THRESHOLD TRAINING by Marc Laithwaite

©iancorless.com_TCC2016-0742

Is ‘Threshold’ the most misunderstood sports physiology term? It certainly does cause confusion and in many cases, a runner’s perception of threshold is different. Marc Laithwaite takes a look and strips it back-to-basics.

What is threshold?

To start this conversation, we need to first point out that there are many different types of threshold and this is where the confusion begins. To give a few examples:

1. Lactate threshold

2. Aerobic / Anaerobic threshold

3. Ventilatory threshold

4. Functional threshold

There’s lots of magazine articles which outline the benefits of calculating your threshold and how you can use it for training purposes, but many of them are poorly written and incorrect, so here’s our low down.

Lactate Threshold

You can complete a lactate threshold test by cycling or running, gradually increasing your pace and taking finger prick blood samples at regular intervals to measure lactate in the blood. As the exercise gets harder, the lactate levels will increase.

There are technically 2 lactate threshold points. The first one is very early in the test, when your lactate levels start to rise above their resting levels. In practical terms, if you can hold a full conversation whilst riding your bike, then suddenly you feel that your breathing rate rises slightly, this is your true ‘lactate threshold’. This occurs very early and generally the heart rate at your lactate threshold will be the border of zone 1 and zone 2, so relatively comfortable.

As the test continues your breathing will get harder and harder and then you’ll reach a second lactate threshold. Up until this time your lactate has been steadily rising, but this is followed by a sudden and sharp kick upwards. As the test continues, your lactate will continue to rise sharply and you’re on borrowed time… you will be stopping soon as the lactate accumulates in your muscles. This second and sharp ‘kick up’ or ‘deflection point’ is what we tend to incorrectly refer to as ‘lactate threshold’. This is the figure that most people have completed the test for, technically, this is the ‘lactate turn-point’ or ‘Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation’ (OBLA).

So why should I measure my lactate threshold / lactate turn-point?

Well, your lactate threshold is a very good marker for many endurance events. Optimal Ironman bike pace tends to be very close to lactate threshold for many people (for training zones we use, it’s the border of zone 1 / 2, but this is not the case for other calculated zones).

The lactate turn-point is the measurement that most people really want to find out. When does my lactate start to rapidly accumulate, what’s the running speed / heart rate / power output at that point? Many magazine articles generally state that your hard / sustained exercise pace coincides with lactate turn-point, but in practical terms, that’s incorrect.

Let’s give an example of a runner who completes a lactate turn-point test and we calculate the heart rate at lactate turn-point to be 165bpm. If we ask this runner what their heart rate generally is during a 5-10k race, they will generally give is a figure 5-8 beats higher than the lactate turn-point. Initially this is confusing, as most people think that the heart rates will match. In terms of calculating heart rate training zones, we will therefore have to guess by adding 5-8 beats to the lactate turn-point, to calculate a ‘threshold heart rate’.

So why do a lactate threshold / lactate turn-point test?

Lactate testing does provide some information, but it can also be relatively limited in it’s use. One of the key things it does provide is a bench mark. If you repeat the test and the turn-point occurs at a later speed or power output, then your fitness has improved. From a coaching perspective, if we want to use the test results to provide coaching advice and training zones, then it’s not the best option for us to choose.

So what’s the other options?

Aerobic/Anaerobic and Ventilatory thresholds can be calculated by measuring expired gases and breathing rates during testing. These tend to fall much more accurately as predictors or training intensities. Functional threshold, is a completely different concept.

We don’t need to take blood (as we do for lactate) to measure these thresholds. They can be calculated by measuring the air going in and out of your lungs. Primarily, there are 3 things we measure, how quickly you’re breathing, how much air moves in and out and what the air is made up of e.g. oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The role of carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide is a waste product produced by muscles and other tissues. It’s pretty toxic so when we produce it, we need to get rid of it. Your body has sensors which detects when carbon dioxide level increase, it triggers your breathing rate to speed up so you can exhale it.

When you run harder, you need more oxygen so you breathe harder; yes?

Technically yes, although the main trigger is carbon dioxide. When you start to run, you produce CO2, this triggers breathing and heart rate to go up. The harder you work, the more CO2 you produce, this triggers breathing and heart rate to increase further.

