Planning a Training Week by Marc Laithwaite

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In recent articles we’ve talked about how to plan you training and how to look ahead with target goals in mind. Marc Laithwaite now narrows our focus and takes a look at a single week of training and how you should plan it for maximum benefit.

What’s the purpose of the session?

I’ve mentioned many times that one of the key issues with the way people train, is that they do their easy stuff too hard and their hard stuff is too easy. This generally results in most of the training being done in a ‘middle zone’. Before you plan your week, you need to consider the objective of each session as that will influence the optimal day and time.

High Intensity Intervals / Hard Sessions

‘HIT’ or harder sessions are designed to be carried out at a HIGH INTENSITY. For this reason, you can’t plan them on the days following other hard sessions, you must be rested for these sessions or you will not be able to produce the required intensity, whether that be running speed or cycling power output.

Low Intensity Endurance Sessions

The lower intensity endurance sessions can be done on days following harder sessions, it’s ok to complete these when tired. You can slow down and complete the distance comfortably, without having to push yourself.

Time Of Day

It is generally easier to complete higher intensity sessions in the evening, as our bodies are more awake. It’s often more difficult in the mornings, although some ‘morning people’ don’t have an issue. Completing longer endurance sessions in the morning isn’t an issue as the intensity isn’t very high. There is also a benefit to doing longer and easier sessions in the morning as you can do them ‘fasted’ and encourage fat usage. One of the problems relating to this is that most races are in the morning, so at some point in the season, there may be real benefits to switching higher intensity sessions to mornings.

Single Sport Example:

For single sport athletes, the planning is relaively simple. You can have 2-3 harder days, broken with easy/rest days:

Mon: Easy run / ride (AM)     Strength (PM) – depending upon time of year
Tue: Hard intervals / training (PM)     (May be affected by strength)
Wed: Easy run / ride (AM)
Thur: Hard intervals / training (PM)
Fri: REST / Very easy run / ride (AM)
Sat: Hard Intervals (AM)
Sun: Easy long run / ride (AM)

Multi Sport Athletes:

If you’re training for triathlon, it becomes a little more difficult. Here’s an example based on 2 key swim/cycle/run sessions and includes strength for this time of year:

Mon: Swim (AM)     Strength (PM)
Tues: Easy long run (AM)
Wed: Swim (AM)
Thur: Cycle Hard Intervals (PM) – Option of 30 minute run to follow
Fri: REST or Swim (AM)
Sat: Run Hard intervals (AM)
Sun: Easy long ride (AM)

Strength Training

If you are doing strength training, this can leave you feeling very ‘heavy’ for 24-48 hours after a hard gym session. You firstly need to consider the time of year (block of training). If you are still in your base phase, you can swap a harder ride/run session for a strength session or fit in the strength on your easier / recovery days. If this is your strategy, you should expect to feel heavy on the following days and you may not perform at your optimal level. As the season approaches, you may need to reduce strength to hit your target training times in the more intense sessions.

Summary

Take a look at your training week and ask the following questions:

1. What sessions do you need to be doing at this time of year to hit your goals?
2. On which days are the key sessions where I need to be performing at high intensity?
3. If so, have you got an easier day before and after?
4. Can you change the time of day to benefit the session?
5. Are your easier / longer days planned to follow the harder days?
6. Are you doing those easier / longer days at the correct / low intensity or just racing your mates?

Critically, ask yourself the question, is there a clear difference in intensities between your training sessions. Are your longer sessions easy and your shorter sessions near maximal, or are they all falling into that ‘middle zone’ where the easy is too hard and hard is too easy?

This article as first posted on the Endurance Store Blog

Read related articles here:

Planning a Running and Racing Year HERE

To Base Train or not to Base Train HERE

Base Training HERE

How long should the long run be? HERE

In addition, I wrote several articles on walking and how important it is to practice this for:

Ultra running HERE

Walking with poles HERE

Walking efficiency when climbing HERE

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Strength Training for Endurance (Part 3) by Marc Laithwaite

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This week we look at putting the schedule together for the winter period and how to ‘periodise’ and progress towards summer 2016.

Missed part 1 or part 2? Go HERE and HERE

Strength training by nature involves high resistance for a short period of time, it’s important that you don’t rush your routine, you must provide adequate rest between exercises. Don’t turn this routine into a ‘circuit training session’ moving quickly from one exercise to the next. I’m not questioning the benefits of circuit type training, but to develop strength, there must be adequate recovery between exercises for maximal lifting.

Periodisation Made Simple

Periodisation is simply breaking your training into blocks. You probably do this already, winter being your base phase. In a similar way, you should periodise your strength training. If you were to start your strength training at the beginning of December, that gives you 6 months to reach the end of May, which for most is the beginning of the summer season. Here’s the simple guide to the exercise routine and your periodisation plan:

Base Phase, Weeks 1-8

The objectives for the base phase are:

1. Learn the exercises so technique is perfect

2. Reduce risk of injury by improved joint stability

3. Develop basic conditioning as a platform to progress from

1. The routine should be completed twice per week and repetitions for all free weights exercises should be 12-15. For core stability exercises such as plank etc, the ‘time’ should be whatever you can manage whilst holding perfect form.

2. Learning the technique is critical for all of the exercises. If you have never done free weight exercises, the basic technique will be challenging. For weeks 1-4, minimise the weight and learn the exercises to perfection. Don’t simply start adding weight / resistance, learning the movement is a critical part of your development. Weeks 1-4 is ALL ABOUT TECHNIQUE AND MOVEMENT.

3. During weeks 5-8 increase the load / weight for the exercises gradually, repetitions should stay at 12-15. It’s impossible to predict the actual ‘weight/kg’ you should be lifting, this is something that you will have to work out for yourself. Don’t overload during weeks 5-8, your technique must remain perfect.

Strength Phase, Weeks 9-16

1. You need to increase resistance during this phase, without losing technique. To develop strength you need to reduce the repetitions and use a heavier weight. Weeks 9-12, complete 3 sets for each exercise and your repetitions should be 12/9/6, increasing the weight slightly each set. Weeks 13-16m complete 3 sets for each exercise and your repetitions should be 10/6/4, increasing the weight each set.

2. Over this period you aim is to increase resistance, you should do this when you feel ready. Some people will increase every week, others may need a couple of weeks before progressing.

