More Questions About Supplements: Athletes, Antioxidants & Recovery Methods


“Hopefully now you understand that damage and soreness are not necessarily bad things, but instead are essential triggers for the adaptations we all seek to improve performance.”
– Steve Magness, Running Times

The previous post on supplements got me thinking about various articles I’ve read recently on the possible negative effect that antioxidants may have on endurance training.  Here is some information to consider.

Alex Hutchinson writes a blog called Sweat Science.  He also writes a column called Jockolgy for the Toronto Globe and Mail and he’s written articles for the New York Times, Runner’s World and Popular Mechanics.  Beyond that he’s your ordinary, every day physicist and elite-level distance runner.  Seems like a smart guy to me.  I listen to what he has to say.

He recently wrote a piece titled The case against antioxidant vitamin supplements.  It’s of a similar theme as an earlier post called Does Vitamin C block gains from training? Both posts suggest the idea that supplementing with antioxidants may inhibit the training effects we want from strenuous workouts.  This may seem counter to what many of us have been told.

Science tells us that antioxidants protect us from cellular damage done by free radicals.  Free radicals are produced by strenuous exercise.  So recent conventional wisdom says that we can protect our bodies by taking antioxidant supplements such as Vitamins C and E.

New research though is telling us that our supplementation may be interfering with the cycle of stress and adaptation that a workout provides.  Hutchinson refers to research in the latest issue of Sports Medicine that supports this concept.  He cites the following (The ROS mentioned are free radicals.):

“The traditional theory goes like this: strenuous exercise produces “reactive oxygen species” (ROS), which cause damage to cells and DNA in the body. Taking antioxidant supplements like vitamins C and E helps to neutralize the ROS, allowing the body to recover more quickly from workouts.”

“The new theory, in contrast, goes like this: strenuous exercise produces ROS, which signal to the body that it needs to adapt to this new training stress by becoming stronger and more efficient. Taking antioxidant supplements neutralizes the ROS, which means the body doesn’t receive the same signals telling it to adapt, so you make smaller gains in strength and endurance from your training.”

“The new paper comes down firmly on the side of the latter view:”

“The aim of this review is to present and discuss 23 studies that have shown that antioxidant supplementation interferes with exercise training-induced adaptations. The main findings of these studies are that, in certain situations, loading the cell with high doses of antioxidants leads to a blunting of the positive effects of exercise training and interferes with important [reactive oxygen species]-mediated physiological processes, such as vasodilation and insulin signalling.”

The researchers conclude with the following statement:

“We recommend that an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals through a varied and balanced diet remains the best approach to maintain the optimal antioxidant status in exercising individuals.”

All of these ideas and observations are similar to the views expressed by exercise scientist and running coach Steve Magness in his article When Damage is a Good Thing in Running Times.  His article discusses not only antioxidant intake but also ice baths, anti-inflammatories, and carbohydrate drinks.  If you’re an endurance athlete then you should definitely read the article.  Magness sums up things well with the following statement:

“Hopefully now you understand that damage and soreness are not necessarily bad things, but instead are essential triggers for the adaptations we all seek to improve performance.  The goal should not necessarily be to minimize them automatically, but instead to work with them–this means allowing for enough damage to take place to initiate adaptation and then allowing for the body to go through its natural recovery response before trying to aid recovery.  The goal should be to work with the body, not against it.  So keep in mind the goal of each training session and the goal of whatever recovery methods you use, and plan things accordingly so your recovery efforts help you to improve performance, not hinder it.”

Incidentally, all of this has caused me to rethink my recovery strategies.

Goals & Motivation


Choices to make: strength or endurance?

I feel fantastic these days. My varied lingering aches and pains are dwindling to fleeting annoyances.  I actually feel like some sort of athlete!  And now my mind turns to various athletic goals.  I have strength goals–pulling 500 lbs. on the deadlift, mastering the barbell snatch, and cleaning and jerking my body weight (at the very least) for instance.  I also have endurance goals such as running a marathon and doing the Epic Single Track mountain bike race series at Winter Park next year.  I want to do it all! But as I’ve mentioned before (here and here) it’s not realistic to pursue both high-end strength and endurance goals at the same time. If you work hard enough in one direction, then your abilities at the other end will suffer.  From the injury and burnout perspective, doing a lot of endurance work plus heavy strength/power work will very likely put you in a bad spot very quickly. So I’ve got to choose, and it’s a tough call.

