June 6, 2015
Podcast from: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2015/06/strength-training-for-endurance-athletes/
[00:00] Introduction/Sheer Strength Labs
[02:54] About the Speakers
[05:58] Conflict of Strength Training For Endurance Athletes
[10:46] Neural Adaptations & Type-2 Muscle Fibers
[17:22] Stiffness of a Muscle
[21:59] Experiments& Studies on Endurance Training
[30:43] High Force, Low Velocity During The End
[33:10] Where to Use Low Force, High Velocity
[51:17] Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education
[52:49] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey, it's Ben Greenfield, and you're about to delve into unlocking the secrets of strength training for endurance athletes, and appropriately enough, this podcast is actually brought to you by Sheer Strength Labs. What is Sheer Strength Labs? Well you can check them out at sheerstrengthlabs.com/greenfield. That's sheerstrengthlabs.com/greenfield, and Sheer is with two e's, and when you go there, you'll get to see a whole suite of products ranging from nitric oxide for increasing blood flow, both in the bedroom and in the gym, testosterone, a thermogenic fat burner, creatine, a pre-workout supplement, branched chain amino acids, and these supplements are designed by the good guys in the industry who actually have a laboratory certificate of analyses for their supplement, and who don't put a bunch of extra fillers or add a bunch of extra cost into their supplements. So you can check them out at sheerstrengthlabs.com/greenfield.
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In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast:
“You are increasing the horsepower of the engine without having any more weight, so it makes for better efficiency, lower relative power output, even though it's the same power output, but it's a lower relative of your max with each stroke or stride, whatever your event is.” “You're storing elastic energy similar to what you would as a spring. When that elastic energy is released, it results to some type of forced output. So a greater stiffness just means that rubber band or that spring now has greater elastic capabilities.” “You're able to spend more time in eccentric phase, you're going to have more time to profuse those muscles with what?” “They have a better base, then you can begin to add in high velocity training later on as you get closer and you're approaching different events that you're doing.”
Ben: Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield here, and I would say that a quick discussion at the starting line of say a triathlon or any other kind of endurance race, review of any online forum that's devoted to endurance sports or pretty much any article in any running or cycling or triathlon magazine seems to kind of expose you to the same standard strength training advice over and over again. You hear stuff that sports specificity dictates that endurance athletes shouldn't be lifting heavy stuff or that you should do high reps, low resistance if you’re an endurance athlete, and if you're a strength athlete, you should do low rep, high resistance, or you'll hear that strength training will make an endurance athlete bulky, and there's no evidence that strength training makes you faster. Or another one of my favorites is show me one professional endurance athlete who lifts heavy weights and still wins races.
So you hear this stuff all the time along with a host of other comments, so recently I was reading one of the magazines that I subscribe to called the Strength Conditioning Journal. It's not necessarily like a peer-reviewed research journal, but it's a collection of really well-curated articles in the strength conditioning fields put out by the National Strength Conditioning Association, and the article's called “Strength Training For Endurance Athletes: Theory To Practice”, and it was really one of the better treatises of this entire topic that I've read in a very long time, so I figured why not get a couple of the guys involved with that article to come on the podcast, and share with us what the truth really is about strength training and endurance, how you should do it, if you should do it, what's the mechanism to where it could actually help if it does, and so on. So my guests today are both from Tennessee, or at least in Tennessee, Caleb Bazyler and I have no clue if I'm pronouncing your name right, Caleb.
Caleb: It's fine, Bazyler.
Ben: Bayzyler, there we go, and Jacob Goodin. So Caleb is completing his PhD at East Tennessee State University with the Department of Exercise and Sports Science, and Jacob designs and implements programs for middle and long-distance runners. He's also involved with this article, and he's finishing his master's degree at the same place, at East Tennessee State University. So guys, thanks for coming on.
Jacob: We also have one other author that we'd like to mention. He's going to be here with the interview as well, Chris Taber. You might want to introduce yourself.
Chris: Yeah, I'm the weightlifting coach here at ETSU for our Olympic training site.
Ben: Okay cool, this is going to get super messy. We've got three guys, this'll be fun stuff. Alright cool, we'll try and keep everybody's voices straight. We got Caleb, we got Jacob, and we got Chris. I guess as I fire away questions at you guys, you can tag team and decide who's going to respond to what. But I guess I'm interested in starting here if one of you guys wants to speak to this. My question is historically why has there been conflict among coaches about the role of strength training for endurance athletes? Why is this such a controversial topic?
Jacob: This is Jacob here. Well I guess I'll start of answering this, I have a background competing in the middle distances in college and high school, and something that the authors of the study may mention and that you mentioned early in your introduction is that people tend to think that weight training always adds bulk. It adds muscle. They say that if you're an endurance athlete, why do you need strength? You need to be able to endure, not be strong for a short time. The bulk is going to slow you down. They see bodybuilders, and they say we don't want to look like a bodybuilder. They lift weights, we shouldn't lift weights. But both of theirs lift weights, we shouldn't lift weights. It makes the athletes sore because it's a stimulus that we have an experience before, and coaches are going to fear that it's going to interfere with their endurance training.