3. You should change exercises slightly in strength phase to focus on larger muscle groups.

Power and Plyometric Phase, Week 17-24

1. The strength work will continue with an emphasis on explosive power. You should continue to progress the exercises and increase the resistance, using lower repetitions. By completing the exercises more quickly, in an ‘explosive manner’ you will switch focus to ‘power’. Use a moderate weight to warm up then complete 3 sets for each exercise and your repetitions can drop as low as 6/4/2 increasing the weight each set.

2. Plyometrics will be introduced, this is particularly important for running performance. Plyometric activities will include jumping, hopping etc. For cyclists, you can introduce sports specific explosive power. This is done by combining your strength work with explosive, high resistance, short duration sprinting on a static bike. Introduce the plyometrics gently and build over 8 weeks. Complete 3 sets of each plyometric exercise, building the intensity (e.g. jumping higher / harder) throughout each set.

If you have a free weights routine already in place, you can apply the above principles to your schedule right now. Make sure you’ve read parts 1 & 2 HERE and HERE before starting this program.

Starting the program in January? No problem, as with any plan you need to adjust and adapt so that your plan works inline with your racing objectives and racing calendar.

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Strength Training for Endurance (Part 2) by Marc Laithwaite

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Missed part 1? Read HERE first

Last week we discussed joint stability and core training, specifically how you can improve your economy by developing a stable platform. I said last week that joint stability comes forst, before you start adding resistance to the major muscles, so if you missed the blog, go back to the menu above, click ‘The Endurance Blog’ and scroll down to last week’s article (Part 1).

So this week, we’re looking at strength exercises for swimming,cycling and running. Before we start, I’d like to make it clear that the advice is my personal view, based on research I’ve read, what I’ve observed as a coach and what I’ve used as an athlete. I think it’s correct and have clear reasons for that, your opinion may vary and you may have read different advice, but I can live with that. Take from it whatever you feel beneficial and feel free to question me by reply.

Cycling

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago titled ‘why runners can’t cycle’. The title sounds a bit harsh, but it very much relates to strength training for cyclists. We’ve tested hundreds of cyclists and amazingly, we seen a clear correlation between how far they can get during an 8-10 minute aerobic ramp test (increase the resistance every minute until they reach VO2 max) and how much power they can produce in a 5 second sprint. This means that is you can’t produce a high amount of power in a 5 seconds sprint, your cycling performances from 25 miles up to Ironman will also be limited. As unbelievable as that may sound, that’s what the test results show.

Distance runners tend to have poor leg strength as it’s not required to the same extent as cycling. Female runners tend to be worse than male runners. We often find that these people lack basic leg strength and find it difficult to make the transition to cycling (tend to be better on long hills, poor on the flat and short hills). For this reason, general leg strength is a key requirement for cycling and should be assessed as an indicator of performance. If it’s poor, then general strength exercises such as squats and deadlift, with low reps and high weights can have a real benefit to performance. Older athletes have greater problems with strength, they tend to be ok with long and slow, hence they prefer longer events as they feel they are more able to compete.

Aside from the leg strength exercises, a general core and upper body routine can benefit the rider for the purposes of stability (sitting still and providing a stable platform to drive from). If you want to read the runners can’t cycle blog in full GO HERE

Running

Squats and Deadlift are very useful exercises for muscle health and performance. Long distance running is catabolic in the sense that it ‘breaks down’ tissues. Conversely strength training is anabolic and help tissues to grow and perform optimally. I’ve rarely seen a distance runner ‘bulk up’ by doing strength work, but lots of runners are needlessly scared of weight gain.

Like all forms of training, strength should be periodised. Learn the exercises, increase the load whilst holding form and then progress to more specific exercises. For running, the most effective form of strength training is ‘plyometrics’. At it’s most simple, this is jumping, hopping and bouncing exercises. These ‘bouncing’ exercises teach the muscles and tendons to store elastic energy and act as if they were springs. The reality is that ‘great runners bounce’.

Plyometric exercises have been show to improve economy (remember last week we said economy is how much oxygen you need to exercise). In simple terms, if your tendons and muscles use elastic energy, allowing you to bounce, your effort is reduced. Elastic energy is FREE energy. If you can’t bounce, you have to rely on the muscles to work more, so oxygen and heart rate go up. Tendons and tissues which bounce don’t need to use oxygen, it’s free, so it feels easy.

Key things:

1. You can’t go straight into plyometrics and skip general strength, you will get injured.

2. As you get older, stored elastic energy becomes a major issue so you bounce less. Strength is therefore of much greater importance, the older you are.

A general core and upper body routine is critical for runners. You need to have a solid chassis which will not collapse as your foot strikes the ground. Sitting down and collapsing into your stride will mean you have no chance at all of bouncing back off the road or trail, all energy will be lost. The pelvis and torso should be rock solid and hold posture at point of impact.

Swimming

A strength routine for the whole body will benefit any swimmer, in terms of both performance and injury prevention. Stability and strength is important throughout the body, for example:

1. At the shoulders as the hand enters the water and catches the water, shoulder stability is critical for a firm catch, from which to pull. Overhead exercises assist with shoulder stability, e.g. single arm dumbell press.

2. General strength in the arms, chest and back will allow more pressure to be applied during the pull phase. This is more relevant for swimmers who are particularly weak.

3. Core stability is important for balance, although I’ve never seen a swimmer with ‘low legs’ resolve the issue by doing the plank in the gym. I have however see plenty of people who can ‘plank like there’s no tomorrow’ but they have low legs when they swim. The core stability and balance required to raise the legs is much more effectively resolved by kicking work in the pool, with and without fins.

Now we’ve covered the 3 sports and how they differ in terms of demands, next week we will produce a sample strength routine which you can follow throughout the winter period. You’ll need access to some kettlebells or dumbells and you’ll also need access to a free weights bar for exercises such as squats. You’ll find these in any gym. As we discussed last week, winter is the perfect opportunity to start a strength programme. You should commit to it, even if it means dropping or reducing your swim, cycle and run. You can phase those sessions back into your routine from February onwards and feel faster and stronger for it!!

*This article was originally posted on theendurancestore.com here

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Strength Training for Endurance (Part 1) by Marc Laithwaite

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Strength training for endurance athletes, really?
The first thing to overcome, is the relevance of strength work for endurance athletes. We’ve all read articles which quote reduced injury and various other benefits, but realistically, the ‘runner within us’ tells us that run training is far more relevant to performance and strength training is less important.

