Follow up to Lactate Training Article and Some Ideas on Stress

My article yesterday about Lactate Training sparked some good debate and questions on Facebook. Justin Rippy of Athlete Genesis had some good comments that I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention and comment more specifically on.

First, he asked what I felt the most effective way of training the aerobic system for a power athlete would be. To which I replied:

“Justin, it depends on the athlete and sport. “Power athletes” is way to vague. How much aerobic capacity does a powerlifter or olympic lifter need vs a soccer player or a football player? What about the position on the field? If all you do is run back kickoffs, then I don’t need you to have as much of an aerobic capacity (since you will do one high intensity effort and then rest for the next 8-10min) but if you are an every down receiver who runs the go route all the time (like Randy Moss) then you will need more of an aerobic capacity. See what I am saying? Everyone wants a simple formula of “do this on Monday and that on Tuesday”. It isn’t simple like that! You need to actually sit down and think about training and what sort of adaptations you are trying to bring out.”

Then Justin posed the following question/statement:

I very much agree with your post, I’m just seeing it from a neurological perspective. Very few athletes ever recover to that ‘normal’ state where neurologically all muscles are capable of fully lengthening against load. What I’m saying is that in training we often stress someone maximally to create adaptation. Recovery has always been viewed as more of a submaximal stimulus, whether it be during a training session or between training sessions. What if we were to look at a new paradigm where we stimulate the recovery systems of a person maximally, as opposed to just the mobilizers. What happens to a human being when their recover systems become so strong that there’s almost nothing that can be thrown at them they can’t recover from? Then hrv always stays high and we enter into an adaptive state where many of the negatives of training disappear (soreness, inflammation), allowing high neuroplasticity and rapid adaptation to any stressor. In my experience, this ability to recover is a much more general trait to train within every human being.


Justin, you have some interesting comments. I think I know where you are going with this but I choose to explain things differently.

The goal of training is not necessarily to stimulate the recovery system but rather to disrupt homeostasis and allow the body to recover and make adaptations. What you are describing is the resiliency of the body to bounce back from stressors applied to it. This is what I refer to as the Physiological Buffer Zone. I discussed this concept briefly about a year and a half ago when I talked about my Theory on Movement Reserve. I also go way more in depth on this concept as well as programming ideas in the DVD I did with Charlie Weingroff and Joel Jamieson, which should be coming out in October (I’ll update the blog when it comes out).

In a nut shell, three things make up my physiological buffer zone:

1. Good movement
2. High level of stress resistance
3. High level of fitness

We have ways of measuring these capacities and we have ways of improving/training these capacities. When an athlete is functioning at a high level these capacities are at their highest. Stress resistance is a particularly interesting one as it tends to modulate up and down depending on what else we have going on in our live, giving it a very plastic quality. Something I talked about when I discussed my concept of the Stress Account.

So, in reality, we want to create some breakdown, some damage, and some disruption of homeostasis. Basically, if we are always recovered then there is nothing for our body to adapt to and there is no reason for it to ever improve. The goal of training is not to be optimally recovered but rather to have the ability to OPTIMALLY ADAPT to the stress that is being placed on you. Thus, your comment about stressing someone maximally in order to create adaptation needs to be clarified as the goal is not to stress them maximally but stress them only as much as they need to get the result you seek and then no more. Think stimulation not maximal stress.The same is true with your comment on recovery being more of a submaximal stimulus. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. It just depends on the individual and what you are trying to achieve – you don’t always want to intervene on the natural processes of the body and force recovery while other times you may want to help push an individual into a more recovered state.

The key to understanding this concept of stress, recovery, and adaptation is the biological term hormesis. Basically, this term helps us understand the bodies adaptive response to low or high dose stressors. When we apply a low dose stress the body is able to make a favorable adaptation and is actually beneficial to the cells; however, a high dose of that same stress causes the body to break down or, in terms of toxic substances, can kill us. I believe this is what Robert Sapolsky is referring to when he made the quote, “We have a definition for a low level of stress – it’s called stimulation.”

As coaches, being aware of this we can then stimulate the athlete to the appropriate amount, allow adaptation to take place, and slowly continue to build the individuals resiliency, their physiological buffer zone. As that buffer zone improves the athlete can then handle greater loads, greater volumes, and greater frequencies of training. A good example of this might be an Olympic athlete or a Tour De France rider who trains for years, and years, and years, building volume, fitness, and tolerance to those stressors. The flip side is the person who sees this training program, has about two years of training under their belt, and then tries to mimic the training program and gets burned out, injured, and throws their hormonal system in the dumps within 12 weeks because the dose of stress was way to high for their body to adapt to (IE, it was toxic). Thus, instead of going slow and stimulating, they welt full speed ahead and crushed themself.

So, it is not the recovery system that needs to be strong as much as it is all aspects of the physiological buffer zone that need to be firing on all cylinders to allow the person to favorably tolerate the stressors being placed on them. Of course, it takes time – a long time – to build something like this and most people are very impatient so that can make things challenging!

Hope that helps give you some ideas!