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Understanding ‘Cardio’

‘Cardio’ is a term you will hear a lot in the gym. Usually in a negative way, with thoughts of, mundane, prolonged incline walking on a treadmill springing to mind. However, ‘cardio’ encompasses much more than long slow distance training. This article will delve into the many different types of ‘cardio’ and how you can use it to help reach your training goals.

 

Firstly, ‘cardio’ is short for cardiovascular exercise and can be defined as any exercise that increases heart rate and keeps it up. However, heart rate can be raised in so many different ways, all of which bring about a different adaptation. Therefore, it’s important to have your goals clearly defined because a training session to develop aerobic capacity will look very different from sessions used to build speed, speed endurance or lactate threshold. If you aren’t an athlete, it is likely you will be wanting to use CV exercise to improve your overall health or to lose weight. In which case, you will want to familiarise yourself with all types and use some of each in your training throughout the year.

 

When it comes to cardiovascular exercise, our body uses three energy systems. These are called the alactic system, lactic system and aerobic system. There is almost never a time at which all three systems aren’t working simultaneously. However, for most forms of exercise, one energy system will be being used a lot more than the other two.

 

 

If you want to develop speed, then you want your training to be focused on building the alactic system. The alactic system is used for high intensity exercise for up to approximately 13 seconds. It does not use oxygen and instead forms energy from recycling ATP using phosphocreatine stores in the muscle. These stores are very small however, hence why we can only utilise this system for 13 seconds before a prolonged rest (>3 minutes) so that the body can restore phosphocreatine levels. With that in mind, we can apply this to a training sessions to help develop this system. An example being 8 sets of 10 second sprints with 3 minutes rest. Many people don’t feel like they’re ‘working hard enough’ when doing this sort of training as they aren’t out of breath. However, looking back at what this system uses, it does not use oxygen, therefore when we train this system correctly, we do not create an oxygen debt and therefore do not feel out of breath. We can apply specificity to make this session more applicable to the goal. In very simple terms, runners will do this session on a track, cyclists on a bike and rowers on a row-erg or boat and so on.

 

The next system we can develop is the lactic acid energy system. The popular ‘HIT’ training falls into this category. This energy system derives energy from glucose. However, the oxygen debt from high intensity exercise results in lactic acid being produced, causing pain and this is why this energy can only be the predominant energy system for up to 3 minutes. When training, work intervals will be between 30 seconds and 3 minutes with rest intervals no longer than the work interval. This is so that the lactic acid cannot fully clear prior to the next interval, resulting in a gradually increasing tolerance to lactic acid. This is useful training for events which use this energy system such as 800m running. Sessions for this energy system can look very different. For example, 3 sets of 30 second sprints with 15 seconds rest. As well as, 6 sets of 3 minutes working hard with 3 minutes rest. Despite targeting the same energy system, the latter session is more aerobic, so it’s important to know what event you are targeting and tailoring your sessions towards that goal.

 

The final energy system is the aerobic energy system. This utilises oxygen and is best developed at around 70% of your maximum heart rate. An example for a 40-year-old would be (220-age) = Max Heart rate estimation. (220-40) = 180. 70% of 180= 126bpm. This will be the predominant energy system for any exercise lasting over 3 minutes. Therefore, this is going to be the predominant energy system for events such as 5km run or above.

It is worth noting, that if you are using cardiovascular exercise for general health then it is most productive to add a bit of each type of energy system training throughout the year. However, adherence is key, therefore it’s important to prioritise the type that you enjoy most and fits into your lifestyle.

How often should you change exercises?

The Study:

‘Kassiano et. al. (2022) Does Varying Resistance Exercises Promote Superior Muscle Hypertrophy And Strength Gains? A systemic review J Strength Cond Res.

 

What is the study is about?

 

It’s a review that tries to find evidence for how often exercises should change in an exercise programme in order to maximise results.

 

Results of the study:

 

  • Changing exercises too frequently seems to be less effective for muscle growth compared to sticking with the same exercises for an extended period of time.