We treat strength as a suppliment to our usual training regime. A runner who completes 60 miles per week will most likely do a couple of 20 minute strength workouts at best (if they do any). Strength training is an ‘add on’ for most and it’s not a ‘key session’ in the week. If we’re short of time, the strength training will be dropped rather than the run session. Strength training is not at the top of the priority list.

If you’re going to commit to strength training, then you need to approach it as you would your other swim/cycle/run disciplines. You should be completing 2-3 sessions per week and setting aside an hour each time to do a structured routine. If you need to drop your swim/cycle/run sets to get the strength done, then so be it. At this time of year, racing is limited and most are developing a base foundation, so now is the perfect time. You could just do the same as last year, but will it work? If you don’t see much change year on year or you are getting slower, it’s definitely time to try something new.

Strength…. what does it mean?

Strength is the maximum amount of force you can produce in a single contraction. It’s the biggest weight you can lift once. The main issue with ‘strength’ is in the definition of the word and it’s true meaning. We frequently use the word strength out of context, for example:

Long runs don’t give you ‘strength’ in the final miles of the marathon, that’s endurance. Hill reps don’t give you strength either, that’s endurance. Cycling in a big gear for 5 minutes doesn’t develop strength, that’s muscular endurance. Doing the plank for 60 seconds isn’t technically core ‘strength’, that’s muscular endurance also. Lifting the biggest thing you can for 1-2 repetitions, that’s strength.

What’s muscular endurance?

Muscular endurance can be best described as the ability of your muscles to keep working over a specific period of time. Doing lots of repetitions in the gym with light/moderate weights is muscular endurance’ and to some extent, muscular endurance is needed for swim/cycle/run to repeatedly turn the pedals and pull on the water. Core ‘strength’ is also muscular endurance, as you will hold positions or repeat multiple actions for a period of time, e.g. hold plank for 1 minute.

So what exactly should I be doing??

That really depends upon your sport and your personal abilities. Some people are already naturally strong and others are weaker, that would influence your decision to start a strength programme. We will often meet rugby players who have retired and taken up cycling. They are always strong enough, but their aerobic endurance is their weak link. By contrast, runners who take up cycling very rarely have the leg strength required for cycling. This demonstrates that whilst swim/bike/run are all endurance sports, some ‘endurance sports’ require strength more than others. You can see why strength training is a confusing subject!

Let’s categorise strength into useful areas and list the benefits:

CORE TRAINING

Core training generally involves holding positions for a period of time, such as the plank exercise and is generally designed to strengthen your middle region (abs/lower back/sides). We consider CORE training to mean ‘CENTRE’ and therfore aimed at abdominals.

JOINT STABILITY

Here’s where the CORE confusion starts. Core exercises are often designed to stabilise hip joints, knee and ankle. Doing a single leg squat to strengthen glutes and stabilise hips will get thrown into the CORE routine. Exercises which help shoulder stability might also get thrown into the CORE category.

In simple terms, we do certain exercises to control stability in our joints and certain parts of our body. The stability exercises which target our middle, we refer to as core exercises.

Why do them?

Muscles can be split into 2 categories, those which generate the movement and those which stabilise whilst the others generate the movement. As an example, consider cross country running. You plant your foot on the ground and then use the larger leg muscles to drive your foot back and propel yourself forwards. Unfortunately whilst you are trying to do this, your foot is sliding around in the mud so you don’t have a solid platform to drive from.

Specific muscles will stabilise the leg and foot, giving a solid base from which to generate movement in a forwards direction. Joint stability is extremely important, you need a solid base to ‘drive off’ if you want to run quickly through the mud. There are 2 things going on here, the first is to keep your foot still and planted on the ground, the second is to then drive forwards off that foot.

The same can be said for ‘core stability’. If your chassis is collapsing every time you try and run, then you have no chance of performing well. Your pelvis is propped up by both legs, acting as pillars underneath. As soon as you lift a leg, a pillar is removed the pelvis collapses on that side. Holding the pelvis and torso in position is critical for performance. It’s the same for sitting still and driving the pedals on your bike, it’s the same for stabilising your shoulder so you can catch and pull on the water when swimming. You need stability first, then you apply the power.

What about injury?

Who cares?? Seriously… who cares?? Who has ever read an article which outlines how to reduce your injury risk and immediately started to do it? We all know that exercises to prevent injuries are only done when you’re injured. When the injury goes away, you stop doing them. Strength training will make you a faster runner, swimmer and cyclist. If it reduces injury risk at the same time, that’s a bonus! Don’t think that injury prevention is the main attraction, it’s not…. strength training will make you faster.

So how exactly does ‘stability’ make me faster?

Core / Joint stability holds things in place. Your torso and pelvis will stay firm, your joints will be more stable and as a result your actions will be much more economical. Economy is the term given to how much energy you use to swim/bike/run at any speed. If you are not very econimical, you use more calories, require more oxygen to break down those calories and therfore you will have a higher heart rate and breathing rate. If you’re training with a friend and you work harder than they do to keep us, it’s because you’re less economical.

We said earlier than some muscles are stabilising and others producing the movement. When you run, both groups of muscles will require energy. If the stabilising muscles are rubbish and working extra hard, they’ll need more energy. You’ll be wasting your energy trying to hold things together rather than driving yoruself forwards.

Every time your chassis collapses, the muscles which propel you forwards will have to work harder due to the unstable platform. Every time your muscles try to push on the pedals or propel you forwards, something ‘gives’ or ‘slips’ and the energy is wasted.

Let’s recap

So far most of the stuff we’ve talked about has been centred around core and joint stability to make us more economical. So if we complete a thorough exercise routine which makes us ‘rock solid’ in our core and joints. If we have a stable/solid platform, the next step is to develop the ‘prime movers’, the muscles which produce movement. If you can hold yourself rock solid, then lets start applying some power through the thighs and hamstrings to turn the pedals or propel you forwards. It’s important that chassis comes before propulsion, you need to make yourself solid first, before training the major muscles to generate your power.

So what happens next then?

Well, we then move to major exercises to help develop that strength / muscular endurance which will propel us forwards at a faster pace. The issue is that swim/bike/run all require different elements of strength and different exercises to improve performance, so the plot thickens further.

Next Week Part 2: The best strength exercises and routines for swim, bike and run
Final Week Part 3: We’ll show you a video of the routine and how to progress over winter

The main question to ask, is are you willing to give it a go? Are you willing to make it your focus for the winter period and commit to those 2-3 sessions each week without fail?

If so, we’ll see you next week. Who knows, it might even make you faster!