How do we use this to calculate thresholds?

This is very simple. We can measure the increase in breathing rate when you exercise and we can measure how much oxygen your body absorbs. When you breathe faster, you do it for 2 reasons: to get more oxygen in and to remove waste carbon dioxide. If your breathing rate goes up but your body doesn’t absorb any more oxygen as a result, then you must be breathing faster for the other reason… to get rid of carbon dioxide.

Calculating thresholds

During a cycle or run testing session, there are 2 key thresholds. The aerobic threshold occurs quite early, this is the point when your breathing rate increases above rest. The best example of this is being able to exercise and hold a full conversation, then as the pace increases, you notice a change in your breathing and can’t hold a full conversation. This threshold occurs quite early during an exercise test.

As the exercise test gets harder, your breathing rate increases steadily to match. Eventually you hit a second ‘anaerobic threshold’ point where your breathing starts to rapidly increase. During a 10k / 5k running race at your fastest pace, your breathing will be fast and hard, but it will remain ‘stable’. If you push the pace just a little too much, it becomes ‘unstable’ and you start to hyperventilate. The only way to change this is to slow down and regain control of breathing.

These 2 thresholds can be measured during a Vo2 max testing session, by using a mask and gas analysis machine. Their description sounds similar to lactate thresholds but we find that the heart rate calculations are generally higher than during a lactate threshold test. Measuring thresholds as above tends to be more accurate for most athletes, when lactate threshold tends to calculate lower than expected and is therefore less practical.

Ventilatory threshold

The test we’ve outlined above involves the measurement of breathing rate to identify changes, for this reason, they are often referred to as ventilatory thresholds (VT). Next time you are riding with a friend and approaching a hill, listen to their breathing (and your own) and you can identify the 2 thresholds. Start at an easy conversation pace and climb steadily, the conversation will soon stop at VT1. Continue to climb and increase the pace and your breathing will become more laboured but still under control. For the last few minutes, ride at a pace which is harder than you can sustain, you’ll sense and hear your breathing rapidly increasing beyond control, this is VT2. On a long, hard climb, most people know where their VT2 is, and instinctively ride/run a few beats below it, to ensure that they don’t ‘blow!!’.

Now we’re talking ‘functional threshold’ which is a term more commonly used amongst cyclists in particular.

What is functional threshold?

The clue is in the name ‘functional’. The lactate / anaerobic / ventilatory thresholds are all valuable physiological markers but what’s their practical use? A cyclist riding a time trial really only needs to know one thing, how much power can they sustain for the full ride. The more power they can sustain, the faster they will complete the course.

There is often a misunderstanding with regards to lactate / anaerobic threshold. If you visit a lab and have your lactate threshold measured, that doesn’t tell you the power or speed you are able to sustain for a long period of time. To find the answer to that question, there is a more simple / practical / functional approach. Simply get on your bike and ride as hard as you can for an hour, then you’ll know the answer.

Functional Threshold Power

The FTP is a real ‘buzz term’ in cycle coaching and I’m sure most cyclists and triathletes will have heard it mentioned by someone at some point! FTP is quite simply the highest amount of power you can average for an hour. To complete this test, you need a power meter on your bike or turbo trainer.

Riding for an hour on the turbo is a killer!! So to get round that, most people complete a 20 minute test and take the average power reading. If you then calculate 95% of that figure, that’s your predicted FTP (average power for hour). For example:

1. Bob completes a 20 minute maximal test and averages 250 watts.

2. 95% of 250 = 237.5, this is Bob’s FTP and what he should be capable of holding for an hour.

Is this just for cycling or can it be used for running and swimming?

The issue with running and swimming is that you don’t have access to power data, so you can’t calculate the figures as you can with cycling. Having said that, the functional threshold is really just a ‘practical test’ to calculate what you can hold for a period of time.

Swimmers will often complete a ‘critical swim test’ which is basically the same thing. The test is simply swimming as far as you can in 20 minutes. For running, the same applies, you could complete a 15-20 minute test and measure distance on the running track.

So why are functional tests popular?