 

  • Furthermore, there’s evidence supporting that less frequent exercise variation may promote greater long term muscle growth as a result of differences in regional hypertrophy

 

  • However, each exercise stresses specific ranges of a muscle. Therefore it might be beneficial to switch exercises every so often.

 

  • The general recommendation for how often you should change exercises looks to be in the region of every 4-6 weeks. Certain factors may change this though, such as enjoyment of a programme, linked to adherence.

 

Application to clients:

 

  • My recommendation would be to generally follow these guidelines with the exception of a couple of reasons: Firstly, if the client gets bored of certain exercises. Secondly, if the clients goals change. But if your goal is to become better at certain lifts then its likely that you will require those lifts throughout your macrocycle.

 

Principles of Training- Periodisation

Throughout the year, someone may have one, or two main, goals. This can apply to athletes and the general population. For example, an elite athlete may target peak performance for the Olympics in the summer, whereas someone in the general population may want to achieve their most aesthetic look for a specific holiday that summer.

 

Periodisation can be defined as the planned manipulation of training variables in order to maximise training adaptations and to prevent the onset of overtraining syndrome. This is important as, for many athletes, several different adaptations need to be improved upon throughout the year, in order to achieve peak performance. Also, they cannot work on all aspects of performance simultaneously, as they can only train for a finite number of hours per week and focussing on too many things in this time will not provide the adequate stimulus for improvement. Therefore, athletes and their coaches will prioritise different adaptations, in a set order, in order to achieve the best condition possible.

 

To give an example of this, let’s look at an endurance runner who is targeting a 5km race in summer. This structure can be applied to both recreational runners and elite runners, the difference between elite and recreational will come in training volume, as oppose to how they periodise their training.

 

If the race is in July, the runner will want to build their aerobic base between September and December. The aerobic base is built first for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is comprised of low intensity running only, with some strength and conditioning work. This low intensity running is much easier to build up after the off-season, as hard running would result in overtraining and potentially injuries. Also, the aerobic base will help recovery time during and between hard running sessions in later phases, helping keep those sessions of a higher quality throughout each session and throughout the season.

 

Between January and June, they will slowly introduce harder running intervals, gradually getting more difficult as time goes on. Every coach has a different philosophy but typically, 2 hard workouts will be introduced each week. These will initially be at around lactate threshold speed. This helps the body increase the speed it can run at before lactate starts to accumulate and cause pain and fatigue. Then, even later on, towards May and June, hard interval workouts above race pace and above the lactic threshold will be introduced. These will help the athlete mentally and physically tolerate the feeling of lactic acid better. Ultimately helping them in the closing stages of the 5km race.

 

A couple weeks prior to the race the athlete will taper. This is where training volume is halved in order to reduce fatigue so the athlete is fresh for the race. Training isn’t ceased all together, as aerobic training adaptations can reverse in as little as two weeks. It would also be quite a shock to the system mentally to not run for two weeks and then try and run your fastest ever race. Nutrition will also be manipulated accordingly due to the lower calorie expenditure during the taper.

 

For a more general population client who only wants to look aesthetic, periodisation of training is less important. This is because training for muscle gain (hypertrophy) and muscle retention looks exactly the same. However, what we can periodise is the nutrition.

 

For example, if the holiday is one year away and the client is already in okay shape (up to 17% body fat approximately). Then we can bulk for the first 8 months whereby they are in a moderate calorie surplus (Maintenance calories+ up to 500kcal per day) with adequate protein (2.2g per kg of bodyweight). Along with their training and sleep, this is an optimal environment for muscle growth. However not all of this added weight will be muscle tissue, some fat tissue will be added.

 

Therefore, for the final 3 months, they can adopt a moderate calorie deficit (Maintenance calories – up to 500kcal), still with the same protein intake and adequate sleep. Training may need to be adjusted. This is because the calorie deficit may leave the person with slightly less energy compared to when they were in a calorie surplus. Therefore, other principles of training such as progressive overload, may not continue to progress at the same rate. However, this is okay when someone has aesthetic goals as this is an optimal environment for fat loss.