*this post was originally posted theendurancestore.com here

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Damage Limitation by Marc Laithwaite

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The term D.O.M.S. is used frequently within the world of endurance, it represents the ‘Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness’. The name refers to the fact that sometimes you don’t actually feel the effects of a training session or race until the following day when you step out of bed. Those who have ran a marathon will understand the sensation. You cross the line and undoubtedly you’re tired but there isn’t a great deal of physical pain. However, the next morning, or perhaps even the morning after that, your attempts to walk downstairs backwards provide the family with the highest level of entertainment they have ever experienced.

The same may be said of the inexperienced cyclist who decides to enter a 100 miles hilly cycle sportive, despite a poor training background. Aside from the embarrassment of being unable to sit down for a week, the morning after generally requires a family member to assist their descent to breakfast. So what’s happened? Has someone been repeatedly battering your tired legs throughout the night whilst you failed to wake from your exercise induced, coma like sleep? The answer lies with D.O.M.S. and the inflammation process.

The inflammation process

During a marathon running event the muscle tissue is damaged due to repeated stress and this triggers the inflammation process. The damage occurs ‘during’ the marathon but the inflammation process takes 24-48 hours to reach its peak, so the pain you feel the following morning was actually happening ‘real time’ during the second half of the race.

An important note to make here is that when people slow down in the final 6 miles of the marathon, we generally assume it is caused by low carbohydrate stores, often termed ‘hitting the wall’. However, there is likely to be a significant amount of muscle tissue damage by this stage in the race which will undoubtedly have an impact upon performance. Due to the D.O.M.S. effect, we rarely discuss the significance of tissue damage during the event. It’s important to recognise that the pain you experience 24-48 hours after the race is caused by damage which happened ‘real time’ in the second half of the marathon. That’s why you were getting slower!!

*Part of the inflammatory process involves fluid build up in the damaged area, due to this fluid build up you may weigh more 24-48 hours after the marathon that you did before, perhaps even 1-2kg extra in weight! Don’t worry.. it’s just water and it will pass.

How do I know if I’ve got tissue damage as opposed to simply having tight muscles?

  1. It’ll be very ‘tender, warm and swollen’ and if someone squeezes your leg you’ll instinctively want to punch them (NB: they never see the funny side of your response).
  2. When you stretch, it makes no difference to the tenderness, the pain still exists (it’s not tight, its damaged) and its probably better if you actually don’t stretch!

*Myth explosion – the pain and tenderness the day after the event has absolutely nothing to do with lactic acid in the muscles. It’s an old wife’s tail and I’m not even open to discussion on the matter.

How does damage affect performance?

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that a damaged muscle will not work as effectively as a healthy muscle. However, aside from the actual physical damage directly affecting performance, it’s possible that the inflammation process is acting on a much higher plane and going straight to the governor.

The central governor

There are various theories regarding ‘why we slow down’ and one of the most prominent in recent years has been the ‘central governor’. This theory suggests that fatigue is controlled by the brain (which can effectively switch off nerve signals to muscles) rather than fatigue being controlled by ‘peripheral factors’ such as the ‘actual muscle damage’.

Okay, here is a simple example:

  1. The muscles is damaged and therefore doesn’t work well, as a result you slow down. That is ‘peripheral control’, the muscle is damaged and the muscle doesn’t work, at no point is the brain involved.
  2. The muscle is damaged and somehow the brain’s monitoring system detects this. As a result the brain blocks nerve signals to the muscle so it can’t function fully and you are forced to slow down, that’s central governor control.

Why are we talking about central governor and gone off track from inflammation?

Yep, I was hoping you’d ask that. When we damage a muscle we kick start the ‘inflammatory process’ which is a chain of events involving a series of chemicals, each having a different purpose and action. One of the most widely researched in a chemical known as Interleukin-6 (IL-6) which is released into the blood stream during early stages of muscle damage and inflammation. Research suggests that IL-6 is detected by the brain and as a consequence, the brain then acts to slow you down in some way. In an old study (completed by Tim Noakes 2004) runners completed 2 separate 10k runs a week apart. They were healthy during both but prior to the second run they were injected with IL-6 and ran almost a minute slower.

Just stop and think about this for one second

Look at the 2 examples given at the top of this page for ‘peripheral control’ and ‘central control’. These 10k runners did not have muscle damage prior to either 10k, they were healthy, fuelled and ready to go until injected with IL-6. Their slower time cannot be explained by muscle damage, low fuel or any other form of peripheral control. The only possible explanation is the circulating chemicals. The chemical IL-6 has even been suggested as a possible cause for the lethargy associated with ‘chronic fatigue’ or ‘chronic overtraining’. We know that all general illnesses and all forms of stress kick start the inflammation process and that in turn creates IL-6.

How does energy and nutrition relate to tissue damage?

VERY IMPORTANT: In previous blogs we have talked a great deal about carbohydrate and fat use during exercise and how to refuel. There is a presumption that if you refuel correctly and use fat as a fuel source, you will be successful in endurance events. As a consequence, when people fail to hit their target times, the first thing they turn to as an excuse is ‘failing to get the nutrition correct’. We treat nutrition as some kind of magic wand and if it’s done correctly, you can cycle and run forever, but the reality is very different. It doesn’t matter how much fuel you pour into a broken car, it isn’t going to drive anywhere fast. Without the conditioning which comes from running long miles on hard surfaces, even the most fuel efficient athletes will break down due to tissue damage. CONSIDER THIS: The energy used when cycling and running at a steady pace are not significantly different (slightly higher for running). However, many people who can cycle for 6 hours with little issue, will find themselves in pretty bad shape after as little as 2 hours of running. So ask yourself this question, is it fuel intake or is it damage causing the issue?

What causes the damage?

  1. Damage will be far greater if you’re not conditioned to the distance and terrain. In simple terms you need to spend time on your feet and do the longer sessions.
  2. Harder surfaces are more likely to cause damage, although this isn’t always strictly true as runners do become accustomed to the surface they train on.
  3. Running down hill is the real killer as the muscles contract eccentrically, braking your speed, thereby causing much greater damage.
  4. This isn’t limited just to running. Cycling for several hours and repeatedly performing the same pedal action will lead to muscle tissue stress and damage.

How can you avoid the damage?