They’re popular because they are very practical. If you want to find out how fast you can complete a 25 miles time trial, the figure which is most likely to give you the answer is how much power can you average for an hour. Doing a lab test to calculate your lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold is valuable and useful for many reasons, but it will not give you the answer to the above question. Ultimately, functional tests tell you how fast you can swim/cycle/run for a set period of time and that’s the best indicator of race performances.

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

©iancorless.com_Lantau2Peaks2015-8463

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

©iancorless.com-9494

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

Tips for the Trail – Downhill Demon

 

©iancorless.com_Matterhorn2015-0893Running downhill is a skill mastered by the greatest fell / mountain runners. Watching someone descending at speed can leave the average runner in awe of the effortless speed and control. Technically if you’re running downhill it should be easy right? Gravity is pulling you down the hill so it’s all free speed… right? Unfortunately not.

Why is it so difficult?

1. When you run downhill you have to ‘brake’ your speed. Each time your foot hits the ground you use your thigh muscles to brake your descent. This braking places a specific stress on your muscles which causes a lot of damage, (that’s why they are so sore the next day).

2. Part of the reason for this ‘braking’ is the fact that you naturally land heel first and you are in effect ‘leaning backwards’. Ok, so when you’re actually running, you’re not ‘leaning backwards’, you are vertical. But, if you think about the angle of the slope away from you, then technically you are leaning backwards!

3. The braking takes place when your feet are on the ground, so the less your feet are on the ground, the better! If your stride is quite slow and your feet stay on the ground for a long time, there’s a lot of braking and a lot of strain on the muscles.

So what’s the plan?

1. Lean forwards slightly, this reduces the ‘lean back’ position and encourages you to land on your forefoot rather than your heel. By doing this, you reduce the braking effect.

2. You need to increase your cadence and get your feet moving quickly. By leaning forwards you’ll naturally gain speed, your feet and legs need to be able to keep up with that speed or you’ll end up braking again.

3. Relax and stay in control. Running downhill quickly, contrary to popular belief, is not for the brainless and brave. It’s not about ‘letting go’ and descending out of control with legs and arms flailing in all directions. It’s a purposeful forwards lean, mid foot strike with a fast cadence and minimal ground contact.

If I speed up, won’t I cause more damage?

1. People think if they run slower down the hill, it’ll cause less damage. Unfortunately that’s not always the case as the ‘braking’ is the cause of the damage. If you brake less, then you save your legs and you go quicker! However, be sensible about this, if you’re running a trail marathon or ultra race, perhaps descending at top speed (in particular the early stages of the race) is not the best plan.

Practice it this weekend, it’s all downhill from here!

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

How is your Posture? Part Quatre – Marc Laithwaite

postures1

                                                image from Primal Patterns

Okay, so we’re now onto part 4 of the series and this week we are looking at exercises to correct anterior tilt of the pelvis, which creates the lordosis posture. If you’ve not yet read parts 1, 2 and 3 read them HERE, HERE and HERE.

The topic for today is looking at breathing issues related to posture, we’re also going to look at the dreaded stitch. Aside from that, we’re going to look at ways of dealing with cramps.

Breathing and posture

The breathing issue is interesting for me as it’s something i’ve suffered from myself and couldn’t find a cure. They symptoms were very rapid and shallow breathing, I also felt that I couldn’t breathe deeply from my diaphragm. The best way to describe it was as if the bottom 2 thirds of my lungs didn’t work and i was just rapidly shifting air in and out of the top third. It felt to me at the time as though I had exercise induced asthma, there was some ‘wheezing’ which is a symptom of airway problems, so I went through that process and resolved nothing. The rapid shallow breathing was often, but not always linked to a pain under my ribs which most people would commonly refer to as a stitch. In a few triathlons I had to slow down to get rid of it, by relaxing and breathing deeply.

The key to resolving it was when i noticed that it was occuring more frequently in triathlon training and racing, compared to just running. Basically, it was a lot more likely to happen if I biked first. That got me thinking about posture and how it was affected by riding my bike before running. I soon noticed that I had a more pronounced lordosis posture (anterior tilt) after riding hard in the aero position then attempting to run. Interestingly, since identifying this problem i’ve spoke to more and more people who suffer stitch and breathing difficulties running in triathlon and a lot of them tend to be  children.