Caleb: Ben, this is Caleb. Some other things that coaches may be concerned with, definitely they're having their athletes looking like body builders is not going to be ideal for nurse deforms, but something that they're concerned with is not having their resistance training transfer to their particular sport. So for example, and it's a valid concern having endurance athletes perform a lot of upper body, dominant training such as bicep curls, tricep extensions. If you have a runner perform those exercises for example, as far as the degree of benefit that it's going to have to their performance is very low. And so adding extra muscle mass, and you can say those non-specific muscle groups, is definitely not beneficial. However, there is more research now that we see over the past few decades stating that strength training, or even increasing cross-section area or size of the muscle fibers and the legs is beneficial for a certain type of endurance athletes. And so hopefully, we'll be able to get into some of that here.
Ben: Yeah, I definitely want to delve into that, but I think, like you guys say in the article, historically we see distance training and endurance training as these two different training modalities with completely different training adaptations when it's looking and that research may suggest that's not the case, that they might be a complementary in a way. So that kind of leads me to, I guess the main question here. What is the mechanism, like what is actually going on when you strength train, when you strength training properly that is? What’s going on that could theoretically lead to enhanced endurance performance?
Chris: There are several adaptations that could occur, and with an increased cross-sectional area, you can produce the same amount of force with greater ease. So the percentage of the max that you're working at is going to be a lower percentage after resistance training. So if you make the muscle a little bit bigger, become stronger, you're going to be able to produce the same amount of force easier. It's less taxing on the body, and as the rate of force that you produce increases, this decrease is the amount of time your foot stays in contact with the ground, so you're ground contact can improve which over the course of the race is going to help your times decrease and make you better.
And then finally, one other mechanism could be increased tissue stiffness, so you have a stiff spring or the Achilles' tendon becomes stronger, and becomes more stuff, and that allows you to transfer the forces greater into the ground as you're running.
Jacob: And the cool thing, Ben, is that these adaptations, both the neural and muscular adaptations don't necessarily have to be accompanied by increases in cross-sectional area or muscle size. A lot of these are, especially the neural adaptations, like recruitment of type-2 fibers or synchronization of the motor units and the muscular tendon stiffness. Those things can happen without adding any mass, and so basically like Chris just said, you are increasing the horsepower of the engine without having any more weight, so it makes for better efficiency, lower relative power output, even though it's the same power output, but it's a lower relative of your max with each stroke or stride, whatever your event is.
Ben: Now there were two things that you said there, and this is Jacob, right?
Ben: Yeah, there were two things that you said there that I want to touch. The first is you used the term neural adaptations. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Jacob: Yeah, so in resistance training and I think with most training, there's two general different types of adaptation that'd increase your performance. There's neural adaptations and muscle adaptations, and then neural adaptations have to do with the rate of motor unit firing, the types of motor units that you're recruiting. When I say motor unit, I mean type-1 versus type-2 fibers. Let's see, what else, Caleb?
Caleb: So increase in motor unit synchronization, so all the fibers firing simultaneously. So rate coding or the frequency like Jacob talked about, how quickly those impulses are propagated down the nerve acts on, and how quickly they're getting to those muscle fibers and causing those fibers to contract. They also have an increase in recruitment of motor units, so total number of fibers and motor units that you're recruiting. So this is important because with heavy resistance training for example, we're going to tap into some of those higher threshold, those motor units that are innovating those type-2 fibers, and so we're going to cause those to increase in strength, and that's going to be played a very crucial role as far as the total amount of force that we're able to generate. If we're able to increase our maximum force as we talk about it already that means that we can produce the same amount of force with greater ease. So the relative effort or the relative intensity that we're working on is now lower for say if we're running at six miles per hour, now we can run at six miles per hour, produce that same amount of force, and it's a relative lower part of our maximum force, our lower, does that make sense, percentage of our maximum force.
Ben: So what you're saying is let's say I were to do a squat set somewhere in the range of 200 to 250 pounds, and I were to use that as training to run. What you're saying is that even though I'm using far more weight when I'm squatting than my muscles are subjected to when I'm running, that basically I'm training my muscles when I'm doing those heavier squats to be able to be more efficient or more economical under the weight of a lighter load such as running?
Caleb: Yes, that's exactly correct, and actually it's been measured before. Typically what they'll do is they'll have athletes hooked up to a metabolic cart and make it look at caloric expenditure and oxygen uptake during the given task, so then we have run in it a given absolute intensity, say at six [13:24] ______ already they'll test them before the resistance training period and after. And then they can look at the total amount of consumed, the calories expended, and they'll notice that with the resistance training. At least this has been observed multiple times in runners and a few times in cyclists although there was some evidence to the contrary that the actual amount of oxygen they consume for that given absolute exercise intensity is now lower after the resistance training program. And that has to do with, again, their efficiency like you talked about.
