What an exciting week! Our first ever Adventure Team completed their last week of training and successfully navigated a beautiful trek to Switzer Falls. The quick peak program we used to prepare for the hike gave us a chance to implement some very exciting new cardiovascular training methods using heart rate monitors and some challenging (and somewhat elaborate) new formulas. With our successful outdoor adventure behind us now, it’s safe to say that the program we used not only got us what we needed, but exceeded our expectations by quite a bit! The principles we applied might seem counter-intuitive to many hard-working athletes in that working more efficiently was prioritized over working “harder”, but they proved so effective that many members of our team more than tripled their “Strong Endurance" capabilities in the span of just one month!
For those interested in how we accomplished this, I’d like to share a snapshot of what’s “under the hood” of this training engine. When designing the program, I kept a few wise words from our mentors in mind:
“A training session should contain no more than three training modalities (usually one dominant, the second one compatible with the main purpose and the third one a modality of technique/tactic improvement or restoration.) Approximately 65%-70% of total training time of the developing workout should be devoted to one or two training modalities." Issurin, 2008 (Strong Endurance).
In our preparation, we used several long sets of continuous step ups as a primary training modality and separately we implemented powerful bursts of short, hard intervals with heaver loads or more challenging exercises (ie. KB swings, explosive push ups etc.) as a secondary one. Rest intervals for all sets allowed for ample aerobic recovery to burst again into anaerobic ranges. Our third modality involved lots of strength maintenance, stability and balance training for technical improvement and restoration. This triangle of modalities diversified our power output into maximal, near-maximal, and sub-maximal sets, and kept our training sessions focused, uncomplicated and fun!
"Repetition of the same stimuli is the main condition for triggering adaptive reactions.” Vashlyaev, 2007 (Strong Endurance)
The step up protocol we used was repeated on two of our three programmed training days, providing plenty of repetitions with the same stimuli to trigger a positive adaptation. This stepping adaptation was obviously well suited to noticeably carry over to hiking.
"Medium Loads (40%-60% of volume of the work done to pronounced fatigue) are best used for maintenance and solving particular training goals.” (Strong Endurance)
To maintain our strength, we kept the loads relatively light, but with enough reps to get the job done. This helped make sure there weren’t any mixed signals getting sent as to whether or not we were prioritizing an endurance effort or a strength effort; the truth is that we were preparing for a strength endurance effort, after all, so we wanted both flavors present, with endurance taking center stage.
"Ordinary Rest Interval - By its end the work capacity approaches the level before the previous exercise bout to the point where neither the quality nor the quantity suffer." (Strong Endurance)
And here lies one of the real “secret weapons” that can make all the difference for strength endurance. Training to a very specific and individually customized level of exertion that minimizes the body’s acidity levels, but doesn’t avoid acidity entirely. This is a real game-changer!
With so much sensationalism in the popular media and the fitness industry about the degree of hard work and dedication required to build a svelte physique and athletic prowess, even recreational athletes are being pushed to work far too hard without considering the consequences. Weekend warriors everywhere are "feeling the burn” and boasting about the toughness of their workouts but the cost of said bragging rights is much higher than anyone would likely be willing to pay if they actually knew about it. Long term health can become surprisingly compromised by short term exuberance in training. Fortunately we now know of some proven ways to make sure that we are training tactically without the high cost of training too “hard.” What exactly do we mean when we say that we might be training “too hard?” Well, in this case it comes down to a bit of body chemistry. Simply put, human beings do not tolerate a state of high acidity very well. Medical research has revealed that many of our health problems might be exacerbated by the consequences of our internal body chemistry becoming overly acidic. It would seem that our internal processes perform better in a more neutral (alkaline) environment. Complications arise when we are exposed to high levels of stress. Vigorously contracting skeletal muscle (as in physical training) under low oxygen conditions (as in getting out of breath) puts the body’s cells under oxidative stress. Oxidative stress creates a chemical reaction within our cells (the transfer of electrons) which causes acidity levels in the blood to rise. While low levels of this reactive oxygen species (ROS) can trigger positive metabolic adjustments (i.e.. more powerful mitochondria in the cells of our muscles!), excessive amounts of this chemical reaction can wreak havoc; compromising the function of our mitochondria, which are the energy production centers within our cells. As such, the overuse of hard bursts of exercise with compromised rest periods in our physical training regimen can stop doing us any good and start damaging our bodies at the cellular level. Don’t get me wrong, we should be doing some training that makes us get out of breath, we just shouldn’t be doing this excessively. The trick is to appropriately throttle the intensity of our training along with adequate rest periods to allow our chemical processes to effectively buffer the acidity levels in the blood. The process which causes much of the difficulty is called glycolysis. This is when sugars are broken down to be used as a quick source of energy while we’re low on oxygen. During this reaction, pyruvic acid is created. While we do want some of this going on, too much training in this glycolytic state can cause the cellular damage we’re trying to avoid. With the help of heart rate monitors and some clever calculations to set specific thresholds for work and rest, we know how to make careful use of this energy system and avoid abusing it too much. So what does all this mean to the trainee? It means less training discomfort (provoking a less acidic response in the body) and better physical endurance and overall health. This specialized anti-glycolitic training also stimulates the production of stronger mitochondria which might even slow down the aging process! At Breakthrough Strength & Fitness, we’re all about training that develops a wide range of athletic qualities, with an emphasis on power, while minimizing fatigue and soreness, and leaving plenty of energy for other pursuits. The Adventure Team programming was designed according to this master plan, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Training not for its own sake, but rather physical preparedness in service of living a more adventurous, healthy lifestyle; now that’s an exciting perspective to have on how to use the gym. Here’s to our next adventure.