Tuesday, March 30, 2010
By Mark Allen
Base training is what will determine your racing results in endurance athletics. We've heard this over and over in magazines, blogs and articles. But what IS base training? Let me throw a concept out to you that defines what it develops: Maximum Lipid Power. What is that??? This is the speed or power output you can generate at the exact point where you are getting 50% of your energy needs for your effort from fat and 50% from carbohydrates. You may be saying that's wonderful, but still why is this so important? There are as few things that make this number gold for endurance athletics.
In a race you can burn around 700 calories per hour. If this corresponds to your maximum lipid power you will be burning 350 calories/hour of fat and 350 calories of carbs. Now, once again, why is this so important? Well, most people are able to ABSORB your 350 calories per hour worth of carbohydrate, which again if you are racing at their maximum lipid power output, you are going to be replacing carbs about as fast as you are burning them, which will spare the precious stored glycogen for a surge at the end. Once you start to accelerate or increase your output level beyond that point you also begin to burn higher and higher amounts of carbohydrate compared to fat, which will exceed the amount of carbs you can absorb per hour and at some point after burning through stored glycogen there is only one thing that can happen. You have to slow way down!
For most people, the maximum lipid power occurs at fairly easy to moderate levels ones that will be well below a race effort. However, if a person does indeed take the time to develop their body's ability to burn fat for fuel (base training), that speed or power output goes way up, which means that you use a higher percent of fat for fuel at ALL speeds even near max efforts in short races, which gives you a greater chance of absorbing enough carbs to sustain a high speed. This is not only a nice benefit, but in say an Ironman it is critical to prevent a suffering slow marathon, one where those 350 calories per hour that you can absorb do not cover the amount being burned for your efforts.
With correct base training the maximum lipid power will develop allowing a person to go faster and faster, to generate higher and higher power outputs coming from more efficient fat burning. And when that base gets combined with just the right amount of intensity training that level can become fast enough to be what you also race at in longer events, placing you in just the right kind of physiology to have it all, which is a speed that allows you to absorb enough carb to sustain an award winning effort!
For more, check out http://www.markallenonline.com/.
Friday, March 19, 2010
The following article is from MDA. Click on the title link to learn more about the Primal Blueprint and Mark's Daily Apple.
By Brad Kearns
It’s been a wonderful experience to work closely with Mark Sisson over the past two years on the Primal Blueprint book and the many ambitious projects we have announced for 2010. I look forward to meeting PrimalCon attendees in April and discussing the application of Primal Blueprint principles to endurance training. Mark and I go back over two decades, when we first crossed paths on the professional triathlon circuit in the 80’s. Mark was my coach and mentor for the majority of my professional career, helping guide me into training and lifestyle practices that were counter to Conventional Wisdom (sound familiar?) and basically save me from the extreme burnout risk that was (and still is) endemic to training and racing at the elite level.
What an amusing journey it’s been! Mark and I used to debate the intricacies of interval workouts and swim technique on 100-mile training rides. Today our workouts are beach sprints or quick, intense plyometric sessions, and debate is about the ingredients for our post-workout BAS (Big Ass Salad). Having both been through the hard-core endurance scene, spit out the other end, and catapulted headlong into the Primal world, we share a valuable perspective of both appreciation for the passion expressed by endurance athletes, and also a conviction that the Conventional Wisdom approach and mindset toward endurance training and racing is deeply and dangerously flawed.
As Mark has mentioned often on the blog and in the book, trying to apply the Primal Blueprint Fitness principles to a gung-ho endurance athlete with extreme and highly specialized goals is a challenge. As the landmark post, A Case Against Cardio explained in detail, serious endurance training is detrimental to your health, period. However, there is a way to do this stuff correctly, have fun, preserve your health, and enjoy all the benefits of the endurance experience which is so popular these days. Anyone who has browsed through the Primal Blueprint or read much of the blog is aware of Chronic Cardio’s drawbacks, and the benefits of integrating the three Primal Blueprint exercise laws (Move Frequently at a Slow Pace, Lift Heavy Things, and Sprint Once in a While) to achieve well-balanced, functional fitness without compromising health. This stuff is all fine and dandy until you catch the fever and sign up for a marathon or half-ironman triathlon. Then, as most of the magazine articles, books and coaches will tell you, you have to get focused, put in the miles, be consistent and basically struggle and suffer in the name of preparing for your daunting fitness goal.
