Whole Fitness

February 5, 2009

I’ll confess right now — I was an endurance junkie. In fact, I probably still am — give me an opportunity to go skate ski hard or ride a bike for several hours, and there’s a good chance I’ll take it. However, nowadays it’s all for fun. If I’m not feeling up to it, I’ll take it easy — maybe stay inside, nap, go for a walk. The compulsion to get out there, day after day, and push to the limits, is pretty much gone.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have goals — to the contrary, I’m hoping to document my pursuit of an endurance goal on this very blog, but I’m hoping to show that it’s possible to attain one’s goals without the banging of one’s head against the ceiling day after day. The philosophy that resonates with me is that of Sir Roger Bannister, the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. He trained no longer than his lunchbreak during the week, yet still managed to break a world record. His philosophy was not to fatigue the body, but rather to train it with specific stimuli. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that during his training to break the record, Bannister was also going to med school.

You’ll hear similar thoughts echoed by proponents of Arthur Lydiard. The legendary coach from New Zealand was notorious for having runners who would run 100 mile weeks, but even he cautioned them with the adage, ‘train, don’t strain.’

If you spend any amount of time perusing the Net for fitness advice or training philosophies, you will undoubtedly encounter a whole lotta dogma. There are piles of it out there, so watch where you step. However, hidden in that dogma you can also discern patterns regarding what works and what doesn’t.

Folks who focus on distance cycling and triathlon will spend all day focusing on ways to convert all of their muscle fibers to the slow-twitch phenotype. For them, strength and power training are the bane of their existence due to mitochondrial dilution, whereby the cellular powerplants become diluted in a sea of MHC isoforms, cells that help produce strength but don’t contribute to aerobic metabolism. A lot of these folks also can ride a bike for five hours straight, climbing thousands of vertical feet, without getting tired. I know, because I used to be one of them. However, if you look around at any 24 hour type endurance event, you’ll see that the ability to sustain elevated aerobic metabolism for hours does not translate into favorable metabolic fitness. A lot of the competitors are, to borrow a term used by Athur Devany, ‘skinny fat,’ meaning they are carrying excess adipose (and inflammation) even though they seem slim. It doesn’t help that conventional sports nutrition advocates a steady stream of sugar to fuel these activities, driving up insulin and contributing to insulin resistance in the cells, which in turn drives fat storage.

In the other camp, you’ll find the High Intensity Training (HIT) folks, who swear that you can get by on a diet consisting solely of sprints two to three days a week. While they tend to have much more ‘desirable’ body composition, they’d have a hard time going the distance if all they did was sprint. Perhaps they’ll cite the HIT study done at McMaster University, in Canada, whereby untrained participants who only did sprints exhibited similar aerobic gains to participants who performed steady state activity. While that will work for the untrained, what happens when you apply the same principle to trained athletes?

What both camps have in common is that they show the principle of specificity in action. This just goes back to physiology 101. Organisms adapt to specific stimuli. The biochemical pathways that lead to fat storage, mitochondrial and vascular proliferation, and MHC development are still being studied, and they are complex, but you don’t have to have a degree in physiology to understand that you’ll get better at what you practice. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book ‘Outliers’, there are no shortcuts to success — you have to practice your activity. Applied to my particular goal, of maintaining 330 watts for half an hour, I need to practice for it regularly.

Where the nuance comes in is the importance of judiciously combining the endurance junkie’s ‘more practice is better’ mantra with the HIT proponent’s call for adequate rest between training sessions. And, since I have neither the means nor the desire to measure my waking cortisol, GH, or inflammation markers, the next best thing is just a simple question: how do I feel today? The more honestly you can answer that question, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Third Effort

February 5, 2009

Here are the stats and visual representation of my third effort on February 4th. I lasted four minutes. Interestingly, even with such a short duration, I still noticed that my hamstrings got extremely tight. The post-exercise fatigue was also noticeable, even though the total number of Kj used was small. I will be taking today and possibly tomorrow off from the bike to allow my body to recuperate and adapt.
Five minutes, anyone?

Stats for the third effort

Stats for the third effort

Third Effort

Third Effort

Second Measured Effort

February 5, 2009

This one is from February 4th, 2009. You can see that I lasted about thirty second longer, for a total of three minutes, at my target wattage of approximately 330.

Second effort

Second effort

First Measured Effort

February 5, 2009
Power Stats

Power Stats

Here is one of the first measured efforts on February 3rd, 2009. I was able to hold my target wattage for just about 2.5 minutes before things became too uncomfortable. I used a Powertap SL to gather the data.

Foreword

February 5, 2009

This is an N=1 experiment in training, using a bicycle as the medium. Posts will also be interspersed with info gathered from throughout the blogosphere and other online sources.

I set a quite arbitrary goal of trying to maintain ~330+ watts for 30 minutes or so. It seems like that would be adequate to ensure a good time on the local group rides come summer time. I don’t really have the mental fortitude to practice hour long efforts, and prefer shorter efforts in general (5 to 10 minutes). That’s just how I roll (pun intended).

I’ve also been struggling with chronic tightness and pain in my hamstrings at the attachments with the glutes. That has, in the past, limited my performance envelope to out of the saddle climbing. That was all well and good while I lived in CA, but now that my wife and I live in Maine, it will pay off to be comfortable seated, so all power files will represent seated efforts unless noted otherwise.  And yes, I’ve started making stretching a bigger part of my routine in order to address the hamstring issue. I’m also helping coach a high school nordic ski team on the side, so the physical effort put forth in the power files does not represent the sum of physical activity for the day. This is not a tightly controlled laboratory with Sprague-Dudley rats — this is life. However, what I am counting on are the principles of specificity and progressive overload to drive adaptation of my physical systems with respect to getting faster on two wheels.

‘Nuff said.