ME workouts – getting all the factors right

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  • #3547

    I’m starting my first ME workouts, and while the upper body workouts have been good, the lower body workouts leave me befuddled. I found myself in Kansas at the time, so I hiked up and down a five story staircase, I estimate around 850ft total, with 45lbs on my shoulders, about 30% of my bodyweight. By the 45 minute mark I was pouring sweat and my legs were jelly. But, here’s the thing, every time I reached the 5th floor, my heart was cresting 180bpm+, which for me is lower Z4.

    This website says to shoot for Z3 level work, but notes the heart rate may be lower than typical Z3. The book said to shoot for Z1-Z2 heart rates, that the ascent is limited only by the burn in your muscles.

    What am I doing wrong? 30% bodyweight is the maximum weight I’ve seen suggested, and I don’t want to carry much more, my shoulders get sore. A staircase is 35 degrees, so I could go steeper but that’s already a good grade. (I also tried taking stairs two at a time, wonderful burn in the legs, but still very high HR)

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    Anonymous on #3549


    You’ve either got very strong legs are could use more work on your aerobic capacity. 30% of body weight should be plenty to elicit a muscular endurance effect: one where you are more limited by the local muscle fatigue than by the ability of the heart to supply oxygen. This ME must be preceded by an extensive period of aerobic development during which you raise the aerobic threshold to within 10% of the anaerobic threshold. This will ensure enough aerobic capacity to support the higher intensity work. ME workouts can be effective when done in Z2 as well but if you are very fit Z3 is better. Z4 or near max efforts like you are doing will wear you down in short order so I recommend going back to aerobic work or at the very least slowing down so you do not lower, rather than raise your anaerobic threshold.


    pshyvers on #3552

    Hah, I was afraid you’d say something like that.

    I’ve been working heavily on my aerobic capacity since July-ish, and have seen a lot of progress, but the fact of the matter is I was “aerobically deficient” at the start. Then on the other hand, while I’m no strongman, I do have many years of barbell squats under my belt. So, your explanation makes sense- simply, legs muscles are (still) stronger than aerobic system.

    As for the 10% spread between AeT & AnT, I’ve never known for sure what my AeT is. I have chronic unresolved allergies that render my nose nigh-inoperable most of the time. But it would probably be worthwhile to take a spritz of nasal decongestant and try to find out for real.

    Maybe for the ME work I can focus more on upper body ME, and perhaps do a few very long lower body ME workouts at a very easy pace. Several thousand feet ought to still get some response.

    Thank you for all of your thoughtful replies Scott.

    Anonymous on #3622

    The gold standard for finding your aerobic threshold is done in a lab and measured by drawing blood samples (pin pricks) to determine the lactate concentration in your blood. Thus you don’t have to breathe through your nose.

    A good physiology lab an do this test for you.


    Mariner_9 on #3625

    I also have issues with my nose. When I was doing a similar workout (weighted box steps with c. 20% body weight for ME), I simply paid close attention to my HR monitor. When I got close to what I know is upper Zone 1 for me, I slowed down – but didn’t stop – until my HR came down. It might be possible to set an alarm on your monitor when it gets above a certain threshold.

    I tried to pick a fairly high step height so the constraint was my legs which is obviously easier with a box step than stairs.

    Hope this helps. Sorry to hear about the nose issues – I know how annoying they can be.

    pshyvers on #3626

    Mariner_9, I like the box step idea to boost the steepness. Boulder-hopping is more like a box step than a stair step anyway. I do sometimes set an alarm on my watch for my “estimated” Zone 1 or Zone 2 ranges, and that’s what I’ll do for future ME workouts.

    Scott, that’s not a bad idea. Closest lab is probably an hour’s drive to Boulder though, so I think I will still start with the decongestant route for the moment. Can you recommend a specific lab, for later?

    mwm_37 on #3632

    What is the source of the criteria of having AeT within 10% of AT, and when might it break down? To me, 10% seems low. I’ve been tested (VO2 respiration/metabolic test, not blood test) a few years ago at 170/130 (which jives with years of using a HR monitor and observing my condition), which is 30%, and I’ve been deliberately training Z1/Z2 for years with almost no increase in AeT. As a coach, at what point would you abandon that 10% target, and how would you adjust training targets accordingly?

    Anonymous on #3633


    Thanks for asking these questions. They are germane and I am sure others have them. I’ll answer them separately.

    The Source: The 10% recommendation I refer to is a rule of thumb more than a scientifically proven fact. Keep in mind that coaches working with many athletes for many years acquire vast amount of experiential observations of the way athletes respond to training. Many such observations are made and through the well vetted process of trial and error the successful ones get passed along and tested over and over, often with refinements. The first person I ever heard speak of this 10% rule was Renato Canova, famed distance running coach of many champions. He was making the point that until the aerobic threshold (which indicates the capacity of the aerobic system) is elevated to within 10% of the endurance limit (the anaerobic threshold indicates the endurance limit) the athlete still has room to improve his basic aerobic fitness before getting too concerned with training the anaerobic threshold for endurance.

    The Reason: The following is explained in Training for the New Alpinism but here is a synopsis. The basic aerobic capacity of the muscles ultimately sets the endurance limit because it is the aerobic capacity of the slow twitch fibers that determines the rate at which lactate can be removed from the working muscle fibers. Your personal endurance limit is set by your ability to remove lactate at a rate equal to its production. This limit IS the ANAEROBiC THRESHOLD, also called maximum lactate steady state MLSS for what should be obvious reasons now. This maximum rate at which lactate can be removed from the higher power fibers (the ones used to sustain your maximum effort) and used as fuel by the slow twitch fibers is determined not by any quality of the FT fibers. It is determined instead by how well aerobically adapted (aerobic capacity) the lowly slow twitch fibers are. The bigger that aerobic capacity, the greater the ability to take up and utilize lactate as fuel. Forgive me if you already understand this but I get asked this questions a lot and I think it bears explaining again.

    From this it should be clear why improving the aerobic capacity/elevating the aerobic threshold is so important.

    Your situation:
    I can’t answer as to why you have seen no improvement after years of training without knowing a lot more. You say you have been training in Zones 1 and 2 for years. And you say you have not had a lactate test to determine your aerobic threshold. This is the best and simplest way to determine your AeT? When was this done? How are you measuring AeT? With HR or pace? How have you tested this? I ask these things because I have not seen someone not respond to aerobic training before. I have seen slow responders who take 4-6 months to see the AeT start to nudge upward. I have read of non responders in literature but never seen or heard of one in practice. So it seems highly unlikely that you are in this situation.
    I have seen many folks start this process with a AeT/Ant difference of 30%. These folks have ADS (Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome) and all that I have ever worked with responded within a few months of consistent training.


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