Extra three weeks; revisit transition phase or move forward?

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  • #7353
    benjamin.connel
    Participant

    I’m moving towards the end of Week 6 of the initial transition phase in my preparation for a climb of Denali in June 2018. I wasn’t able to schedule my metabolic testing until three weeks into my plan, and found out that I had been training at an incorrect AeT (140 estimated vs. 105 calculated on VO2Max test). I have a relatively strong anaerobic base I assume that comes from my powerlifting and HIIT training history from the past five years.

    I have an extra three weeks alloted for training that I intended repeat Weeks 12-14 based on recommendations on the 24 Week Mountaineering Plan order page; however, my sense is that because I trained at an incorrect AeT initially I’m not properly set up to move to the next phase. Instead of Weeks 12-14, should I repeat the second microcycle of the Transition phase, with slightly longer times?

    Also, I noticed in another recent post that you recommend your athletes to Real Rehab in Seattle. My test was performed at PotentRx also in downtown Seattle using the VO2Max protocol (they were pretty affirmative that my aerobic training zones could be calculated using this protocol and I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to question them). I’m assuming that it’s worth being retested at Real Rehab if I can get an appointment in time?

    PS– I’ve posted a couple of other times on here and have found your responses incredibly thoughtful and informative. Thanks for all of the effort that you put into this, and I hope to continue working with y’all regardless of what happens on Denali!

    Ben

  • Moderator
    Scott Semple on #7360

    Hi Benjamin,

    You are correct. If you’ve been training above AeT, especially if it’s been over a long period of time, you’ll want to slow things down and train below AeT until your aerobic capacity (AeC) is restored. That may require changing your training plan.

    Depending on how long you’ve been focusing on high-intensity training, restoring AeC could take a while, but it’ll be well worth it in the long run.

    You wrote that your anaerobic base is strong. It sounds like it is *too* strong. Aerobic and anaerobic capacities exist in a relative balance with each other. As one becomes stronger, your lactate curve will move left or right accordingly unless the opposite capacity becomes proportionately stronger as well.

    If you’ve been focusing on high intensity for a long time without also supporting or building an aerobic base, then your lactate curve has been likely pushed too far to the left for aerobic events.

    The solution is to slow things down and focus on building aerobic capacity as described in TftNA. Rather than stick to a certain training plan or schedule, you may need to reprioritize.

    I hope that helps.

    Scott S.

    P.S. Here’s a great illustration of how AeC and AnC work against each other: http://www.lactate.com/aerobic_anaerobic_animation.html. In the animation, you can adjust the relative strengths of each to see how a lactate curve will respond.

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #7361

    I just saw your post in the other thread about your aerobic pace being frustratingly slow. Unfortunately, it sounds like that pace is what you need to do to rebuild your AeC. The good news is that, given enough time and volume, your pace *will* increase.

    It’s just gonna take time. But when AeC is restored, you’ll be very happy you took the time to rebuild it.

    Participant
    benjamin.connel on #7362

    Scott,

    Thanks for your response. Can you tell me more about what you mean by “Rather than stick to a certain training plan or schedule, you may need to reprioritize?”

    I’m pretty much alright with the slow grind that it’ll take to build my AeC up… that’s what I’m here for!

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #7367

    Sorry for the confusion. I should have been clearer.

    If your AeT is still less than 10% below AnT, and if the training plan prescribes higher intensity, you may want to change those higher intensity workouts to below AeT. That reprioritization may need to extend past the three week buffer that you’ve scheduled.

    I think Scott J would agree that you don’t want to add intensity prematurely.

    Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #7368

    Benjamin:

    S^2 is right on the money here. He should be: I taught him :-). He’s one of my star pupils!

    Seriously, the development of the basic aerobic capacity has to take precedence over all other endurance training when that capacity is low. That basic, and for the poorly conditioned, frustratingly slow, training is what supports all the other training to make you fast in the mountains. It is the foundation, literally that provides the metabolic support for every intensity above it. Shitty foundation and the house will not stand up under heavy loads.

    If you have extra weeks then use them to add more aerobic base volume.

