In Track and Field most coaches are familiar with extensive tempo workouts. The coaching of Charlie Francis made this type of prescription very common in the training design of sprinters.
As a student of Track and Field for years it has been interesting to listen to the pro’s and cons; one side citing the benefits of extensive tempo while the other side’s exposing the pitfalls. If you are a coach reading this post you may have already made your decision on which side you stand.
Do this – don’t do that.
Though for me personally – nothing is sacred, and training can be shades of grey rather than black and white. The only truth in training is your understanding of “why” and the positive outcome for the athlete.
Is extensive tempo work for every sprinter?
I would say for most competitive short sprinters or jumpers extensive tempo could be excluded completely and replaced by general strength circuits or extended warm ups/cool downs.
As we venture into 400m distances I would say the inclusion may be more likely.
I think it’s easy to say we need extensive tempo for 400m athletes so we can satisfy our need for “Energy System Development”, but let’s be honest, everything we do is energy system development. In fact, properly programmed circuit training has both cardiovascular and local muscular adaptations (capillarization and MCT – Monocarboxylate transporters – building the ability to use lactate as intermediate energy source); ultimately Satisfying both delivery and utilization.
So the logical question is why not use circuit training exclusively then?
For the 400m athletes I would prescribe extensive tempo over using only circuit training because of the need for specific adaptation to the prime movers used for running. It allows a more concentrated stimulus (Frequency/Duration) as circuit training will have a completely different stimulus when we look at local muscle metabolism (varying exercises spread across both the upper and lower body).
The inclusion and exclusion of tempo running also depends on the makeup of the athlete. Muscle tissue and fascial health (biophysics) need to be taken into consideration. That is why I believe with short sprinters and jumpers excessive tempo work might do more harm than good. Maybe this is why we see most successful coaches working in short sprints and jumps chose circuit training over extensive tempo. They still can stimulate delivery, utilization, and endocrine profiles but also design circuits to lower tone (less wear and tear on the specific running muscle) and improving movement quality (Tri-planar, large ROM’s), preparing the athlete for the next quality session.
Extensive Tempo + Moxy
During the last few months I’ve started integrating Moxy Monitors into the training of some of my athletes. It’s been instrumental in understanding an athlete’s physiology and is now part of our assessment.
Below is incremental 5 mins on/ 1 min rest assessment for a 400m runner. Yes, way out of specificity, but it was done to see the athletes physiology.
Smo2 (Green) – Hemoglobin loaded with O2. It is shown as a % of total Hemoglobin.
tHB (Brown)- Total amount of Hemoglobin seen under the infrared lights.
Now for context I will compare the above graph with another athlete’s assessment.
I won’t go into extreme detail about the assessments but will highlight that these two athletes apply force during the assessment differently – which affects their physiology (look at the tHB trend – Brown).
The 400m Sprinter (white graph) shows arterial occlusion trends even at slow speeds (6MPH) (Elevated tHB during the work phase of the assessment). He is creating so much tension during the contraction that it limits blood flow. Whereas the other athlete (DR graph) shows stable tHB or compression.
Each of these athletes will need different strategies to improve. When we look at creating Extensive Tempo workouts we need to keep this in mind – both how we organize the session series/sets/reps and/or the inclusion of circuit training and overall volumes of both.
For the athlete (DR) with compression we might see workouts that sit to the left of the training continuum.
For this “specific” 400m athlete with the arterial occlusion trend we might see him sit more in the middle of the continuum (lower tempo volumes & moderate circuit training)
Our priorities for the 400m runner is to control extensive tempo workouts and volume via Moxy. We set low and high ranges (SmO2 30-20%- Garmin) and do 30 sec repeats x3 for each set. Recovery between each rep is dictated by the athletes SmO2, when it hits 30% he begins the next rep. Recovery between sets is a combination of SmO2 and tHB reaching resting levels. So instead of coming up with paces (75%, MAS, etc) we let his physiology guide the workout. We know what we want to stimulate via the assessment so we recreate the environment during the workout.
At first the athlete would make it 150m in 30 secs (40 sec 200m pace) and is now consistently reaching the 185m mark (32.5 sec 200m pace).
