Tag Archives: base training

Backwards Racing

How do many athletes race backwards? By first looking to the future, to an event they want to participate in, and then by signing up for that event and then go about planning the training to survive the event, is to backwards race.

Backwards racing leads to backwards training, or as I prefer to call it: cramming, no different than the cramming we all did at some point at school.

Backwards racing results in what you typically see at the finish line long after the pros and top age groupers have completed the event: athletes who are walking, crawling, hobbling towards the finish line in hopes that they will make the cut off time, that they will make it to the finish line, that they will survive to tell the tale of yet another near death experience. Its athletes who have bitten off more than they can chew, yet so sold on the meaning of the finish line that they refuse to acknowledge their lack of training, their lack of preparedness, their lack of real health. Their hope is that the finish line will prove their fears wrong, their hopes right: that they are indeed healthy and fit enough, to show up and complete any race they select.

[A study performed at Ironman Brazil revealed that 2/3rds of all triathletes took NSAIDs the day prior to the event, and 1/3rd took NSAIDs on the day of the event. If triathletes are so healthy, why the need to pre-medicate? If you have trained properly for the event, there should be no need for prophylactic medication. That is of course unless your standard of health has been reduced to the point that relying on medication implies nothing about your lack of health.]

Time after time, I hear of athletes who compete in marathons and triathlons, and despite months passing, still have not fully recovered, still are dealing with physical and mental repercussions of the effort put into completing the competition. Suffering from anxiety, depression, pain, immune system, sleep, digestion, and/or muscle and joint dysfunction, they refuse to acknowledge that their body malfunctioning is connected in anyway to the fact that they were not healthy enough, not fit enough, not sufficiently prepared to take on the challenge of competing in whatever event they signed up, yet proceeded to torture themselves through it anyhow.

Backwards racing is comparable to going to a loan shark for money: its using the threat of broken knee caps, swimmin’ with the fishes, or wearing concrete shoes to serve as a kick in the arse to force yourself to put in the necessary effort to payback the loan. There is no difference between a loan shark and backwards racing: (a) the piper always comes to collect, and (b) the piper will always collect even when you have nothing to offer… your health is always up for grabs.

What I do not comprehend is why do athletes, time after time, gamble with their health in this manner?  Why do they put health up as collateral, simply for a finish line medal or photo? Is that medal really worth more than your well being? What does a medal or finish time prove if in the process you hurt yourself, inflict pain, harm yourself with injury arising from overextending yourself attempting to accomplish in weeks what needs months or years of training.

Racing is supposed to be about testing the progress you have made to date in training. It has to be an honest test for it to have honest meaning. Backwards racing is not a test of anything, its a form of gambling: spin the wheel, pick an event, place a wager (by registering) and then hope that you can pull off the training that at best will allow you to finish the race standing, and at worst puts you into a med-tent or an ambulance.

Backwards racing sets the athlete up to lose, and continued losing. Albeit for the delusional athlete, over-reaching for an event that you have no business attempting, and then surviving in some strange way may serve as a win (especially when the agony of recovering for weeks or months is denied as being related).

If you are not improving as an athlete, then my bet is that you are backwards racing, and training backwards, aka cramming. In fact, you are probably not only failing to improve, I would bet also that you are regressing in some way… in flexibility and mobility, in fitness, in health, as cramming causes athletes to become more prone to injury, to illness, and susceptible to the systemic diseases of prolonged over-training, and over-racing.

In the moment, hyped up, delusional images of grandeur that arise by seeing yourself at a competition – hoping that you can pull it off with weeks or months of training – is just as it sounds… a setup for failure, where pain and injury are the likely outcomes, and health is the account into which you will dip to pay the piper.

If you need a race in order to get training, in order to get motivated, then you are not training, you are threatening, guilting, fearing, scaring yourself into doing what you say you should do, but are clearly not inspired or motivated to do without some sort of doomsday scenario playing out in front of you.

Do you honestly think that health, true health, can be based on emotionally manipulating yourself into training for an event?

Why do this to yourself? Why subject yourself to the pressure, the negative motivation, to the endless reverse psychology of overextending yourself and then hoping that you can cram in enough to pull yourself out of the trap you set for yourself?

Why not take the time to do it right? Start from scratch, learn how to train, learn how to plan to train, learn how to plan to race, and learn how to race so that you can make it a lifelong journey of enjoyment and exploration. Otherwise, you can continue with the hokey-pokey in and out of being active, suffering through training and a race one year, then waiting until you regain some mild level of interest to put myself through the torture of training and racing yet again.