Short-term reward vs. long-term benefit

I mentioned previously that getting stronger helps one’s endurance abilities but it doesn’t work the other way.  Increasing one’s endurance work tends to make one weaker.  Further, dropping weight via dropping muscle mass makes running and biking much easier.  Hauling around extra weight never helps.  The whole idea of losing strength and mass is sort of tough to swallow.  But if I continue to lift to the degree that I’ve enjoyed–then I’ll impede to my endurance abilities.

As I’ve thought about all this, I realize I’m facing the sort of dilemma faced by many of us who want to get in better shape.  The issue boils down to a short-term reward vs. a long-term goal. We know in some part of our brain what we should do, but in some other part we desire something else in the here-and-now. We’d like to be thin some day for example but a bowl of ice cream is looking mighty good right now.  Or maybe I’d like to have more muscle mass and better bone density, but I really feel like watching TV right now.  Does this sound familiar? In most cases, the short-term reward wins out. This can be a titanic struggle at times.  It’s you vs. your brain!

Add weight to be strong.

One of the most respected and knowledgeable strength coaches in the country is Mark Rippetoe, owner of the Wichita Falls Athletic Club, and co-author of the books Starting Strength and Practical Programming for Strength Training.  (If you want to get stronger, stop reading right now and order both books.  They are superb.)  If he’s talking, I’m listening.  Recently, I watched a video from his site about tall athletes.  (I’m 6’3″ and that qualifies as reasonably tall.)  It’s a forum discussion with Rippetoe, former Olympic weight lifting champion Tommy Suggs, big time powerlifter Jim Windler, and strong man/nutritionist John “Johnny Pain” Shaffer.  An audience member asks about training concerns for tall athletes.  (See, tall people have long limbs or levers. Long levers can’t move as much weight as short levers.  Thus we tall people have a few questions sometimes on what we should do to get stronger.) The discussion moves to eating and body weight.  Shaffer recommends one weigh 3 lbs. per inch of height–as a starting place— in order to be able to use your levers effectively.  For me that’s 225 lbs.  Right now, I’m just about 200 lbs. Here’s the video in case you’re interested:

Roundtable: Tall Athletes from stef bradford on Vimeo.

Roundtable: Tall Athletes from stef bradford on Vimeo.

Weigh more.  Go slow.

So, to be strong–really strong–I should eat to get big.  But the creator of the universe is a comedian and he or she has dictated that if I’m big I’ll also have a really hard time running very far or biking up through the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  It’s obvious: As body mass goes up, endurance performance goes down and vice versa.

I’ve had personal and dramatic experience with this sort of thing.  Back in college I went to Europe for four weeks to take “classes.”  (It was a vacation disguised as school.  Had a wonderful time!)  At the time I was riding bikes with a group from a local bike shop in Denton, TX.  I didn’t touch a bike while overseas.  I ran a lot.  I lifted a very few times and I walked constantly.  I dropped about 1o or 15 lbs without thinking about it.  I got back to TX and the next time I rode I smoked everyone but the very fastest rider in the group.  So I became a much better cyclist without improving my cycling skills.  The weight made the difference, and this shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Here’s some more evidence.

An article on Peak Performance Online cites a study from the University of Georgia that compared run times of men vs women.  Part of the study had the subjects perform a 12-minute run test.  Here’s a discussion of the results:

“Males did significantly better on the test, running an average of almost 3300 metres in 12 minutes, while females covered just 2750 metres. Although male performances were about 20 per cent better, males didn’t run more economically than the females, and male V02max values were only slightly (5 per cent) higher. What caused the big difference in performance?”

“As it turned out, percent body fat averaged 20 per cent in the females but only 11 per cent in the males. When Sparling analysed the data, he found that 74 per cent of the variation between male and female performances could be accounted for by the difference in body fatness, while a much smaller amount (20 per cent) of the difference was determined by the males’ higher V02max values. The higher amounts of body fat in the female runners acted as ‘dead weight’, increasing the energy cost of running and making quality running paces seem more strenuous.”