The total workout might look like the following:
3x3x30secs@20-30% Smo2 w/ 30-40 sec rest b/t reps ~30% Smo2, 3-4 mins rest b/t sets
This total of 1350-1700m in volume is very low compared to the standard recommendations for 400m runners (2000-4000m). Now for some coaches the low volumes of work might make them anxious. For us it’s what’s right – for right now. We don’t stress over supportive type work. In fact volume will fall again as we move out of GPP and into more SPP-COMP phases. We will still use Moxy but move the rep duration to 20 secs@higher speeds but same SmO2 ranges. The main reason for this is that we want to make sure we don’t exhaust utilization. In other words, dropping SmO2 to 0% – which means the anaerobic pathway is more dominant. Now if we also call upon the anaerobic system heavily during both our Speed/Speed Endurance days (Quality) and with our supportive work you might imagine how we could run into problems.
With the addition of Moxy it allows us to do the simple stuff better and lets us know if the microcycle has balance.
What pisses me off about nutrition is an over reliance on equations and numbers (and macros)?
For instance, we have the Mifflin St. Jeor and the Harris Benedict equation, WHO standards, or calculating caloric intake off lean body mass. There are a lot of ways to calculate how many calories you need to eat to supposedly stay where you are or lose/gain weight. You will need to calculate tons of fun acronyms in the process: RER, FFM, TEF, BMR, etc. You know – Math. Yet, the very first problem is that these equations are just estimations, very rough estimations. It will depend on the paper you read, but in a recent review of 29 of these equations by AJCN the best are a little more than 20% off at estimating Resting Energy Expenditure. Then you get into what the body does in response to certain foods, exercise, the validity of the gold standard used, and the snowball grows.
Peter Attia M.D., perhaps one of the smartest men on the planet put himself in a whole room calorimeter (the only real gold standard) to see how good these equations were at calculating his energy needs when he was doing his exercises, reading his books, and just chilling in the dark. The equations were about 40% off! Peter works out and although he may be an outlier, it at least raises the ideology that the wrench in the equation game may be much bigger for those of us who train at higher levels. This may also be one of the reasons Dr. Attia puts much more weight into food quality than being overly worried about measuring your food to the milligram or making sure your myfitnesspal has exactly 1,862 calories on it (we then get into the reliability of people to estimate, measure, and report food accurately – I will stop now.)
Dr. Attia has a great post on calories and the First Law of Thermodynamic here.
Why don’t these equations work?
Well, the human body is a math equation, it’s just one built and invented by nature which moves everything around all the time to try to make the answer 0 (homeostasis). AND as the body loses its ability to balance this teeter totter the way nature intended, guess what else goes out the window? Health.
So now you think you are going to get health back by trying to input the perfect numbers back into a broken ever changing pissed off equation? It’s almost laughable. Wait it is.
Thus, please make sure that you have food quality on board before you start overanalyzing food quantity. IIFYM? NO.
Now what pisses me off about the people who value food quality and completely disregard food quantity?
This could be alternative medicine folks, paleo people, my father, whoever. They believe that you can slurp grass-fed butter, pound cashew breads, and that if it doesn’t come in a bag it won’t make you fat. Truth is it will be harder to get fat lapping up coconut oil on the hour and for most of us this may completely reset our insulin sensitivity, but over time it will not end well. People need a ton of fiber and nutrients to make the equation above run effectively. In fact there are 75,000 enzymes in the human body and all of them are pH dependent and most need cofactors (nutrients and stuff) in order for them to run effectively. Now throw in GI issues and genetic polymorphisms and again the snowball grows.
The Final Rub.
I haven’t met too many conventional nutritionist or doctors who are even contemplating how to measure health, let alone have practices in place that drive health and performance. They are pounding square low calorie and low fat blocks into round holes, exasperated that none of this works long term. Equally, I know many folks in the alternative health care realm who can get people healthy, but almost none of them can create, manage, and monitor an individualized diet, exercise, and lifestyle strategy effectively. They give great recommendations in the office, but they don’t use any numbers or equations. They generally just hope and pray that the power of food restriction and coming to a fancy office will get the job done. Generally, not gonna happen, especially long-term. Too much will power not enough tools, direction, or accountability.
So where is the truth?
Well you need both sides. You need some math, but it needs to be flexible, and please for the love of Zeus find ways to round and talk in food not numbers. You also absolutely have to make sure that your body isn’t missing something that would kick the above math in the nuts, AKA GI, brain, kidney, liver, thyroid, gonadal, or pancreatic dysfunction (the list is much longer).
Fundamentals. Eat the highest quality food that YOU thrive on. Eat it at the amount you need based on the lifestyle you have right now. Find a professional or practice who can help you dial it all in forever and not get lost in the matrix of the nutrition blogosphere.
