Musculature is an important performance-limiting factor in endurance sport. Read on, to see how you can train your musculature optimally.
How can endurance performances – like the finishing time for the next 10,000 meter event be predicted? With results from shorter distance events? Or perhaps with lab results from the latest performance diagnosis? Scientists have been looking at this question and have come to a very surprising conclusion: After repeated attempts, the triple jump with standing start proved to be the best prediction tool of 10,000 meter times for 36 trained 10,000 meter runners. (Source: The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol 15, Issue 4, Article: pp. 405–412).
How can that be? 10,000 meter running is an aerobic discipline, where you would expect the maximum oxygen intake to be more relevant then an anaerobic jumping exercise, where oxygen intake can be disregarded. The study suggests that it is the musculature, which is decisive for performance. Other studies have reached similar conclusions by the way. Short sprints of 30-50 meters are also quite good indicators for the 10,000 meter time.
Jump instead of running?
What is to be done? Train triple jump instead of running? No. Actually you can improve your endurance with pure sprint training – but it is more promising to perform speed and strength endurance training in addition to pure stamina training. To explain: the skeletal musculature is made up of three types of muscle fibres; slow twitch fibres, Fast twitch A and fast twitch B fibres. The proportion and the extent of these fibres are mainly genetically decided. But the underlying functional principle is the same for all athletes: The slow twitch fibres contracts slowly, are not especially strong but untiring. The fast twitch A fibres are faster and stronger but have less staying power. Fast twitch B fibres are very strong, fast and have the least endurance – they are used for sprints and jumps.
Comparison of muscle fibre types
The fibres are used according to need. The principle is: At low performance demand the slow twitch fibres are used initially. With increasing tempo, both the fast twitch types are brought into play too. Once medium performance levels are reached there is a mix of fibre types in use – analogous to the body’s energy supply, which is sourced from various systems. Just the fact, that the fast twitch fibres are used for some of the endurance work, makes it sensible to train them specifically too.
Fast twitch fibres are not stimulated by slow endurance training. For that, higher power levels are required. This can be through individual strength training but better is specific jump training such as plyometric exercises. ( » to the Video on plyometric exercises, demonstrated by 2PEAK Coach Benoit Nave). Running or cycling at high tempo / high power also stimulates the fast twitch fibres. To get enough stimulus, you must tire the fibres sufficiently.
All the fibres should be involved
Overload in training causes the body to be more economical with its resources and to adapt. That is the core function of any training. One of the first effects is that more fibres are “recruited” in top efforts. And that explains the striking performance increase which you will already notice after the first six to eight sprint training sessions.
Rapid increases of 10% – 20% for racing cyclists are not unusual at the start of the sprint pattern. So this rapid effect is not because more fibres are grown but that initially more of those already present are used. Sports scientists call this, fibre recruitment. The body learns to use the musculature more efficiently.
With further training, the muscle fibres slowly become more resistant to fatigue. Fatigue resistance is actually the most readily trainable factor at muscle fibre level. Here it is possible to reach improvements of 10 times (!) and more, which you, as an endurance athlete can put to good use (maintain a certain tempo / power level 10 times as long). Trimming the muscles in this way is a decisive factor in your training.
Of course, your genetic makeup plays an important role. Fatigue resistance (hardness) is distributed amongst persons just as other physiological parameters are. Not all athletes have the same starting prerequisites. There is a world of difference between the best and the worst, most of us are somewhere between. Life isn’t fair! But 2PEAK at least takes into account the different talents of each athlete and adapts the density of effort to the current recovery rate. 2PEAK is fair!
To get your musculature fit for high demands, 2PEAK plans intensive training throughout the year but changes the emphasis according to the training period and in doing so increases the total effort towards the competition (this is the periodization principle). Z3 (High endurance zone) Z4 (Aerobic threshold zone) and Z5 (High power zone) provide the necessary strong stimuli to train all the muscle components.
It is not enough to train solely in Z2 (Basic endurance zone). You can optionally include non-specific strength training, to increase your overall strength. The recovery time needed for this can also be calculated by 2PEAK and the other training sessions adapted as required.
Strong muscles mean faster finishing times
Muscles which have been trained in this way will, over any competition distance, deliver better performance then muscles which have been trained solely for endurance – or trained at low performance levels.
If for a long period (all through the Winter for instance) you only train sporadically and slowly at that, you are wasting your time and throwing away the fruits of your summer labour. At best this type of training preserves the basic form. If less time for training is available, training should be intensified, to be of any use.
The aim is to maintain a pretty high basic level, to improve on this year by year and to be able to build on this, when competition time approaches. That doesn’t mean you can or should stay in absolutely top form all year round but that the down swings should be limited. Otherwise you spend too much time trying to recover your eroded basic fitness – similar to the well known yoyo effect when dieting.
With 2PEAK you can train for any available time budget and through any part of the season specifically, so as to bring on the positive adaptation effect and in the long term to attain an optimum performance increase. You will not dip into low form but will build up your performance successively until you reach your full potential. Depending where you start, the whole process can take ten years or more!