Understanding muscle contractions (09/09/14)
Muscular contractions can be separated into three types concentric, eccentric and isometric. Challenging the types of contraction in different ways is one way to add variety to a training plan.
The name describes what is happening to the length of the muscle during the contraction. In a concentric contraction there is a shortening of the muscle under tension and in an eccentric contraction the muscle is getting longer under tension. In an isometric contraction there is no movement despite the muscle being under tension.
Take for example a Bicep curl, the concentric contraction is as you lift the weight towards your shoulder and the eccentric portion is when you lower the weight back to the start position. If you stopped and paused half way through the lift you would be performing an eccentric contraction.
Try Supersets to increase training efficiency (27/05/14)
To get the most of your training time consider pairing exercises in what are typically referred to as supersets. Traditionally exercises that work opposing muscle groups are paired together. For example a pushing exercise such as a bench press would be paired together with a pulling exercise such as a bent over row. Complete the first exercise, move directly to the second exercise without rest, complete the reps, then take a 60-120s rest before starting the next round. Complete between 3 and 5 sets of this for a high volume of work in a short amount of time. Try some of these examples:
Bench press and pull up
Incline press and chin up
Press up and wide overhand body row
Another way of pairing your exercises is to place a lower body exercise with an upper body exercise. For example try pairing a squat with a pull up, or a lunge with a push press. Pairing upper and lower body exercises this way works particularly well if you are doing a whole body workout or doing a metabolic conditioning workout.
Varying tempo to add variety to your training (10/03/14)
An often overlooked way of adding variety to a training plan or breaking through a plateau is to change the tempo of your lifts. Simply put this means changing the speed at which you complete your reps. Typically it is the eccentric portion of your lift that is slowed down. This has the overall effect of increasing the time under tension.
Take the dumbell press for example. If you have been using 30kg dumbbells for 10 reps whilst using a conventional 1second concentric/1second eccentric tempo but struggle with the 32.5kg dumbbells it may be time to vary the tempo. Try slowing the eccentric portion of the lift to 3 seconds whilst keeping the concentric portion of the lift explosive. Once you can complete 10 reps at this tempo you should be ready to try the next weight up at your normal tempo.
The total time under tension has a specific effect on the body. Typically shorter time under tension (20s) is good for strength gains and improving neuromuscular efficiency whilst longer time under tension (40s+ ) is better for causing metabolic adaptations so is good for developing muscle size. Try mixing the tempos up within your training plan to develop both strength and size at the same tim
CrossFit analysis (05/12/13)
The rise of Crossfit has brought with it a certain degree of controversy. I recently read a great analysis of Crossfit by a well renowned strength coach called Mark Rippetoe. He gives a really well balanced argument of the pros and cons of Crossfit and also nicely defines the difference between training and exercise. Check it out at www.t-nation.com/training/crossfit-the-good-bad-and-the-ugly
Training in a fasted state (24/08/13)
A client recently asked me whether she should eat before her early morning training sessions. I thought I would share my response as it is a common question.
It is true that training in a fasted state can promote fat burning. This becomes more important the longer the race distance but is probably only really an issue for iron distance racing. Even then it is technique that should only used during carefully selected sessions. On the whole I tend to think the negatives of fasted training outweigh the positives:
- Training without adequate glycogen will result in a decrease in performance level which will change the physiological adaptations gained from a particular session.
- It will totally deplete glycogen stores which will leave you in ‘calorie catchup’. if you are intending to train again the same day the second session could be adversely affect even if the first is not.
- Being in a state of massive calorie deficit reduces recovery rate and increases the chance of illness.
- Training the body to rely on fats for fuel whilst doing cardio training can cause the body to preserve fat stores, negatively affecting body composition.
- Training in a fasted state causes the body to become catabolic. This is a process in which the body breaks down proteins in order to fuel exercise due to the absence of alternative fuel sources. This will result in decreased muscle mass which again negatively affects body composition and reduces performance
A lot of the info surrounding fasted training comes from the world of bodybuilders who use the technique a lot, but who have very different energy requirement to an endurance athlete. I can highly recommend a book called ‘racing weight’ by a guy called Matt Fitzgerald that gives a really good insight into fuelling for endurance sports, it also has a great section on supplementation.