So what’s going on?

Time to post our anterior tilt photo again, it feels only right we put it in this final issue. I’ll start by saying that anterior-pelvic-tiltthis is purely my own thoughts and ideas, based on things I’ve tried which have worked for me. Nobody has given me a decent answer to why I had this recurring stitch or breathing difficulties.

Take a look at the photo right and picture the ‘abdominal cavity’. The abdominal cavity is the space which contains your intestines and in simple terms it’s a box with front, back, sides, floor and ceiling. The pelvic floor is underneath, the abdominals, lower back and obliques (muscles on sides) make the front, back and sides and your diphragm is the ceiling on this box.

If you have anterior tilt, this box becomes ’tilted’ out of position. If fact, it isn’t a box any more, it’s more like a rhomboid shape. If you don’t know what a rhomboid is, google it!! Keeping it simple, it’s fair to assume that if your diaphragm is pulled in an odd direction and out of position, it probably won’t pull down and allow you to deep breathe very well.

Keep is simple mate…

I’m trying. So having noticed this issue related to running after cycling and thinking about it way too much, I altered my posture when running. To my surprise, it was like someone has just pulled a giant plug out of my lungs and I could breathe normally!! I’ll explain the changes I made in as simple terms as possible.

Old technique:

1. Anterior tilt of the pelvis, creating an arched lower back and my stomach to stick out (leave it!!)
2. Felt like I was sticking my chest out at the same time. As I was sticking my chest out, I was looking slightly upwards (my natural line of site was upwards)
4. Point 2 & 3 meant that I was very upright, almost leaning back

New technique

1. To try and counter the upright / backwards lean I looked down at the road/track 15m ahead of me
2. Consciously held a slight forwards lean (my torso was slightly ahead of my pelvis)
3. Didn’t stick my chest out and shoulders back, moved shoulders forwards slightly (without hunching too much)
4. Pulled my belly in and avoided pelvis tilting forwards into lordosis

One final thing which can also help with the breathing issues, although not related to posture, is your stride rate. We are often encouraged to run or cycle with high cadences, 90 foot falls or 90 pedal revolutions per minute (or higher). Faster cadences for both cycling and running increase breathing rate. If you are struggling with rapid breathing, slow the cadence and stride out more (longer / slower strides), that can help to slow the breathing rate down.

Hopefully you can picture the changes above! I think it’s pretty common for runners who are tired and pushing hard to lean back, stick their chest out and look upwards. Thre result is a very upright and almost ‘leaning back’ posture. If you can relate to any of the breathing or ‘stitch’ symptoms above, then give the changes a go, see if they can help your run performances, if it works, i’d be interested to hear the feedback.

Cramping issues

There’s one final thing I’m going to talk about which is issues related to cramping. I explained in detail during previous blogs, the reasons for cramping and how posture can be a direct cause. As this is the final part of the ‘trilogy’ (I say trilogy in the tenuous sense of the word), I wanted to specifically answer a few questions which had been emailed, largely relating to cramp in the calf during open water swimming.

As per previous blogs, it’s nothing to do with salts etc the issue may well be related to changes in length and muscle stretch receptors / nervous system confusion. I’ve suffered from this issue and have a simple plan to resolve it. When swmming, your calf is in a shortened position and if it remains shortened for a long period of time, it can go into spasm. You need to remind your calf of it’s original length at regular intervals, so try this:

1. Every 3 minutes, pull your toes up to gently stretch your calf. Do it once on each leg and you don’t have to hold, just stretch and release. This inhibits your swimming slightly, but it’s not going to slow you more than 1 second at most!
2. You need to do it at regular intervals, not just in reponse to the cramp, so make it a habit every 3 minutes.
3. It needs to be gentle movement, don’t do a sharp stretch of the calf, which can also trigger spasm.

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

How is your Posture? Part Trois – Marc Laithwaite

Image ©www.mbmyoskeletal.com

                                              Image ©www.mbmyoskeletal.com

Okay, so we’re now onto part 3 of the series and this week we are looking at exercises to correct anterior tilt of the pelvis, which creates the lordosis posture. If you’ve not yet read the last 2 week’s posts, you should read them first. Pt1 HERE and Pt2 HERE.