  1. As above, you need to complete longer sessions, including downhill running if relevant.
  2. It’s possible that damage may be reduced, by using compression clothing. Research is very poor but ‘subjective’ feedback suggests that it certainly helps.
  3. Your weight will have an impact upon damage, if you have a few KGs to lose, it will help!
  4. Whilst this is a subjective / commercial / controversial addition to the list, specific shoes such as HOKA which are specifically designed to reduce impact can reduce damage and associated DOMS.

What should I do if I have tissue damage?

  1. Rest and let your legs recover for a few days.
  2. Avoid very deep post event massage or stretching, sticking fingers into or stretching damaged tissue is never a good idea, wait a few days at least.
  3. After a few days do some light exercise such as cycling to encourage blood flow to the area and assist the repair process.

If you found this article useful, it would help us a great deal if you share on Facebook, Twitter and social media.

Until then, limit the damage…

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Beat The Heat ( Part One) – Marc Laithwaite

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This week we’re starting a series of articles titled ‘environmental physiology’. We’re going to open with a 2 part series relating to exercise in the heat (I say 2 parts, but who knows what could happen by next week). Following that, we’ll take a look at altitude training and potential benefits.

But before we go on, why not catch up on our seven part series of posts on RACE DAY NUTRITION HERE

Too Hot? Call The Police & Fireman…

Exercise in the heat can place a lot of strain upon your body, if you’re used to cooler climates. For this reason, many elite athletes will spend time acclimatising to the higher temperature. Acclimatisation can require up to 14 days, so what if you’re an amateur athlete travelling abroad for an endurance event, who can’t afford to travel 3 weeks before the event? Well this blog is quite timely for me, as I’m off to Lanzarote in less than 4 weeks for the Ironman triathlon and potentially, it could be very hot. There’s probably quite a few people reading this blog who are traveling abroad this year to take part in triathlon or running events in hot places. The purpose of this blog is to explain simple ways, which you can acclimate your body beforehand and explain the physiological changes, which take place to improve your performance.

Too hot? You Make A Dragon Want To Retire Man…

In a nutshell, when you exercise in hot climates, your core temperature rises and your performance suffers. If your core temperature rises too much, it could potentially be lethal, so your brain is pretty quick to try and stop that happening, by persuading you to stop!

How do we reduce core temperature?

There 2 main ways, the first is ‘convection’ and the second is ‘sweat evaporation’.

Convection

Think about a car radiator, it’s positioned right at the front of the car as that’s where the wind hits it when you’re driving. Heat is generated in the engine, this in turn heats the water which is then pumped to the radiator. The wind hits the radiator, cools the water and the cool water goes back into the engine to pick up more heat. This cycle continues, to keep removing heat from the engine, which is why it’s important to keep the fluid topped up or your car will overheat! The human body works the same way, heat is generated in the engine and your blood then picks up the heat. The blood is pumped to the coolest part of the body (the skin), where the wind hits it and cools the blood. It then returns back into the engine to pick up more heat and the cycle continues.

If the wind is blowing against your skin whilst you exercise, convection may well be enough to keep you cool and maintain a normal body temperature. It’s easier to do this when cycling, compared to running, as your speed is generally higher, so the wind chill is greater. Runners will notice that treadmill running leads to more sweating than running outside as the air temperature is generally warmer, but also you’re not moving, so there’s no air flow past the skin and therefore no wind chill or convection. The same can be said about indoor cycling or using a turbo trainer, especially if you don’t have a fan blowing.

Let’s use the treadmill running or turbo cycling scenarios as an example. If there’s no air flow past your skin to cool the blood, then in effect, you pump hot blood to the skin surface, it doesn’t get cooled, so the hot blood goes back into the engine / core. That’s a sure fire way to overheat. This is the same as leaving your car engine running on a hot day, whilst stuck in a traffic jam. If you’re not moving, there’s no wind hitting the radiator, so convection cooling can’t happen.

Sweating

Sweating is based on ‘evaporation’. Water from your body cells makes it’s way to the skin and as the hot blood arrives, the heat is passed from the blood into the water droplets (leaving the blood cool). The heated water on your skin, evaporates into the air like water from a boiling pan and takes the heat with it. If you’re running on a treadmill and there’s no convection, you need another method of getting rid of heat, so the sweating and evaporation will kick in.

It’s important to recognise that ‘evaporation’ removes the heat, so any sweat on your skin, clothing or floor, serves no purpose other than to lead to dehydration. 

Convection and sweating don’t compliment each other too well

If you’re racing in hot weather, convection isn’t enough so you’ll also sweat to keep your temperature down. As you sweat, you lose fluid from your body and this leads to a drop in blood plasma (plasma is the fluid/water component of blood). The problem is that you need a lot of blood for convection to work well. When you’re exercising, blood is pumped to the exercising muscles and what’s left is pumped to the vital organs. So what happens when you then need to pump extra blood to the skin to cool down? Do you reduce blood flow to the muscles and vital organs? It sounds like a great idea to keep you cool, but where is this extra blood coming from? As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re now sweating and the amount of blood you have is dropping. So not only do you have to supply muscles, organs and the skin, you’ve got less and less blood available as sweating continues.

Blood is made up of plasma (fluid) and cells (red/white/platelets). When you sweat, you lose plasma, but not cells. This means that the total amount of blood is reduced and it also gets thicker (same number of cells but less fluid). 

What does this mean in terms of performance?

As you’ve probably guessed already, this isn’t good for performance. Heart rate is generally higher for any level of exercise. This is due to the fact that you’re trying to pump blood to all areas of your body and your total blood volume is dropping. Your cardiovascular system is therefore working overtime, trying to match the demand with a struggling supply. Due to fluid and salt losses, your body becomes dehydrated and cells cannot function correctly. We’ve mentioned previously that salt is required for transporting fluid throughout the body and as high amount of salt can be lost in sweating, this mechanism is impaired.

Something of great importance, which is less frequently discussed, is the change in substrate utilisation. Whilst the exact mechanism is still under question, it’s pretty clear that you use more carbohydrates and therefore empty your glycogen stores more quickly when exercising in the heat. The simple explanation is that that there’s a lack of ‘spare blood’ going to the muscles, due to the fact it’s going to the skin for cooling. Fat metabolism requires more oxygen than carbohydrate metabolism so there’s a switch from fat to carbohydrate. This may also be explained by a switch from ‘slow twitch’ to ‘fast twitch’ fibres, which use less oxygen.