OK… so some triathletes, some athletes race backwards… big deal. No, its not some, its the majority. How do I know? Two sources:

  1. Race Directors – just ask how many register, then how many actually show up to events, especially triathlons.  XTerra Race Director James Kowalewski shared in one post that triathlons – across the industry – have a 25% no show rate. Think about that… athletes shell out anywhere from $100 to almost a thousand dollars when entering iron-distance triathlons, and 25% of them don’t even show. Why? Because they booked their epic event first, and then second tried to figure out how to train to survive the event = racing backwards.
  2. DNFs – review iron distance triathlon results and you will be as shocked as I was at the staggering number of athletes who never make it past T1, past T2, across the finish line. In some age groups I have seen as many as 25% of all the athletes DNF!

So 25% don’t show, another 25% don’t finish… so approximately 50% never complete what they set out to do and then there is a significant number who crawl, stumble across the finish line either after the cut off time or perhaps before but finish their event in the medical tent because they overextended themselves well beyond their capacity. Why? Because racing backwards is the norm, and healthy training and racing is the outlier.

Final story… last year an athlete who went with a local triathlon club to Arizona for a spring training camp returned to share this story. While out on a ride, there was a crash, a serious crash with one athlete in particular suffering a severe concussion. Instead of focusing on the athlete’s well-being, the coach who was also riding in the pack (but did not crash) came to the injured athlete and immediately started to promise that he would get the athlete to their event (which was coming up in a number of weeks). Seriously! A severe concussion and instead of placing health as the priority, encouraging the athlete to recover fully, reminding the athlete that there are many many races available this year and in following years… hell no! Like Monty Python’s Dark Knight… “tis only a flesh wound [Dark Knight is missing both arms, and a leg], come back here, I can still fight you!”

Where does the backwards (cart before the horse) mindset arise from? Coaches who should not be coaching because they have no clue… about what is truly important in life. Find yourself a coach who values health – and your life – over their own ego. The above coach being so obsessed with their own ego could only see themselves as a failure if the injured athlete failed to compete; meanwhile the fact that an incomplete recovery and that a second concussion poses a threat of sudden death doesn’t cross the mind of the coach. Clueless!

Good Bones

The Town of Oakville is giving the Oakville Arena – located on Rebecca St – an uplift.  The 64 year old building will have $29 million of renovations, updates, and additions.

Driving past I had to stop and take a few pictures before the original structure was entirely engulfed by the new. I had to capture the construction of the original structure.

Take a close look at the construction of the domed roof… its wood.  Wood from the 1950s.

It got me thinking about structures built well from the start, it got me thinking about athletes who are built well from the start (and conversely those who are not).

Today our primary building block for structures is steel bar reinforced concrete. Problem… as with most things we do these days, we are little concerned about the long term. Steel reinforced concrete allows us to build taller and lighter structures than if there was no steel. Fabulous! We can leverage a plot of land by building floor after floor after floor. What few mention is that steel bar reinforced concrete has a long term issue… the steel eventually rusts, the concrete loosens, deteriorates and falls away from the steel, eventually leading concrete to literally fall off in chunks, or it having to be cleared away, the underlying structure cleaned up and reinforced to prevent the entire structure from collapsing. Wonder why construction on the elevated Gardiner never seems to end, its because it can never end because if it ever did stop… the Gardiner would come crumbling down. All thanks to the go-to solution of steel bar reinforced concrete. At the time of its original construction, the concept of an elevated highway made affordable by using steel bar reinforced concrete must have come across as space age brilliance.  Today, the Gardiner is a drain on the City of Toronto budget to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars (verging on billions if you add up past, present and future commitments).

Funny, eh? The pyramids have stood centuries, the Gardiner cannot last one.  The pyramids were built with solid blocks of rock, yet the Gardiner was built with 21st century architectural and construction technology. So… are we actually progressing or regressing as a result of all this so called technology?

We can erect a structure in no time flat… is that what matters?  Is what matters how quickly we can complete a project, and how many projects we can complete all at once? What about getting one project done, and done well… with quality, with excellence. Nope. No time for that.

We are busier than ever, moving faster than ever, doing more than ever, but are we solving anything or simply creating more problems, while kicking the can down the road for the problems that have already started to boomerang? It seems all that we are doing is loading future generations with debt and with projects that we know today will crumble if not maintained constantly.