Why are these exercises important?

Anterior tilt occurs becuase specific muscles may be weak, tight or you simply don’t know how to activate / use them properly. The exercises will therefore strengthen, stretch or activate control of those muscles. By doing this, you will be more aware of correct posture / pelvic position and you will be better able to maintain correct posture / pelvic position during exercise and daily life.

What are the limitations of these exercises?

Don’t presume that by doing these exercises, you will automatically hold perfect posture whilst you are training and racing. The exercises will make it possible to CONTROL your posture, but you must consciously make it happen when you are exercising. I’ve seen many swimmers and runners completing endless drills in the pool or on the track, presuming it will impact on their performance. The reality is that they become awesome at performing the drills and it seems to make no difference to the actual stroke or running stride. The same applies to these exercises, you have to make the transfer happen in a practical setting. Drills and exercises are pointless unless you try to implement them when you actually exercising.

How do I implement them when exercising?

Simple, when running you should always try to run in a pelvic neutral position. The first step is being aware that you’re NOT in a neutral position, then you should be able to use your stomach muscles to rotate the pelvis into the correct position. It might help to do the same cycling, some simple posterior rotation mid ride can prevent hip flexors tightening too much.

What about open water swimming? How many of you get a bad back swimming in a wetsuit? Simple explanation, the stomach muscles are not strong enough and your lower back arches too much (bit like doing a BAD plank exercise and sagging in the middle). Couple this with the fact that a wetsuit gives you buoyant legs and a high head and your body is in a ‘U’ shape position in the water. You need to contract your abdominals and lift your stomach (GOOD plank) to straighten you out and get a level position in the water. The big issue is going from this position in a wetsuit to a complete opposition position leaning forwards on your aero bars, a postural nightmare.

Stop banging on, what are the exercises….

These are the simple exercises which should be done every day without fail. We thought the bext way to show you would be a little youtube video.

NEXT WEEK, we’ll look at the stitch and breathing issues. We’ll also have a look at some of those cramping issues and suggestions to stop calf cramps when swimming etc.

Please pardon by pelvic tilting, it’s not the best viewing. IF YOU FIND THE VIDEO TOO SMALL, click on the YouTube icon, bottom right hand of the video player, it’ll open in YouTube. 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

©iancorless.com_RichtersveldRaceDay22015-8568

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 Two) – Marc Laithwaite

©iancorless.com_Menorca2015-4326

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 traveling abroad for an endurance event, who can’t afford to travel 3 weeks before the event?

This is part 2 of our ‘exercise in the heat’ blog series. Last week we explained why exercise in the heat is such a problem (you can read by clicking the coaching articles link at the top of the page and then scrolling down through past blogs). In this week’s blog, I’ll explain how you can acclimatise before you travel and highlight the key physiological changes that take place, as a consequence of acclimatisation.

It’s a bit cold up North, so acclimatising might be difficult!!

Okay, if you live in the North of the UK and you’re traveling abroad to race, then you might be struggling to understand how you can possibly acclimatise. I use the term ‘North of UK’ as we all know that in the South of the UK, the temperature rarely drops below 18c. I’ve never traveled further South than Birmingham, but I hear they wear shorts and flip-flops pretty much year round.

In simple terms, to acclimatise before traveling, you need to make yourself hot and encourage sweating when you train. There are really easy ways to do this:

  1. Wear extra clothing
  2. Run on a treadmill or cycle indoors and turn up the heat
  3. Spend time in a sauna or steam room on a daily basis

I’d recommend you start doing this from 2 weeks out, but you need to do it consistently. Ideally it should be on a daily basis. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the above methods can help acclimatise you before travelling to warmer climates.