By: Ben House PhD Candidate, FDN, fNMT
*Don’t think for a second think I haven’t screwed the pooch on any this with clients (or myself) over the last ten years, I have. But I really do believe that Coach Davis and I are getting our individualized vehicles tuned up and firing on all cylinders. Yet, even with these approaches and uber amounts of monitoring tools the environment (such as food addictions, food advertising, peer pressure, and social obligations) can completely still derail the best of programs. Thus, the most important thing is still making sure the client really wants to do this, like really really, and that they have dug deep and come up with the “why” that reverberates to their core.
“Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).”
Sometimes my inspiration to write comes from very odd places, for instance the above bathroom sign. A visionary savings of your tax dollars at work on the UT campus or a sneaky joke at the reversal of gender roles and omnipresent endocrine disruption?
I will give these bathroom workers the benefit of the doubt in that this wasn’t meant as a crude joke to women with Metabolic Syndrome and/or Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. The fact is that even these at risk women might not know that these type of diseases or conditions generally push them to a more masculinized state. Whereas, in men, increased abdominal fat will feminize us. So you can see at a very basic level, as both sexes age in our current environment, there is the reversal of gender roles and hormonal profiles.
Well unfortunately, our hormones naturally decrease with age (although some argue that the stark severity and harshness of this decline in both men and women only takes place in western societies). Regardless of your romanticism of the past, we are animals, and our utility will begin to diminish as we lose our ability to reproduce. Combine this decline with an onslaught of environmental xenoestrogens (which won’t be picked up in bloodwork), horrendous amounts of pesticides and pollutants, a never ending stream of stress, and a general lack of sleep and play, and our ability to gracefully age is severely compromised.
Think about it. How many men get docile as they age? They get a baby or not so baby gut and are bossed around by their wives. They drink beer and talk about the glory days of their youth. This sounds like an absolute joy for the women in these relationships who are now struggling to maintain their femininity through and past the menopausal years. They want to look sexy and want to want to have sex, but they can’t fight the internal dissonance of their hormonal levels. Whereas, the men may just be completely disinterested or unable to copulate.
On to some nerdery (mechanisms). Male hormones will diminish in western societies 1 to 2% per year starting in one’s thirties. DHEA, the most abundant androgen in circulation, peaks in the twenties and drops to 15 to 20% of youthful levels in old age. Furthermore, men on average lose 75% of their testosterone with age and sex hormone binding globulin generally increases with age in men, thus even less free testosterone. No bueno. Combine these factors with estrogen rising due to environmental sources as well as increased aromatase activity from increased fat mass and you have a very neuterizing public health recipe.
Women are usually much more complicated than men, and their hormonal orchestra is no different. Yet, in the post-menopausal years, the ovaries no longer provide much (if any) estrogen or progesterone, and this means that the adrenals become the major source of sex hormones. So one can already see how stress and HPA axis dysregulation can completely dismantle any chance of success in this already difficult time. Dr. Michael Cosgrove describes it very succinctly, ”After menopause, estrogen levels in women fall significantly, while testosterone levels continue their slow decline with age, leaving women relatively testosterone dominant after menopause.” To compound the problem, higher insulin levels from lifestyle are believed to stimulate 17,20 lyase, which pushes pregnenolone and progesterone towards the androgenic pathway. Increased insulin levels also lower sex hormone binding globulin, this means more free testosterone. Combine all this with impaired liver clearance, reduced GI and thyroid function, and the complications of estrogen metabolism, and the map towards feeling and looking great later in life becomes even more perplexing to follow.
Ladies, for more on this check out this post from Dr. Mark Hyman.
Thus, how do we avoid the writing on the wall which was so eloquently put there by these janitorial specialized construction workers?
Well…we take on our health early so that we have a shot to maintain our vigor and zest for life as long as possible – technically this is called increasing the health span. We don’t wait for the storm to come, we prepare for it, knowing that it will come. This is very hard for humans to do as we are not evolved to be able to live with a long view of time. But, with the right mindset and guidance, we can look for leading indicators of dysfunction on lab work and pay attention to potential early onset symptoms: a little excess fat around the belly, fatigue or increased energy after meals, cold hands or feet, constipation or diarrhea, excessive bloating and gas, dizziness when standing, overly sensitive to light, hair loss or hair growth, problems with short term memory, loss of libido, retaining fluid, and general fatigue, the list could go on for a while. Please don’t shove these “little” issues under the rug of my doctor says my lab work is normal. Because none of those symptoms are normal; they predict and indicate dysfunction, and although you may be able to live with them now, they will smolder and grow if left unchecked.
