A few things I’ve learned

April 4, 2013

The recent u-turn (temporary diversion) in my own training approach (my own programme, not my entire professional ethos) has led to some pretty interesting insights.  Now I’m certainly no endurance ‘athlete’ and I don’t envisage that I will pursue something like this – http://www.4deserts.com/gobimarch/ – again, but it has taught/is teaching me some very valuable lessons.

Note: This post is no doubt going to jump around a bit as I write it on the hoof, but I thought it was worth getting it down in text.  If for nobody else’s benefit but my own…..

My view that ‘cardio breaks down muscle’ has been put into question.  Truth be told, I’m not sure my stance was ever quite so unequivocal or simplistic, but I certainly wouldn’t have used running (I’m not including sprinting here) for body composition purposes, for most people.  Thing is, over the last few months I’ve (unintentionally) managed to lose fat whilst adding some muscle, doing lots of running and limited resistance training.  Whilst I understand to a degree the reasons why this is the case with me, it’s worth looking at again.

Endurance training is as much, if not more, about mental toughness than it is about physical fitness. I remember reading this in Lance Armstong’s book a few years back and it didn’t really register at the time.  He said something along the lines of ‘all the top riders are super-fit, but what separates the good from the best is their mental capacity for pain’.  This level of drive and appetite for sacrifice is probably at the root of success in almost anything.  This includes changing your body composition.

I’ve also (almost) had to admit that I’m an idiot because of the above realisation.  I was quoted last year as saying to one of our W10 members – who’s a decent 10km runner – that ‘running is for losers’ (said in jest, ish).  I had no realisation at the time how hard it is physically and mentally to run 10km at a good pace, because I hadn’t done it.  I really should front up now and admit that to him that I was wrong.  I probably won’t.

Whilst strength training might be beneficial for endurance athletes, it doesn’t go well with high volume sports specific training (running in this case).  As my training volume has increased my ability or appetite for lifting heavy has diminished (wow, did just write that sentence?).  I would rather poke myself in the eyes in fact than do anything knee dominant.  Hence my twice weekly strength training time has been centred around hamstring, glutes, mid-back and global mobility work.  Per-i-od-i-sa-tion.

I’ve realised that I actually enjoy being ‘fit’.  I fully appreciate that you can work your cardio respiratory system by doing weight training, but it actually feels good to do some ‘conditioning’ beyond some twenty second intervals.  I’m not sure I’ll keep up with the longer distance stuff after this stupidity but I’ll definitely carry on with a couple of shorter bouts.  I’ve even set myself a couple of targets over the next few weeks:  sub 7mins for 2000m row (current best 7:07) and under 20mins for 5k (current 20:58).  Perhaps nothing world beating, but two things to aim for.

I’ve had to admit that my previous approach to nutrition in relation to endurance training has been wrong.  I’ve had to balance the need to lose some weight (running repeated marathons will be easier if I’m lighter) and maintaining my training and recovery which has been interesting.  Anyone that tells you that you only need carbs around workouts for high volume endurance training probably hasn’t done much of that type of stuff.  You need to know how to play with macronutrients.

Most personal trainers don’t have a clue when it comes to helping endurance folk.  I’ve had several trainers question why I would cycle for long periods or swim as part of a training programme for running, telling me that there’s ‘no carry over’.  Er, yes, ok.  I read a post recently by a trainer whom I’ve got time for in which he raised the point about not being able to help people unless you’d been there.  His angle was more from an ‘understanding the psychology’ standpoint, which I think is very often forgotten.  You might not need to be shredded to get someone into top shape, but you do need to understand the psychology of it.  Which means you’ve probably done something similar yourself.

Without a clear purpose (goal) it’s almost impossible to push yourself to your potential.  You need a reason to be uncomfortable.  This is something that everyone talks about at length, but I have been reminded forcefully of it over the last few weeks.  For the most part I’ve suffered rather than enjoyed the training, but I understand that it’s just what needs to be done to do what I what to do.  There are times when I would have talked myself out of it if (justified it) I didn’t have a clear reason for sticking to the programme.

I like resistance training much more than cardio.  The discomfort is relatively temporary and the gratification relatively instant.  I like that relationship.