General guidelines:

  1. If you’re exercising outdoors, wearing extra clothing will lead to a higher sweat rate, so make sure you hydrate during the session. The same can be said for indoor running or cycling, make sure you are hydrating throughout.
  2. You should expect it to affect performance to some extent. If you use a power meter when cycling or you run at specific speeds on the treadmill, you should expect your power of speed to be a little lower than normal. If you’re temperature is higher, attempting to maintain the same intensity as usual could result in you being exhausted by the finish of the session!
  3. Try to progress the sessions in terms of exposure and intensity. For example, if you ride indoors, gradually turn up the temperature over a 7 day period and gradually build up the volume and intensity of the session. Don’t simply crank up the heat on day 1 and ride the full session as you’d expect to in cooler temperatures.
  4. The same rule applies for the sauna and steam room. Start with 10-15 minutes and gradually build your time to 30-45 minutes. Take a drink into the sauna or steam room with you to ensure you are hydrating adequately.

What are the physiological changes that take place?

There are a couple of key changes that take place when you are forced to sweat at a high rate:

The first is an expansion of plasma volume, this refers to an increase in the amount of blood plasma. Last week we explained that blood is made up of plasma (the fluid part) and cells. As you sweat, you lose plasma, which then thickens the blood. Part of the acclimatisation process in as increase in plasma, which means your blood is thinner. By increasing your plasma volume, this also means that you have more blood in general. The amount of cells doesn’t change, but the fluid component is increased, thereby increasing the overall blood volume. This is handy when your blood has to supply both muscles and skin, as discussed last week.

The second key change is a reduction in salt loss. Early in the acclimatisation process, your sweat contains a high amount of sodium. As the acclimatisation process progresses, your body retains sodium by reducing the amount lost in sweat. In simple terms, your sweat becomes less salty. If you’re acclimatising over a 2 week period, lick your skin every day and see if you can taste the change. It’s not socially acceptable to lick someone else’s skin.

As stated earlier, for these 2 changes to occur, you simply need to encourage a high sweat rate when training. The more you sweat, the more these changes will occur. Be sensible, reduce the intensity of the training session and gradually build up heat exposure over the 2 week period.

Until then, stay cool.

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

©iancorless.com_TCC2015_Day5-2508

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 Seven) – Marc Laithwaite

©iancorless.com_MDM2015-0251

Last week we introduced specific products used during endurance events and how they can fulfil your requirements in terms of nutrition intake.

There are 3 common sports products used during endurance racing:

  1. Drinks powders
  2. Gels
  3. Bars

This week, we’ll check out bars and gels.

What’s in them?

Unsurprisingly, gels tend to contain maltodextrin and glucose, similar to the drinks. In fact, gels are simply condensed energy drinks. They were originally designed to be carried on events where you could access only water, as a source of energy. The thickness of the gel will dictate how much energy they contain. Some gels are very thick and sticky and these contain more energy than the ones which are a thinner, more watery solution. This is based upon the simple principles we discussed a couple of weeks ago, relating to hypo, iso and hypertonic solutions.

As an example, a 41g power gel original contains approximately 27g of carbohydrate. Remember the 60g rule? That means 2 of these gels per hour would be pretty close to target intake. The remaining 14g of the gel is fluid (41g – 27g = 14g) so we can calculate the gel thickness as follows:

Total weight = 41g
Carbohydrate content = 27g
27/41 = 0.66, Therefore this gel is a 66% solution (27 is 66% of 41)

The purpose of that calculation is simply to highlight that gels are extremely ‘hypertonic’, remember that isotonic is a 7% solution. Being hypertonic is not a problem, the more hypertonic the more energy it provides, but it does mean that you need to take fluid with them.

In past blogs we stated that you should aim for no more than 10% solutions, so that means 270ml of water drank with 27g of carbohydrate will be correct, 270 / 27 = 10. It’s important to do the calculation based on the 27g of carbohydrate in the gel, not the 41g total weight of the gel. Technically if you drink 270ml the solution will actually be less that 10% as there’s already 14g of fluid in the gel as stated above. As a practical guide think about a 500ml drinks bottle generally used for cycling, it’s half of one of those with every power gel.

What about Isogels

There are ISOGELS on the market, SIS and High5 make popular versions. By adding more fluid to the gel and reducing the carbohydrate content they can reduce the thickness of the gel solution.

The first thing of note is that they contain less carbohydrate, so you’d need to take more of them every hour. They contain in the region of 22-24g of carbohydrate per gel, so that means you’d be taking almost 3 per hour to get your energy, rather than 2 power gels. That’s a lot of gels to carry if you’re racing long distances.