So that's not just the result of the neural adaptations that we see that's also result of changes against stiffness in muscle tendons unit, also the contract adaptations, so actual changes in the muscle fibers themselves. Not just the neural adaptations, but the neural adaptations are a big component of it 'cause that's typically what we see there in the first 8 to 10 weeks of strength training where these endurance athletes who are novices. They may have never lifted before. A lot of the changes they get in strength are occurring with those first 8 to 10 weeks, and it's primarily the neural adaptations. As we talked about, firing in synchronization, right coding and the total number of motor units recruit.
Ben: Gotcha, now another thing that Jacob mentioned, and this was the second thing I wanted to ask him about, was type-2 muscle fibers, and that's generally thought of as more like the fast twitch muscle fiber that you'd get from strength training, but just to use an example. Back when I was not doing things like Ironmans and marathons and stuff like that, I could dunk a basketball, and that wasn't much of a chore for me. And as I got better and better in endurance sports, my vertical decreased. I was definitely experiencing a greater percentage of these slower type-1 fibers with a greater time to exhaustion, but less explosive capability. Now if you're weight training and you're an endurance athlete and you're building or maximizing say type-2 muscle fiber, does that fly in the face of what you're trying to achieve from an endurance standpoint?
Jacob: You know I think, Ben, it depends on the duration of your event and the type of endurance athlete that you are. With, as you know being an Ironman yourself, endurance athletes put in a ton of volume of training. Their volume of training is huge, and as far as fiber type conversion, that's actually an adaptation that is somewhat hard to achieve to get the actual fiber type to convert from type-1 to type-2, and perhaps the muscle fibers don't actually fully convert, but maybe a type-1 fiber becomes [15:58] ______ like a type-2 fiber if that makes sense, physiologically just with the type of enzymes that it has and it's metabolic properties, or a type-2 fiber with all the endurance training can develop more and larger mitochondria, become a little bit more like a type-1 fiber.
I think with, and I really can't site anything, any research on this that I'm aware of, but I think with endurance athletes, practically with the amount of volume, resistance training that they should do to maximize their performance, it's so low in comparison to their endurance training that I don't think it would have a huge effect on whether or not they have that fiber conversion, if that makes sense. You know I think being able to synchronize the recruitment of all of those fibers that they have is good, and being able to activate and use those type-2 muscle fibers that they have already. They have a few of them, even the ultra-marathoners. They have some of them in there. Being able to access those is good and crucial 'cause they want to be able to, but I don't really think that you're going to see a ton of conversion from type-1 to type-2. Maybe in an 800-meter runner, and that could be beneficial. But for you long endurance guys, I don't think that's really going to be a huge issue with the type of volumes that we prescribe.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. I definitely want to get into a little bit more about the actual type of strength training in terms of sets and reps and things like that, that endurance athletes should be using, but there was one other thing that you touched on, Caleb, and that was stiffness of the tendons. Generally a lot of people think of stiffness as being a bad thing. Can you explain why you would actually want a muscle to be more stiff?
Caleb: Sure, absolutely. With resistance training like we talked about earlier, increase in stiffness of muscle tendons unit, and we refer to the muscle tendons unit, and particularly when we're talking about the series and parallel elastic components of fibers, this would be the connective tissue that allows us to transfer forces from the contract elements through the tendon into the bone to allow movement to occur. So when we're talking about stiffness, you can think of something like a rubber band or a spring. So it doesn't mean the person is more tied or they have less flexibility, it means we're better able to use those series and parallel elastic components.
So it's like a spring for example, when we compress the spring, we're storing elastic energy. When you stretch let's say a muscle for example, we stretch, we contract out the series of parallel elastic components. You're storing elastic energy similar to what you would as a spring. When that elastic energy is released, it results to some type of forced output. So a greater stiffness just means that rubber band or that spring now has greater elastic capabilities. So that now it's able to recoil with greater force, so in stretch shortening cycle activity such as running for example. An enhanced stretch shortening cycle or in improvement in our ability to use that stored elastic energy is going to result in a greater force output, and so resistance training enhances that. It enhances our ability to use that elastic energy stored in those elastic components of the muscular tendons unit and then transfer or release it as a real in a greater force output.
Ben: When a muscle is more stiff like that, does it have an increased risk of getting injured?
Jacob: You know, I think it depends. There's a difference between active and passive flexibility. I read something on Steve Magness' website. He talks about it, he advocates never stretching for runners. I don't know if you should never stretch, but I think he had it in his place. But he was hitting on something that if you have full range of motion while you are competing or doing the sport that you're competing in, then I think you're fine. I think the stiffness refers to a specific type of stiffness, like it's a stiffness that you're controlling. For instance in a runner when your foot strikes the ground, you're generating stiffness. Your muscle is not necessarily, passively stiff. You know you see sprinters when they're warming up and they're jumping around at starting blocks, they look often times really supple, they're flexible, but they generate extreme amounts of stiffness in their legs every time a foot hits the ground. I think of the forces that are going up from the ground through the body to propel themselves fast. But at the same time, they're some of the more flexible running athletes. Distance runners tend to be maybe too stiff because we spend so much time in the small range of motion on our distance runs.