I remember the day my daughter came home from school and shared that she learnt on her field trip that First Nations people (she didnt refer to a specific tribe) made decisions based on how that decision would impact multiple generations into the future.  If the impact was negative, even if the here and now stood to benefit, the decision was not approved by the elders.

Just stop and think about that: how many people put any effort into just thinking let alone thinking about how their decisions, how their behaviour today will impact tomorrow, and their children tomorrow? Does anyone consider consequences or costs to today’s actions? How much time do you put into the decisions that will affect your health, your well-being, your performance in life, that will affect the health, wellness and performance of your children? Anything beyond a couple seconds? Anything beyond a poll of what everyone else is doing?

The parallel to sport, to training, to performance, to health is this…

We have our own structures: our body, our brain, our organs, which total as our health.

If we are ‘building’ our health the same way we build buildings… well, lets just say that the epidemics and crises we face should be no surprise. That we live in a society of victims afraid of their own shadow, afraid of being shamed and hated at any instant, so fearfilled that now the average person is not healthy but unhealthy: overweight, obese, addicted to medical prescriptions, recreational drugs, or all of the above. It really should be no surprise based on how we behave.

Its time we stop with the bandaid – i.e. steel reinforced concrete – solutions, which although tempting, and appear to be ideal solutions for the here and now… are not long term solutions.

What do you want your structure to look like, to work like in the coming years and decades? Do you want it to be like the Gardiner? Needing almost a billion in renovations to keep it alive? Seems with all the cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, and health and wellness interventions that that is the plan for most.  Lets continue to bandaid over the crumbling infrastructure despite the fact that the core is rotting. The Gardiner was once a triumph of city planning and construction, now its called an eye sore and a barrier between the City of Toronto and its beautiful waterfront? Is that what you have become? An eye sore, with the health of your body and brain a barrier between you and your potential?

What about being like the Oakville Arena? Built from what many would consider inferior material as compared to concrete, yet the original building is not being torn down, far from it, it is been added onto and more importantly the building is seen as beautiful and worthy of upkeep so that many generations to come get to enjoy skating and playing hockey under its wonderful wooden roof.


FYI… we are cutting the same corners in residential construction.

A firefighter whose daughter swam with my daughter a few years back shared with me one day that he was called out to a fire in a row of townhomes.  Due to poor construction, they no longer enter these buildings for risk of total collapse. The construction these days is so poor – the cross beams supporting the roof are not nailed together but held by thin NON FIRE RESISTANT metal screens – that when a fire breaks out, it literally melts these screens leading to total collapse/cave-ins of the home. He shared that firefighters have been caught on main and basement levels when the entire residential structure above caved in and collapsed on them.

Gee… now why would we skimp on nails, NAILS for crying out loud! Replacing them with thin sheets of metal?

Because some MBA sitting at their labtop hired to figure out how to save a few pennies identifies that nails are too expensive.

Because today… money matters more than human life.

Because today… time matters more than human life.

Because today… now matters more than human life.

Because today… what we want matters more than the impact it has on our children.

Because today… I want what I want, and all that matters is that I get what I want… NOW!

Its time for all the adults to grow-up and start acting and making the tough decisions that adults are supposed to make.  For their own well being, and that of their children.


All ‘Bout More Base

It’s All ‘Bout the Base [1] & [2] discussed how East African runners, specifically Kenyans, amass 10,000+ km of base training simply by running to and from school as children. This is base training, aerobic conditioning achieved before these athletes go on to any formal training, before they start working with a coach.

In hopes of explaining the success of East African athletes being achieved by anything other than simple consistent base training, and perhaps in hopes of finding an easily monetized short cut that can be packaged and sold, genetic testing has been performed countless times on these athletes. It has been to no avail as no running or endurance gene exists, there is nothing genetically ‘special’ about East African athletes. What is special is that as children they trained, trained, trained and trained not even knowing they were training as they ran to & from school. This is great news because it means that World Champions are not born, they are made, making the podium available to anyone who commits themselves wholeheartedly.

Proof exists in plain sight: children who grow up in Kenya’s cities, children who have access to transportation including children of former Kenyan Cross Country, Road, and Track Champions and Olympians who as a result of their parents’ success live a privileged life of ease driven to and fro, do not become top level runners. To date, all of Kenya’s top runners have come from rural areas, and predominantly from the Rift Valley region.