The promotion of this approach and mentality is a massive scam, preying upon the frailties of the Type A personality drawn to extreme challenges, and fed by the hype and marketing influences of those who stand to make a buck off of people struggling and suffering. For example, consider the “Ironman”, which today has evolved from a description of a triathlon race distance to a multimillion dollar global brand with dozens of events replicating the original Hawaii “product”. Let us not forget that Ironman is an arbitrary distance, entirely inconsiderate of the health, lifestyle factors and overall best interests of those who participate. What if the distance around Oahu was only 56 miles? (the derivative of the 112-mile Ironman bike ride is the 112-mile ‘Ride Around Oahu’ bike ride) Or what if the standard marathon distance (born from the legend of Pheidippides running from Marathon to Athens, Greece to announce a battle victory) was only 13 miles instead of 26, and thus the Ironman was actually a half-ironman? It might be a superior competitive event and would surely be a more sensible competitive and peak performance goal for the vast majority of the participants.
The contention I have is the media and corporate influence that have lured the masses to believe that running a marathon or finishing an Ironman is the ultimate endurance achievement. To me this seems backwards – to get persuaded by hype, mystique and peer pressure into an athletic goal and then re-arrange your lifestyle in order to pursue that goal. It makes better sense to make a careful analysis of your life circumstances, responsibilities, obligations and potential impact on your family, career and overall well-being, and then choose an appropriate competitive goal. Aspiring to a less challenging event that requires less training time and less physical stress might be a win/win situation all around. For comparison, look at the sensibility of a community soccer league, where field size, game length, and number of players escalate steadily as the kids get older and more competent. If instead we put Under-6 kids on an international 100-meter field for 90 minutes, what might happen? They’d probably become exhausted and burnt out, something that happens with alarming frequency in the endurance world. As an endurance athlete, you must take control of your destiny, choose appropriate goals, and train according to some simple guidelines that will allow you to protect health, moderate the stress of an extremely stressful endeavor, increase your enjoyment of the endurance experience, and finally, believe it or not, actually improve your competitive performances.
1. Align Workout Efforts with Energy Level, Motivation Level and Health
Throw out the fancy log books, graphs, magazine articles, books and Internet coaches spitting out detailed 6-week or 12-week training plans designed to produce peak performance. Get a spiral notepad for 99 cents and start keeping score of these three markers with a simple 1-10 rating each day: 10 being outstanding, 5 being medium, and 1 being terrible. Conduct and rate your workouts similarly, with 1 being an easy recovery effort and 10 being a maximum effort. Strive to match up the energy/motivation/health numbers with the workout degree of difficulty scores, and realize the long-term negative repercussions of misaligning these markers. When you rate your workouts, include psychological components as well as physical. Cutting short sleep for a swim session on a brisk early morning, followed by a hurried drive to work while inhaling a processed snack for breakfast is far more stressful than the same workout on a more relaxed time schedule. Govern your workout decisions by asking yourself, “Is this healthy?” and be clear with your specific purpose for every workout: recovery/rejuvenation, fitness maintenance or fitness improvement.
2. Train Intuitively Instead of Robotically
The world’s foremost expert on your training program is you, even if you are a complete novice. No one will ever be as skilled at rating and aligning the numbers described in item #1 as you are right now. I counsel the endurance athletes I coach to make every workout feel effortless. I’m obviously taking license with the literal definition here, but the goal is to make training decisions based on gut instinct, biofeedback, even visualization – in order to promote physical and mental ease rather than struggle. Physically, workout pace and length should be dictated by factors discussed in #1 – energy, motivation, and health. Mentally, you want to nurture your passion and your will at all times, and never abuse these attributes in the name of your ego or insecurities. If you don’t feel like working out, this is a powerful message to reflect upon and honor. Sure, sometimes inertia is involved and you feel better once you get out the door and get moving, but often developing the discipline to hit the snooze button and sacrifice the instant gratification of logging more miles is what can take you to the next level as an athlete. Restraining your obsessive/compulsive tendencies and rejecting the unhealthy influences of Conventional Wisdom and peer pressure offers a tremendous growth experience that can translate to many other areas of life. Conversely, a lack of restraint and intuition will cause your athletics to become just another outlet to express your insecurities and obsessive/compulsive tendencies. The choice is yours!