Now, clearly fat and muscle are different types of tissue, but too much muscle will still count as “dead weight” during a ride or a run.  So the debate in my head continues.  Fortunately, as I’ve eluded to before, strength work does help endurance athletes.  So as it stands, I can still get a lot stronger and improve my endurance performance.  The downside is that I will not reach my genetic potential in strength so long as I continue the endurance activity.  I’m also going to focus on reducing my body fat.  I don’t carry too terribly much body fat but I also don’t work much to reduce it, and I probably should.

Shifting Gears from Strength to Endurance Work: Part I


Springtime in Denver means it’s time to bicycle.  So now I’ve shifted my focus from heavy strength and power work to endurance work.  (I never did hit 500 lbs. on the deadlift.  I did however pull 435 lbs. for two reps.  I’m content with that.)  Endurance activity and strength/power work lie at two opposite ends of the exercise/movement/exertion continuum.  From what I’ve read and in my own personally experience, it’s very difficult if not impossible to develop a high-end level of strength while also training for an endurance event like the Sunrise Century (which I’ll be doing in June.)  Simply put, trying to maximize one area of performance means the other will suffer.  If you try to maximize all areas then you won’t reach your potential in any one.

Terminology: Endurance, Strength, Power

I’ll define some terms.  Endurance work is something like long distance cycling, running, or cross-country skiing.  These are long-duration activities executed well below the participants’ maximal abilities.

Maximal strength work is often a slow moving, short duration type of thing. If you attempt to lift a maximum weight you won’t be moving it very quickly. Heavy deadlifting, bench pressing and squatting typically move slowly. These activities can only be sustained for a very brief amount of time–several seconds at most–before the muscles fatigue significantly.

Power sports require a combination of strength and speed. Think of a shot putter, long jumper or an Olympic weight lifter. These athletes must move a fairly heavy object very quickly. Maximal power may be expressed in two seconds or less.  Power sports and endurance sports occupy the furthest opposite ends of the exercise spectrum.

So what happens if we decide to mix endurance work, strength work and power work together?

Endurance Work May Inhibit Strength Abilities

The National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) offers a document titled Concurrent Strength and Endurance Training for Strength/Power Athletes.  Here we have evidence that suggests mixed results for combined strength and endurance work.  Several studies suggest that endurance work impedes strength gains.  Other studies show no interference.

Confusion and questions come up when we start to dissect the studies.  The article states:

“Differences between these studies may have been due to differences in the length of the studies, experience level of the subjects, and the training protocols utilized. For example, studies differed with respect to the specific exercises performed, whether strength and endurance training were performed on the same or different days per week, the sequence of training modes (strength before endurance or endurance before strength).”

We don’t have a definite answer to this question.

In my personal experience I run into difficulty if I ride/run a lot while also lifting a lot.  I become too sore and stiff from one activity to perform well at the other.  So I have to reduce one type of stress as I increase the other. Further, I find that riding my bike up mountains quite sufficiently addresses my strength needs. (Now we’re starting to get into the SAID Principle or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  Then we start to ask whether strength developed in the gym has any effect on strength expressed on a bike…)

In subsequent posts I’ll examine the effects of endurance work on power performance.  Then we’ll drive the other way up this street and ask the question, “To what degree does strength and power work affect endurance performance?”



the Rest of the Bypass


I’ll start where I left off in the last post: at the top of Vail Pass.  The sun was out and things were going well.  I was at the final rest stop and according to others around me, this would be a high-speed screamer into Vail and on into Avon to the finish line.  Sounded like fun.

Let me tell you, this final descent was like being shot out of a cannon!  I hadn’t ridden this part of the course though so I wasn’t sure about the twists and turns.  I kept the speed at the high end of modest.  Glad I did because there were a number of turns that had I been going any faster I probably would’ve wrecked in an ugly way.  Which brings me to the worst part of the whole day.