    As far as testing goes. I’m not familiar with PotentRx. But…..In general a maxVO2 test protocol will be too short to give a good look at how your aerobic system responds to increased intensity. Many maxVO2 tests ramp up intensity way too fast and your metabolism never has a chance to stabilize at each stage of the test. As such it is playing catch up. They do this so that you can hit your max power before becoming fatigued. These tests are for looking at the top end of your metabolism not the bottom end. The aerobic system is slow to respond and needs several minutes to stabilize after an increase in intensity. Do you have the raw data? Do you recall how short or long each work stage was? How long minutes was the whole test? How much very easy warm up did you get.

    It is very likely that your test was meaningless for gathering the info you need to assess AeT.

    Call Real Rehab. Tell them that Uphill Athlete referred you. They should give you 10% off the test cost.

    Scott

    Participant
    benjamin.connel on #7373

    Sounds good. I’ll add in more base volume then, thanks!

    I don’t have the raw data; I was given a print out with a couple of charts (attached) showing different aerobic/anaerobic zones and my metabolic fuel profile. I think the test was about 15 minutes with a few minutes of warm up, but I honestly don’t remember.

    I called Real Rehab and was given an email to schedule the gas exchange test. Haven’t heard back with the holidays and all but I’ll give them another ring after Monday.

    Happy new year!

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    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #7379

    Hey Ben,

    One more thought (and then I’ll shut up…):

    As you said, rebuilding the aerobic system can be tedious at slow speeds. However, in addition to increasing your speed at aerobic paces, it’ll also help your anaerobic performance as well.

    The best example of this is Michael Phelps. Although his race events were relatively short (between 1′ and 7′), his coach (Bob Bowman) is a big believer in the work of Jan Olbrecht. Bowman trained Phelps using Olbrecht’s methods.

    For UA, if you trace back the lineage of Scott J’s philosophy on aerobic training, you’ll find Jan Olbrecht is part of the same school of thought.

    If it worked for Phelps…

    Scott

    Participant
    Bruno Schull on #7403

    Hi.

    This thread raises some interesting questions.

    I confess, I looked at animation in the link above, and I don’t get it.

    When I see an animation like this, I experiment with it.

    So I set the Anaerobic capacity at a middle/average value, 3, and I set the Aerobic capacity at the lowest level, 1. Then I increased the Aerobic capacity, level by level. As I expected, the lactate curve stayed roughly the same shape (until the highest level) but shifted to the right, indicating that the swimmer could achieve a faster pace, and produce the same lactate values. If I understand correctly, this is similar to doing lots of low-intensity running or hiking, raising your Aerobic capacity, after which your pace for a specific effort will increase. So far so good.

    Then I did the opposite. I set the Aerobic capacity at a middle/average value, 3, and I set the Anaerobic capacity at the lowest level, 1. Then I increased the Anaerobic capacity, level by level. In this case, the lactate curve shifted to the left, indicating that the swimmer went slower as his/her Anaerobic capacity increased.

    This seems counter-intuitive. For a given Aerobic capacity, why would having more Anaerobic capacity make somebody slower?

    Or, to put it another way, for a given Aerobic capacity, why would having more Anaerobic capacity make somebody’s blood lactate levels increase at a lower pace?

    Is the explanation that when an athlete has a high Anaerobic capacity (fuel store like ATP and creatine phosphate, enzymes, cellular machinery, metabolic byproduct clearing mechanisms, and so forth) these systems simply kick into gear at lower intensities, thus raising blood lactate, and limiting pace?

    In the explanation below the animations, the authors talk about a runner, “We do not know if the runner’s anaerobic capacity is optimal for the 1500 m race. Suppose it was not and suppose it was too high. Then workouts that lowered the anaerobic capacity would make this runner faster at 1500 m.”

    Again, how would lowering an athlete’s Anaerobic capacity make them faster at a particular distance?

    The author’s go on to say, “The two energy systems have to be balanced for the specific race. This is a topic that is not understood very well and there is little if anything about it in any training literature.”

    I’m suspicious of claims that appear not to be backed up by standard practice, or academic studies (the study paraphrased on the page does not address these points). I am especially suspicious when claims are made about vague processes, almost mystical in nature, that appear to be the brain-child of one or very few researchers, and that are “hard to measure,” on a website that sells lactate measuring devices…. This is not discount the value of lactate testing, by any means, only to question exactly what the authors mean by a optimal “balance” between Anaerobic and Aerobic capacity.