How then do consistent champions develop? Over time. Slow cooker style. Over years and years, sometimes unknowingly, thru chores (e.g. Usain Bolt), play (e.g. Amanda Beard), and by simply hopping, bouncing (e.g. David Rudisha), running, riding and swimming with friends as part of daily life.

Again, proof exists in plain sight…

At this years Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, German men took all 3 podium positions: 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medalist in triathlon Jan Frodeno held his title as World Champion, former World Ironman Champion Sebastian Kienle took 2nd, and Ironman rookie Patrick Lange took 3rd. Last time the German men took all 3 podium positions was 1997, but since 1997, German men have taken 17 of all 36 podium positions since.

Question: How?

Answer: Its All ‘Bout the Base, ‘Bout the Base.

German Andy Boecherer who placed 5th this year at Ironman WC was asked to explain the success of Germans. Andy replied in a triathlon.competitor.com interview as follows:

“You know I think our bike [legs] are so good because it’s the first thing that we start—riding bikes to school. When I’m in America, I see everyone get dropped off at school. Boecherer’s advice to the youth of America? We [German kids] have like 10,000 km [in our legs] already, so yeah, go out and train!”

No different than East African athletes who run daily to school and end up international level runners; German children ride daily to school and end up international level cyclists.

If this is indeed true, then German success should not be limited to triathlon, but it should occur equally in UCI cycling competitions.  Based on this year’s UCI World Champs in Doha, Qatar, the evidence continues to pile up that it is all about the base. Germans dominated in the U23 TT, and Germany’s Tony Martin won the men’s time trial [TT] for a record tying fourth time. Germans also hit the podium in the U23 Road Race.

tony_martin_tt_2016_doha

Tony Martin TT Doha, Qatar 2016

So… if you think that a power meter, that a new aero helmet or bike, or deep rim carbon fiber wheels are your ticket to cycling and time trialing success, think again. If you want to truly develop as an athlete, irrespective of the sport, it starts with building a base, a massive base, the bigger the better. If your base is measured in anything less than thousands of hours or kilometers, then you are kidding yourself that you can proceed to HIIT training, to power meter workouts, or to any other form of training designed to peak you.  You may set a P.B. doing so, but that type of P.B. is no different than placing in a kindergarten finger painting contest… who cares! It doesn’t reflect your ability, and it doesn’t come close to representing your truest potential.

Take the time to develop your base, the physiology and psychology that arises from years of dedication, commitment, and sacrifice.  You do not develop at the core following a 10 or 12 week ‘learn to’ program.  You do not develop to your potential in one or two seasons of peaking for competition, and you definitely do not achieve anything simply by crossing a finish line.

Want to explore your potential?  Then you need to start at the beginning, from scratch, from where all World Champions arise… consistent low intensity aerobic conditioning woven with skills and drills (non-technically referred to as ‘play’ by World Champs to be).

The amazing and awesome part about starting at the beginning, is that if you are a parent, you can do it with your children, you too can play, have fun, swim, bike, run, play soccer, shoot hoops, play catch.  Do it for hours, lose track of the time, don’t count or log the throws, or baskets, or the time spent.  Just do it, and then do it tomorrow, and the day after and the day after.

Your days of being a World Champion may or may not be over (see TOEST.ca Project Japan 2020 in case your days aren’t over), but you can definitely set your kids up to rise up to being Champions in their own way. Start right, start smart, and you will finish with the success that you truly desire.

References:

  • http://triathlon.competitor.com/2016/10/ironman/behind-germanys-kona-podium-domination_294851#odKvzo84XL6hCGQB.99
  • http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/10/news/worlds-germans-dominate-u23-tt-powless-sixth_422484
  • http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/10/news/martin-wins-fourth-career-world-tt-title-doha_422719
  • http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/10/news/u23-worlds-norways-halvorsen-sprints-to-victory_422847

To read all the blog posts on the topic of base, using this websites search tool look up “All Bout the Base” or from the tag list in the footer of this website, click on ‘base training’.

Why Do I Blog

After graduating from the UofT with a degree in Rehabilitation Medicine and having started to practice as a Registered Physiotherapist, I spent the next decade working with the elderly, specifically those residing in long term care facilities (aka nursing homes), and assisted living facilities (aka retirement homes/senior apartments).