I rounded a corner, started down another slope and about 100 yards down I saw two people lying on the pavement.  (A couple of bikes were turned over and two other cyclists had just hopped off their bikes.  Thankfully, this was a bike path and not a road.  No cars to worry about.  A man was on his back bleeding from the face and head and he was groaning.  A woman was several feet ahead lying face down.  She was also bleeding.  She wasn’t moving.  There was blood on the pavement.  One person was tending to the woman, the other person was heading down the hill to a nearby highway patrolman.  I had a look at the man on his back and knew from CPR training that the only thing I should do was to calm him down and keep him from moving.  I told him he’d be just fine and that help was nearby.  About that time another cyclist showed up and told me he was a medic.  Thank god.  From there, I and another rider went back up the road from where we’d come in order to slow down other approaching riders.  An ambulance arrived in maybe 10 minutes.  When I left the woman was conscious.

That situation was a real nightmare.  I’d never seen a wreck like that.  It could’ve been any of us in that wreck.  If those riders weren’t wearing helmets I imagine I’d have been looking at two corpses.  (There’s probably not a very good way to transition from that episode…)

The rest of the ride went well.  We had a tail wind and an easy downhill.  I’m not sure where the energy came from but I pushed hard over about the final 10 miles into Avon.  Now it was hot and dry but the ride was done!  One-hundred twenty miles, about 8.5  hours of riding, and my ass felt like someone had replaced my bike saddle with a cheese grater.  Time to eat, drink, and sit down in the shade.  Much thanks to my wife for driving out to pick me up.  I hope I get to do it all again next year.

My 1st Triple Bypass


Any Colorado cyclist knows about the notorious Triple Bypass.  It doesn’t actually involve a scalpel but rather 120 miles of cycling over three mountain passes (Squaw Pass, Loveland Pass, Vail Pass) with over 10,000 feet of climbing.  It’s a very popular ride that fills up quickly.  It’s definitely something worth having on the cycling resume.  The journey took me a little over 10 hours with around nine hours of riding.  This was no casual ride.

The ride was reasonably brutal but also beautiful and enormous fun.  (Equating self-inflicted brutality with fun is common among cyclists I think.)  Save for the very ugly wreck I saw near the end of the ride, everything went exceedingly well–even with the afternoon shower and high winds.  Traveling Colorado by bicycle is a wondrous thing.

The day started at about 4:30 am and the wife dropped me off at Bergen Park at 6:15 am.  I joined about 3,499 other riders for a bit of climbing  up Squaw Pass.  All went well but several other riders had flats early.  I saw one rider walking his bike–not a good sign.

I asked, “You OK?  You need any help?”

“Ah…  This is my third flat,” he said.

That’s a nightmare.  Fortunately there were support vehicles orbiting us as we rode.  I hope he got to finish the ride.

The ride up Squaw Pass featured all the mountain scenery you can imagine.  Any tourist to Colorado would be impressed–as would most residents.  Tremendous views of many mountain peaks were all around.  Nice enough, but the ride down into Idaho Springs was helluva thrill ride!  The scenery was exquisite, the roads were in good shape and the traffic was minimal.  I believe I can descend fairly well (I’m 200 lbs.; thus gravity tends to welcome me) but some of these guys were SO fast downhill I couldn’t believe it.  It’s like they were sprinting downhill, taking turns at vicious speeds.  My gajones are only about medium-sized it seems.  But how cares?  It was all fun.  Then we were into Idaho Springs.

From Idaho Springs the ride sort of hit a lull.  I think most of us were anticipating the next big climb which was Loveland Pass.  To get there we had to travel alongside and then finally on Interstate 70.  This is nothing to dream about.  Part of the route involved a slightly muddy, rocky road that was quite unsuited to road bikes.  It wasn’t treacherous but I’d like to avoid such roads in the future.  As for riding on I-70 (or bicycling on any interstate for that matter), this is a harsh and ugly thing.  It is necessary from time to time however.

If you ride bikes in the mountains then you know getting an early start is wise.  Winds tend to pick up around noon and it’s always about a 50% chance that a storm will blow through.  This means you may get a sprinkle or you may get a cold soaking.

True to form, the wind started to gust as we marched onto the highway.  Clouds were gathering  If you like a windy uphill slog next to SUVs and tractor trailers then you’ll love this part of the ride.  I’ll move on to more interesting parts.

