Category — Strength Training
I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Joe Heiler for his website, www.sportsrehabexpert.com.
To listen to the interview CLICK HERE.
April 29, 2013 2 Comments
Crossfit is an incredibly popular training system at the moment for a variety of reasons one of which being that the workouts are extremely challenging and demanding. A study recently published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research set out to evaluate the fitness adaptations that take place during a 10 week Crossfit training program (Smith MM, et al. Crossfit-based high intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. J Strength Cond Res 2013. Published ahead of print.).
The study began with 54 healthy participants of varying fitness levels; however, only 43 completed the study (23 males/20 females) and were able to return for the post training re-test (more on that later).
The subjects body composition and Vo2max were tested at the start and end of the study to evaluate for changes.
Following the initial testing the subjects performed a 10 week, periodized, CrossFit training program at a CrossFit affiliate gym. The program utilized basic gymnastic activities (handstands, ring work, etc) and multi-joint exercises such as the squat, press, deadlift, and Olympic lift variations. The training program had some variation to it, adding an element of periodization, where some exercises were performed as a time trial (best time) and others were performed in an as many reps as possible style for a prescribed time domain (E.g., 10 or 20min).
The subjects who completed the entire 10 weeks (43 of them) all experienced significant improvements in both VO2max and body composition changes (decreases in body fat percentage) leading the researchers to conclude, “Our data shows that high intensity power training (which is what they refer to CrossFit as in this study) significantly improves Vo2max and body composition in subjects of both genders across all levels of fitness.”
My Comments (The Nitty Gritty)
First I’ll begin by making some obvious statements which, may not be so obvious given that marketing and hoopla tend to cloud rational thinking:
1. CrossFit is not that novel. Circuit training and calisthenics have been around for hundreds of years. Training over a broad range of mixed time and modal domains is certainly not a new thing.
2. What CrossFit did do is create and environment and a culture that made that stuff cool and exciting for people, “Hey, it really sucks to suffer when I work out hard but if I suffer with a group of my friends it really isn’t that bad!” In that regard, I think CrossFit has done a great job motivating a lot of people to get off their butts and exercise. This is a good thing.
3. High intensity interval training or really hard aerobic power type activities, which make up the brunt of the energy system demands during a CrossFit workout, have been shown to improve things like VO2max and Body Composition so do these results really come as a surprise? This stuff has been looked at in hundreds of studies by now.
Now to the not so obvious stuff – the devil is in the details
While the fitness and body composition results seen in this study are certainly impressive, as they are in many studies on high resistance interval training (as I alluded to in point number three above) the most concerning thing about this study and the biggest thing that concerns me with CrossFit is that of the 54 original subjects only 43 were able to complete the study. Nine of the subjects dropped out citing overuse or injury (two of the 11 dropouts cited time restriction as a problem in completing the study).
This sort of dropout rate is a bit hard for me to handle and I believe it has to do with the type of activities chosen from CrossFit workouts, the intensity with which those activities are performed, and the frequency of high intensity workouts within the training week (IE, poor sequencing of training intensities over the week). We don’t see this sort of dropout rate in traditional High Intensity Interval Training studies (usually performed on a bike, treadmill, or rower) and yet we similar exercise benefits. This sort of stuff makes me question the utilization of CrossFit as a training system because the risk seems to outweigh the reward.
My Take Away Conclusions
1. Hard workouts are great. Hard workouts are fun. Pushing yourself is awesome. But, you need to do so with safe exercise selection and have a training program that takes into account your abilities to adapt. This means you need to look at the training week and sequence things properly to ensure that you aren’t killing yourself in the gym everyday and training yourself into a rut. A training program should make you a healthier person, not crush you and deteriorate your body.
2. Olympic lifting exercises should not be used as exercises to be performed “as many reps as possible”. They are highly technical exercises and the athlete should have adequate rest before performing their set.
3. Things like deadlifts and exercises that place the spine in a compromised position as fatigue sets in should not be performed for “as many reps as possible”. This is just asking for trouble.
4. Qualify people to do certain exercises. Sure, gymnastics skills are great and can be a fun addition to a workout; however, not everyone is immediately qualified to perform these activities – just like not everyone is immediately ready to squat, deadlift, or olympic lift. Make sure you have some sort of way to qualify individuals to perform these exercises. This goes beyond skill and technique and should first include ensuring that they have the requisite joint ranges of motion and stability to handle the exercises. Once they are qualified then spend time on technique. Once technique is solid then condition. Do not just throw people to the wolves.