 

Overall, it’s important to identify exactly what adaptations need to occur for you to achieve your training goals and then to be able to focus on them in the right order, to attain the results you want, at the time you want as well.

 

Principles of Training – Specificity

Different methods of training provide our bodies with a diverse range of stimuli, which in turn cause a wide variety of adaptations. This is why we need to apply the principle of specificity, which ensures that the training we are doing will provide our bodies with the correct stimuli to cause the desired adaptation and bring about the desired change to our performance or aesthetic measures of our physique.

 

In order to apply specificity, we need to work backwards. By this, I mean we first establish what element of our performance or aesthetic we want to change. In other words, this is your goal, such as lose body fat, increase muscle mass, run a faster 5k or increase your deadlift 1RM. Next, we take this change to performance or aesthetic and identify what adaptation will cause this.

 

To give some practical examples, let’s take some common goals and walk through the process of devising a training programme to optimise results. Firstly, it’s important to note that nutrition is paramount in any training goal you may have. However, as this article is only about applying specificity to our training programmes, we won’t touch upon that in this article.

 

If we look at programmes to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy) or optimise fat loss they are actually identical, it’s the nutrition which will differ. This is because in both of these programmes we want to provide as much stimulus to the muscle so that they have the best environment for growth when in a calorie surplus and the best environment to be retained in a deficit, thereby optimising fat loss.

 

When making a training programme ideal for optimising hypertrophy we need to look at which aspects of training that cause hypertrophy. These include: training close to/muscular failure on a regular basis, ensuring enough volume is completed on each muscle group throughout the week and ideally training each muscle group on 2 separate days per week. When it comes to training close to/at failure, it’s worth noting that this must be achieved by not only training hard but also selecting exercises with a high external stability so that it’s fatigue on the target muscle that is the limiting factor and not something else such as a loss of balance. Without this, we will have to cease the set prior to the muscle being close to failure and thereby not achieving our goal of that set.

 

Volume has been shown to have a linear relationship with hypertrophy i.e. when looking at it purely through the lens of specificity, the more volume, the better results. However, we need to apply the other principles of training in order to identify the optimal volume for each individual at a given time in their training cycle.

 

Next, let’s take a look at applying specificity to a popular performance based goal such as running a faster 5k. Now this is very context specific as there’s so many factors that go into improving 5km performance. Therefore, which element of training someone focuses on will differ between individuals, this will be talked about in much greater detail during the next blog on individualisation.

 

From a general perspective though, we need to identify that about 88-90% aerobic. Therefore, countless HIT sessions are not going to be very beneficial for 5km performance. Instead, we need to train aerobically for the vast majority of sessions. These are going to be made up of long easy runs, typically at an intensity around 60-65% of maximum heart rate. At this intensity, you should be able to hold a conversation quite easily, if you need to walk to achieve this then that is fine. Other types of training will be tempo runs and intervals where you are at the threshold between aerobic and anaerobic performance. This will help your body adapt to getting rid of lactic acid and be able to stay in aerobic respiration at faster paces. Lastly, a small proportion of the sessions will be anaerobic, working on speed endurance, as this accounts for a small part of 5km performance.

 

Overall, specificity is arguably the most important principle of training because if you get it wrong, your training can be extremely unproductive. The last thing you want to do is put 100% effort into a training programme only to fall massively short of your goals all because your sessions were bringing about ineffective adaptations in relation to your goals. Therefore, it is essential you learn how to apply the principle of specificity prior to writing any training programme.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Nowadays, many people have heard about SMART goals. An acronym telling us that our goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound. Although I completely agree with this, there is more that needs to be considered when setting a goal.  This is not only to increase the likelihood of achieving it, but also to increase the enjoyment during the process of doing so.

 

Categorising Goals:

Goals can be split into 2 categories: process goals and outcome goals. To define each in my own words, an outcome goal is the desired end result and process goals are targets you will need to meet during the process of achieving the outcome goal. In my opinion, both are critical for success.

 

When someone embarks on a journey to achieve better health and fitness, they will often set themselves an outcome goal. For example, ‘I want to lose 10lbs in 3 months’ or ‘I want to run 5k in under 25 minutes in 6 months’. However, they rarely set processes for their goals along the way which will help them get there.