I blog because… not once did I meet anyone living in any of these facilities who purposefully planned to end up requiring ANY level of assistance with their activities of daily living in the early or later years of being a senior.  No one planned to lose their drivers license, thus requiring help to get to appointments, to the bank, to get groceries; not to mention losing the independence and freedom of simply getting around.  No one planned to lose their flexibility, their strength, their endurance, becoming unable to keep up with the upkeep of their home, their yard. No one planned to lose their dexterity, their balance requiring help with their own upkeep. No one planned to have a fall that required surgery, total knee or hip replacement surgery that then decreased their level of function to the point that simple tasks were no longer simple.  No one planned to become overweight to the point that they became obese, impairing the function of their heart, their breathing, their other vital organs to the extent that it would require daily medical care. No one planned to end up with pain, nor believing that mild pains would become debilitating pain, that pain in one joint would lead to pains in other joints, that their pain would become unmanageable, that their pain would limit life.

Not one planned to end up in long term care or in assisted living, yet they all did.  In the vast majority of cases (i.e. 95+% of admissions) it wasn’t some rare or unknown disease that was impossible to prevent or foresee that was the cause of their admission, it was directly due their  lifestyle or its consequences.

Lifestyle Disease: dis-eases we cause ourselves, to ourselves as a direct result of our lifestyle choices, our daily decisions of how we live.

I blog because… everyone I met had one thing in common:  they all thought that they were healthy or living healthy in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.  They all thought that they were taking care of themselves, doing ‘enough’, making healthy choices in activity levels, their eating and drinking.

It doesn’t matter from what walk of life people came, I met people from all walks while working in care facilities: from former CEOs who were once titans in business, to legends of the music industry, to those who served in our Armed Forces, to business and health care professionals (even doctors and nurses despite all their knowledge), to those who lived simple.

I blog because… what people thought was healthy or was healthy ‘enough’… wasn’t.

If your definition of health today requires medications, ‘superfood’ smoothies, routine health or wellness appointments, intense sessions of exercise, dependence on braces, support and compression clothing, then compare your lifestyle to those living in care facilities:

  • Average # of meds taken by a long term care resident is 13.  This is not pills, this is medications prescribed, meaning that if 1 med is taken 3x per day, its counted as 1 med. How many are you poppin’ a day (e.g. anti-inflammatories, pain killers, blood pressure, sleep aides)? On your way to 13?
  • Average resident who is on blood thinners, who is at risk of clots, who has venous insufficency, and/or is bedridden wears compression stockings.  Yup, just like those marketed as “performance socks” to athletes, just like those worn by runners, CrossFitters, and triathletes.  Only difference being is that those in care facilities are usually white or beige, not funky neon pink. If you are healthy, truly health, would you really need to wear compression socks, especially while exercising?
  • Average resident has virtually every data point tracked… calorie intake, water input and output levels are compared, # of pills taken, their heart rate and blood pressure is taken on schedule, and when it is time to stand stand up, to walk, every step is counted to see if they took more than yesterday. Are you tracking your ‘health’ in the same way?
  • Average resident spends the predominant amount of time in their day sitting or lying in bed. Is that any different than your average day of sitting while you commute, sitting at your computer, sitting through teleconferences and meetings?
  • Average resident joins in to get some exercise by sitting in on a  wheelchair tai chi class, strength ‘n’ stretch class using weights or stretch cords, or takes a walk around the facility grounds.  Is that any different than your average amount of daily exercise?

Those who reside in care facilities are not healthy. If they were, they wouldn’t be living there.

If your lifestyle doesn’t come up significantly different than that of a resident in a care facility, then maybe you need to reconsider whether your lifestyle and choices are all that healthy.

Their health is being ‘managed’. Is that your goal? To be managed. To break even with your health? On the verge of pain, injury, burn out, break down or a disease, but good enough to keep it going another day? For what? Just to survive? What about thriving, not just surviving.

The average resident in long term care today had a better chance to have a healthy lifestyle in many cases when compared to your generation growing up.  When they were growing up…

 

  • Meals were typically made lovingly by mom at home, and were shared around the dining room table, along with family conversations about the days events. Meals were made from natural ‘real’ food, not pink slime, fillers, genetically engineered or fake factory foods.
  • Portion sizes were a 1/3 or a 1/4 of what is served today in restaurants and at home, and no one was starving as a result, few were overweight, and even fewer were obese.
  • Food products didn’t have to be enriched in order to make up for their deficient quality in vitamins and minerals, as fruits and vegetables were grown on nutrient rich soil, not barren wastelands that had to be sprayed and fertilized in order to yield.
  • Exercise did not have to be planned, because you walked or biked to and from school, and then right after dinner you ran back out to play, staying out late only racing home to desperately make it back before the street lights came on (so you didn’t break curfew).
  • Imagination was required to create games, to make up rules to figure out how to make this game of tag or capture the flag more challenging than the last.
  • Climbing trees and playing in the ravine didn’t require the principals permission, a game of soccer didn’t need a city permit.
  • Getting out of breathe was a normal part of play, never a concern over one’s well being. Falling down and scraping a knee wasn’t considered a medical emergency, you brushed it off and kept going because who wants to be out of the game?
  • The work day and its stress ended at 5pm, because there wasn’t technology to make it 24/7.
  • Dehydration was a non issue, no one carried around water let alone salt pills. If it so happened that you became hungry, you waited til meal time (as spoiling your dinner came with its own consequences). There was no snack time and again, few were overweight and even fewer were obese.

