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Reality Check

Posted Mar 18 2008 12:21pm

Part of my job as a strength coach and trainer is to save people time. That is, to help people achieve the results they’re looking for in the shortest amount of time possible. Conversely, part of my job as an honorary member of the “Secret Society of Jedi Knights” is to be awesome and make chicks want to hang out with me. Surprisingly, it’s not my fake light saber that drives them crazy, it’s my cloak. You know, cause it makes me look all mysterious. Not to mention it really brings out eyes.

Jedi Knight

In any case, last weekend at Mike Boyle’s 2nd Annual Strength and Conditioning Winter Seminar I listened to Mike himself talk about his ongoing struggles with training endurance athletes, and I couldn’t agree more with what he had to say. People who like to run either have a genetic predisposition to it, have a type-A personality, or they do it because it allows them to have a competitive outlet into adulthood; or it’s a combination of any of the three.

Unfortunately, as Mike noted, all the traits above are at first positives, but they can rapidly become a negative because what makes you train (you’re good at it, it’s easier, personality, etc) also makes you train hurt. In a nutshell, he went on to say that endurance training probably isn’t good for most people (GASP!). I totally heart Mike Boyle.

Tell me if this looks familiar: The Endurance Cycle (again, from Mike).

Train………………Injury………………..Rehab/Physical Therapy
Train………………Injury………………..Rehab/Physical Therapy
Train………………Injury………………..Rehab/Physical Therapy

I’m willing to bet that many of you reading this who are avid runners can relate to this never ending cycle. I’m also willing to bet that your physical therapist pays off his/her mortgage thanks to you.

So what can “we” as fitness professionals do? Well, as Boyle put it…..”you can’t change their personality but you may be able to change their training.” In other words: what can we do to keep these people “healthy?”

[Warning: this is the part where I start sounding like a broken record.]

1. Intervals: as counterintuitive as it may seem, interval training develops aerobic capacity better than aerobic training. The fastest way to increase VO2 max, the standard measure of aerobic fitness, is through interval training not long duration distances.

Journal of Physiology, “Short term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: Similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance.” Sept 2006, Vol 575 Issue 3.

Study specifics- comparison of 20 minutes of interval training (30 sec sprint/ 4 minute rest) with 90-120 minutes in the “heart rate zone.”

Results- same improvement in oxygen utilization. One hour per week vs. 4.5-6 hours per week.

As I stated above, a large part of my job is to get people the results they’re looking for in the shortest amount of time possible. If someone is looking to improve their aerobic capacity, which do you think I’m going to choose? Not only will interval training get the job done infinitely faster, but I won’t have to deal with all the nagging injuries as well (less ground contacts compared to long distance training).

On an aside, I’ve never really heard anyone say, “you know I really wish I had a physique like a marathoner.” Something to ponder.

2. Resistance Training: As Eric Cressey has noted on several occasions, a University of Alabama meta-analysis of the endurance training **scientific literature revealed that ten weeks of resistance training in trained distance runners improves running economy by 8-10%. For the mathematicians in the crowd, that’s about 20-24 minutes off a four-hour marathon – and likely more if you’re not a well-trained endurance athlete in the first place. Not only will they get stronger and improve force production (improved times), but they’ll also stay a little healthier due to the fact that they’re not on the road or on the treadmill as much.

** Jung AP. The impact of resistance training on distance running performance. Sports Med. 2003;33(7):539-52.
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