Sunday, January 31, 2010

High Intensity Training Part 3.

Greetings and welcome to the final installment of High Intensity Training (HIT).  To summarize the previous two editions of this article, in “Part Uno”, I talked about what HIT is and how this training technique is best suited for the “elite” and/ or “chronically trained” athlete when compared to submaximal efforts. During “Part Dos,” I compared and contrasted what distinguishes an “elite athlete” from a “recreational athlete,” and the effects of submaximal training on performance.  In “Part Tres” I will discuss what HIT does, how HIT can be used for all types of athletes across many sports, and how HIT can be best used for you- the reader.

Searching for the Causality of Improvement: Central or Peripheral

Central adaptations can be thought of as changes the body makes to deliver more blood to the working muscle.  Think of it as analogous to a bigger air intake on a car, the super-charger, the more oxygen you can get to a motor (machine or human) the more fuel it can burn.  Blood carries oxygen, so more is more!  This is where things get interesting... when measuring abilities of elite athletes, there has been no significant difference in the amount of blood the heart can pump following completion of a HIT training cycle.  Also, no other significant difference has been measured from any other blood value.  What’s going on here?  It gets better…

Upon the failure to find any sort of central focus of influence from training, studies began to look at Peripheral adaptations, or the changes that occur within the muscle cell as a result of HIT.  Could there be an improvement in enzyme, or substrate values, which are stimulated during HIT, or are there are other factors at work?  The first answer is no. There was no change in any of the enzymes that would signal an improvement in the aerobic energy system.  However, multiple researchers have said that more studies are needed to confirm this.  On the other hand, sprint training has been shown to have a significant improvement in buffering lactic acid, thus resulting in repeatability of near maximal efforts. However, that should be accompanied by an improvement in the peripheral adaptations, which was not found.  Okay so you and I are in the same boat in that we’re both thinking, “Huh? How does this work?”  Funny thing about science is that numbers always lead you to the source of all things.

The “numbers” collected for the peripheral studies from the elite athlete are not significant in the world of statistics.  However, an elite athlete typically improves a scant 2-4% throughout any one calendar year so the “insignificant changes” may be important after all. 


The world of athletics dictates that performance is king, so let’s take a look at performance since, ultimately, it matters most.  Every single study that incorporated HIT showed a significant improvement in any performance variable measured, including improvement in the 40k Time Trial and time to fatigue at 80%, 100% and 150% of max. That is important.  Also, these results are consistent across recreational athletes as well as any endurance-based sport tested thus far.  Studies incorporating HIT were performed with running, swimming and cycling showing virtually identical results for all athlete types.  “HIT in recreational athletes improves performance to a greater extent that does continuous sub-maximal training alone,” (Laursen, Jenkins. 2002).

For all its promise HIT begs new questions and presents some new problems. The first issue is that as you approach the upper echelons of your ability level, each individual has a specific tolerance for the amount of work he/she can accomplish before becoming physically and/or mentally fatigued.  The high intensity of the training requires abundant feedback by the athlete and monitoring by the consultant/coach in order to develop a training regimen that is specific to the individual.  The second issue is the principle of rest and recovery.  The majority of elite athletes lack the understanding of the importance of rest and recovery when incorporated into training.   HIT involves a delicate balance between systematic overload and acute over-reaching that can only be maintained by the feedback from the athlete when coupled with an accomplished consultant/ coach who is trusted. 

So the next time you hear, “You do what in the off-season!?” refer the non-believer to this article (Parts Uno- Dos- Tres) and be sure to let them know who your Source is for your Endurance consulting needs.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SE Athlete Shadd Smith Selected for the 2010 Gary Fisher 29'er Crew!

Congratulations to Shadd Smith!  The Gary Fisher 29'er Crew will have Shadd doing more mountain bike races in 2010.  Shadd and I have talked about this and how to incorporate some specific training for these events into his already busy schedule.  It's a challenge and one that we are all looking forward to!

To see the Gary Fisher Team, follow this link:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

SE Clients make showing in the final CX races of the season! Jan. 17th.

TX CX State Championships.  Austin, TX.

Men 30-39: Adam Mills, 3rd
                    Jerry Bueno, 16th (in his CX debut!)

Men Elite: Adam Mills, 7th.

Men 3/4: Jerry Bueno, 21st.  (Pictured, late race mechanicals are bad luck!)