5. Structure your training in phases so that you don’t go high intensity all the time and run the risk of breaking down. The body can only tolerate so much high intensity or maximal effort work. All high intensity interval training programs should have phases where that intense stimulus is removed or minimized to allow the body to not only recover but to also work on developing the aerobic system, which can be helpful in moving the lactate threshold further to the right and allowing the individual to tolerate greater amounts of high intensity work once you get back into that phase of training.
March 1, 2013 26 Comments
I just finished reading the book Allostasis, Homeostasis, and the Costs of Physiological Adaptation edited by Jay Schulkin. The book is fantastic and while it is not written specifically about physical preparation for sport the information contained inside has everything to do with physiological preparation for sport.
Homeostasis and Allostasis
Homestasis is a term most are familiar with and generally the word gets thrown around when we talk about training – “The goal of training is to disrupt homeostasis and force the body to adapt and get stronger.” There is, however, a difference between homeostasis and allostasis and understanding that difference may help us better understand the ramifications of our training program. While the authors who contributed chapters in Schulkin’s book all seem to agree there is a difference between homeostasis and allostasis they do have subtle differences in regard to how those terms are applied and the physiological processes they are applied to. Rather than getting so focused on those subtle differences I think that just grasping the basic concepts would be helpful before I try and put this into the context of physical preparation for sport.
The concept of homeostasis dates back to Walter Cannon’s work (1935) and for a broader understanding of Cannon’s work I suggest checking out his book, The Wisdom of the Body, as it is a classic in the field of physiology. Cannon used the term homeostasis to refer to the processes needed to preserve constant conditions within the body which are centered around specific set points and governed by negative feedback loops.
A common example of homeostasis often cited is the thermostat in your home. If you set the air conditioning to 80 degrees in the summertime the thermostat does not kick on until the temperature in your home rises above 80 degrees (the set point), providing negative feedback to the thermostat and requiring it to take action and regulate the temperature back to normal, achieving homeostasis. Of course, if you opened a window in the house the temperature would rise and be constantly above the set point of 80 degrees causing the theromstat to remain on for a significant period of time, as it attempts to maintain the homeostasis, until you finally either close the window or the thermostat breaks down because it has overworked itself.
One of the issues with the homeostasis model in health is that the medical community takes body set points very literally and thus we end up with a large number of medications being prescribed to help people maintain specific numbers considered to be “normal”. This issue was confronted by Sterling and Eyer in 1988 when their research led them to coin the term allostasis.
Allostasis, Allostatic State, & Allostatic Overload
Schulkin notes three distinguishable features of allostasis (pg. 7):
- Allostasis – The process by which an organism achieves internal viability through a bodily change of state
- Allostatic State – Chronic overactivation of regulatory systems and the alterations of body set points
- Allostatic Overload - The expression of pathophysiology by the chronic overactivation of regulating systems
Noted stress physiologist, Bruce McEwen, goes on to further differentiate between these features of allostasis and homeostasis by making the distinction that homeostasis applies only to a few physiological systems that are essential for life – pH levels, body temperature, and oxygen tension. These systems are so essential to human survival that slight fluctuations for a brief period of time could lead to death.
Thus, allostasis is not so much focused on constancy as homeostasis is, but rather, is able to fluctuate and alter set points in order to meet demands that are placed on the body. Additionally, rather than only being dependent on negative feedback loops, the allostasis model indicates that the body can be predictive and anticipate stress and react based on feed-forward information.
High blood pressure is a good example to use when trying to understand the difference between allostasis and homeostasis and how this has influenced the medical community, as I alluded to earlier. “Normal” blood pressure is often cited as being 120/80. If a patient presents at the doctors office with a blood pressure of 160/90 they are classified as being hypertensive and prescribed medication to try and bring their blood pressure back down to the “normal” 120/80. One of the issues with taking this homeostatic approach to blood pressure is that this individual’s blood pressure set point may have shifted for a reason. Perhaps they live an incredibly stressful life, they sleep only 4 hours a night, and they keep a poor diet. Their blood pressure is simply adjusting its set point in order to try and still be effective and get the job done. Prescribing medication means that you are not acknowledging all of those other important things going on with the individual’s health and well being and attempting to focus on the adaptation (allostatic state) that is rightfully taking place in the presence of these stressors rather than addressing the true problem – life stress, sleep, and diet. Additionally, the medication which is being used to treat their high blood pressure may do so at the consequence of other physiological systems, as there are often side effects and other systems need to adapt to the medication, placing these other systems into an allostatic state. Of course, if this allostatic state of high blood pressure goes on for a considerable period of time the individual may find themself in a state of allostatic overload – potentially life threatening.