Swim hard to get faster (10/04/13)
Whilst it is undeniably true that swimming is a technique focused discipline too many triathletes spend too long working on technique and not enough time swimming at or above race pace. At least one session during the week should focus on developing your strength and fitness in the water whilst accepting that your technique may decline a little as fatigue sets in. Start and finish each of these sessions with some drills to re-enforce what good technique feels like. Try the following session to start, maybe adding more reps to the main set over a number of weeks:
400m drills and warm up
10x100m with 10s rest between repetitions
200m drills and cool down
The main set can be approached in several ways, each of which will have a different effect on the body. You could swim each rep as fast as possible which makes for a great lactate tolerance session. In this case you would almost certainly get gradually slower as you accumulate more and more lactate acid as the set progresses due to the incomplete recovery. Alternatively you could aim to swim each 100m rep at race pace which makes for a less anaerobic session but one that is really tough by the end. Aim to sustain the same pace throughout the set. It should start easy and get progressively harder. Whichever you choose the aim is to swim hard, remember it is occasionally ok to forget about technique and just go for it!
Core stability and core strength explained (28/03/13)
The terms core stability and core strength have become well known in recent years but the terms are are often misunderstood and used interchangeably in the media. The core is most easily defined as the parts of the body taking in the sacral, lumbar and thoracic spine and all the muscles that can exert influence on those areas. So the muscles of the hips, the abdomen and the upper body can all influence the position of the spine so may be targeted in a core stability or strength exercise. The aim of a core stability exercise is simply to maintain a neutral spinal alignment against an external force. So any exercise in which the aim is resist the bodie’s natural desire to bend, twist or lean can be considered a core stability exercise. On the other hand a core strength exercise is any exercise in which spinal alignment changes in order to produce or transmit force. To take two old school examples, any kind of plank exercise is a core stability exercise, as the aim of the exercise is to resist excessive curvature or hyper-extension of the lumbar spine (by producing a flexion moment in the abdominals) whilst maintaining correct alignment of the scapula and thoracic spine. On the other hand any type of sit up exercise is a core strength exercise as the aim is to develop strength in the abdominals (flexion movement) whilst the spine is moving. Typically an athlete should develop good levels of core stability before beginning to develop core strength.
Strength training for endurance athletes (21/03/13)
Many endurance athletes make the mistake of doing the either the wrong type of resistance training or doing none at all. Endurance athletes should regard resistance training as a method of increasing performance, but this can come in different ways. Light resistance training focusing on structural balance and core stability/strength is a great way of reducing the risk of injury. This type of training can improve performance simply by reducing the amount of time you cannot swim, bike or run because you are injured. It is most likely this type of resistance training endurance athletes will feel comfortable with. However, heavy resistance training using 70-90% of 1RM has been shown to improve performance in endurance athletes. This most likely comes from increases in relative strength and power which can improve efficiency of movement and ability to operate at a higher heart rate. Endurance athletes shouldn’t worry about building muscle mass as any type of endurance training illicits an atrophy stimulus which makes building muscle mass extremely unlikely. So athletes looking to improve endurance performance should include both light and heavy resistance training in their programmes; light work to develop structural balance and core strength/stability and heavy work to develop relative strength and power.
Take Whey protein to speed recovery (05/03/13)
Make sure your get your post workout protein from whey protein rather than casein, or any other source. Whey protein releases its amino acids more quickly allowing your body access to them when it needs them most. Whey protein also supports immune function and has an antioxidant effect, making it an ideal choice.
The benefits of branch chain amino acids (22/02/13)
Make sure you get the most out of your training by supplementing with whey protein and branch chain amino acids (Bcaas).
Taking a whey protein supplement after training will stimulate muscle building and hence speed recovery. A dose of 25g has been shown to be effective at developing lean muscle mass.
Bcaas are usually made up of leucine, isoleucine and valine and you should ideally look for them in a 2:1:1 ratio. It has been shown that taking bcaas either before, during or after training elevates and prolongs protein synthesis post training. Its not just people who are looking to build muscle that should take bcaas, they have also been shown to help endurance performance. High intensity endurance activity on consecutive days can be improved by taking bcaas after training likely due to lower levels of muscle damage during training. Try adding a 20g dose of bcaas to your protein shake on training days and see if it helps you.
Focussing on your triathlon weaknesses (15/02/13)
When training for triathlon it is very easy to focus on the disciplines we enjoy or find the easiest. Use your winter training block to focus on your weaknesses. An easy way to do this is simply take one session away from your strongest discipline and allocate it to your weakest discipline. Swimming is my strongest discipline so during the winter and through till March I only swim twice per week. I use the extra training time to get in at least four bike sessions. As the race season approaches I even the distribution of training sessions out.