The big lunch stop was at the Loveland Ski Area.  We were about 60 miles in.  We’d had a couple of other aid stops but this one was very welcome.  (WHOOOOO!  Did I want to sit in a chair….  A rock would have to do.)  The refuel felt good but I wanted caffeine.  I thought I brought two caffeinated energy gels with me but I managed to forget them.  I wanted all the chemical assistance allowed by law as I had to climb up the nearly 12,000 feet of Loveland Pass, but no dice.

This was the toughest part of the ride for me.  The climb started well enough but soon I felt light headed and my stomach was in slight turmoil.  Both symptoms are rare for me.  This is where all the weird mental imagery and self-talk started.  I thought of my ride up Mt. Evans (hardest thing I’ve ever done); thought of my dog; thought of ice cream, beer, big pizza…  I played Judas Priest and Black Sabbath in my head.  Pretended I was riding l’Alpe D’Huez…  None of it helped much.  I got to the top and sat down on some warm pavement.  I could’ve napped right there on the shoulder.  Couldn’t do that though so I got the jacket on and got ready for another warp-speed run downhill.

By this time significant dark clouds were all over the place and the wind was gusting wildly.  It was into an absurd headwind that climbed up Swan Mt. Road and around Dillon Reservoir.  White caps were on the water and the sky was a thick, dark purple.  Looked like DEFCON 2, but the big storm held off…

One more aid station stop and it was on to the third and final climb up Vail Pass.  The rain started about a half-hour in to this portion of the ride.  I had almost the right gear: full-finger gloves and a water RESISTANT jacket.  The lesson learned is that I need to get an actual water PROOF jacket.  That said, I felt pretty good.  Climbing meant I was generating heat and I didn’t have to worry about slipping and sliding on a fast downhill.  The full-finger gloves were vital.

The rain stopped in about a half hour and then the sun was out!  I felt fantastic at this point–why?–I have no idea.  I tend to like cool temps and I had them.  Made climbing a lot easier for me.  Plus, Vail Pass didn’t seem too terribly steep and the scenery was absolutely stunning.  Everything was green and blooming.  Looked like something out of “the Sound of Music,” complete with a picturesque mountain stream.  (We rode by a lot of them throughout the day.   It’s amazing how much easier it is to grind out a long climb when there’s flowing water nearby.)

Bed time now.  I’ll finish the rest tomorrow.

Strength Training for Runners: Part II


These make you faster. Lift them. Don't run with them.

In Part I of this post I discussed some of the evidence and ideas behind the idea that distance runners benefit from explosive movements and heavy strength training.  In Part II I’ll discuss some of the exercises and workouts which you might incorporate into your current program.

First, when we talk about strength or “resistance” training programs we can think of several methods including plyometric or jumping exercises, weights, hill running or running with parachutes attached to the runner.  This discussion will focus on jumping exercises and weight exercises.

Jumping Exercises

Also known a plyometrics, these exercises include but aren’t limited to the following:

Be careful with depth jumps.  Impact forces generated from landing off of a box can be enormous depending on the height of the box involved.  Think of box height like you would weight on a bar.  Start with a low box and work up to higher boxes.

Weight Exercises

These are total body exercises employing barbells.  Avoid machines like leg extensions and leg curls.


Plyometric and strength work should not be used more than three times per week.  Rather than simply pile this work on top of your endurance work, two sources (here, here) suggest replacing 20%-30% of endurance training time with explosive or weight training.  The point being that you don’t need to spend very much time doing this work in order for it to be effective.

Reps & Sets

– Bounding: You may think of bounding in terms of distance or reps.  This is short duration/short distance.  For example, bound the length of a basketball court or for 20-30 yards.  Or bound for up to 10 reps.  Start with two sets and add one set per week up to 10 sets.  Recover fully between sets.  THIS ISN’T ENDURANCE WORK.

– Box jumps, power step-ups: Go no higher than 10 reps.  Use the same set scheme described above.  Recover similarly.

