Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Law of Overload and Supercompenesation

It's amazing to me that we still see coaches having their kids run hard workouts on consecutive days and before races.  Not that you can never do back to back hard days, but if you do, you'll probably have to follow it up with 2 recovery days.  If you're not familiar with this law Read This! 

The article shows the result of inadequate recovery time between hard workouts, but you must also apply the correct load of each individual workout.  If the load of the workout/race is too high, then the body does not supercompensate.  You'll have to take extra time to recover just to get back to where you were before you pushed it too hard.  I the load is on the light side, you'll still get some supercompensation and improvement, just not as much as you could have if you'd worked a little harder.  So the trick is to apply the optimum load and wait the ideal recovery time (don't forget that easy workouts aid in recovery) before the next "quality" workout. When we're really trying to be the best we can be, we're usually walking a fine line between pushing ourselves hard and over training.  It is better to err on the side of undertraining than over training. 

We should apply this law when planning both micro and macrocycles in our training;  Easy days and hard days, taking recovery week every 2-4 weeks, and breaks between seasons.  The only way I know to really nail this is to keep detailed training logs, so that you can look back and make adjustments for the future.

Micro and Macro-Cycles for Base Phase
Recovery times for various workouts

Periodization and Training Plans

The old saying that "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail" hold try for runners.  Or you might say that those who fail to plan, plan to be mediocre.  While we all follow the same "laws" of exercise science, we all respond, recover from, and make adaptions differently to various types of stimulus.  Each season should be approached as a sort of science experiment.  When I first started coaching I would come up with my "perfect" plan every season, and when I didn't get the result or outcome I had planned on, I would blame someone or something else.  But that's now how experiments work.  You can't plan on or expect a certain outcome.  You can hope, but it may take several seasons to get it right.  At the end of each season one needs to look back and evaluate and try to guess what went wrong, what went right, why, and what could maybe have  been done differently.  Each season is clean slate to either make adjustments (a year with a big race) or start over and try a completely different approach (Maybe a year when the athlete is at the bottom of their age group).  The end goal being to have everything fine tuned by say the senior year of HS or college.  Don't be afraid to have a few bad races or even a bad season in order to try something new or different.  Remember it's a science experiment, not to prove what you know, but to see what kind of results you get.
To really reach their potential, each athlete needs their own tailored training plan.  In order to keep track of what they've actually done and be able to evaluate the results, they need to keep a detailed training log.  All you need is a cheap calendar. Write out your training in your calendar.   You'll have to tweak it and make adjustments as you go.  Write in pencil so you can erase and write what you actually did.  Write down times, how you felt, and total mileage, etc.  Monitor weight (often) and height (once a month).
Now what is periodization and why bother?  To periodize a training plan is to break up your season into different phases or building blocks and to sequence the phases or stack the blocks in an order that makes sense and that is not counter productive.  For example:  In order to build his aerobic capacity a distance runner needs to put in a lot of slower, easy miles.  Because aerobic capacity can be maintained to a certain extent while cutting miles in order to do more intense  workouts, and because a lot of long slow running can have negative effect on a runners speed, it makes more sense to put in the high mileage at the beggining of the season.  Hill reps improve speed and muscle recruitment, but can leave you tired and sluggish.  Therefore it makes sense to focus on those before the main competition phase of your season, but not so much while putting in a lot of miles, because as we all know, if you increase the intensity, you have to lower the quantity.  There are some very easy to follow concepts and recommendations on this matter in Jack Daniel’s “Running Formula.”

Generally Training run from long to short.  This falls into my distance running paradigm.  I believe that you’ll avoid injury better by starting easy and slowly increasing intensity as you reduce volume.  However, there are many good sprinting programs that focus on speed first, and being able to maintain speed later.  That is after all what makes a good sprinter, being able to acclerate fast, and then maintain that that speed till the finish line.
For those new to the idea of breaking your training plan up into different periods that build on each other, there are some very easy principals to follow in Jack Daniel’s “Running Formula.”  He sets 24 weeks as an ideal training period and gives some ideas on how to shorten it if you don’t have that luxery.  I like a little more time than he recommends for phase 1 (depending on the goal mileage that the athlete needs to build up to), and I like to add on a 1-3 week tapering phase that tends to shorten phases 2-4 slightly.  Keep in mind that his book is aimed primarily at distance runners.  Below are some links that will give you some ideas on how to go about writing a plan for an athlete focused more on the sprinting events.   