3. Increase the Severity of Stress/Rest Fluctuation
The recommendation for consistency is the context of athletic training is deeply flawed. Extensive research suggests that your body will plateau and even regress unless you vary workload carefully. While most everyone agrees with this basic concept, I believe that we haven’t taken it far enough. Experts touting sage advice like “rest one day a week”; “build three weeks, then recover one week”: or “never increase your mileage more than 10% per week” are interpreting only a narrow slice of a very big picture. The balance between stress and rest is a constant challenge, represented best by our waking days and sleeping nights. When it comes to training, it’s difficult to predict the ideal stress/rest balance, and most people err on the stress side. Partly to blame are the elite athletes who serve as de facto role models and share their secrets with eager enthusiasts. An Olympian who eats, sleeps and runs 130 miles a week has little in common with someone immersed in busy family, career, school, and community life. While exercise is an excellent “stress release” from other forms of mental and emotional stress in your life, it’s merely a different form of stress, pulling on the very same adrenal glands that service your boardroom presentations, domestic arguments, and financial concerns.
Understanding the Primal Blueprint exercise laws, it makes sense to promote optimal gene expression by reducing the stress of your endurance workouts (by limiting heart rate to 75% of max or less), and reducing the frequency and duration (but possibly even increasing the difficulty) of high-intensity workouts. The body does not require a consistent application of stress to thrive, but rather a strategic balance between stress and rest. Make your easy-to-moderate workouts much easier and shorter, and make your hard workouts much less frequent and in many cases, harder. Don’t be afraid to spike that graph more than Conventional Wisdom suggests, and do everything you can to run screaming from the “flatline” approach that has produced widespread burnout.
Applying these three principles requires a skill set that, quite frankly, tends to be a little deficient amongst the masses of endurance enthusiasts. However, an evolved training program is well within your reach, and can pay great dividends starting immediately. Once you expand your horizons beyond the “struggle and suffer’ paradigm, and see how fun it is to train intuitively, healthily and Primally, there is no turning back, believe me!
Brad Kearns is a noted speaker, author and coach in the health & fitness world for over two decades. Over the past two years, he has worked closely with Mark Sisson on Primal Blueprint projects, editing the Primal Blueprint book and DVD, and co-authoring the upcoming Primal Leap 30-day weight loss program Guidebook. Brad has written nine other books on health, fitness, and peak performance, including Breakthrough Triathlon Training (2006, McGraw-Hill), which offers a healthy, balanced approach to triathlon peak performance, and How Lance Does It (2007, McGraw-Hill), which details the attitude and behavior qualities of the Tour de France legend and how you can apply these attributes to your own goals. During his nine-year career as a professional triathlete, Brad was a 2-time national champion and ranked #3 in the world in 1991. Brad produces the Auburn, CA Triathlon annually, and is the Founder and Executive Director of a non-profit organization promoting cardiovascular fitness for kids called Running School. Brad graduated cum laude from UC Santa Barbara in 1985, majoring in Business/Economics and minoring in running injuries and surfing. He enjoys coaching youth sports and dominating sixth graders in both soccer and basketball. Brad’s offbeat competitive outlets include high jumping and Speed Golf. A 3.7 handicap, Brad placed 8th in the world Speed Golf championships, shooting 80 on a regulation 18-hole course in 40 minutes. In spring 2008, Brad attained a lifetime best high jump of 5’5”, which would rank him 13th in the USA Masters 40+ track and field list.
Mario Cipollini will celebrate his 43rd birthday on Monday, but for the flamboyant Italian sprinter, this time of year has always been about his obsession with Milan-San Remo.
When he was a boy he watched his brother Cesare descend the Turchino in the peloton from under his father's overcoat and promised him that he would one day win the sprint in the Via Roma. Cipollini went on to ride La Primavera 17 times during his long career, finally winning in 2002 on his 14th attempt.
He was there to see Mark Cavendish win last year and will be at the race again this year in his role as a consultant with the ISD-Neri team that uses Cipollini bikes.