    I always thought (probably incorrectly) that having a high Aerobic capacity is the most important thing–the starting point–but that, whatever your Aerobic capacity is, having a higher Anaerobic capacity would only be a good thing, if only for short, intense efforts, and if all else was equal (training volume and intensity, muscle mass, weight, economy, and so on).

    My key questions:
    -Why does having a high Anaerobic capacity hurt endurance performance? How does this work at the level of cells/energy systems?

    -What does it mean to have an Anaerobic capacity “optimized” for a particular event (neither too high nor too low)? Again, how does this work at the level of cells/energy systems?

    If you have the time, I would love to know more about this topic. And if it’s simply too lengthy or complex to explain in a forum thread, I would be happy to consult other resources if you have good links to websites, scientific articles, or book recommendations.

    OK, thanks, and all the best,

    Bruno

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #7418

    Hey Bruno,

    Great questions. I’ll do my best to clarify.

    The shortest summary can be done with two questions:

    How much aerobic capacity do I need?
    As much as possible.
    How much anaerobic capacity do I need?
    It depends on the event.

    It’s really important to understand that the position of a lactate curve reflects the relative strengths, and not the absolute strengths, of aerobic capacity (AeC) and anaerobic capacity (AnC).

    If two athletes have a similar heart rate range and the same relative balance between AeC and AnC, they could have identical lactate curves even though their speeds may differ. Lactate curves primarily describe fuel usage relative to intensity.

    They don’t predict speed, although plotting lactate against speed is the most useful way to use lactate. Speed is obviously more performance-centric than heart rate.

    You said:

    So I set the Anaerobic capacity at a middle/average value, 3, and I set the Aerobic capacity at the lowest level, 1. Then I increased the Aerobic capacity, level by level. As I expected, the lactate curve stayed roughly the same shape (until the highest level) but shifted to the right, indicating that the swimmer could achieve a faster pace, and produce the same lactate values. If I understand correctly, this is similar to doing lots of low-intensity running or hiking, raising your Aerobic capacity, after which your pace for a specific effort will increase. So far so good.

    Correct.

    Then I did the opposite. I set the Aerobic capacity at a middle/average value, 3, and I set the Anaerobic capacity at the lowest level, 1. Then I increased the Anaerobic capacity, level by level. In this case, the lactate curve shifted to the left, indicating that the swimmer went slower as his/her Anaerobic capacity increased.

    Instead of thinking of the athlete as going slower, think about when the athlete’s metabolism starts to favor anaerobic energy production over aerobic. An athlete whose AnC is too strong relative to AeC will start to switch over earlier than an athlete with a relatively stronger AeC.

    In short events, there could be no difference between the speeds of the two athletes. But in events lasting two hours or longer, it becomes a fuel issue. The athlete with the too-strong AnC will run out of glycogen before the athlete with a relatively stronger AeC.

    Sadly, in cases where an athlete has solely focused on high-intensity training, they can destroy their aerobic capacity. For those athletes, they start to switch over to anaerobic metabolism at very low levels of intensity. In extreme cases, athletes that have destroyed their AeC like this are somewhat anaerobic (i.e. above ~2 mM of lactate) at any level of activity.

    The reason for this is that chronically elevated levels of acidosis (not because of lactate, but in conjunction with it) destroy mitochondria. Mitochondria are the “aerobic engines” of muscle cells, so killing them off is a bad idea. Constant high-intensity training repeatedly creates elevated levels of acidosis.

    All world-class athletes use high-intensity work in their program, but in much smaller proportions than what has become popular in recreationalists. As an example, although Kenyan runners are often described as using a lot of high-intensity intervals (and it’s true), that high-intensity work accounts for only 10-15% of their training. (* Based on Renato Canova’s training programs.)

    Is the explanation that when an athlete has a high Anaerobic capacity (fuel store like ATP and creatine phosphate, enzymes, cellular machinery, metabolic byproduct clearing mechanisms, and so forth) these systems simply kick into gear at lower intensities, thus raising blood lactate, and limiting pace?

    Correct.

    Again, how would lowering an athlete’s Anaerobic capacity make them faster at a particular distance?

    The important thing to remember is that a lactate curve’s position is a result of the relative strength of AeC and AnC.