Different Models
Why Periodize
Linear vs. Non-Linear Periodization
Periodization for Sprinters
Examples from various sports

Mileage vs Speed Devolopment and Starting Young

Research show that there are no great advantages to be gained from beginning your running career earlier than others.  We have about 20 years to run well and about 10 of those years to be at the top of our game and those years start to tick away once we start to train seriously. The athletes winning 10k's and marathons in their 40's aren't the athletes that were winning in college.  They're usually people that started running later in life.  Dr. Tim Noakes (who has recently turned everything we thought we knew about exercise science upside down) uses this information to make the argument that since we peak when we're about 28 years of age, that we should start training seriously until we're 18.  I think that this reasoning might make sense for athletes who know they have the genetic potential to run professionally after college.  For most of us though, by the time we're 28, we're too busy with our families and careers to be that focused on running.  Assuming that a runner has the potential to run in college, I believe that it makes more sense to try and peak them at around 23.  That would mean that the "serious" training begins at 13.

I put "Serious" in parenthesis, because that's not really what I mean.  I want to teach the kids I work with to work hard, be diligent and dedicated, etc, from the beginning.  It can be a little bit emotional for me when I see a young athlete with strong desire and works ethic.  If they're willing to put in the time, then I want them to get the maximum benefit from their work.  So I need to put in my time to make sure that they're doing things right and not doing things that are counterproductive. You'll hear some people dismiss as being too "intense".  They're kids.  They should just be having fun.  To them I say, that it's not intense, it's about being smart.  I would also argue that the kids will have more "fun" if they can see their progress and feel good about what they're achieving.  Go to a ski hill and you'll see a lot of kids having fun.  But who's having more fun, the kids that have had lessons and are learning good technique, or the kids snow plowing down the mountain?

I also believe that when talk about beginning the 10 years of "serious" training, we're really talking about the years of running higher mileage.  Building aerobic capacity is the easy part as a coach.  For the most part your runners just need to put in their time.  The development of speed on the other hand takes a lot longer.  Those who argue for high mileage in kids usually point to the Kenyans and pin their success to all the running they do as kids and not to their genetic superiority.

So what can we accomplish by starting kids when they're younger?  My first goal is to establish a healthy life style and help instill kids with a strong work ethic. While there are plenty of other sports kids can learn (and I encourage as many as possible), I think it's important that everyone learns to run.  Running isn't my top choice fore my daily workout.  I'd much rather be skiing, climbing, or on my mountain bike, but when I'm crunched for time I throw on a pair or running shoes.  It's the quickest cheapest most convenient thing we can do to stay healthy and in shape.  I encourage as much cross training as possible in my young athletes to build muscle balance and develop over all athleticism.  I especially want my girls to have some other options should they loose their running bodies as they get older.  I hope that the discipline and dedication that they've gained from running will be able to transfer over to another sport.

There are other benefits to beginning early, things we can develop without starting the clock on our "best 10 years."  One is to take advantage of the attitudes of younger athletes.  I use to coach older kids and never would have guessed that I'd find more fulfillment in coaching young novices over more mature athletes.  It's easy to get kids excited about just about anything when they're young.  They're much easier to motivate.  In my experience if work ethic and good habits aren't established early, the kids tend to be whiney, lazy, and less coachable when they get older.   Once kids get into MS and HS, it's also difficult to get them to pace/race intelligently.  I would say the majority aren't willing to give racing smart a chance until they get to college.  I've found that I can avoid this problem by starting young and teaching smart race tactics before there's really pressure to win.  Those who grow up doing time trials and competing at J.O. and all comers meets will have a lot more confidence and race experience than their peers.

A few years ago I believed in concentrating more on mileage than speed.  My primary reasoning was the development of the energy systems (Aerobic being fully developed by 12 years of age and the anaerobic not being fully developed until 18).  However, I've slowly done a 180.  The reasons for m change in philosophy:
1 - I've heard Patrick Shane quoted from USATF coaching certification classes saying that he wouldn't let anyone race over 400 meters until they're 16, because the research shows that if kids don't develop good speed by then, they won't ever get it.   Now, I don't believe there's really any harm from running races over 400, but I do believe there are there are benefits to be gained.  However, I do focus the majority of our workouts more towards racing a 400 or shorter.
2 - The Tim Noakes research quoted above.  I don't believe that speed training will necessarily start the clock on our limited running careers
3 - Speed and athleticism takes longer to develop.  Aerobic capacity rises and falls easily. 