Cipollini has never been afraid to give his opinion on any subject and analyzed the favourites for this year's race for Gazzetta dello Sport.
Asked to pick a winner, he said: "The first name that comes to mind is Boasson Hagen, but I think Petacchi could win too."
"Tom (Boonen) is on great form and I'm really happy to see that he's back. Perhaps we've got great champion back and most of all we've got the person back. If he had the same focus for San Remo as he has for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, he'd be unbeatable. But the Belgians see San Remo as an appetizer for their own races. The Belgian's don’t have tiger's eyes like they do on the pave."
"Daniele [Bennati] is also going really well and we'll see if he can pull it off. It's the first big opportunity of his career. He's got to ride to win. [Fabian] Cancellara isn’t at his best when he dominated the race but he could also win. If he gets over the Poggio, it’ll be a big problem for everyone else."
"Pippo [Pozzato] is excellent form and the fact that McEwen isn’t in the team is an advantage for him because he'll have more freedom. He won as a domestique, lets see what he can do as a leader."
Cipollini describes Oscar Freire as a danger and also refuses to totally write off Mark Cavendish.
"He's not totally out of it, perhaps he's been hiding," Cipollini suggested. "If he'd won two stages at Tirreno, all the responsibility for controlling the race would have been on his team's shoulders. Now things are different. If he gets over the Cipressa, he could be dangerous."
Weather forecasts are predicting it may rain during the race, although perhaps not at the finish in San Remo. Cipollini knows that rain on the greasy coastal roads and especially the twisting descent could hugely influence the race.
"Things would get complicated and the race would become a lot more selective. Boasson Hagen, Boonen and even Pozzato would have an advantage, while the opposite would be true for Petacchi, who could suffer," he said.
Whatever the conditions, Cipollini is hoping for a spectacular, aggressive race, ironically the opposite of what he hoped for when he was riding and tried to control his rivals and then win the sprint.
"It's be nice if there was a battle on the Manie climb," he said. "The Acqua & Sapone riders have to make a move and Liquigas too, with Pellizotti, Nibali and Kreuziger. Lampre could also try with Cunego. Then if it ends in a sprint, they've got Bennati and Petacchi."
Thursday, March 18, 2010
by Neil Browne
The past several years have been a roller coaster ride for American Floyd Landis, full of the sort of drama that could rival any daytime television writer. The Pennsylvania native was raised by a devout Mennonite family in Lancaster county, before letting his talent and passion for cycling take him to the sport's highest honor in 2006, as the overall winner of the Tour de France.
Landis defied all the odds in the Grande Boucle that year, riding in control of the race lead during the sixteenth stage until he cracked just 15 kilometers from the finish. He lost more than ten minutes to the stage winner of the day and plummeted down the standings to eleventh overall. He began stage seventeen with whispers in the peloton of a broken man, but a vicious display of teamwork at the base of the Col des Saissies by his Phonak team, the first major climb of five that day, saw his rivals dropped and Landis emerge with the longest time trial in modern Tour de France history at 125 kilometers.
His audacious move left him just 30 seconds behind race leader Oscar Pereiro, and he would overtake the Spaniard in the final time trial. Just four days later his team announced that Landis tested positive for an unusually high ratio of testosterone in the sample taken after his epic ride in stage seventeen. Landis' legal team mounted a defense citing inconsistencies in the handling and evaluation of his urine samples, but the disqualification was upheld and he was stripped of his Tour title. He continues to maintain his innocence.
This season he was expecting to ride for Michael Ball's Rock Racing team, but when the team couldn't secure a professional license he was on his own in the eleventh hour searching for a team. In a surprise move, Raashan Bahati's new Bahati Foundtation Pro Cycling team decided to bring Landis on board, and he's now gotten more of an opportunity than he'd expected - a way to channel his cycling into something truly positive again by helping underprivileged youth.
Landis talked to VeloNation about working with Bahati on his foundation, and the new partnership with his long-time supporter Dr. Brent Kay and the OUCH Sports Medical Center to help fund a youth track team.
Click on the title link to read on....
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Alberto Contador (Astana) has announced two key changes to his race programme for the next few weeks following his overall victory at Paris-Nice.