Caleb: Yeah, that's what I think is important, it's things between mechanical stiffness like were talking about here, and then also stiffness or a lack of range of motion. If anything there's support for that, here that you can actually improve your range of motion with resistance training. There's a lot of endurance athletes if they're not used to performing exercise for the long range of motion, performing squats for example may improve their dorsiflexion which is going to be beneficial for them. So stiffness is their ability to use and that range of motion actually improves. Their range of motion itself may actually increase, and so the amount of force they produce in this neural part of range of motion will increase as well.
Ben: Yeah, that makes perfect sense what you just said about how stiffness can be springiness in a muscle or the ability of a muscle to store or release energy more efficiently, or stiffness could be just crappy range of motion. Kind of depends on the definition of stiffness.
Caleb: Exactly, yeah. And what we're referring to here is of course, the former. The latter like we talked about, you can increase your range of motion with strength training and increase strength in that range of motion as an endurance athlete which are kind of bad for you.
Ben: So you guys site a lot of studies in this article, and I'm curious how many of the studies have looked at these shorter athletes like, you Jacob I believed mentioned, and 800-meter runner versus the longer distance athletes like marathoners and Ironman triathletes? When you look at the data, and I always talk about this when I'm talking about like supplements for example. Somebody says creatine is good, but then when you look at the actual grams of creatine that are in the research studies versus the grams of creatine you find in a lot of supplements that you buy, it's way different, there's a big disconnect. Similarly with the studies and the research that you guys site, is a lot of this strength training, enhances-endurance-performance type of research being done and classifying endurance as 400 meters, 800 meters of running, or is it looking at what a lot of folks who, for example, are listening to this podcast are doing like the hundred-mile bike rides, Ironman triathlons and marathons and things like that?
Caleb: Honestly Ben, if you look at the majority of the studies, the majority of them are on longer distance endurance athletes, so most of the time they're testing 10K runners, 5K runners. I wouldn't say a lot of the studies are done on marathon athletes. However, I would say the majority of them are above middle distance as far as the research that they're doing on these athletes. So it's usually 5K, 10K runners for example, or cyclists can also be longer durations as well. Some of the studies actually include a mix. Unfortunately, we don't usually see them result differences between middle and long-distance runners as far as the adaptations to the resistance training per round. Typically they'll just report the mean result and whether or not it was statistically significant with some effect size.
So typically they're not looking at differences between middle and long-distance runners as far as the effect of resistance training per round. I should say however that there are a few studies that look at shorter distances, like you said 800-meters, and that's what we'll refer to as high-intensity exercise endurance, and they do it even in these longer distance runners. So for example, Pavalonia back in the 90s, he looked at a 20-meter sprint. It was one of the test that he used for those athletes. And he found that the group that did the combination of resistance and endurance training improved to a greater extent on their 20-meter sprint than the group who just did endurance training alone. So even though these studies are, like I said mostly on longer distance athletes, endurance athletes, they still test shorter distances for some of their experimental measure.
Ben: Gotcha, makes sense. Okay so in the article, you talk about how there's really two primary forms of strength training that has been looked at in literature, something you call High Force, Low Velocity, or HFLV, and Low Force, High Velocity, LFHV. What's the difference between those two?
Chris: The main difference between the two is that High Force, Low Velocity is what you would generally think of when you think of resistance training. So this is back squats, maybe types of deadlifts. They're going to be lower on the velocity scale because they're inherently heavier. Then the Low Force, High Velocity training deals more with power movements, so these are movements like pulling derivatives of the Olympic lifts, possibly throwing some Olympic lifts in that are inherently lifted faster. So the weight is not as high, but you are attempting to move the weight as quickly as possible.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So when you look at the former, kind of like the traditional, powerful and explosive type of lifting, this High Force, Low Velocity lifting, what's the effects of High Force, Low Velocity on endurance training?
Chris: For beginners, when you have someone just beginning to begin resistance training, High Force, Low Velocity training is actually going to have greater benefits over a wide variety of loads compared with Low Force, High Velocity training. So it would be good to begin with that standard-type of resistance training, and then later on when they become proficient in those type of lifts begin to move on to more of the power training. Because just getting them stronger first is going to have greater benefits than if you try and do power training right away.
Caleb: And also, Ben, if you look at some of the studies by Ron Stead, a lot of these his papers he uses this form of resistance training. The majority of the time, you look at the RM loads, so they'll use repetition maximum loads. The range anywhere, usually from 4 to 6 RM or 4 to 8 RM, so usually they're lifting heavier weights, higher than what a typical endurance athlete may do, sturgeon training for example. They're lifting much heavier loads, and in his studies he's repeatedly shown improvements in cycling time to exhaustion, for example of maximum power output and also mean.
So maximum power output during the Wingate test for example, and also mean power output during a cycling time trial, whether it could be a cycling test to exhaustion or in actually a time trial. We have them cover a given distance as fast as they can. He also has looked at peak to work, when it occurs during the pedal stroke. He's noted that this type of resistance training results in reaching peak to work sooner, so that means that you're able to generate a given amount of force earlier on in that pedal stroke which, of course, is going to be beneficial because actually one of the other mechanisms that we didn't get to talk about as much, and that's been hypothesized by Ron Stead and Mohica is that usually if you're able to produce a same amount of force, if you're able to produce a same amount of force sooner, then you're actually going to spend less time in that concentric phase or that shorten phase of that muscle. Actually if you're spending less time in that concentric phase, it allows you to spend more time in eccentric phase.