– Depth jumps: Again, be careful.  Go no higher than six reps per set and no higher than 10 sets.  Recover at least 30 seconds between jumps and recover fully (up to three minutes) between sets.  Only use depth jump workouts once per week.  Progress to depth jumps only after several weeks (2-3) of jumping and bounding.  Don’t start with depth jumps.

– Weight exercises:

Lift heavy and always use perfect technique.  The rep range is 1-5.  Work to the point where you know you can get one more rep and stop.  (For more on this topic, read Train to Success Part I and Train to Success Part II.)  You may get more reps just get them in subsequent sets.  Use as few as two sets when you begin and progress over the course of weeks to as many as 10 sets.  (10 sets of 2 reps for instance.)

A good method of tracking your lifting is to multiply weight x reps x sets.  For instance: 200 lbs x 3 reps x 5 sets = 3000 lbs.  If you’re doing three workouts per week then you can add the totals together to get your weekly score.  Follow the 10% rule for running with your weight program, that is add no more than 10% per week either through weight or volume to your weekly score.  You may use the same scoring method for your jumping work.

Jumping or weights?

You could use an infinite combination of jumping and/or weight exercises but why not keep it simple?  For example, you could use one jumping exercise exclusively for all workouts for one to three weeks then use one weight exercise exclusively for the same amount of time.  Take a week off then start over with new exercises.  The research suggests that it doesn’t take a lot of time or many exercises to get the results you want.

Workout intensity should build over the weeks.  Take a break then start over at a slightly higher intensity than where you previously started.  Your workouts may vary during the week.  Don’t set your workouts in stone.  Depending on how you feel you may use higher or lower volume (reps and sets) or you may vary your intensity (weight).   All of this variation is known as known as periodization.

Is it working?

The research suggests these methods work to increase running ability.  One way to make sure you’re progressing is to test yourself.  This is fairly easy.  Select any distance you want (1 mile for instance) over a standard course.  Run the mile each week and track your time, average heart rate and rate of perceived exertion (RPE).  If you are progressing then your run time may decrease, and/or your average heart rate may drop, and/or your RPE may drop.

What else?

Remember to taper your gym work as you would your running work.  Don’t start a new strength program in the middle of your season.  Start this program before the competition season.  Workouts should be brief and robust.  Done correctly, these workouts should not negatively impact your run workouts.  To that point, strength workouts should be separated from your hard running workouts.  Both your strength workouts and your runs should be high-quality.

Engage in some sort of dedicated joint mobility program before, after and possibly during your workout.  Z-Health is a fantastic method to prepare your body and nervous system for hard work.  Addressing joint mobility and joint awareness will keep you pain free and performing at your highest potential.

Don’t lift weights in your running shoes!  They’re not made for that.  Running shoes put your heel up on a wedge which may promote hyperextension at your low back.  Further, the squishy cushioning will impede proprioception or your sense of how to interact with the ground.  Choose a flat-soled shoe preferably with a thin sole.  The Converse Chuck Taylor is a good choice as are Vibram 5-Fingers.

(Are you sure I won’t bulk up???)

YES!  If you could bulk up you would’ve already bulked up.

In conclusion…

It may seem counterintuitive that distance runners can benefit from heavy weight lifting and explosive jumping exercises.  These things don’t much resemble distance running!  However the evidence is in and it’s growing.  Don’t waste your time in the gym doing high-rep/low-weight lifting–stuff that feels like endurance work in other words.  Leave the stuff that feels like endurance work… for… well… endurance work!    Use your time in the gym to build strength.

Train to Failure or Train to Success? Part II


In Part I of this post I gave evidence that training beyond our limits or “training to failure” may not be the best

This guy could never fail.

strategy for enhancing athletic performance (or just every day performance for that matter.)  Training smarter but not necessarily harder is a concept worth considering.  The correct amount of training at the correct intensity is key, not just more more moreharder harder harder!! Observations and instruction to exercise at an appropriate intensity are found in both the endurance running world and the strength and power realm.

Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running is a superb text for anyone who’s a serious runner or run coach.  At the other end of the physical performance world is Pavel Tsatsouline’s Power to the People!. This is also an excellent book on very heavy strength training, primarily the deadlift and side press.  Both books encourage top physical performance through very hard work.  Both authors though consistently tell readers that most workouts should essentially be moderate in intensity.  Running workouts should not be races.  Weightlifting sessions should not be hell-bent-for-leather torture fests.  Rather both activities should leave the participant feeling energized.