Contador had initially planned to ride the Volta a Catalunya (March 22-28) and then the Vuelta a Pais Vasco (April 5-10) but has now decided to cut his number of race days. He will now ride Criterium International (March 27 and 28) and the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon (April 14-18).
The changes mean he will face Tour de France rival and former teammate Lance Armstrong at the Criterium International. It will be the first time the two have raced against each other since their acrimonious split last season.
Contador also confirmed he will ride Fleche-Wallonne (April 21) and Liège - Bastogne - Liège (April 25).
"I’ve had very good results in the first two races, my preparation is proceeding well, so we decided to change the calendar, to seek a less tiring race programme for me and for my team,” Contador said in a statement.
“Criterium really suits my racing characteristics and I’m also want to ride it because it prestigious race. The Vuelta a Castilla y Leon is a special race for me and this year’s change of dates helps me before going to the Classics, where I especially hope to gain experience. I'm excited to ride them because they’re special, but I know that there are riders who have a better chance of winning.”
“I’m sacrificing Catalonia and the Tour of the Basque Country because my preparation is going very well and do not want to risk doing too much. Now I'll also have the opportunity to meet other team riders that will be in the Tour team, like Vinokourov”.
The Astana team also announced that it will not ride this year’s Paris-Roubaix. The team relinquished its place, claiming it does not have specialist riders, although it promised to ride the French cobbled classic in 2011.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
During a wide-ranging and candid interview with Spanish daily El País, Lance Armstrong has spoken about his hopes for the Tour de France, riding into 2011 and, of course, Alberto Contador. There was nothing controversial in his comments about Spaniard.
Indeed, the most interesting sections of the interview focused on questions the seven-time Tour winner is seldom asked, such as how he thinks he’s viewed in the peloton.
Asked whether he feels he’s respected or feared in the peloton, Armstrong responded: “It’s impossible for me to know what the rest are thinking. I know that at one time they used to fear me and perhaps they do now respect me. Young riders come up to me and ask me, very respectfully, if they can have their photo taken with me. That makes me feel old,” admitted the 38-year-old.
“But you are old,” El País’s Carlos Arribas told him. “I’m old, but not as old as [Cervélo’s 40-year-old Iñigo] Cuesta,” Armstrong joked in return.
He was then asked about the time when riders did fear him and Armstrong was quick to employ “the look”, that burning stare of disapproval directed at those who had got on his wrong side.
“That look… I’ve still got it. In life there are passionate, committed, intense people and passive people. I’m one of the former… I might once have used that look on some journalist, but I also use it on my kids when they don’t obey me. The same intense look. And I use it just the same on those I don’t like as with my children, who I love more than I do myself. It’s the same personality, the same intensity.”
Asked how important an eighth Tour win is to him, Armstrong said, “It’s not essential. I don’t need it especially. I only need it as a reward for my hard work. But, honestly, there’s no difference between winning seven or eight. The next Tour will be a great story: the rivalry with Alberto, what happened last year… This will be good for the Tour, but it won’t change my life if I win it or I don’t, nor the lives of my children.”
Asked whether someone as competitive as him always needs to win, Armstrong responded, “Yes… but the key thing is that it will be very difficult. I’m 38. Alberto is 27 and improving every year. I can see that, people can see that, Alberto can see that… The forecast is not in my favor.”
The Texan said that he would only be frustrated at losing the Tour if an error cost him victory. “If I’m at my top level at 38 years old, I don’t commit any mistakes, I don’t suffer any falls, I don’t get ill or puncture at a bad moment, I don’t have any bad luck and the best man wins, I won’t be able to have any regrets."
As for continuing into 2011, Armstrong replied, “I will decide on that after the Tour. The hardest part is my family. I really miss them…”
Friday, March 5, 2010
Alberto Contador will begin his second race of the season on Sunday at Paris-Nice, a competition that, since his victory in 2007, has always had a special significance for him. The occasion also marks his first return to French roads since winning the Tour, which has been another source of motivation for reaching the start line in good physical condition. “I’m arriving in a good state of form,” says the leader of Astana, “although I’ve only done a little more work since the Volta ao Algarve.”
How’s your current condition?