One other point to consider is the need to prepare athletes for the next level.  I would say and average expectation for collegiate runners would be around 50 miles a week for freshman girls and 70 for freshman boys.  I've seen too many runners who do well in HS on 30 miles a week go on to college and drop out the first year because they're expected double their mileage over night.  I've heard some of their HS coaches blame the college coaches.  I blame the HS coach for not preparing their runners.  While I've heard of HS teams right here in Idaho that have their Freshman hitting 50-60 miles a week and getting good results (along with a lot of injuries), I think a more reasonable expectation would be 30.  I believe in holding back on mileage for as long as possible, but still doing enough to prepare for the next level.  Here's my basic timeline for an above average to above average runner.  An elite runner may do a little more, and of course a new and less gifted runners should do less:
Beginners: run 3-4 days a week, take one day off, and x-train the other days working up to 15-18 miles a week with a 45 minute long run by 6th grade
7th Grade:  20 miles a week with a 60 minute Long Run
8th Grade:  25 miles a week with a 70 minute Long Run
Freshman:  30 miles a week with an 80 minute Long Run slowly working towards the Senior load
Senior:  40-45 per week for girls and 50-60 for boys.  Long Runs up to 2 hours.

With this in mind, I believe in

With new runners, we take the first couple years to focus on general training.  We give them several opportunities to race everything from 40 to 3000 meters.  We then compare their PR's from each event to time comparison charts in order to determine the make-up if their muscle fiber type and what events they'll have the most success.  I always encourage aerobic running for reasons of lifestyle.  However, it's also important to remember that a lot of slow miles can have a negative effect.  It can result in loss of speed.

Long to short approach to each season, but a short to long approach to life.

Stretching and Plyos

Our muscles and tendons are elastic in nature.  Some people seem to naturally have  a little more of this elasticity than others.  Increasing this elasticity will benefit running performance.  When the foot strikes the ground (if we're landing on the forefoot like we should an not on the heel) the tendons and muscles stretch.  And like someone snapping an elastic, the muscles and tendons also snap back into place giving us free energy that the body doesn't have to produce.  The longer the foot is on the ground, the more this energy dissipates and the more energy we have to produce.  This is why we want the foot's contact time with ground to be a quick and short as possible.

In order to increase the elasticity in our legs we do plyometric (jumping) exercises which quickly load and unload the muscles and tendons.  My goal here is not to go into all the different plyometric exercises we do, but rather to discuss their appropriateness for youth athletes.  Many believe that because of the intense stress that some of these exercises put on the musculoskeletal system than they should be avoided until the athlete is physically mature.  Other say that because  musculoskeletal system is more "plastic" in nature when we're young, that youth is a good time to begin such exercises.  With this in mind, we do perform these kind of exercises, but we do them cautiously and increase the load very slowly over time.  Always be sure to warm-up well and ease into plyos.  I recently heard of a middle school x-country team begging their warm-up plyos.  This would be very risky and would not produce the full benefit as our muscles are more powerful and flexible their temperature is raised from a good warm-up first.  (In 2014 I'm starting to see sources suggesting that you can be a little more agressive with plyos at a younger age, and that they be even be beneficial in injury prevention.)

I'm continually surprised when I see coaches that are still stuck in the stone ages when it comes to stretching.  The current trends/info of static vs. dynamic stretching have been out for some time.  I learned about this years ago and felt dumb that it had taken me so long to catch on.  The idea is that if we're trying to improve the elasticity of the muscles and tendons, we don't want to over stretch them with static stretches (the traditional stretch and hold for 10+ seconds) pre-workout.  We use to think that this would help prevent injuries, but recent studies suggest that static stretching also over stretches the supportive tissues around the joint making them more prone to injury.  All that is really necessary (and recommended) is a few dynamic stretches (moving stretches such as leg swings) that take the athlete through the range of motions applicable to the sport.  And be sure to be well warmed-up before performing any stretches.  When the temperature of the muscles is raised, they become more flexible and elastic in nature.  This takes more than the token "warm-up lap" you see many youth programs doing.  I think it takes at least 10 minutes of easy exercise to actually get the desired raise in temperature in the muscles.  I also still believe in wide range of static stretches post workout for reasons of maintaining flexibility.