Limitations of Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome
Hans Selye, whom many consider to be the “Father of the Stress Response”, defined stress as a nonspecific response by the body to any demand whether it is pleasurable or non-pleasurable (eustress or distress). Selye broke stress down into three phases – alarm, resistance, and supercompensation:
The Alarm phase takes place when we encounter a stressor, causing the body to break down. The Resistance phase is our bodies attempt to combat this stressor in order to not only restore homeostasis but to actually put our body in a better position to resist that same stressor should it happen again, thus reaching a state of Supercompensation. Of course, if we continually breakdown and do not provide the body ample time or opportunity to resist the stress we are placing on it we reach a state of Exhaustion.
This model was revolutionary at the time as Selye literally discovered the stress response on accident by making some errors in his lab with the way he handled the mice he was studying. However, like most things, the picture is a bit incomplete and many stress physiologists look at adaptation in a different way. This stereotypical, non-specific response to all stressors, pleasurable or non-pleasurable, in no longer considered accurate. Rather, different situations and different stressors can mediate allostasis in different ways depending the response needed and the body’s ability to cope with the stress. Thus, there is a degree of specificity that stress has on the body and the perception that the body has to this stress will help to determine how it reacts.
Physical Preparation and Allostasis
Similar to the discussion regarding General Adaptation Syndrome, it is important to note that stress can have positive or negative outcomes depending on the amount of stress applied to the body and how the body adapts to that stress. While not discussed in the book, the term hormesis comes to mind. Hormesis is a term of biology used to explain how low levels of a toxin can produce a favorable biological adaptation to the cells while high levels of that same toxin would lead to cell death. This concept can apply to training, much like the model of allostasis discussed in the paragraph above, where a little bit of training can produce a favorable adaptation to the body – the appropriate amount allows the body to cope with the stress of the training session – but, if we push too hard and overload the individual they may achieve an allostastic state, where the biological systems become overactive as they attempt to adjust set points in response to the stress. If we then continually apply training stress we end up with a negative result and force the individual into allostatic overload – the toxin, in this case training, when applied at a low level led to favorable adaptations, however once we did too much it ended up becoming toxic and damaging to the system.
An allostatic state, where the body systems become overactive and adjust their set points in response to training stress, may not be such a bad thing. This would probably resemble a brief period of overreaching and, provided we monitor the athlete appropriately and do not push them over the edge, would lead to favorable gains as the increased set points for things like hormonal output, cardiovascular function, and central nervous system firing would result in the athlete getting stronger, faster, bigger, and more fit.
Thinking through this model of allostasis it makes me consider how training influences the three aspects of my Physiological Buffer Zone (which I discussed on the Strength In Motion DVD):
1. Good Movement
2. High Level of Stress Resistance or Stress Tolerance
3. High level of Fitness
All three aspects are governed by the same allostasis model and the amount of training that one can tolerate is highly individual. Some athletes need more focus in one area of the buffer zone than others and collectively, if we can raise each aspect as high as it possibly can be for the individual, we have a chance of developing someone that is highly resilient and able to tolerate a great amount of stress without breaking down. Essentially, their biological set points are higher and their body is able to anticipate stressors that may be applied to it – for example the psychological stress of game day, the physiological stress of the game, the stress of going into preseason where coaches usually run them into the ground, or the stress of travel from one competition to the next – and mount the appropriate stress response without becoming overactive and leading to potential allostatic overload and breakdown.