I’ve had a cold, I think as a consequence of the rain we had to put up with in Portugal, but in spite of everything, I think that I’m in good form.
What have you been doing since your victory in the Algarve? What has changed since then?
I’ve rested a little more than planned, because it was a tough tour, also because I had the cold. Since then I’ve done some training with the idea of brushing up on the work I did during the winter, but I don’t know if I’m better or worse than I was in Portugal, because things were already going really well there.
In Paris-Nice 2009 you suffered a spectacular bonk, do you have a desire for revenge or is that just an entertaining story from the past?
No, I don’t desire revenge. That was a pretty valuable experience that served to let me know that you can’t be careless about anything and that you have to take a stoic view of the race. It cost me the victory in 2009, yes, but an important experience came with it.
What are your goals, will you fight to win?
Of course I’m going to try to fight to win with the team that I’m going with, to be in the fight, although it’s really difficult to win and there are riders who are very strong and who’ve got more miles in their legs than I do, like Luis León or Valverde, who’ve done more days of competition. The goal, in any case, is to be there.
Who are the favorites?
There are riders that I think are farther along than I am, like Luis León or Valverde. Alejandro already knows what it's like to win nearby, in the Tour of the Mediterranean, and he’s also been in Australia and Almería. At the beginning of the year, you really notice having more days of competition. But in a race like Paris-Nice, there’s a wide range of favorites. There’s also Samuel Sánchez, Frank Schleck, Sandy Casar and Chavanel, among many others.
How does this edition’s route seem, what are the key points?
It’s a good route, but the difference is that the summit finish, at Mende, is short and very explosive. I already climbed it in 2007 and the time differences will be minimal. This year the victory will be decided by a few seconds and the time bonuses will probably be important. The last three days in the mountains will be very difficult to control, just like it always is in Paris-Nice. The podium will be decided by a very slim margin.
The time trial is coming up on Sunday, do you have the new bicycle ready?
I hope that I will not have to use the one from the Algarve. It still hasn’t arrived from the United States, but it’ll arrive in time and I hope to do the best crono I can. The route doesn’t have any climbs, there are eight pretty flat kilometers, but I still hope to be with the front-runners there. Last year I won, but I don’t think that I’ll be at the same level this year. (Official press release: AC press room)
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
By Mark Sisson
The thing about overtraining is that it exists on a spectrum, without clear-cut rules or boundaries. As I said last week, sufficient training volume is entirely subjective, and it’s constantly changing depending on an individual trainee’s goals, nutrition, sleep habits, stress levels, and injury status. What worked well for the last three months might prove to be excessive if your diet gets disrupted. A particularly stressful stretch at the office could undo a heretofore-steady strength progression. The human body is resilient, but there are limits – and the limits aren’t always clearly delineated. To divine them, it takes finesse and thoughtful tinkering at the edges. Sometimes you have to fall off the edge to know where it is. It’s more art than science. There are some solid, basically objective ways to deal with it, though, even if you’re not sure what constitutes overtraining for you.
Outright avoidance is the most prudent policy, of course.
If you take the necessary steps to prevent overtraining before it happens, you’re good to go. I’ve learned that, when in doubt, less is often more.
Don’t try to be an elite hybrid marathoner/powerlifter/metcon superhero.
Most performance-oriented people will have to choose between running mega miles each week and hitting heavy compound lifts. You can’t do Stronglifts, drink a gallon of milk, and go run a half marathon. I mean, you physically can and I want you to be fit enough to do so, but training that way would be so entirely counterproductive as to be absurd. Your running would suffer, your lifts would be weak and unimpressive, and you’d probably injure yourself. You’d be way overstimulated, cortisol would flow like desiccated gluten through a leaky gut, and you wouldn’t know whether to burn fat or burn sugar. Lift heavy and run the occasional long distance event? That’s fine. It’s what being Primally fit is all about. But it’s the regular training of both that will confuse your body and mess you up in the long run.
Don’t train specifically to run marathons, for that matter.