During the concentric phase, when the muscles are shortened, you have an occlusion of vessels, and so usually blood is trapped in. It's harder for it to get back through the veins to the heart, and so we're in the eccentric phase. They're hypothesizing that if you're able to spend more time in eccentric phase, you're going to have more time to profuse those muscles with what, or just to get more blood into those muscles. So that's another mechanism, so earlier peak to work that he's reported and cyclist is a really beneficial adaptation, and heavy strength training results as an increase in as what we call here is rate of force to volume's that term that we use for being able to produce force faster.
So increases in rate of force development occur with high velocity or High Force, Low Velocity strength training. And the point that Chris was making is very important, and that we get these improvements in rate of force development across a large spectrum of loads. When we do heavy strength training, when you do light strength training, you get improvements in rate of force development, but primarily only at that lower load higher velocity. Whereas with heavy strength training, we get improvements all on that force of velocity continuum.
So performing heavy strength training is again very beneficial. Ron Stead, he's had a lot of studies that have shown that. Another important thing that he mentions from these High Force, Low Velocity strength training studies is that the improvement, and so usually at the end of the race, he actually tests some cyclists. He had them perform a hundred and eighty-five minute time trial. Well cycle to exhaustion. Actually no, it was a time trial. Hundred and eighty-five minutes.
At the end of those hundred and eighty-five minutes, for the last five minutes, he looked at mean power and peak power produced during that 5-minute interval. So after they'd already ridden for a hundred and eighty minutes, he looked at those last five minutes, and he found that the group that, no surprise in that, did the heavy resistance training expressed greater mean powers and peak powers during the final five minutes. So it seems that as far as the benefits, heavy or strength training, they may actually come out or be maybe most noticeable during that last part of the race where we have to finish strong and end with a sprint. We may see a lot of the benefit at that point in the race, or we have to pat somebody.
Ben: Why do you think that is? Why'd you think we'd have a better reserve from this High Force, Low Velocity strength training towards the end of a long endurance event?
Jacob: You know I think it comes down to maybe a couple of factors. I think the neural components that we talked about a lot earlier, being able to actually tap into those type-2 fibers that you do have, being able to now synchronously recruit a lot of motor units at once, to increase your power output and increase your velocity hopefully in that last little spurt, but also I think it has something to do with the metabolic component of possibly being able to handle higher lactate volumes in the muscle. Again going back to Magnus, he talks a lot about on his blog how to develop a kick in a runner. He talks about increasing the lactate tolerance. Because at the end of the race, say in a 5K, the whole field is usually going to be there or at least a lot of the field, and able to kick, especially in a championship type race. And so who's going to be able to sprint the fastest? The two biggest factors I think are you're ability to now recruit those type-2 fibers synchronously and then your ability to keep recruiting them as they generate lactic acid, and be able to run under the stress that creates. Strength training, even if we're doing the lower repetitions, even sets of three, that's still going to enhance the glycolytic or that creatine phosphate ability of these muscles and also the lactate tolerance.
Ben: Okay, got it. That's interesting. I even remember, and I know it sounds like a long time ago, but like a decade ago when I was an ex phys in college, we were looking at studies that were showing that creatine, which we've traditionally thought of as being something we'd only use for 10 to 30 seconds of maximum, explosive activity, was something that was actually playing a role in glycolysis during longer endurance events. So it makes sense if you could store away not just more glycogen, but also more creatine from doing something like training your body via strength training that it could definitely help you with that final kick, so to speak towards the end of, in this case, what sound like a really pleasant test, a hundred and eighty minutes of cycling followed by a power performance.
So it sounds like this High Force, Low Velocity training has definitely been shown to be good for beginners, but does that mean that doing more explosive, lower force, higher velocity strength training would be something beneficial for people who have already been doing traditional strength training and maybe not seeing more benefits from that? Where does this Low Force, High Velocity fit in?
Chris: I think it's important to determine where that athlete is in their training. With resistance training if they're more well-versed and they've built up somewhat of a base through standard resistance training, you can begin to add in those higher velocities into the training, and gain additional benefits because research has shown that stronger athletes have a better ability to gain higher power outputs through training. So if they have a better base, then you can begin to add in high velocity training later on as you get closer, and you're approaching different events that you're doing. So you want to set the base first, then exploit, cause those changes with the higher velocity training later on.
Ben: Gotcha, and so with the high velocity training in terms of how often that should be included in a program. Is this something you combine with the High Force, Low Velocity, the Low Force, High Velocity? Are we talking about choosing a specific time of the year and only doing High Force, Low Velocity during one time of the year and only doing Low Force, High Velocity during another time of the year, in terms of programming these type of things in?