All in all, this isn’t looking too good. We’ve got an ever-decreasing blood volume, which is being pulled in several different directions. We’ve got decreasing salt levels and an onset of dehydration. We’ve got a heart rate which is significantly higher than it should be for the intensity we’re exercising at and to cap it all off, we’re running out of carbohydrates at a faster rate than normal.

Don’t worry help is at hand. Next week we’ll discuss how acclimatisation helps you to deal with the issues and explain the physiological changes responsible.

Until then, stay cool.

– Marc

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Race Day Nutrition (Part One) – Marc Laithwaite

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In recent articles, we’ve discussed the 2 main fuel sources for endurance exercise (fat and carbohydrate) and how you should optimise your body to burn fat, thereby allowing you to save precious carbohydrate stores. When it comes to race day then the game and the rules change completely. As a recap, when training you should:

1. Ride or run at the correct intensity or follow a specific protocol such as Maffetone
2. Avoid fluctuations in intensity, remember that average heart rate or power output are NOT the critical figures, it’s TIME IN ZONE that counts
3. Eat foods which are balanced with low GI carbohydrates and fats to encourage fat usage and avoid sugar spikes
4. Avoid gels and sugar products based on point 3 above

If you follow the above guidance, over a 12-16 week training period, you can teach your body to utilise a greater amount of fat as fuel and also to use less calories overall, making you more economical. The important thing to remember is that ‘training’ and ‘racing’ are 2 separate things and your fuelling approach should reflect this.

What happens during the race?

Okay, let’s presume that you have trained correctly and maximised your fat burning potential and fuel economy. You reach the first event of the year and when riding or running at race pace you are using 700kcal per hour, 50% of which comes from carbohydrate and 50% of which comes from fat. You only need to worry about the carbohydrate loss as that’s the one which is critical, so let’s focus on the 350kcal of carbohydrate which equates to 88 grams of carbohydrate (4 kcal per gram).

The limitation of carbohydrate intake

Here’s the big problem, you can only absorb approximately 60g of carbohydrate per hour. Imagine that there are small boats, which ‘ferry’ carbohydrate across the intestine wall into your blood stream. Unfortunately you only have so many ‘ferry boats’ so no matter how much carbohydrate you throw in there, the amount which can be ferried is limited to a pretty standard 60g. For our example above, that means that you’re going to fall short. You’re using 88 grams per hour and you can only replace 60 grams per hour. That’s a 28 gram / 112 kcal per hour deficit.

So I can’t just eat more?

Unfortunately not. If you eat more, it’s unlikely to be digested and will simply sit in your stomach or intestines without providing energy. There are a lot of people who suffer from gastric problems during long distance events and this is generally caused by eating too much food which they are unable to digest. It’s really important that you understand, eating more food doesn’t mean you’ll have more energy and it may well mean that you’ll face stomach upsets. I stress this point knowing how obsessed Ironman athletes in particular become with regards to feeding on the bike.

A deficit of 112 Kcal per hour doesn’t sound too bad

No, it doesn’t. But that is based on the presumption that you are only using 700kcal per hour, bigger people and less efficient people may be using more. It’s also based on the assumption that 50% is coming from fat and that may not be the case at all, in fact, as much as 80-100% may be coming from carbohydrate. What makes this worse is that bigger people can’t necessarily take on board more fuel, the 60g limit still pretty much applies. It’s a gut issue, it’s not about how big your muscles are and how much you can store in there.

So the 3 things you might want to know are:

1. How many calories do I burn per hour?
2. How many of them come from fat and carbohydrate?
3. How much should I be taking in as a consequence?

As a start point, you can probably work out your calorie usage by using a heart rate monitor or power meter. Run or ride at race pace and it’ll do the calculation for you, although the power meter is a lot more accurate than the heart rate monitor, it’s still a start point. Warm up, then do an hour at your ‘race pace’ and work out the figures. It’s amazing how many people who consider their training and racing to be ‘serious’, still have no clue how many kcal they use when racing. How can you have any grasp of nutrition requirements without knowing this figure? Once you’ve calculated that figure, apply the following rule:

80/20: If you are struggling to ride 50 miles / run 15 miles even when fuelling yourself throughout, then apply the 80/20 rule. That means 80% of your fuel is carbohydrate and 20% is fat.

65/35: If you can ride 50 miles / run 15 miles comfortably using fuel, then apply the 65/35 rule. That means 65% of your fuel is carbohydrate and 20% is fat.

50/50: If you can ride 50 miles / run 15 miles comfortably without using any fuel whatsoever, then apply the 50/50 rule. That means 50% of your fuel is carbohydrate and 50% is fat.

Are those figures accurate?

Absolutely not, I just made them up. They are by no means 100% accurate but they will give you a good start point and will allow you to calculate an approximate figure. The running figures are less ‘straight forwards’ than the cycling, as the impact of running can really fatigue your legs, so you may find 15 miles difficult, even if your fat burning and fuel economy is good. for cycling, the impact is low, so it’s more likely governed by metabolism and fuel.

Ok, so what’s the next step?

Here’s what we’re going to do. Prior to next week you are going to do a 1 hour ride or run at your ‘race pace’ and then using your cycle power meter, GPS or heart rate monitor, calculate how many calories per hour you are using when exercising at that intensity. I feel this is a pretty important thing for you to understand if you are to race successfully. It’s easy with a power meter for cycling, it does the maths for you. Most heart rate monitors will use your age and weight to work out kcal per hour. There are some tools on the internet such as: http://www.braydenwm.com/calburn.htm which can help to give you a basic idea.

Go forwards my endurance friends and do the maths, next week, we will be looking at planning your intake.

Until then, stay healthy.