    Think of the tug-o-war in the animation. If one side gets weaker, then the opposing side will gain ground.

    Three examples:

    ONE

    I have a friend who was very fit and very powerful. He had a very big engine, but was overdoing high-intensity. His curve was further left than it should have been, and his AeC had actually dropped. Then he developed chronic lower back issues. He had to take a lot of time off, and when he became active again, he could only do low intensity.

    I tested that friend before and after his back issues. The change in curves? Metabolically, his lactate curve improved. He was certainly slower, yes. But measured by heart rate, his curve had noticeably shifted to the right. We’re now in the process of speeding him back up, which is going well.

    This friend’s curve had shifted to the right, because both AeC and AnC had weakened, but AnC had weakened more. The relative strengths had changed.

    TWO

    I tested another friend twice during his training. His second curve was noticeably shifted to the right. (His ~4 mM HR moved from ~165 to ~175.) At first I thought that this was due to all the training he had been doing, and some of the shift probably was.

    However, I then found out that he had done a sprint workout the day before. (Short, near-maximal sprints are how to train AnC.) In the days following a sprint workout, AnC is noticeably reduced as the system recovers. The large shift to the right was then an unreliable measure of aerobic fitness, because his AnC was temporarily weakened. Further supporting this was that peak lactate between the two tests had been halved.

    Again, weakening the AnC had let the AeC side of the tug-o-war gain ground.

    THREE

    A couple race seasons ago, I was getting tired toward the end of the season, but I wasn’t losing any speed. Out of curiosity, I did a lactate test. The maximum lactate that I could produce was half of what I had going into the season.

    Racing and threshold workouts was gradually weakening my AnC. In this way, intentionally lowering AnC could be used as a way to get some free speed at ~2 mM (~AeT).

    I’m suspicious of claims that appear not to be backed up by standard practice…

    Don’t judge a philosophy by the crappy website… Lactate.com is a badly designed website with a lot of run-on writing, but the background of the information comes from Jan Olbrecht. Olbrecht has advised on the training of world champion swimmers, triathletes, motocross riders, and runners. At the 2004 Olympics, 40 athletes were training under his supervision. They came home with 27 medals. Also of note, Bow Bowman used Olbrecht’s ideas to train Michael Phelps, whose longest event was only seven minutes.

    If you want to get down into the weeds, I recommend reading (and rereading) Olbrecht’s book, The Science of Winning. You may also want to check out writing by Renato Canova, Yuri Verkhoshansky, and Steve Magness.

    I think I’ve answered your first question, but that still leaves the second:

    What does it mean to have an Anaerobic capacity “optimized” for a particular event (neither too high nor too low)? Again, how does this work at the level of cells/energy systems?

    I don’t remember what the cellular changes are, but it’s described in Olbrecht’s book. As far as AnC optimization goes though, it depends on the length of the event and how stochastic the event is.

    At two hours and longer, athletes need to contend with glycogen depletion. If depleted, our brains will force us to slow down. To postpone that as long as possible, you’ll want an aerobic capacity as high as possible. That needs to be reconciled against the event-specific need for AnC: How stochastic is the event?

    If an event is entirely steady state, then the need for AnC is low. It could be argued that AnC shouldn’t be trained at all, especially if the event is quite long. For example, non-competitive mountain sports don’t require any AnC. They’re very long events with no competitive need to go above aerobic threshold. (The one factor though is that training AnC early on in a recreational program has other benefits.)

    In contrast, if an event requires repeated power surges or a final kick to the finish line, then AnC is required. Cycling, skimo, and nordic skiing are great examples.

    How much AnC? To be honest, I don’t have a lot of experience figuring that out. That’s my current focus. At the moment, it seems that you want as much AnC as possible without weakening AeC.

    And the reason you don’t want to weaken AeC? Another important function of AeC that isn’t widely discussed is the aerobic system’s role as a “vacuum cleaner” for the blood. The higher the AeC, the more that the aerobic system can draw lactate back into the muscles and use it for fuel. The more lactate the aerobic system can use, the more it can consume, the lower blood lactate levels will be or the faster they’ll be lowered, and the more often anaerobic bursts can be used to competitive advantage.

    I hope that helps.

    Scott S.