Chris: Yes, when you're beginning to design a training program, you're going to want to use the heavy strength training that's going to cause a lot of soreness early on in the competitive season before they begin reaching their really high levels of aerobic conditioning because it's going to be really hard to cause those strength training adaptations during those high volumes of conditioning, and you may want to switch towards more of the high velocity training in season and as you approach an event, so that you can take advantage of those high power outputs closer to the competition day.
Jacob: Yeah, it's somewhat similar. I know probably a lot of the endurance athletes who are listening are similarly building an aerobic base, whether it's in the summer before cross country or in the winter whatever it is. It's somewhat the same. You want to build a base of strength before you start honing in on that velocity specific training or the power specific training later on when you're nearing your key event or your important events of the season.
Ben: Yeah, that makes sense. Now what about the muscle mass hypertrophy component of things? Can you still gain muscle when you're doing something like this Low Force, High Velocity training or for someone who's concerned about putting on muscle, would this be a better way to go if you didn't want to pack on too much muscle?
Jacob: Yeah. You mean with the lower volume but higher?
Ben: Yeah, like what if I'm already strong, but I want to get the benefits of strength training? Could I just do Low Force, High Velocity training using lower weights lifted at very explosive speeds and get all these benefits in terms of stiffness and neural adaptation, et cetera, without risking, putting on excess mass?
Jacob: Yes, but I guess you have to define then, already is strong. I guess we feel or I feel and the others feel like there's maybe not even a ceiling at which point you would want to stop, at which point you would say I'm strong enough. If you think about strength, you could think about it almost as a vessel that you can pour other components into like power or endurance or velocity. The stronger you are, the bigger your vessel is to contain all of those other abilities. So with the High Force, Low Velocity training, you can do that without putting on very much of any muscle mass especially if you're already doing high volumes of endurance training. I mean think of the protein turnover that you have just to support all the breakdown from the miles and miles that you're logging on the bike or on the road.
Every time you go do a 10-mile run, there's a ton of protein turnover that happens 'cause you're damaging the muscles and having to rebuild them. Now if you add in strength training on top of that, that's not like you're going to have necessarily enough, even calories or nutrients to add on additional muscle mass on top of that. So I think a lot of the gains you'll see in strength, again they come from neural pathways.
Ben: Gotcha. I also think it's interesting how in the article, I think one of the studies that you guys site is how, in many cases, it's been shown that these skinny or ectomorphic body types in endurance may not even have the capacity to put on much mass, at least in a significant way. In terms of muscular hypertrophy, and it might not even be something that a skinny athlete has to even worry about that much.
Jacob: Yeah, and that's what I tell my athletes too. Don't worry about it. Just by looking at you I can tell, you're going to be fine.
Ben: Yeah, and same thing for me. I've worked with a lot of skinnier athletes, and in some cases, they've wanted to get bigger. And they'll lift and lift and not get bigger until we actually introduce an ungodly amount of calories, and you don't run into a ton of endurance athletes who are lifting heavy weights and eating 7,000 calories a day, just 'cause it's freaking hard to go out and run when you're digesting that much food. So hypertrophy, I think, can be less of an issue than a lot of especially skinny folks think it could be when you're lifting weights.
So I want to ask you about programming and what the ideal strength training workout scenario would be, based off of this data on Low Force, High Velocity and High Force, Low Velocity in as far as choosing sets and reps and exercises and the time of year. I mean I know it's kind of a loaded question, or at least a complex question. Can you guys get into what you would consider to be like an ideal strength training scenario for an endurance athlete?
Jacob: Yeah, I'll start off, and the other guys will probably jump in. So, Ben, ideal mostly with runner, so I talk from that perspective, and the first important consideration when you're going to go about programming for a runner is, obviously you're going to have to take into account the competition schedule. Not just the first few races, but you want to look at the year or even two to four years there of an Olympic athlete as a whole. So what we do is we start with an annual plan. You set out your most important competition, and you work backwards from that, and you determine the mesocycles. When are you going to be building a base of strength and endurance? Or when are you going to be transferring into those Low Force, High Velocity movements? When is your competition phase, etc. So you need to map all of that out on a calendar first of all, and you know then from there.
The second thing is synchronizing what you're doing in the weight room and what you're doing out on the track or the roads. Because something that sometimes people forget is that when we are working these opposite ends of the spectrum, although they are both beneficial, we can't necessarily do them back-to-back or on the same day or one right after another. For instance if you go on a 10-mile run as soon as you're done lifting heavy sets of three in the weight room, you're going to have a big interference effect, and you're not going to get as much gain from either of those, and you'll just be really fatigued. You'll have a lot to recover from with less benefit. So it's important to send the body a synchronized signal of adaptation as much as you can, so that you are making the most use of the time and effort that you put into training. Does that make sense?
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. So in terms of the timing, would you split a strength training session up on to a different day than an endurance session, or would you simply do, for an athlete you might be doing a two-a-day, different times of day?