I know I’ve got a fair amount of endurance athletes reading this, and I don’t want to rub them the wrong way, but this is simply my honest opinion. Unless you are among the elite few, running marathons and engaging in high intensity endurance training on a regular basis – Chronic Cardio – is the quickest way to overtrain. It’s what led to my perpetual state of fatigue, inflammation, and system stress back in my endurance days. I’ve made overtures in the past to PBers who refuse to give up endurance work, and last week a good friend gave his take on endurance training the Primal way, but, as a general rule, don’t train for marathons, triathlons, or any other extreme endurance event if you’re worried about overtraining. Yes, I encourage you to be fit enough to be able to run one, but you can achieve a level of proficiency simply by training PB-style. (In fact, I tell people, if you absolutely decide you need to train for and run a marathon, I’ll let you run two. The first is to finish. The second is to better your time from the first one. If, after that, you haven’t broken three hours, it’s clear you are not a marathoner. Find another, “funner” pursuit.)
Eat enough food.
Food is fuel. A good meal can be a pleasurable, even transcendent experience, but in the end, it’s simply how we provide the body with the energy it needs to function and the organic building blocks it needs to repair itself. When you’re training, whether with weights or sprints or HIIT, that fuel becomes absolutely vital. You may need even more of it. Thankfully, the body has a natural tendency to feel ravenous hunger after heavy training. It’s a pretty good system – lift heavy things, get hungry, eat, refuel/refill/replenish, repeat – but we can foul things up by forgetting to eat or by actively avoiding food (in a misguided attempt to jumpstart weight loss). Sometimes, overtraining is actually just under eating.
Eat only Primal foods.
It’s not just the amount of food you take in that matters. The quality of food matters just as much. You don’t fuel a jet engine with lighter fluid. This stuff is important. Now, I know we’ve all known elite athletes who subsist on Slurpees and fast food, but that doesn’t negate the importance of proper nutrition for the rest of us. If you don’t have the winds of genetic good fortune at your back (as most people definitely do not), fine tuning your caloric quality is a sure fire way to avoid overtraining. Eat plenty of protein and fat to fuel your efforts and repair your body, along with (only) as many added carbs as you need to replenish glycogen. In addition to providing proper fueling, eating only animals, plants, fruits, and nuts, while avoiding grains, sugars, legumes, and industrial vegetable oils will reduce or negate systemic inflammation; eating an inflammatory diet increases the inflammatory load on a system already “burdened” with intense training. Bad idea all around.
Avoid chronic inflammation.
It may be that overtraining is just another form of inflammation. We already know that small servings of stress and inflammation are normal (exercise provides the right amount of stress and inflammation required for muscle repair, recovery, and ultimately progression), and that a health body is adequately equipped to deal with exercise induced stress and inflammation. Problems arise when chronic inflammation disrupts the body’s regular stress response. As Matt Metzgar points out, chronic inflammation can block the body’s anabolic hormones. Without sufficient anabolic hormones, the body cannot recover from exercise, which is the main thing we are trying to do here (recover, that is). In a state of chronic inflammation, then, almost any attempt to exercise results in classic overtraining symptoms.
Avoid too much stress (but not all of it).
As I said earlier, stress is good to a point. For one, it enables the repair process. Exercise is a form of stress on the body; our muscles exert themselves, which is a type of stress, and the body responds by repairing the “damaged” muscle. If all goes well (that is, if it wasn’t too much stress and you allowed enough recovery time), the repaired muscle will be stronger than before. Stress can also heighten our senses and even increase our physical performance in the short term. A bit of simulated, perceived danger pre-workout (visualize facing down a big wild cat before a sprint, or lifting the backside of a Volkswagen off your friend before deadlifting) can actually kick start a small stress response that increases physical strength, reaction time, and focus. It’s interesting, vital stuff, stress, but chronic levels are unmanageable and actually reduce our physical performance and ability to recover from training.
Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep is precious, but we generally don’t get enough of it. Anabolic hormones important for muscle repair and recovery, especially growth hormone, are released during sleep – poor sleep curtails that, cuts it short. Lack of sleep increases cortisol production, an excess of which increases body fat and eats lean mass. Immunity suffers, and when you don’t sleep, systemic inflammation increases. Sound familiar? These are all hallmarks of the overtrained individual.