Scottish ultramarathoner Bruce Fordyce is quoted in Lore of Running:

“My training advice is going to be different… because I place my emphasis on rest and recovery.  I do believe in hard training, but there is only so much hard training that the body can take. , and the timing and duration of any hard training phase is very important.  During the hard training phase, never be afraid to take a day off.  If your legs are feeling unduly stiff and sore, rest; if you are at all sluggish, rest; in fact, if in doubt, rest.”

Further advice from other running coaches cited by Nokes includes:

  • New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard: “You can’t train hard and race hard at the same time.”
  • American coach Jack Daniels:
    • “Don’t leave your race on the training track.”
    • “Alternate hard and easy days, in fact only two to three hard days per week.”
  • American exercise physiologist Stephen Seiler:
    • “Build the program around two high-intensity interval sessions per week.”
    • “Most of the non-interval training should be at fairly low intensities.”
    • “If you are not training easily enough on the easy days, you will not be able to train hard enough on the hard days.”

So we have words from the endurance running world on the importance of focusing your hard efforts to a few specific workouts.  As well you should balance these high-effort bouts with truly easy recovery work.  How about the other end of the spectrum?  How do we train for maximal strength without failing?

“If after your exercise, your bath and your rub-down, you feel fit to battle for a kingdom, then your schedule is right.”
– Earle Liederman, Secrets of Strength, 1925

Power to the People! presents the idea of training with very heavy weights–not to the point of fatigue.   The idea being that it’s tension of the muscles via lifting very heavy weights for a very few reps (five or fewer) that leads to greater strength, not the fatigue of the muscles that occurs when using many reps.  Tsatsouline states:

The most intelligent way to develop strength is to lift much heavier weights than than most weekend warriors play with but to terminate your sets before your muscles fail.”

Further,  he cites Russian strength expert Robert Roman:

“…besides, as the result of fatigue [from many reps], the last reps of a set are performed against a decreased excitation of the nervous system.  This impedes the formation of the complex conditioned reflex loops needed for further strength development.”

So in practical terms, what are we talking about?  The experts are suggesting that most of our workouts should be of the submaximal variety.  Don’t make every run a race.  Make your races races.  If your running workout consists of 20 sprints then at the end you should feel like you could run 22 sprints.  If it’s a long-run day then you should finish knowing you could run one more mile.   Feel good at the end!

When lifting, terminate your sets before total exhaustion sets in.  End the set and/or the workout knowing you could lift a few more reps.  Feel that you’ve conquered the workout, not that the workout conquered you.

Am I advocating easy workouts?  NO!!  What I’m suggesting is that your hard efforts should be very focused and specific.  Don’t dillute your hard work by trying to go hard all the time.  (If you do, you’ll probably just be going “medium-hard.”)  Further, your hard work must end in success and not in sloppy failure.  Otherwise you will only have set the stage for more sloppy work.  Work very hard when it’s called for and balance the effort with easier efforts, relaxation and restoration.  Then come back to the next hard workout ready for success and new achievements.

Train to Failure or Train to Success? Part I


Nike says “Just Do It.”  The people in Gatorade commercials look like they’ve worked within an inch of their lives.  The Crossfit mascot is a character called Pukie the Clown.  “I want you to push me,” is something trainers hear all the time from clients and potential clients.  Classes known as “boot camps” are have been very popular the past few years, complete with yelling, hollering and foot-dragging exhaustion.  We want to “test our limits.”  What’s the observation here?  If some exercise is good for us–then a whole helluva lot must be extra super awesome!!! That’s how we do it in America right?  Some = Good.  LOTS = GREAT!!!  This type of thinking sells but does it actually result in greater physical ability?

I’m reading a great book in Pavel Tsatsouline’s Power to the People!.  It’s very much making me rethink the way I train my clients as well as myself.  The book is all about heavy strength training–not bodybuilding mind you.  We’re talking strength not size.  Interestingly, I’ve noticed some parallels to advice given in the classic running book by Tim Noakes, Lore of Running.  How could it be that training for the expression of brief maximal strength might share anything at all with endurance running?