Jacob: Yeah, both. With most endurance athletes, we need to be running or swimming or cycling every day. So it's really hard to find a day where you're not doing the endurance activity, and if there is such a day, you probably want to be resting on that day. So it's hard to separate the days. Ideally we would, but because we need that frequency of running or swimming or biking, it's impossible. So like you said, two-a-days often work because I think it's, and I think in Caleb and Chris would know better, but I think 6 to 8 hours between sessions allows enough time for the different cellular pathways to run their course. For instance, mTOR being stimulated from weight training or the AMPK or cellular pathways from endurance training. So we wouldn't want those to be happening at the same time or within the same session, so we can separate that by 6 to 8 hours.
As far as team sports go, like soccer which is kind of like a speed endurance activity. It's been shown that you can strength training in the morning and have your skill session or your conditioning session in the afternoon be unaffected by it. So splitting it up into two sessions is probably the best way to go. If you can't do that however, what I do with my athletes is I couple the strength training days with those days during the week, when they're endurance training, it's most similar. So for instance if I got an 800-meter guy right now. Every time he's doing speed work on the track, those same days he's going into the weight room 'cause he's got a busy work schedule. He can't make two-a-days, so he'll do his weight training first, or his track training first, and then go into the weight room and get his sets in.
Ben: Okay, got it. Makes sense. Now in terms of sets and repetition, what do you think would be considered appropriate in terms of what you see for a typical High Force, Low Velocity workout, and then also a typical Low Force, High Velocity workout?
Caleb: So that, Ben, is going to depend on what block of training you're in. If you look at the paper that we wrote, there's a diagram at the end where it shows all of the sets and repetitions along with the exercises for those people who are listening who may want more details on this 'cause obviously we can't. There's only so much we can.
Ben: And that's actually a good point too, I'm going to put a link to the article in the show notes too.
Caleb: Yeah, so I think it would be helpful if people are interested looking in more details. We have it all there in the annual plan or macrocycle that's listed in the bottom. As Jacob say, we start with the competitions, and so the general preparation period is the first part of that program during the summer break where they have no competitions. During this time period we're trying to build that neuromuscular base like we had talked about before, increase our capacity in the weight room. So especially for someone who's unfamiliar with resistance training, typically we're starting to have them do three set of ten repetitions on exercises such as the back squat, overhead press, maybe first trying to teach them how to pic the ball of the ground correctly like on a deadlift, so pulling the bar to their knee. Hopefully later being able to teach them how to transition to mid bi position, and perform even a power clean at later stages. So during that strength-endurance block which will be that first four weeks, we typically have the athletes perform three sets of ten repetitions, and hopefully, ideally three times per week. And here their mileage is still relatively lower compared to what it is during the specific preparation phase which is what's coming up next.
So for those strength-endurance block or being neuromuscular base, three sets of ten repetitions with very basic strength training exercises, nothing very complicated like a clean or a jump squat. The next phase we've focused on, so next block of training would be a strength phase where it may emphasize teaching them, transitioning into that mid thigh position, performing a clean pole maybe, so picking up a bar, pulling it to their knee, transitioning into a mid thigh position and going up and shrugging with it like they're going to jump. And so that would be a clean pole. You may have them start doing push presses rather than just strict overhead presses. We usually have them perform three sets of five repetitions during this period, and because they're performing fewer reps, typically the loads that they're lifting are going to be much heavier during the strength phase comparing to that strength-endurance phase.
And the next block would be a strength power block, and that's where we'd start focusing more on those explosive type movements. So having them perform jump squats, push jerk for example or a half squat with the triple extension, so having them coming up on their toes like they're going to jump with a ball on their back. So a half squat with a triple extension, clean poles from the knee, having them perform it with the triple extension as well, high poles maybe even. So they would be different explosive type movements or ballistic movements that we have them perform during that strength power phase. Usually repetitions here are lower, so you're performing three sets of three repetitions. Although their mileage at this point has increased, some of those sessions are still going to be, they're going to have to lift some heavy weight.
So we never completely get away from High Force, Low Velocity training, so even though the majority of the time, now they may be spending on more time trying to move the bar quickly, maybe not lifting heavy loads as often as they were during the strength phase. They're still going to have to lift some heavy weight, and that's because we don't want to lose those adaptations that we've gained during the strength phase prior to this and even during the strength endurance phase. We'll still want to have them perform some heavy weight training.
Typically, so this'll be leading into the specific preparation phase. They may have an active rest following the competition period, so they may take one or two weeks of lighter resistance training, performing fewer reps, fewer sets and basic strength movements, and then they'll make the transition in the competition period, or I'll let someone else take over that part.
Jacob: In the competition period?
Jacob: Yeah, so like Caleb said, what we're doing is we're emphasizing a specific ability at a time and deemphasizing the others, but we're never completely abandoning them. Even though we're not emphasizing strength, pure strength during the competition phase, you're still keeping things like a back squat or sometimes we switch over to front squat, and these exercises that we're throwing out for those of you listening who aren't familiar with Olympic weightlifting derivatives and movements, go on YouTube and type it in, people like that over this athletics. I know that there are some good prospect sources.
Ben: Find a U.S. weightlifting coach?