I’m beginning to think of overtraining as a set of symptoms – as a general descriptor of chronic overexertion, rather than a clinical affliction with a defined cure. And these symptoms are all interconnected and essentially inseparable from each other. They either pop up in pairs, or in an incestuous orgy of systemic inflammation, poor sleep, bad diet, chronic stress, and excess exercise. But they always show up together. It’s one big chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, which makes it difficult to figure out. What’s causing what? Does it really matter? I think we know what to do – inflammation seems to be key (as it often is in general health), and avoiding the things that cause chronic inflammation generally seems to take care of many of the symptoms of overtraining. So does avoiding overtraining mean avoiding all the risk factors of inflammation, too? I think so. You can’t really separate them. Letting even a single one slip can snowball and reduce the effectiveness of your training.
It’s a challenge. I’ll admit it. Most people who embrace the idea of exercise want to believe that more is better. It’s tough to simply read the aforementioned list of things to avoid and check them off, especially when performance goals have been set. Plus, we’ve all got work to attend, financial issues to hash out, sleep to get, food to prepare, and workouts to follow, all while keeping stress and inflammation low to avoid overtraining – and we only have 24 hours a day to do it. Is overtraining inevitable?
You certainly can’t avoid it forever. I’m not even sure you’d really want to, if only for the reality check. Reality checks are useful; it’s how we learn. They let you know what to watch out for in the future. You can’t know where the edge is unless you go over it once in a while.
So what should you do once you’re exhibiting the signs of overtraining?
Take a week off.
You’re not going to waste away. You’re not going to gain ten pounds of belly fat. You’re not going to forget how to squat or how to run. It’s just a week. Purge all guilt from your system (seriously, it’s okay) and understand that continuing to train through a classic case of overtraining will only set you back even further. Your body is trying to tell you something, and I’d advise that you listen up. Enjoy your week, eat good Primal foods, take a lot of walks, or even a hike, and focus on learning from your mistakes and retooling for the next seven days. I sometimes take a few days off conveniently when I travel as a “prophylactic” measure to avoid overtraining.
Learn from your mistakes.
The best way to respond to an episode of overtraining is to understand exactly what you did to prompt it. That way, you can avoid them in the future. This seems like common sense, and most people who overtrain make an attempt to understand what went wrong. Where we fall short is in our dedication to our particular brand of training, a commitment than can border on religious fervor (if you think nutrition discussions can get heated, just check the comments section on any controversial fitness blog). If you’re overtrained, something about your regimen isn’t working out. You know it, your body knows it, your muscles know it – all that stands in the way is your ego. Brusquely rebuff that cocky bastard and look deep and hard at your schedule, because something is wrong. Were you going too heavy, too fast? Are you forgetting to warm up? Maybe think about dropping the sprints down to once a week instead of twice? Do you think you should de-load the weight and work back up? Maybe a 3 on, 1 off schedule is a bit too much for you to handle? Perhaps a half-marathon is a more realistic training goal for you? The same goes for nutrition, or any of the other risk factors for overtraining; take a long, objective look at your diet, your sleep, and your stress, identify any potential loose ends (Dairy? Late nights? Sprouted grains?), then tie them off.
Reset. Redesign. Retool.
When you do come back, back off a bit. Change things up. Don’t resume your previous training volume – you know, the volume that got you in this mess in the first place? Instead, tinker. Play with different training schemes. If you were supersetting on your strength training days, try rest-pause singles. If you were going high-rep, low-weight, try low-rep, high weight. Incorporate weekly sprints instead of nightly jogs. I wouldn’t necessarily lower intensity, because intensity is rarely as much an issue as volume. As I always say, make your short, intense workouts even shorter and more intense, and your long, easy workouts even longer and easier. You might have to lower the weights used. Or add another rest day to your HIIT schedule. Whatever you do, do not go back to doing everything the same. An alcoholic doesn’t take a few months off and go right back to the bottle (well, he might, but he wouldn’t be dealing with the real problem).
Overtraining is a bitter reality for most people who train with any sort of intensity or drive. If you’re pushing yourself, you stand to reap immense rewards (that’s why we do it, eh?), but you can fall just as hard. Luckily, eating a Primal diet and following the Primal prescription of low stress, low inflammation, adequate sleep, and proper amounts of exercise will both cushion the impact of your fall and trampoline you back into action.
Click on the title link to learn more about the Primal diet and Mark Sisson.