– Marc Laithwaite

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Training is like baking – Marc Laithwaite

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In recent posts, we’ve been talking about enhancing fat burning to boost endurance. This week’s post was due to focus upon pacing strategy for training and competing and specifically how pacing interacts with the types of fuel you use when exercising. However, as we’ve been discussing Maffetone in recent weeks, I’ve had a few messages stating that I’ve contradicted myself. The reason for this is that I am a believer in the importance of short and high intensity workouts for endurance performance. In the past I have outlined the danger of too much low intensity riding and running, specifically how it makes you slower. I understand why this may be seen as contradictory, so let me explain…

If you are competing in Ironman, one of the things you need to consider is your estimated time and pacing strategy on the bike section. To calculate your ‘race pace’ a simple and popular test is the cp20. During this test, the rider is required to sustain the highest power output for a 20 minute period and from the results, you can calculate your ‘functional threshold’. Some of you may have heard these strange terms before but in simple terms your ‘functional threshold’ is the output you should feasibly be able to manage for an hour. The calculation is simple, look at the average power for the 20 minute test and 95% of that figure is your functional threshold

Using functional threshold you can guess the amount of power that in theory you can sustain for all distances up to the Ironman 112. For example, 70% of your functional threshold is a reasonable target for Ironman. The critical thing here is that the power you can hold for only 20 minutes (a very short period of time) predicts Ironman pace. So, if you cannot ride quickly for 20 minutes, you will undoubtedly be riding slowly in Ironman over a distance of 112 miles, as 70% of ‘slowly’ is ‘even slower’. A common mistake people make when training for long distances is that they focus on endurance only and ride lots of slow miles. They ‘get it in their heads’ that Ironman is all about ‘the distance’ so ride long and slow. As a result of doing so much slow riding, their 20 minute power output is reduced to a score potentially even lower than when they started! Subsequently, their Ironman pace (70% FTP) is therefore also reduced.

So the solution is simple, just train to produce the highest power output for 20 minutes by doing short and high intensity riding and you’ll PB in Ironman? Unfortunately not… The test dictates your Ironman pace from the amount of power you can produce within the 20 minutes. However, the critical part is that the test also presumes that you have done the mileage, so therefore have the endurance to support your performance.

The same applies to running and training for a marathon. Let’s say as a ‘guess’ that if you double your 10k time and add 4-5 minutes, you’ll be close to your half marathon time. Now double your half marathon time and add 10 and you’ll get your predicted marathon time. You’ve probably heard that formula before, it’s been around for many years. The key thing to point out is that when using that formula, your 10k time is therefore dictating your marathon time. As with our cycling example, if you can’t run quickly for 10k, you can’t run a fast marathon.

However, the formula of double 10k and add 4-5 minutes or double half marathon and add 10 presumes that you have ‘done the mileage’. You can’t just train for 10k racing and expect to run a great marathon. Your 10k time will ‘predict’ your running speed in the marathon, but without the mileage in your legs, you won’t be able to hold that pace for the entirety of the race.

So let’s look at it this way:

  1. The 20 minute test in cycling or the 10k time in running tells you how quickly you are capable of riding or running Ironman or marathon.
  2. Whether you have done the long distances in training will determine whether you are actually capable of maintaining that speed and reaching the finish line in your target time.
  3. As a quick summary, ‘how fast can you go and can you keep it going?’

The simple lesson to learn here is that both long-term endurance and maximal output over shorter distances are equally important for performance. If you choose one but not the other, you’ll either manage the distance ‘comfortably but slowly’ or you’ll go quickly at the start and die a painful death at the end. Don’t dismiss either of these key factors if you want to hit your target time.

To finish, I’ll go back to something, which I mentioned 3 weeks ago, when writing about the Maffetone formula. Each training intensity, level or zone has it’s own benefits and purpose. Too frequently athletes do their easy stuff too hard and their hard stuff too easy, as a consequence the sessions merge into one grey area of moderate intensity. When riding or running in zone 1, there are specific benefits, which are lost when you push too hard. When attempting a high intensity interval workout you will not gain the specific benefits of that session if you do not push hard enough.

Training is like baking, you need to put lots of different, but high quality ingredients together or you’ll find that on race day the whole thing will just taste a bit bland.

Go forwards endurance students, train well and practice burning the fat

– Marc Laithwaite

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Bullet Proof Coffee – Boost Your Endurance by Marc Laithwaite

I Love Bullet Proof Coffee

There is a current trend for ‘Bullet Proof Coffee’ which is used to boost endurance performance, in this post, we’ll explain the basic thinking behind the concept and how it can help you when training for endurance based events such as marathon running, cycling and long distance triathlon events.

Why Bullet Proof Coffee?

It’s something we’ve discussed many times before, if you can increase your fat burning during exercise, you will save glycogen (carbohydrate) and therefore exercise for longer. People who use glycogen at a high rate will run out much more quickly, so shifting your metabolism to use fat as your main source of energy is of great benefit.

What is Bullet Proof Coffee?

Bullet Proof Coffee 2

The subject can become a little over complicated, but in simple terms, it’s ground coffee with added MCT oil and butter. The perfectionists will argue that you need a specific high quality coffee bean freshly ground, but I’m sure you can start with general filter coffee powder and progress from there! The term MCT oil refers to ‘medium chain triglycerides’ which are a specific type of fat which is known to be fantastic for energy. MCT is found in coconut, so MCT oil is generally derived from coconut with the flavour removed. The other ingredient is butter, preferably organic and grass fed to be high quality, don’t use ‘Flora’ or ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ it’s really not the same. Full fat, organic, grass fed butter might sound a little strange as it’s high in saturated fat. However, saturated fat is one of your main fuels and critical for endurance performance.

Those who know a bit about nutrition trends will be familiar with the above info, those who are not familiar with nutrition trends might be thinking ‘I thought saturated fats were the bad one’s?’ It turns out they were wrong, who’d have thought it? it’s a long explanation so probably easiest if you just go with it…

The process:

Bulletproof Coffee

Make your coffee, add 1-2 tbs of MCT oil and 1-2 tbs of butter. Put it all in the blender and whip it up until you have a nice froth on the top. You can pour boiling water into your blender to keep it hot, then empty it just before the coffee goes in to stop the coffee cooling. Fat & oil don’t dissolve in water so it floats in the top.

You alternative option (the fanatics will not like this) is to use MCT powder. It works a bit like coffee mate, add a heaped teaspoon to your cup then add a small amount of coffee. Give it a good stir and whip to get the lumps out, then add the rest of the coffee. MCT powder tastes quite creamy (not of coconut) and you might find it more palatable than oil and butter floating on the surface, although I’d encourage you to try to original recipe also!

When should I drink it?

Before you go training, most people will generally opt for one of the following:

1. High carb breakfast
2. No breakfast
3. High fat breakfast

All 3 are viable, but it really depends upon the athlete and the type of session you are about to take part in. We will discuss this in a lot more detail next Tuesday.

Eating no breakfast (fasting) is a common method for encouraging the body to burn more fat, but actually taking a high fat breakfast (in this case a bullet proof coffee), might enhance fat usage even greater, by increasing the amounts of fats circulating in the blood.