Jacob: Come down to the Center of Excellence here at ETSU, and Chris will show you some of that. But yeah, in my competition phase, now we're going to start shortening the range of motion. So when Caleb says that mid tight position, that's like the power position or a hang clean or hang snatch position that we're working on those joint angles that are the most specific to running or cycling or whatever it is. And increasing the power output, so doing a power clean from that mid thigh position is requiring very high rates of force to be generated, and it is a very high power component to that.
Now as we go into a taper, obviously we want the athlete to feel fresh and good and strong and fast all at the same time on their key competition day, and Caleb has actually done a lot of research on this. But you want to overload them with some type of concentrated load or increase in volume, 21 days out. Like an over reaching phase, about 21 days out of that key competition. So we increase the volume in the weight room, we go back to some of those more basic movements, and then we dramatically decrease the volume of both weight training and their endurance training in order to see hopefully an overshoot of type-2 fibers. We hang on to those positive adaptations, but the fatigue starts to fade away as they recover. And we maintain intensity, but decrease that volume.
Ben: Gotcha, gotcha. And you're right, it's a pretty complex chart that you guys have in term of the actual cycles that an athlete goes through throughout their season, but for me the big takeaway message here is that if you're going to your body pump class two or three times a week to get you ready for a marathon, or you're going to stay strong for Iron Man and using the circuit machines at your gym a couple times a week, three sets of twenty or whatever, then you're really leaving a lot on the table when it comes to your potential for improvements from strength training. And also really, as far as what I've seen and including the article that you guys have written, none of the studies that you guys site include any of those type of things as far as the actual weight training that helps. Instead it's higher forces, lower reps, or else very explosive, plyometric type of activities, but not much of what you'll see a lot of folks doing in a traditional gym setting. So I think out there for any of you out there who are listening in who are interested in getting the benefits of strength training and getting them the right way, this would be a good article for you to check out, and I'm going to link to it in the show notes.
You guys also have a Facebook page that I'll link to called the Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education, and what exactly is that?
Chris: The Center of Excellence is here, it's with the Olympic training site, and the mission is to develop both sports scientists and coaches in a scientific manner, so that they can work together to develop athletes more efficiently. So not only do we focus on the science side of sports, but we also focus on the coaching side, so the two of those work together. They merge their methods and their ideas together, so that we can develop a better product when we're trying to develop athletes.
Ben: Gotcha, cool. Well I'll link to that too for any of you who want to check out that page, but you guys are a wealth of knowledge, and I want to thank you for coming on and sharing this stuff with us.
Jacob: Thanks for having us.
Caleb: Thanks for having us, Ben.
Chris: Thank you, really appreciate it.
Ben: Cool, and we even pulled it off, with four people on a podcast. Might have set a record there. Again you can check all this out if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/, it's a long one,/strengthforendurance, bengreenfieldfitness.com/strengthforendurance. That's the word FOR, Strength for Endurance. You'll be able to get more information on these guys, get a link to the article and all sorts of other information on strength training for endurance. So, guys, thanks for coming on.
Jacob: Thank you, Ben.
Caleb: Thank you.
Chris: Thanks, Ben.
Ben: Alright, later.
A quick discussion at the starting line of a triathlon or other endurance race, a review of any forum devoted to endurance sports, or an article in any running, cycling or triathlon magazine tends to expose you to the same standard strength training advice over and over again…
…sport-specificity dictates that endurance athletes don't need to be lifting heavy stuff…
…do high reps, low resistance for endurance and low reps, high resistance for strength…
…strength training will make an endurance athlete bulky…
…there's no evidence that strength training makes you faster…
…show me one professional endurance athlete who lifts heavy weights and is successful…
…and a host of other comments that my podcast guests and I delve into on today's show.
My first guest, Caleb Bazyler is one of the lead authors of the article Strength Training For Endurance Athletes: Theory To Practice. This up-to-date treatise of the latest, well, theories and practices, inspired me to get Caleb on the show, along with his sidekick Jacob Goodin, who helped create the plan in the article and edited some of the manuscript.
Caleb is currently completing his PhD at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) with the Department of Exercise and Sport Science in conjunction with the Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education. Jacob designs and implements programs for middle and long distance runners and is finishing his master's degree at ETSU. Finally, my third guest on this show is Chris Taber, who is the strength and conditioning coach at ETSU.
In our discussion, you'll discover:
-Why there's so much conflict among coaches about the role of strength training for endurance athletes…
-The exact mechanisms via which strength training could theoretically lead to enhanced endurance performance…
-Was the length of endurance performance taken into account in the studies you found (e.g. Ironman vs. a 5K run)…
-The important difference between two different types of strength training for endurance: HFLV and LFHV, and the effects of each on endurance training…
-The kind of strength training that you should do if you don't want to get bulky or gain too much muscle mass…
-What the ideal strength training workout scenario for an endurance athlete should look like…
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
–Weight Training For Triathlon: The Ultimate Guide (book by Ben Greenfield)
–Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education Facebook page – a non-profit organization committed to service, research and coach education. We are also a designated Olympic Training Site.
-This episode is brought to you by Sheer Strength Labs, where you can get everything you need to enhance performance in both the bedroom and the gym – from nitric oxide, to creatine, to testosterone booster. Click here and get an automatic discount.