This post is not meant to be all doom and gloom, but a warning to take action. The human body is nothing short of amazing in its ability to heal and adapt. We have seen hormone levels in men nearly triple in just 90 days of exercise, lifestyle, and functional medicine interventions. For some, the situation will be a much more intricate web of symptoms and causes, and it will take a very skilled functional medicine practitioner to decide what to do, when. It will be a much longer road. Yet, the earlier you start this process, the more likely you are to catch things before they can’t be fixed and have to instead be managed. If you need help finding a guide for this area of your life, feel free to email; if you are in Chicago, Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I can likely link you up with a really solid match for your particular situation. If you are not in those cities, you can search for a practitioner on the Institute of Functional Medicine website.
This month’s Talk Nerdy To Me pans out at the systems that we commonly need to optimize in order to perform at our highest level. Keep in mind that many of the items discussed could be Talk Nerdy To Me vids in and of themselves. However, this video is meant to provide you with a bird’s eye view of how we support our athletes with much more than just exercise.
His name is Pete. I met Pete back in 2005. Or it might have been the late 90’s. Hard to remember back that far…college was a bit of a blur.
He’s one of those types that comes in and out of your life, usually showing up when you least expect it. Sometimes he outlasts his welcome. Other times, it’s a quick pop in visit. And just like that, he is gone.
You see, Pete is the loving name I have given to my parasite. Makes it more personal. Some clinical types probably would call it visualization. Just my morbid sense of humor I suppose. Whatever.
For years (see above) I have dealt with the symptoms, and they have been plentiful: GERD, food sensitivities, weight gain, inflammation, poor sleep, night sweats, unexplained dizziness, adrenal fatigue, and the list could go on. I saw doctors, had annual physicals, saw specialists, had GI tract studies, took pills and powders, tried elimination diets and again you get the point.
The Obstacle: A medical community wanting to treat/mask the symptoms without addressing the underlying problems or physiological chains. I am such a rebel for wanting answers, not pills.
Then I met Aaron Davis and Ben House with Train Adapt Evolve. We started off pretty slow, addressing some of my structural and movement related issues. But it was 6-8 months ago we started getting serious about my health and well-being. Not much point in fixing the structure if the foundation is cracked.
During this time, Pete was laying back, waiting for the best time to say hello. So we looked at other systems first.
So Davis started asking questions that no trainer in their right mind normally asks (which usually falls to, “What’s your Fran time?”)
“How’s work? When’s the last blood work you had done, and can I see it? How your stress at home? Are you on HRT? Let me see your diet logs. How are your bowel movements?” You get the picture.
Again, slowly we started making changes. First to diet. Saw some small improvements, but knew there were changes to be made.
Then we moved on to addressing the hormone replacement therapy. (Yes, I take testosterone. Men need to be ok admitting this. No shame in it.) But there is little point to using the stuff if it isn’t having a noticeable impact.
Again, my doctor….”you are still too low, double your dose!” And while this ground-breaking approach got my number into HIS “acceptable” range, I felt no different. At all. He was fine with this.
Davis and House weren’t. So we started on some supplements aimed at helping my body actually use all that testosterone floating around. I worked on stress reduction, breathing techniques, and better sleep habits.
The result: improved energy, improved (but not perfect) sleep and I am down about 35 pounds while adding muscle and getting stronger in my programming. Even my RHR is down to 56.
Ah, but then Pete started visiting more often than grandma. And he didn’t even help babysit my twin boys. What an asshole.
Diet alone wasn’t helping, so we hit up some more blood work, looked at my history I carry around and there was a clear pattern pointing the finger at a parasite. And I should mention this is blood work my doctor of nearly 20 years pronounced as “normal.” “Here, take this pill, it will help.”
That brings me to today. I am finishing up a 6 week cleanse & repair protocol and have never felt better. GERD symptoms are gone. Night sweats, poor sleep, dizziness, mental fogginess, all gone. New habits for eating even cleaner than I had been are in place. It has been a slow process, yes, but it will be lasting. These last 8 months also had an unintended consequence: self-awareness. I am more in tune with my body, my overall health and wellness. Score.
Did I do the work? Yes. But without Davis & House at TAE, it would have never been placed in my path in the first place. For this, I am grateful.
As for Pete, he has left the building. Good riddance.
This is the start of the Talk Nerdy To Me series. These talks will be about 20 minutes in duration. The goal is to simplify complex and/or tabooed subjects. We will release one a month by myself or one of our many esteemed colleagues throughout the country.
Without further adieu…
And below are the individual images and a video with the animations of the slides for this presentation.