In Part I we introduced you to the notion that fitness is in the muscles, not the cardiovascular system. In Part II we discussed the principles of Specificity and Return on Investment, urging you to delete that 4th newsletter this month espousing the benefits of off-season strength training. Let’s put these together in an example that illustrates the Endurance Nation training method compared to traditional endurance training. It’s TeamEN against TeamYou and to make things interesting, it’s time for a little tug-o-war!
Our teams are going to pull against each other on the rope. You figure that the match might last a long time, so you’ll need to train your aerobic fitness. Off-Season Training Article Number 57 that you’ve read this winter tells you that running and cycling at low to moderate intensities, with lots of drills, are excellent ways to build your aerobic fitness as measured by your heart rate. So you and your team follow this advice, while pounding out lots of bench presses, squats, bicep curls and seated rows. You’re very serious about this whole business and all this varied training requires 10-13 hours a week…in the cold and dark of winter, shoehorned into holiday shopping, family activities, and closing out those end-of-the-year projects at work.
We take a look at our team and see that some of the dudes are wearing blue shirts that say “Team Slow-Twitch.” Others are in red “Team Fast-Twitch” shirts. We put them on the rope and see that the blue guys can pull all day with a moderate amount of force. The red guys can really yank on the rope a couple times but then they are done and need to sit on the bench for a while to recover. They all have real lives and can only train 6-8 hours a week in the winter.
To accrue the biggest bang from training time dollar spent, the TeamEN plan may look like this:
If you want to get really good at pulling on a rope, pull on a rope! Since all the muscles have to work together to pull the rope, doesn’t it make sense to work the muscles in this same fashion? What’s a better way to do this than applying the principal of specificity? Why work these same muscles in a different capacity and then try to transfer the strength? More importantly…we’re busy. If our job is to pull on a rope, the most efficient use of our time is to meet in the sand lot, tug on the damn rope, then go about our normal lives.
Our Game Day Strategy is to start out with the Blues, since they can pull all day. Then, as the competition requires more force, we will bring in the Reds and stick them on the rope as needed.
So how does this ROI-driven, Principle of Specificity strategy manifest itself in training?
When working on pulling, we put both Blues and Reds on the task of pulling hard—the more folks on the rope, the stronger everyone gets.
We have the Blues pull hard on the rope for a long time so they can become stronger and longer rope pullers.
We have the Reds pull hard a lot—if some can convert from Reds to Blues, then more Blues can be put on the rope and we can all pull longer before Reds are needed from the bench.
After 14 weeks of training the two teams meet. Remember that each team has 20 members: 15 Blue (Slow-Twitch) and 5 Red (Fast-Twitch).
You-10 Blues vs. US-8 Blues = A Tie!
First, it’s Blue on Blue. The pulling starts and since our Blues are very good at pulling on a rope (remember, we’ve focused on specific training sessions not lifting weights, etc), we only have to put eight Blues on the rope to your ten Blues. We still have seven Blues and five Reds on the bench, while you only have another five Blues left. Your Reds are sitting there in the team bus, where they’ve been all along, not being called upon to do any work.
You-12 Blues vs. US-10 Blues = Still Tied!
You call in another two Blues to help pull—we match that with another two of ours. Since our ten are pulling at a smaller percentage of their own individual strength because they’ve become very, very strong Blues, and very good at pulling on a rope, we still have more capacity in reserve. Your twelve Blues are hurting, so you call in the reserves by adding your final three Blues and telling the Reds to start warming up. We aren’t even thinking about calling in the rest of the Blues, much less touching the Reds.
You-15 Blues vs. US-10 Blues+3 Reds = Game Over!
We want to make that happy hour at the local pub so we have 3 Reds join our 10 Blues to match your move of adding your final 3 Blues—they yank that rope and the competition is done. We’ve still got five Blues and two Reds on the bench—you’re whole team is face down in the sand. Your Reds are still on the bus, untrained and unused.
It’s a funny example, but it’s very relevant: endurance training is no different from what we have explained above. Here’s why.
Motor Recruitment: Each training session is nothing more than an opportunity to recruit motor units. The more you activate a motor unit, the more it begins to take on slow-twitch characteristics. As you increase the intensity of the training session, you recruit all of the slow-twitch fibers and begin to recruit fast-twitch. Each flavor of muscle cell becomes better and better at what they do. The slow-twitch fibers become really good at being slow-twitch fibers. Fast-twitch fibers begin to take on the characteristics of slow-twitch fibers: they can go longer. Your capacity for work will increase: slow-twitch fibers become better and stronger at what they do.
Adaptation Through Use: If you only ride or at very low effort levels, you will primarily recruit and train slow-twitch fibers. The fast-twitch fibers in the quadriceps will not be recruited significantly, so they will not adapt or change. However, if you do a significant amount of moderate or high intensity work, you recruit intermediate and fast-twitch fibers, causing a shift in their characteristics towards slow-twitch. As a result, they produce less lactate and improve their fatigue resistance, which drives up your sustainable pace/power.
The Value of Lactate Threshold Training: Training at an intensity that approximates your lactate threshold intensity effectively raises your speed/pace at all intensities. Your slow-twitch fibers are recruited and the frequent use of your fast-twitch fibers helps them take on the characteristics of slow-twitch fibers…yielding a higher percentage of your overall muscles having slow-twitch characteristics. More is better, and this is a big win-win in the endurance world.
The bottom line is that it really is worth your limited time to focus on sport-specific activities. If you want to swim, bike, and run faster and longer, you’ll need to spend time swimming, biking and running. Build your faster now, in the winter, when the calendar, weather, and other considerations are stacked against you. Adding “far” isn’t hard at all, especially once the seasons change. And since you’ll be faster from a winter of quality training, going further will be a lot more fun!