IMPORTANT: It should be used for endurance sessions (long and slow) and works perfectly if you’re following a Maff formula or similar (as per last week’s blog). Each person will differ, but eating no breakfast and drinking a bullet proof coffee would work perfectly for:

Endurance runs of 1-2 hours
Endurance cycles of 2-3 hours

The timescales will very much depend upon the experience and fitness of the athlete. If you are very well trained, you may well be able to do more on a single drink, but these are average timescales. You should not take any breakfast beforehand and you should not eat sports products or ingest any other form of energy during the run or ride. You should also ride at the correct intensity (as per Maff or similar).

What to do next?

Buy some filter coffee, or some beans and a grinder. Google MCT oil or MCT powder and purchase some online, then get some grass fed organic butter. If you don’t have a blender, don’t worry, just give it a good whisk with a fork!! Drink the coffee 30 minutes before exercise.

– Marc Laithwaite

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

Maffetone Formula for better endurance performance by Marc Laithwaite

Marc Laithwaite at Lakeland 100/ 50 2014

Marc Laithwaite at Lakeland 100/ 50 2014

In a new series of articles, Marc Laithwaite (The Endurance Store), endurance coach and regular contributor to Talk Ultra podcast will provide insight in how you can become a better endurance athlete by training smart and eating for performance.

In the first article, we look at the Maffetone Formula also known as ‘MAFF.’

 

The term ‘aerobic base’ is used widely in endurance sports but what exactly does it mean? To build aerobic base athletes will generally do long and slow distance to gain specific benefits, we consider those 2 key benefits to be as follows:

  1. Conditioning – Your legs deal with a great amount of impact every time they hit the ground, which causes muscle damage. In turn, this muscle damage will slow you down. The only way to prevent this muscle damage is to become accustomed to ‘time on your feet’. Hence, by slowing down and running long distances at a slower pace, you will ‘harden your legs’ and prevent damage. If you run too hard during your ‘base training runs’ you will not be able to run far enough to get the required ‘time on feet’ so slowing to the correct intensity is critical. It’s important to note that this applies to cycling also, whilst the impact isn’t the same, the repeated action of pedalling means that your muscles will break down, your hips will become tight and your back will ache!
  2. Metabolic Adaptation – Your muscle fibres will adapt and more closely resemble the ‘slow twitch variety’. One of the key changes is the ability to use fat as a fuel source and also to use less energy overall. These combined changes mean that you are less likely to run out of fuel during longer distance exercise. If you can change your muscle fibres so running out of fuel is unlikely, combined with your ‘hardened legs’ which don’t become damaged easily, you are ready for some serious endurance action.

So how slow should I run?

It’s very common for endurance athletes to get the ‘training zone’ thing very wrong. The key thing to remember is that variation is critical, so easy sessions to develop base should be easy and high intensity sessions to develop power should be extremely hard. Many athletes tend to drift into the middle ground where no training is really easy, no training is really hard, but pretty much everything is ‘moderately hard’.

What is the Maffetone Formula?

Made famous by Mark Allen who won the famous Iron War with Dave Scott in 1989. Allen had repeatedly failed to beat Dave Scott, always running out of fuel in the marathon stage. He turned to Maffetone who revolutionised his training, with the principal aim of enhancing fat burning to make him a more effective runner. Maffetone employs a maximum aerobic heart rate above, which you cannot exercise. Initially, athletes find it very frustrating as they will be running very slowly, but over time there are large benefits to be had as the base aerobic system improves.

What’s the Formula?

Subtract your age from 180.

Modify this number by selecting among the following categories the one that best matches your fitness and health profile:

If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.

If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.

If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same.

If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

For example, if you are thirty years old and fit into category (b), you get the following:

180–30=150. Then 150–5=145 beats per minute (bpm).

If it is difficult to decide which of two groups best fits you, choose the group or outcome that results in the lower heart rate. In athletes who are taking medication that may affect their heart rate, those who wear a pacemaker, or those who have special circumstances not discussed here, further individualization with the help of a healthcare practitioner or other specialist familiar with your circumstance and knowledgeable in endurance sports may be necessary.

Two situations may be exceptions to the above calculations:

  • The 180 Formula may need to be further individualized for people over the age of sixty-five. For some of these athletes, up to 10 beats may have to be added for those in category (d) in the 180 Formula, and depending on individual levels of fitness and health. This does not mean 10 should automatically be added, but that an honest self-assessment is important.
  • For athletes sixteen years of age and under, the formula is not applicable; rather, a heart rate of 165 may be best.

Once a maximum aerobic heart rate is found, a training range from this heart rate to 10 beats below could be used as a training range. For example, if an athlete’s maximum aerobic heart rate were determined to be 155, that person’s aerobic training zone would be 145 to 155 bpm. However, the more training at 155, the quicker an optimal aerobic base will be developed.

Completing the Test:

Completing the test is simple, for running find a flat 3 miles course or complete 20 minutes. The simplest way is to find a running track as this makes distance measuring easier. Warm up for 15 minutes within the Maffetone Training Zone and then run 3 miles within the Maffetone Training Zone and record your time. You could use a flat circuit on road and use a GPS but variations in GPS accuracy mean that a running track is more accurate. Record your time for the 3 miles and preferably record your time for each of the mile splits. For the bike, it’s best done on a calibrated turbo training or riding to power. Warm up for 15 minutes in Maffetone Training Zone, then ride 30 minutes within the Maffetone Training Zone and measure average power or distance completed. Remember that the turbo and power meter needs to be calibrated or the accuracy is poor.

Practicalities:

You may find the run pace very slow and frustrating, if so, then you should take this as a positive, your base is very poor and you therefore have plenty of improvement to make for the 2015 season!! All of your easy mileage running should be done in the Maff Training Zone and the test can be repeated every 4-8 weeks. You should see an increase in speed and distance for the same heart rate as your base fitness improves. If you keep getting quicker, then don’t worry about speed work until the Maffetone training reaches a plateau. Develop your base as much as possible at the start of the year for maximum gains later.

On the bike, heart rate is generally lower than it is during running, so you’ll find the test a little less frustrating. In reality, the Maffetone Training Zone for cycling should be adjusted by reducing it between 5-10 beats (my opinion – you might want to incorporate it). This test is based on 180 minus age and we all know that maximum heart rate varies from person to person (220 minus age to calculate maximum has been widely criticised), but just go with it and try the formula, nothing is perfect!

We’d be keen to hear your feedback, go and give the test a try and let us know your progress. If you found this article useful, please share with your friends and re-post on Facebook or Twitter!

– Marc Laithwaite

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

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