Strength is My Weakness


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.


About vegpedlr

Plant powered off-road triathlete

Posted on January 31, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Very interesting post. After retiring from endurance racing for two whole weeks, I reentered the sport in the middle of this month. I got burned out by doing lots of speed work in December. Now, I am doing much more Maffetone style training. I am keeping my heart rate in a 131 to 141 beats per minute zone.

    I have been debating with myself whether I will do a pure aerobic training plan until my half marathon race in May or if during the last several weeks I will mix in some running at my half marathon goal race pace.

    In the middle of my indecision regarding what to do, I read this interesting piece by Greg McMillan at Runners World. It is titled “When speed work sabotages your gains.”

    Here is an excerpt:

    “In preaching against speed work during endurance training, Lydiard was fond of saying, “Don’t pull down the pH in your base phase.” Peter Snell, exercise physiologist and Lydiard’s most famous runner, explains that the enzymes within the mitochondria operate at an optimal acidity (or pH) level. High-intensity exercise, however, causes significant and repeated high levels of lactic acid (and thus decreased pH) in the muscle cell. Given too much intensity, the environment within the cell becomes overly acidic and the enzymes can become damaged. Snell says that the increased acidity is also harmful to the membranes of the mitochondria, and it takes additional recovery time to allow the membranes to heal. Given this damaging effect, large and frequent increases in lactic acid during a period when you’re building your aerobic energy system (mitochondria and aerobic enzymes) are a big no-no. The purpose of the conditioning phase is to facilitate the increases in mitochondria and their enzymes, not impair them.”

    So, maybe this is why Maffetone believes that anaerobic training interferes with aerobic training.

    If you read the entire McMillan piece, you will notice that he does believe speed work should be introduced into training at some point. It’s just that it shouldn’t exist during the base building phase.

    What relevance does this have to your training, since you are more of a cyclist/triathlete than a pure distance runner? I am not sure. I will say that QT2 Systems, an online coaching group based in Boston that coaches triathletes, takes a view similar to Maffetone. However, QT2 Systems does have its athletes occasionally do training runs in what they call Z2 in addition to some Z1 training runs. Z1 for me would be 131-141 beats per minute. Z2 would be 141-151 beats per minute.

    I think Z2 runs would still be less stressful than a threshold run and perhaps such runs would still provide a significant aerobic benefit.

    I don’t know how old you are. But I am 48. And I think that one problem people my age might have is that no matter which training philosophy we adopt, PRs might be hard to come by. If that’s the case, maybe the Maffetone method is better since injury is less likely.

    I’m not sure. Both of us are conducting an experiment on ourselves this season. We will have to go with our training ideas and let the chips fall where they may.

    Good luck.

    • Another good article. Typical of Running Times, it assumes quite a bit of knowledge about track training. Runners with a track background focus on pace, but cyclists and triathletes focus more on heart rate because it’s more versatile. I think it’s more useful than pace. The article reiterates an important point, intensity works well, it works very quickly, but it also quickly becomes overwhelming. VO2 max training is very, very tough, and therefore risky. It’s not clear from the article the best way to incorporate tempo and cruise intervals, but their are books on that, like Brad Hudson and Jack Daniels. I’m reminded of a recent podcast with Maffetone whee he described a study he did in the 80s with a couple hundred runners. All were experienced, but had not had a PR for quite some time. He put them on a strict 180 formula aerobic training schedule for 3-6 months then they all raced a 5K. 76% of them got a PR.

    • One thing that strikes many people when they watch the Kenyans train is how much run at a very slow pace. Like 9 min miles for a runner who races at a 5 min pace. The 80/20 formula is how elites train, compared to us the difference is volume and speed. And that regular folks often go too hard, too often, generate that fatigue that slows everything down. I have Fitzgerald’s book 80/20 on my Kindle, but haven’t read it yet.

  2. Ok. One more written piece in favor of building aerobic capacity over speed work. How relevant to your situation? Not sure.

    Run Long and Prosper.

    “Recently, however, fitness programs like CrossFit, with more than 9,000 affiliated gyms, have rejected the long run as a part of endurance training. The “Theory” section of the CrossFit endurance website claims that “the many drawbacks of LSD [long slow distance] training easily overpower the limited benefits.” Those drawbacks are said to be decreased muscle mass, strength, power, speed, anaerobic capacity and testosterone levels. CrossFit is wrong. But its success in convincing many athletes to reject such a fundamental element of endurance training exposes a somewhat embarrassing truth: Few runners know why they include long runs in their training–or how often they should, in reality, be scheduling them.”

    • Great articles, Spiral. This one is by Pete Magill, whose book Build Your Running Body is a great read. I recommend it. As for myself, all this physiology applies equally to cyclists and triathletes. Endurance sports are all far more alike than different. The only thing different is the duration, my races are frequently over 3 hrs.I’m not sure speed work has any use. Plus, when racing off-road, pace is completely meaningless. A trail course with 3000 ft of climbing is totally different from a flat, fast road.

      My approach is Maffetone training for the run and bike, technique for the swim, with my only intensity coming from strength training and short races.

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