Key points of advice given in both texts amount to this: Train to the point of success, not to exhaustive failure.  As Noakes puts it:

The single most important reason most runners are prone to overtraining is, I believe, that we lack the ability to make an objective assessment of our ultimate performance capabilities.  We simply will not accept that we are mortal and that we have a built-in performance range beyond which training and other interventions cannot take us.  We believe that the harder we train, the faster we will run, and we ignore the evidence that indicates that this is blatantly untrue.  Thus we train harder and run worse.  And then, in the ultimate act of stupidity, we interpret our poor races as an indication that we have undertrained.  Consequently we go out and train even harder.

Similarly, Pavel states:

“From Eugene Sandow to Yuri Vlasov, the strongest men and women in the world have never trained to failure!  Cut the ‘do or die’ rhetoric, take a long hard look at yourself, and tell me what are your odds of becoming another exception?  If ‘training to failure and beyond’ is so hot, how come your bench has been stuck at 185 lbs. since Arnold’s first movie?”

Also from Pavel:

“Ed Coan squats 875 lbs. x 3 and calls it a day although he knows he could’ve fived that weight.  Heavy training not to failure sure worked for Coan who has set nearly eighty world records.”

Is this surprising information?  Maybe not if we consider the nervous system and the SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) principle.  Simply stated, our nervous system always adapts to exactly what we ask of it. 

If we swim a lot then we tend to be able to swim.  If we ride a bike frequently then we adapt to bike riding.  If we lift heavy weights then we tend to get stronger.  (Also, if we sit hunched over a desk for enough of our life, we tend to be hunched.)  To the point of this post, if we train the nervous system to move our bodies successfully in clean, efficient form be it running, lifting, rock climbing, getting groceries–whatever–then we are training to succeed.  If however we spend enough time going to failure–that is to the point where our technique becomes sloppy and inefficient–then the nervous system says, “You want to practice doing this exercise in poor, sloppy form?  Okay.  I’ll adapt to that.”  Thus we develop poor, sloppy movement patterns.  The result of prolonged poor movement may be tendonitis/tendonosis, bursitis, arthritis–all sorts of itis-es: pain, in other words.

So what does success feel like?  We’ll find out in Part II of this post.

Cherries Aid Marathon Recovery


Try cherries before and after your next long ride, run or grueling workout.

Here’s another weapon to add to your endurance training recovery arsenal: cherries.  Marathon Runners Should Pick Cherries for a Speedy Recovery comes from Science Daily and it profiles a recent study out of Northumbria University in England.  Marathoners who ran the London Marathon were split into two groups.  Twenty marathon runners drank either a tart cherry blend juice or a placebo drink twice a day for five days before taking part in the London Marathon and for two days afterward.  The story summarizes the research findings as follows:

“The findings indicated that the group who drank the cherry juice recovered their strength more rapidly than the control group over the 48-hour period following the marathon. Inflammation was also reduced in the cherry juice group, as was oxidative stress, a potentially damaging response that can be caused by strenuous physical activity, particularly long distance endurance exercise.”

It might be reasonable to conclude that cherries could aid cyclists, swimmers, cross-country skiers and maybe strength & power athletes as well.  More research will be needed to confirm this guess.  In any event, adding cherries to any or all of your recovery strategies may be a simple and tasty idea.  (For more recovery methods, check out recovery nutrition, cold water immersion, and caffeine.)

Sounds like good news!  However I can see it now… Sports nutrition stores will soon be stocking and promoting cherry juice extract–in a pill!!  The stuff will cost more than cherries and probably won’t work.  Warm weather is coming and cherries will soon be in the grocery stores.  Buy ’em and eat ’em.

Lots of Stuff to Read: Sports drinks with protein, Negative phys. ed teachers, Running shoes and knee damage, Why crunches don’t work, Science of weight loss


Wow!  There’s a lot of good reading out there on the health & fitness front.  I can’t comment on all of it but I’ll refer you to several articles that may pique your interest.  I’ll get back to recovery strategies for endurance athletes later.