  Photo by: Matthew Haughey

Epic CX.  Kansas City, MO

Men Open: Shadd Smith, 1st! (pictured)

Masters 50+: Dean Parker, 3rd
Single Speed: Bill Anderson, 4th

Photo by Roger Harrison

Thursday, January 21, 2010

High Intensity Training, Part Dos!

Welcome back to the High Intensity Training (HIT) series. Since we last met, we’ve all been tracked for our 2009 goals. Some of us are on track for early goals. Some of us are on track for late season goals, and some of us can see the tracks as we wait for motivation to move us. To summarize “Part Uno” of the HIT series I talked about what HIT is, and how this training technique is best suited for the elite and/ or chronically trained athlete when compared to submaximal efforts. During “Part Dos,” I’m going to compare and contrast: what makes distinguishes an “elite and/ or chronically trained athlete” (from now on, “elite and/ or chronically trained athlete” will be referred to as “elite” since HIT research combines these two groups) from or a “recreational athlete,” and the effects of submaximal training. No matter where your motivation or training status currently is, there’s something to learn here, so lift your coffee, take a sip and keep on reading.

If you’re still reading this, at some level you want to be known as an elite athlete. HIT research combines both “elite and chronically trained athletes” based upon physiological training adaptations (don’t worry, talk of this will be very, very brief) and so, in the interest of the validity of this article, I am going to follow suit. Generally speaking, an elite athlete is one who trains consistently enough to reach the upper echelon of their physical potential. The minimum VO2 max of these lucky individuals typically is better than 60 ml/kg/min. That’s “fit,” but not “Tour de France fit (VO2 max >73 as a domestique).” 60 ml/kg/min would be a “good” regional athlete (Category 3) or an average national level athlete (Category 2). These athletes have trained enough to reap most of the benefits from just riding “lots.” They can make you hurt, but they will not be riding away from a peloton solo.

Recreational athletes are far from removed from a typical, “armchair or television athlete” that decides to jump on a bike for a friendly stroll. They will typically show a VO2 max = 45-55 ml/kg/min, which puts young men (under 30) in the 70th percentile and any women in the +90th percentile of fitness relative to everyone. What differentiates a recreational athlete is just that, recreation. Typically, rigorous training isn’t done often enough to provide a training stimulus necessary to trigger the adaptations needed to reach the upper echelons of fitness. These athletes are usually are strong, but not on the same level as your elite athletes. Still, do not underestimate their abilities. This article does not address the potential for a blistering and explosive sprint, bike handling, long term effects of drafting, strategy, etc.

BUT WAIT! There are disclaimers. The numbers I just mentioned are all based on trends and statistics. That’s right, fun with numbers! Someone who has a VO2 max <55 may still be considered elite and someone with a VO2 max >60 could be considered recreational. This all depends on your genetic disposition towards fitness. Talent plays a big part in all sport in that it is necessary for great success, but not sufficient on its own. However, at the professional and amateur level, hard work is both necessary and sufficient for success.

In order to understand why it is that an elite athlete must train with HIT in order to realize his/ her full physical capacity for performance, we must first understand what physiological improvements the recreational athlete will reap as he/ she begins to consistently train. Concerning the recreational athlete, training adaptations can be categorized into central and peripheral changes.
Please trust that I could ramble on for hours, even days about these changes and exactly why they happen, but I’m much too polite for that. Instead, let’s just say that central changes happen rapidly and permit the body to deliver more blood to the working muscle. Peripheral changes occur more slowly (several weeks to months) and enhance the ability to assimilate oxygen from the blood and consume it inside the muscle cell. As a result, muscle contraction becomes more efficient (at the sub-cellular level) and the cell’s capacity for work increases, thus making you “more fit.”

However, as this submaximal level of training becomes habitual, the improvements mentioned above subside and cease. This is because the elite athlete has, for all practical purposes, maximized his/ her ability to adapt to all submaximal training. Lab tests show that elite athletes already benefit from 3-4 times the oxidative enzyme activity (read, “bigger aerobic engine”), 3 times more capillary density, and a greater percentage of slow twitch muscle mass compared to recreational athletes. It appears that in order for continued performance improvement, a different training stimulus must be presented rather than “simply increasing the volume” (read, “junk miles”).