 

Which is better?

I believe neither outcome or process goals are better than the other. Setting process goals is expected to increase one’s motivation for a task. (Zimmerman and Kitsantas, 1997).  On the other hand, setting process goals, such as ‘set time aside for 3 runs per week’ without an overall outcome goal which you really want to achieve, may also leave you unmotivated. Therefore, setting both, effectively, is crucial.

 

Setting goals effectively:

Knowing how to do this, effectively, however, can be easier said than done. Referring back to the first paragraph, this is where SMART becomes very effective. This should be applied to all of your goals, both outcome and process, to increase the chance of success.

 

The issue with this for many people though is that they may not have the required amount of knowledge on a topic to fulfil the ‘realistic’ part of SMART. For instance, I know nothing about cars. Therefore, if someone approached me and said set a realistic goal for yourself for how long it would take for you to fix this cars engine, I wouldn’t know where to start. Therefore, I would have two options, either devote a lot of time to learning about car engines, or hire a professional to do this for me. I believe this is the same approach people should take to their own bodies. Don’t second guess when it comes to your training and nutrition, either devote the time to learn how to eat and train effectively or hire a professional to guide you the right way.

 

Reference List:

  • Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (1997). Developmental phases in self-regulation: Shifting from process goals to outcome goals. Journal of educational psychology89(1), 29.

Strength and Conditioning for the Endurance Runner

Thankfully, the general misconception that endurance athletes should only perform lightweights for a high number of reps has been exposed for quite a while now. It’s well understood that the majority of an endurance athletes’ time in the weights room is better spent lifting heavy weights (>80% of their 1 Rep Max) for a small number of reps (3-5 typically), as well as plyometric training (lifting a light load, explosively for a small number of reps) as this has been shown to have benefits such as helping maintain one’s running economy in the late stages of races. (Barnes et. al, 2013)

 

However, what isn’t as well understood is how to go from being a runner with little/no experience with weight training to one that can safely and effectively implement it into their training.

 

Firstly, learning correct exercise execution is critical so that athletes know how to do the exercise correctly when under load. This will not only minimise the risk of injury but also allow the athlete to perform the lift in the most efficient way, thus allowing for more weight to be lifted for a given amount of effort.

 

How does resistance training fit into the endurance runners training programme? The comprehensive answer to this question is too long for this article and will differ for each and every athlete. However, to answer in general terms, resistance training can be periodized. This means splitting up the year (macrocycle) into blocks with specific goals (mesocycles). Many runners will be familiar with the concept of periodisation and apply it to their endurance training, the same can be done with their resistance training, alongside their current training.

 

How resistance training is periodised will differ depending on the coaches ideology. In general, however, athletes will perform a strength endurance phase in the off season, a basic strength phase during off-season and pre-season, a strength/power phase during pre-season and then peaking and maintenance phases during competition season. (See Table for a visual representation of this)

 

Period General Preparatory Specific Preparatory Precompetitive Main Competitive Post Competitive
Stage of Competitive Season: Off-Season Off-Season/Pre-Season Pre-Season In-Season Post-Season
Phase: Strength Endurance/ Basic Strength Strength/Power Peaking or Maintenance Active Rest
Intensity: Low- Moderate

30-75% 1RM

Moderate-High

80-95%

1RM

Low to High

80-95% 1RM

30-85% 1RM

Low to High

50-90% 1RM

 

Low
Volume: High:

3-6 sets

12-20 reps

Moderate

2-6 sets

2-6 reps

Low

2-5 sets

2-5 reps

Very Low Low

*Post-Season does not necessarily have to include resistance training.

 

I hope this gives you a better idea of how resistance training can fit into a runners training schedule in order to benefit your performance. If you wish to get a more in-depth understanding on how trainers at SOMA can help implement these concepts into your training, please contact us.

 

References:

  • Barnes, K. R., Hopkins, W. G., Mcguigan, M. R., Northuis, M. E., & Kilding, A. E. (2013). Effects of resistance training on running economy and cross-country performance.