The Allostatic Model and Pain
As I read through the book I couldn’t help but think about the topic of pain when referencing this allostatic model. Pain is an output from the brain, a perception, based on all of the information coming in from the environment. When an individual suffers from chronic pain sometimes signals can get crossed and the person gets stuck in this state of protection where the brain is extremely hypervigilant and protective of the painful region. Thus, this individual finds themself first in an allostatic state where the system is hyperactive and set points – in this case perceptions of pain – are altered in order to initially protect the area from further potential damage. If this continues for a lengthy period of time the individual may then find themself in a state of allostatic overload where there is chronic overactivation of bodily systems that lead to a pathological state of chronic pain characterized by changes in the nervous system (central sensitization), changes in movement and motor programs, psychological changes (depression), and changes in behavior (fear avoidance).
The Allostatic Model and Hands on Therapies
Another place where it is interesting to consider this model is in various hands on or touch therapies (IE, massage and manual therapy). Touch may be one potential way in which we can help to influence the allostatic state and sort of “pull the person back” in an effort to preventing them from reaching a state of allostatic overload. Massage, when used appropriately, may help some cope with stress-related symptoms by decreasing anxiety and enhancing psychological well-being. Additionally, during periods of intense training or frequent competition (IE, the in season period) massage may be help to increase an athlete’s stress resistance and ability to cope with stressors when used at the right time during the week. This approach is essential during a long season to help maintain the health of the athlete and prevent them from breaking down and not being able to perform at their best during game time.
The allostasis model underpins everything that we do as strength coaches. Understanding this model can help us see the bigger picture when it comes to the training programs that we write and how different individuals may adapt to those programs. By understanding the unique ability of each athlete to adapt to the stress we place upon them we can begin to increase the athlete’s physiological buffer zone by increasing their biological set points and enhancing their bodies ability to be predictive and anticipate potential stressors.
February 25, 2013 No Comments
One of the emails I always seem to get is from people asking me, “What’s your training template?”.
This is a difficult question for me to answer because I believe it is impossible to have a set template that works for every individual. I realize that having a template helps to make things more automated but in reality, we can train a monkey to put exercises into an excel sheet but we cannot teach that same monkey to understand the needs of the individual and tailor the training program to meet those needs.
Rather than attempting to force the athlete into a set template or system I’d prefer to fit the template or system to the athlete, ensuring that they get what they need. I talked about some concepts of “giving the body what it needs” in an old blog article, Classifications of Massage, and my friend and colleague Mark McLaughlin talked about “giving the body what it needs” in training with his recent blog post article Advanced Training Methods For High School Athletes.
I talked about some of my ideas with regard to how I think about training program design during my practical lecture on the Strength in Motion Seminar DVD set. One of the things I talked about was trying to select exercises last and instead first thinking about and considering what I wanted to get from the individual physiologically. This allows me to choose the appropriate methods, set up the training week, and then, finally, I can select my exercises (based on the athletes needs, limitations, and abilities). Thus, things don’t ever seem to end up as a template where I always do the same thing with every person. Different people may have very different training programs depending on what they are training for and where they are in the training process.
Some rules that I do live by when thinking about training programs:
1. Think about what you want to achieve with the program from a physiological standpoint, choose the training methods that meet those goals, and then select the exercises that make the most sense for the individual.
2. Follow days of higher intensity and higher stress with days of lower intensity and lower stress to allow the body ample time to recover and adapt.
3. Enhance Requisite Competencies and don’t assume that just because an athlete is “elite” or at the highest level that these qualities are already developed (you’d be surprised!).
4. Enhance overall general fitness before developing specific fitness.
By sticking too these simple rules you can then create individualized programs and create training themes for each day and then pencil in the appropriate training methods for each athlete that represent said training theme ensuring that the athletes get what they need rather than trying to fit them to a strict template or system that may be appropriate for one athlete and not so appropriate for another.
January 28, 2013 No Comments
Recovering from competition is something that athletes and coaches are always looking to maximize. There are many ideas out there on how to approach the situation with everything from, “lift hard the day after the game since it is the day which is furthest away from the next game” to “take a full day of rest the day after the game to allow yourself to recover”.
A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Tufano et. al. (2012), Effect of Aerobic Recovery Intensity on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Strength, set out to look at the result that different aerobic intensities had on recovery from a delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) bout of resistance training.
Twenty-six women in their early to mid-twenties participated in the study. The subjects were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
- Moderate Intensity Cycling – 20min of riding at 70% of age predicted max HR reserve at 80rpm
- Low Intensity Cycling – 20min of riding at 30% of age predicted max HR reserve at 80rpm
- Rest (control) – 20min of sitting on the bike without pedaling
Baseline testing consisted of a pain scale evaluation, isometric force of the right quadriceps, and dynamic strength of the right quadriceps.