At the elite level, the athlete is looking for that, “little bit extra.” However, that “little bit extra” is extremely difficult to “find” and it takes an experienced and insightful professional to help reach that “little bit more.” Make no mistake, everyone can benefit from HIT. In the final installment, I’ll discuss the effects of HIT, how it happens, and how to know what to do in order to “find” your best endurance performance. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

High Intensity Training, Part Uno

“So…. You want me to do what in the middle of the winter!?” I get that quite frequently when prescribing athletes High Intensity Training (HIT) this time of year. The puzzled look of skepticism creeping across the face of an experienced, already well-trained rider has become an expression I’ve grown accustomed to; and my explanation of “why” has been refined to the point where I feel I can now write it down and refer people to it. So, let’s set the stage for this explanation by first referring any and all non-believers to the following review of literature that covers the 180 studies relevant to HIT.  There are other, more recent articles, but this is a good one to get you started.

Laursen, Jenkins. The Scientific Basis for High-Intensity Interval Training. Sports Med 2002; 32(1): 53-73.

Traditionally, it is believed that Long Slow Distance (LSD), or “base building” is the way to train during the offseason. After all, that’s what the Euro-Pros do, right? Well, yes, but….
For starters, Euro-Pros race 110+ days per season (Feb- Oct) which averages out to a race every 2.45 days or 2-3 100+mile road races per week. Also, remember that it’s their job and remember that a typical Euro-Pro doesn’t get to even try and win races most of the time and many of these races are simply glorified training rides, which explains the “race to train” methodology.

However, in the US, every race is a RACE, and most racers only race 20-40 times per year (including those weekly training races). That being the case, it’s important to “train to race” for all of us “mere mortals.” The “train to race” methodology places the onus on consultant or coach to properly examine the demands of each athlete’s race, tailoring his/her training to these demands using a power meter, heart rate monitor, or GPS (pacing). This method is highly effective and helps the athlete to meet his/her goals when executed properly by both the consultant and the athlete.

Newer research is beginning to change the ways athletes train, resulting in them being faster and stronger than their competitors. The basis of this training is as follows:

“Significant improvements in endurance performance is evident following submaximal training in sedentary and recreationally active groups.


Additional submaximal training (volume) in highly trained individuals does not appear to enhance endurance performance. These athletes can achieve endurance performance improvements only through High Intensity Training (HIT). “

The bottom line: an athlete can, and will show tremendous improvement by increasing exposure time to elevated intensities such as Tempo, Steady State, and Lactate Threshold. For these athletes, this IS the base building. With HIT, a training stimulus is being applied using these varying intensities along with progression and periodization. This maximizes the effectiveness of the training and or trained athletes, this IS base building.

As the athlete becomes “elite” and chronically trained, there needs to be more focus on repeatability to of highly intense efforts. From examining race data, it’s fairly obvious that the major selections that ultimately decide the winner all come during highly intense racing. Those who make the selection are not necessarily the ones who can perform the most intense work, but the ones who can perform these efforts numerous times. These “near maximal efforts,” are the efforts that HIT targets. Over the next couple of entries, I’m going to spend some time explaining why, and how that works.

Monday, January 11, 2010

SE Athletes Blast into 2010!

Grote Prijs CX. Shawnee, KS

Shadd Smith, Men Open: 1st!
Mark Cole, Men 3: 1st!
Aubree Dock, Women 4: 2nd
Dean Parker, Master's 50+: 3rd.
                     Single Speed: 3rd.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

SE Athlete Jon Toner Undefeated in 2010!

S & S Trails' Excruciation Exam

Jon Toner: Men Open 30-39:  1st Place!

Congratulations to Jon.  Way to kick off the 2010 season!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Did you know?

I was sent this video about a year ago today and never have deleted it.  It's got a fantastic message to tell every one of us.  Makes you think about how and what our lives will hold in all aspects of life and sport.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Off Season Training: The History of the Base

I remember reading a few years ago (the name of the publication escapes me for now, if I remember, I'll be sure to post it) about how the "base" training came to be.  Like most training methods that athletes "just do," base training is a dated training technique.  However, that doesn't make it obsolete for some.  For most of us though, there are better ways to develop your base.  A colleague recently wrote an article about how 'base is a waste' which resulted in him getting raked over the coals by those who simply read 'such and such' a book or adhere to the USAC "Coaching handbook" or whatever you want to call it (as a side note, try looking up the references to that book and note the publication date, not so recent and that's for starters).    So I'll begin....