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #7419

    Here are two more clarifications. I said:

    If two athletes have a similar heart rate range and the same relative balance between AeC and AnC, they could have identical lactate curves even though their speeds may differ. Lactate curves primarily describe fuel usage relative to intensity.

    I should have said, “…they could have identical lactate curves (when plotted against heart rate) even though their speeds may differ.”

    To measure just metabolism, plot lactate against heart rate. To measure metabolism relative to speed, plot lactate against speed.

    For racing, speed is what matters, but ideally you want aerobic metabolism to be a very high percentage of the possible intensity. In the long-term, that will bring the athlete closer ro optimizing their speed.

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #7423

    Okay, one (last?) thought. You said:

    Again, how would lowering an athlete’s Anaerobic capacity make them faster at a particular distance?

    Any change in speed relative to a changing fuel mix will depend on the length of the event.

    Weakening AnC relative to AeC won’t necessarily make the athlete faster in an event shorter than two hours, especially if the event is steady-state. But it will make the athlete more metabolically efficient. As AnC weakens, AeC will take up more of the workload. If AeC remains the same, AeC pace will increase if AnC weakens.

    In a short event, the change may not make any difference other than how hungry the athlete is after. In a longer event though, the speed benefit will happen by delaying depletion. If depletion is postponed, pace should be preserved.

    I hope that that makes sense.

    Participant
    Bruno Schull on #7424

    Thanks for the reply Scott–I’ll have to process all that. I think the key will be to bend my mind around the idea of relative vs. absolute Anaerobic and Aerobic capacity, as you suggest.

    Just some interesting trivia: Many years ago, I got a degree in molecular biology from UC Berkekley. I was heavily into bicycle road racing then, and I took some exercise physiology classes. One of my teachers was George Brooks, who, I believe, helped illuminate the what he called the “lactate” shuttle. He championed the idea that lactate was not some evil by-product that causes muscle soreness, but rather a metabolite that could be recycled when possible for energy. I think he also helped produce the energy drink Cytomax, which was based on his ideas, and which I drank far too much of during my time bicycle racing.

    Greorge Brooks has lots of zany ideas, such as his theory about the “1 rep maximum” as the best way to increase strength. He would come into the college weight room, warm up (or not warm up), do one massive bench press/squat/whatever, and then walk out. Fun to see.

    OK, all the best, and thanks again,

    Bruno

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #7425

    One of my teachers was George Brooks, who, I believe, helped illuminate the what he called the “lactate” shuttle. He championed the idea that lactate was not some evil by-product that causes muscle soreness, but rather a metabolite that could be recycled when possible for energy.

    Yes! That’s a key idea underlying the training methods of Olbrecht, Canova, Magness, and Uphill Athlete.

    Interesting about the max strength. I’ve had best results with max strength gains using low-rep, high-weight, but I’d be concerned about injury using a 1RM.

    Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #7435

    Scott^2, Bruno and the rest:
    This is a great conversation and the kind Steve and I hope to promote on UA. I’ve got just a few comments. Bruno: That’s very cool that George Brooks was you teacher. The lactate shuttle is instrumental in understanding lactate dynamics and how it affects endurance. Modern endurance training methodologies owes a lot to George Brooks. I kind of like his 1RM idea for strength BTW.

    As for the whole AeC vs AnC discussion. I think it is Olbrecht who said: “You can never have too much AeC. You can have too little or too much AnC but never too much AeC”.

    In my experience training to increase one will necessarily lower the other. How much? Like everything, it depends on lots of things. However having worked a lot with XC skiers and especially sprinters where they need very high AeC and AnC I can tell you it is possible to raise both over the long term (although not simultaneously). In fact the ideal endurance athlete will have very low anaerobic involvement (as measured by lactate) right up to the highest intensities but will then have the ability to kick in the afterburners and produce massive amounts of lactate when requiring maximal efforts. This athlete has a very high aerobic threshold, a correspondingly high anaerobic threshold (often only 5-7% above AeT at which lactate levels are quite modest. I have seen this in World Cup XC skiers.

    For ultr-long duration events like 50+ mile runs and alpine climbing the AnC plays a much smaller role and can almost be overlooked in training. To paraphrase Canova: Training for Ultra running is very simple because it is mono-directional (all AeC training).

    Scott

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