Within one week of baseline testing the subjects reported back to the lab for five consecutive days. Day 1 consisted of the DOMS inducing training protocol: 6 sets x 10 reps of maximum eccentric efforts for the knee extensors. Following this protocol the subjects then performed their randomly assigned recovery protocol (listed above). The subjects were re-tested on the above variables, immediately post and then days 2-5 the subjects reported back to the lab and where assessed in the same baseline variables at 24h, 48h, 72h, and 96h.
Some of the findings:
- Pain Scale was the greatest immediately post training than any other time period.
- Dynamic strength was significantly greater pre-intervention compared to immediately post; however, it was not significantly greater at 24h, 48h, 72h, or 96h.
- While the control group and low intensity group showed no significant differences in isometric strength during any of the time periods the moderate intensity group showed no differences between baseline testing and 48h, however 72h and 96h were significantly greater than at 24h of recovery.
This was an interesting study. I am still trying to figure out what I can pull from it knowing that the subjects are not athletes and knowing that they performed the recovery protocol after the eccentric training protocol rather than the next day, which may have been more “real-world” for an athlete who goes out and competes one day and then comes back the next day to train. Also, the paper did not tell how much time was placed between the training protocol and the recovery protocol.
Trying to get an athlete to recover quickly following a competition is often an important goal for most coaches, especially in sports where the athlete may be required to compete multiple times a week (e.g., hockey, basketball, soccer, or baseball). The idea of going to the gym to train the day following a competition is something that many coaches place importance on and the hypothesis is that by moving around and getting blood flowing one is able to remove greater amounts of waste product and shuttle more nutrients to the cells to promote greater healing and restoration. This, of course, is still up for debate as science is still trying to understand what exactly is going on – perhaps there is also a large psychological component that goes into doing some exercise following competition and allowing the athlete to mentally get back in the game rather than sitting around and loafing, and perhaps this also can be helpful from a recovery standpoint. At any rate, it seems like doing something has benefit and the next question is always, “how much should we do?”. “Do we do a full on heavy lifting session the day after the game“. “Do we do a light foam rolling and mobility/stretch session?”
While this study did not look at doing high-intensity work following the eccentric training protocol it has been my experience that most athletes do not want to do a heavy or high-intensity session the day after the game. Most are pretty beat up, sore (pain scale was indicated in this paper), and tired – provided they played a significant role in the game – and the last thing they are thinking about is training hard. What we might be able to take away from this paper is that doing too little is simply not enough. Perhaps some medium intensity aerobic work would be the best option to keep the athletes moving following the game, get blood flowing, and prevent psychological lulls in the weekly schedule.
Of course this paper only looked at one aspect of the recovery process (training) and we should also keep in mind that recovery following intense competition is often multifaceted and often includes a variety of restorative modalities – massage, cold water therapy, nutrition, sleep, etc. Taking all of these things into consideration, as well as how we train the day following a game, can potentially further the athlete’s ability to recover.
Similar to the findings in this paper, I have been a fan of the idea that the day after a game we do some form of moderate intensity aerobic work. The modalities I often use include things such as:
- Circuit training workouts using body weight activities, light calisthenics, low resistance exercises, and even working in various cardiovascular activities into the circuit (IE, light runs of short distance during the circuit, light cycling or versa climber). HR monitors are worn to ensure the individual is in the appropriate HR zone.
- High resistance bike rides performed on a spin bike with a high intensity (45-50rpms) for a set period of time (usually we do several rounds of 5min high resistance : 2.5min easy pedaling) and HR monitors are worn to ensure the individual is in the appropriate HR zone.
- Bodybuilder type training, which is what I call doing loads around 75% of less for 8-12 repetitions, not to failure (leaving 2-3 reps in the tank), and using total body movements (squatting, bench press, rowing movements, lunging movements, etc).
This type of work, along with soft tissue work (aimed at the individuals specific needs – both physiologically and structurally), has been useful at getting guys back on track. Of course I am always looking to refine these methods and ideas but hopefully this offers readers something to think about, consider, and play with.
November 12, 2012 10 Comments