ATC 310: Strength Training Makes Sense For Endurance Athletes So Why Do So Many Plans Lack It? Plus: What the ‘Drop Off’ In MAF Pace Means, And Learning When You Should Call It Quits On A Workout

April 24, 2020


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  • Lucho is LiveStreaming on Twitch. You can contact him there and ask any questions.
  • Tawnee is making a weekly EP Zwift ride! Follow EP on Instagram for more details.

Andrew asks:

Daily Double and MAF Drop-off

Hey guys,

I recently started listening to your show and am really loving it. I’m a physical therapist by “trade” but have also run multiple marathons and identify more as a runner than a PT. I’ve had a few kids (which cuts into training!) and am starting to get back to it. I have a few questions and just curious what your thoughts are.  I’m both a coach and a competitor so I’ve got questions for both sides.

1. What are your thoughts on multiple MAF runs in one day? I’m training for my first 50 miler and, because of my work/life schedule, multiple runs in one day is how I get a lot of my miles in. Is there a minimum time needed to get benefit? 30 minutes? Obviously, “how little to train” is just as murky as “how much to train” but I’m curious if there’s any data you suggest as a minimum needed to cause physiological change.

2. Is there any significance to the drop off that occurs in a MAF test? Example: a 4 mile test with a total drop of 15 sec/mile (9:00 min/mile @ mile 1 to 9:15 min/mile @ mile 4) vs. a 45 second drop off (9:00-9:45). Would an earlier/quicker drop off be related to lack of condition vs. later/slower be a nutrition/energy availability issue (just a thought)? Is there a difference in how you would train these athletes?  (Not sure what average drop off would be so I apologize if I’m way off.)

3. In thinking about question 2… what about drop off during training? How far do you let your pace drop? And can you use the “rate” of decline to plan nutrition intake during marathon/ultras? Or is it only useful to monitor progress in general terms?

Thanks guys, keep up the great work! Looking forward to more shows!

What the Coaches say:

  • Lucho has heard Mark Allen say 3 miles is the minimum effective dose for a short run, while Tawnee has heard 35 minutes is the lowest effective dose to maintain run fitness.
  • Three factors to bear in mind:
    • How fatigued are you? 3 miles the day after a 20-miler will be much “harder” than 3 miles on fresh legs.
    • How relatively fit are you? 3 miles for someone running 20 miles a week is really different than 3 miles for someone doing 100 miles a week.
    • What’s the purpose of the run? A recovery run of 3 miles is fine, but an easy workout run should be 4-7 miles.
  • Frequency does matter in gaining run fitness.
  • The MAF drop-off is only significant in that it shows your improvement. You can’t plug it into an algorithm and gain any specific knowledge from it.
  • If you’re doing a long MAF test (like over 10 miles) then the drop-off might be related to fueling.
  • If you haven’t warmed up appropriately, your first two miles on the MAF test will be artificially fast.
  • There’s no definitive pace/mile drop that’s been proven to be permissible.
  • Rather than drop-off, Lucho is more concerned when a runner’s pace becomes too slow, so it’s compromising structural performance (risking injury or illness).
  • Perceived exertion matters. If you genuinely feel good, even though you’re technically over MAF, then you’re fine to keep going.
  • How durable are you? You can push it if you’ve done the work to make sure you don’t get injured.

Sandy asks:

Endurance as Submax Exercise and Why the Lack of Strength Training in Endurance Programs?

Hi Tawnee and Lucho:

Thank you for so many episodes of the podcast and so much dedication to getting the information out there.  Listening each week now enables me to speak confidently with my many endurance friends about lactate thresholds, anaerobic zones and the other minutae of training.  They love that I speak their language!
I am an endurance athlete but also a strength athlete as my sports are rock climbing, sea kayaking, bushwalking (as we call it in Australia) and trail running.
I would be interested in hearing you and Lucho discuss strength training for endurance around the following parameters:
If we assume that endurance is actually a long, continuous series of submaximal contractions, the stronger I am, the better my endurance performance should be as I am using less of my base case of strength for each submaximal contraction.  Durability should also be better in an overall stronger athlete.  Theoretically then any training program should include 1 to 2 days per week of maximum strength training using standard maximum strength guidelines – say 3 to 4 exercises for 3 to 5 sets of 2 to 4 repetitions at 85 to 90% of 1 RM, but NOT going to failure (hypertrophy probably not desirable for endurance athletes).
What is your opinion of why endurance training programs never feature regular strength training?  Do you program regular strength training for your athletes?  I would be interested in your discussion.
Thank you.

What the Coaches say:

  • On this show, Tawnee and Lucho discuss this study: Strength Training for Endurance Athletes: Theory to Practice
    • Evidence shows more than 25 years of research supporting ST efficacy and application for EAs.
    • “Endurance in sport has been defined as the ability to maintain or repeat a given force or power output.”
    • “Strength can be defined as the ability to produce force. Strength is a skill, which can be expressed in a magnitude of 0–100%.”
    • Two primary forms of strength training have been investigated:
      • Maximal, high-force, low-velocity, strength training (HFLV)
      • Explosive, low-force, high-velocity strength training (LFHV)
    • Both low-intensity exercise endurance and high-intensity exercise endurance have been shown to improve as a result of HFLV and LFHV ST
    • Better to periodize than trying to improve all at once
    • Also look to limitations in study design (eg controlling for volume etc), and this goes both ways whether a study found a positive or negative outcome with ST.
    • “Strength training has been reported to increase musculotendinous unit stiffness. This results in an enhanced ability to store elastic energy in the series and parallel elastic component during eccentric muscle actions, which in turn increases concentric muscle force.”
    • “The superior performance changes with heavier strength training may be attributed to greater increases in musculotendinous unit stiffness, greater recruitment of high-threshold motor units, and greater capacity to store and release elastic energy, which lead to a right and upward shift in the force-velocity and force-power relationships.”
  • Tawnee’s Thoughts:
    • What we can do best here is a “cost benefit analysis” for each athlete and through their season:
    • The first question to ask is in what case (either theoretical or literal) is ST “bad” to endurance athletes?
      • Fatiguing
      • Waste of time
      • Takes away from time/stress that could be spent endurance training (is the tradeoff worth it?)
      • Doesn’t result in any benefits to main sport(s)
      • Boring/not enjoyable
      • Introduces new risk of injury or something else deleterious
    • Meanwhile, the next question to ask is what benefits could ST provide:
      • Improved body comp
      • Healthy hormonal balance (endurance depletes; strength can rebuild)
      • Improved durability and muscular endurance
      • Musculotendinous unit stiffness (HFLV); running > cycling b/c SSC
      • Motor unit recruitment (HFLV)
      • Store/release elastic energy (HFLV)
      • Peak force (HFLV)
      • Injury resilience
      • Lighter loads at higher velocity can improve RFD
      • More balanced body (anterior/posterior, planes of motion, proper mobility, etc)
      • Better movers (this is not necessarily everyone but where deficiency is clear should be addressed)
  • Training plans have to be individualized based on the athlete’s goals, capacities, and inclination.
  • There’s a lot of skinny endurance athletes who could benefit from hypertrophy.

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