Once upon a time, professional athletes weren't so professional as we think of it in the modern sense.  Sure, they did compete in the Big Time during the season, but for the off-season, most of them went back to their day jobs.  Factory jobs, steel mills, and ranch hands were the norm and even in the big American sports, NFL, NBA, and Major League had to work a second job just to make a living wage.  The average salary of an NFL player into the late 1950's was less than $6000 annually.  The analog was true for professional cyclists.

During this off season employment, the riders were not expected to maintain much, if any fitness.  Working a blue collar job may keep you active and "fit" but it did not keep you at a competition ready form.  Making the jump from factory work to professional cyclist over a weekend is the physiological equivalent to driving a fork lift on Friday and racing in the F1 Series on Sunday.   Needless to say the riders couldn't make this jump and race effectively at the professional level.  They needed some sort of transition period.

The transition came in the form of Long Slow Distance (LSD, base training) which was more a function of necessity to attain performance improvement.  These professionals were not capable of racing or riding "hard" over long distances.  They had to ride long distances slowly.  But why Long Slow Distance?  I imagine it had to do with a couple of ideals.  First, they just came from an all day factory job to riding and training.  In that respect, what else would you be doing all day if you weren't training?  In an era of 'more is more' training, and training a LOT was the key to fitness.  Note: new studies are showing that world class endurance athletes still need to train a LOT but that's another story. The second was the belief that if you can ride 7 hours slow, then you can ride 4 hours fast. This is somewhat true, but new studies and training methods are debunking this idea as we speak.

That's not to say that LSD doesn't have it's place in professional sports.  After a lay-off or the beginning of the season, an athlete may not want or need the mental rigors of high intensity.  Indeed, they may not be ready for the sudden jump in stress, which could result in injury (think that first CX race and how sore we all are the next day).  Also, given the current state of professional sports where an athlete is a Professional athlete first and foremost, LSD does have it's place in the training macro cycle.  In order to stress the aerobic energy system, a training volume of more than 12,000kj per week, for a number of weeks, would be a target.  That's a LOT of riding, over 25 hours per week. 

The reason this works for modern professional athletes is because sport IS  their profession.  For most people with other full time professions, that sort of time commitment would result in one or more of following happen: divorce, loss of job, loss of home, house going uncleaned/ unmaintained, groceries not being purchased, you get the idea. 9-12 hours of weekly training time is more realistic for roughly 85% of the clients at Source Endurance. There's just one problem; that's 1/2 of what it takes to do true "base" training the way it needs to be done.  That is, to present the body with the stimulus necessary to develop your aerobic base, you would need to ride about twice as much.  Which means most of us actually accomplish a solid training block of Short Slow Distance riding.  Basically, we 'train' ourselves out of fitness.  Is there another way?  Of course there is! 

In the coming days, I'll be posting a 3 part series about High Intensity Training and how it can be used to help you reach your peak performance.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cross Out the Old Year!

Another cold, snowy, muddy, icy cross race......  It seems to be the norm starting in mid-November and continuing until whenever you decide to stop racing cross.  It's hard on equipment, clothes, riders and pit crews.  KCCX had, what I believe was the best pit crew bar none all season and especially in the late season.  Bill, Tom, Dean and everyone else that helped out were absolutely phenomenal!  This continued right up through the most recent CX race. 

Following CX Nationals in Bend, my bikes were a wreck.  Eight races in the above conditions and so many falls that I just stopped counting took their toll.  Tom had the bikes up and running to "like new" status on race day.  Actually, I didn't even see my bikes that day until the race.  How awesome is that?!  So, my plan was to use one bike and not trash the other one......

Well, the mud turned to ice, and the ice stayed on the bikes.  What that meant is that my A bike was totally iced over and I was slogging along like I was dragging an anchor.  Time to change.  During the change, two guys who had been closing for some time as I continued to bog down with ice, passed me and made a run for it.  I must say, having the pit crew of KCCX and that extra bike made a HUGE difference.  It was like being on a brand new bike!  All of a sudden I was going 3-4 mph faster.  So much fun!  I rode by them and was nearly back up to 3rd place when I just ran out of laps.  Cross is hard.

After the race, Tom took my bikes AGAIN and will undoubtedly have them back to "like new" condition on race day coming up.  The funny thing is... Tom wasn't really planning on working pits that day, just watching and enjoying his off season.  Funny how that works out.  Tom, thanks so much for all your help this year with KCCX.  The team could not have accomplished what we did without you.