But ISOGELS are isotonic, so you don’t need water, right?

HIGH5 Isogel
Total weight = 66g
Carbohydrate content = 24g
24/66 = 0.36, Therefore this gel is a 36% solution (24 is 36% of 66)

SIS GO Isogel
Total weight = 66g
Carbohydrate content = 22g
22/66 = 0.33, Therefore this gel is a 33% solution (22 is 33% of 66)

So we said above and in previous blogs that isotonic solutions are 7%. The solutions for the ISOGELS above are 33% and 36%, this is not isotonic, it’s hypertonic. I may be missing something here, so I did phone High5 and ask. They couldn’t answer the question but stated that ‘they were more isotonic than other gels’. I’m not sure that is technically true, as none of them are anywhere near 7%. That’s a bit like me saying I’m tall and when questioned about by lack of height, I reply by stating ‘I’m more tall than Ste Hilton’. Whilst that may be true, it doesn’t make me tall…

Key points:

1. You DO need to drink water with ISO gels
2. If you don’t know Ste, that joke is completely lost

If there’s 24g of carbohydrate in a 66g gel, then you need to take 240ml of water for a 10% solution (240ml / 24g = 10%). However, there is already 42g of fluid in there (66g gel – 24g carbohydrate = 42g fluid). Based on this, 200ml would be sufficient, that’s still more than a third of a 500ml drinks bottle.

What about energy bars?

Bars are an alternative source of carbohydrate. They generally contains things like oats, rice, wheat etc with added sugar syrups such as glucose or fructose. In terms of ‘solutions’ a gel is solid food, so it needs mixing with a significant amount of water to digest and absorb effectively.

As an example, a powerbar energize bar (others are available!!) weighs in as follows:

Bar weight = 55g
Carbohydrate = 39g
Fat = 2g
Protein = 6g

In terms of carbohydrate content, you’d need 1.5 bars per hour to get your 60g intake. If you add up the content weight 39g + 2g + 6g = 47g. We stated that the bar weighed 55g, so there is some fluid in there also plus some other little bits to make the weight up to 55g. If you drank a full 500ml bottle of water with every bar, that would give you just less than 9% solution which is ideal (47/500 = 0.9). That means a full 750ml bottle and 1.5 powerbars per hour would be pretty much on target (remember all bars are different, these calculations are for powerbar energize).

Salt intake

We discussed sweating and hydration last week, which included salt intake. As a recap, salt and sodium are 2 different things. Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. You need to know this as some products give ‘salt’ content and others give ‘sodium’ content. Remember also from last week we said that you are likely to sweat up to 1g of sodium per hour (1000mg). There’s multiple thoughts on salt replacement, regarding how much and whether you need it. I’m not going to go into depth on the matter because this is meant to be a simple and easy to read blog. If it’s warm and you sweat a fair bit, aim for 500-1000mg SODIUM per hour. If you take a bit too much, you’ll just sweat it out anyhow so don’t overly panic.

Let’s presume that you are aiming to take all of your energy by using sports gels or bars. So remember, our targets are 60g of carbohydrate per hour and 500-1000mg of sodium per hour, presuming its warm and you sweat. Here are some options:

SIS GO Isotonic Gel

Includes 22 grams of carbohydrate
Sodium = negligible

High5 Isogel

Includes 24 grams of carbohydrate
Sodium = negligible

Powergel

Includes 27g of carbohydrate
Sodium = 205mg
2-3 Powergels per hour would give you 410-615mg of sodium, we stated that 500mg was a starting target.

Powerbar Energize

Includes 39g of carbohydrate
Sodium = 192mg
1.5 Powerbar Energize per hour as suggested above, would give you 288mg of sodium, half of that provided by intake of 2-3 Powerbar gels per hour. They really don’t make this easy!!

Some key points:

  1. The amount of carbohydrate in gels and bars varies widely
  2. You need to drink water with all gels and bars for correct absorption
  3. Isotonic gels don’t exist (unless I’ve missed something)
  4. Sodium content varies widely in bars and gels and is often not included

I hope that basic overview helps you to practically apply what you’ve learned over recent weeks, feel free to call into the store and we can talk you through it before your big day.

– 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