition to a combination of body weight and kettlebells.

The challenge is time. Not so much training time, as all these workouts take little time compared to the bodybuilding style workouts I used to do. It’s the recovery time so I don’t neglect aerobic training. Will I destroy my aerobic engine as I get stronger and watch my MAF tests plummet?

We’ll see.

Strength is My Weakness

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Awkward semantics, but it reflects the reality of my fitness. I used to train like a demon in the gym throughout the fall months prepping for ski season. Then endurance sports became my focus, so I backed off. When I discovered Maffetone and the Big Book, I stuck to strict aerobic training. Maffetone’s views on strength training are a little opaque. When reading the Big Book, it seemed like all forms of strength training are strongly discouraged as being anaerobic, and therefore counter productive to a big aerobic engine. Subsequent articles and interviews show that is not exactly the case, but I still shied away. Now I can really feel that strength is a real limiter. So rather than keeping on that well worn path, and focus only on aerobic base building, this winter I will switch back to a more traditional endurance schedule, which is to build as much strength as possible before the warm months and necessary long endurance efforts. I will continue MAF style aerobic training and frequent MAF testing to see what effect strength training has on running and cycling. Positive? Negative? Neutral?

Why no strength training? If I understand Maffetone correctly in the Big Book, any strength training primarily affects the faster twitch, anaerobic muscle  fibers, not the slow twitch aerobic fibers. Since it’s those slow twitch fibers that carry the day in any endurance event, it does not make sense to train the fibers that don’t propel you to the finish. Maffetone also means aerobic training to mean all aspects of aerobic metabolism, not just the heart and muscles. So, to make that aerobic engine stronger, one must train aerobically. Makes sense, except that there is research to suggest that strength training improves muscle function and economy of movement, which makes you faster. And some fast twitch fibers can be sent to reeducation camp to function aerobically. In off-road racing, the trail determines in large part your effort, and strength is frequently needed to overcome obstacles, especially mountain biking, but also when running. In contrast, road racing is a much more evenly paced affair. My hope is that improving my strength will allow me to actually keep my aerobic pace more even by not having to work as hard to clear obstacles and terrain changes. If I don’t slow down as much for these short efforts, I should not have to expend as much effort getting back up to speed and therefore keep a more even tempo.

My years away from the gym have left me weak. We should work to strengthen our weaknesses, right?

Strength is my weakness, so I’m working on it right now.

since I’ve been eschewing the gym, and my aerobic engine maintains itself, and recent injuries could stem from unbalanced strength. They say to take the winter season to bring up weak points. I am weak, literally, so I will spend the time and energy to increase strength, while maintaining my aerobic engine.

The Leadville Project Has Begun: 2015 Racing

The A Number One Race:

Silver King in Leadville: Saturday 50 mile MTB, Sunday 50 mile trail run

Other Very Important Races:

XTERRA Tahoe City, XTERRA Tahoe

Tahoe Trail 100K MTB

Boggs Mountain 8 hr MTB

SoNoMas

Odds and Sods:

Random short XC races for practice and hard workouts

Running races? Need to find some as prep for the Silver Rush

XTERRA Portland, Fruita if available this year

Sea Otter?

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