The average care facility resident grew up when being and living healthy was far easier, yet how many still ended up in a care facility?

Today I see age group athletes and masters athletes striving for health, exercising intensely, madly trying to burn calories, squeezing in fitness and performance into their life, as opposed to health being the priority. I see athletes straining to generate watts to improve a bike time, power to decrease swim or run splits, but few realize that they do not have the capacity nor conditioning to attempt such training, and what they are performing is not what is meant by healthy exercise. Hi Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is appropriate only if you have years and years of simple base training, only after you have transformed your physiology and psychology to handle the volume and intensity of training for competition. Completing any event, a 10k, a marathon, a triathlon, least of all an iron distance triathlon on next to no training is in no way any indication of health.

Today I see former National level athletes, athletes who went on scholarship to university, returning to sport as a masters athlete. Many return broken, having had to walk away from sport because they were pushed outside themselves to produce results, not for themselves, not on their timelines, but for others. They return hoping that they can once again find the joy that sport once brought them, but they struggle with inner conflicts, facing truths about dreams they did and did not accomplish, about their own met and unmet expectations, and those of others.

Today I see people doing loads and loads of stuff thinking that its all for their good, following the headlines of what food to eat, how much to exercise, what supplements to consume in order to be healthy, but the point is being missed.

Health doesn’t come from the outside in, you cannot buy it, you do not put it on like a pair of new kicks.  If you could, then how do you explain all those who I met that despite being abundant in financial wealth still ended up in a facility? There is no amount of financial wealth that can buy health, return you to being healthy.  We say… “if you don’t have your health, you have nothing”, yet we live believing that if we aren’t dead or at the hospital then we must be healthy.

Today I see people thinking that either they have their health because some aspect of their lifestyle has been sold to them as a ‘healthy lifestyle’ choice, or because they don’t think they need to worry about their health until later in life (e.g. youth will get them through), and if it so happens that something does happen… well, the assumption is that there will be time to get things right or that there will be a pill for whatever ails them.

Before I was hit by a car – while on a bike ride during 3rd year of university – I thought that life would go on for forever. You could not of convinced me that I was anything but invincible.

After I worked in care facilities I realized that everyone believes that life will go on for forever, convinced that they are immune, invincible, or that there would always be enough time to get things in order (ahead of any health problem arising too).

We may hope its true (that we are invincible or immune), but hoping is not a winning strategy: hoping for what is clearly not reality is delusional. To hope that a disease doesn’t take us down, hoping that what we are doing is enough, is gambling with our health and with our life.

I blog because…

I want to share that there is an alternative to hoping and to gambling.

I want to share the difference that I have found between those who do live healthy, stay and remain healthy, who continue to explore their peak potential, and experience peak performances across the spectrum of life.

I want to share that those who are health live differently, and how they live differently.  Those who are healthy work, exercise, eat and sleep just like everyone else, but how they do it is unlike anyone else; it is unequivocally different.

I want to share that what is packaged and sold to us on store shelves, in magazines, in pop-up ads online, and during commercial breaks is business. Business focused first and foremost on generating revenue and profit for shareholders. Whether their products or services are actually healthy, or yield health is secondary to quarterly sales.

I want to share that health is available to all, to anyone who wants to take their health into their own hands, to anyone willing to invest the time and effort and energy into themselves, into becoming healthy.

I want you to experience the difference in quality of life available to you. I am certain it will surpass anything you can imagine, as it has already surpassed anything I could have ever imagined.

Please visit the Blog Library for posts on topics ranging from biomechanics, on various aspects of training, on coaching, and for sport specific information.  Thank you for reading.

Skill Acquisition/Learning [5]

On the left is your brain when it has enough oxygen, like when you train aerobically.

On the right is your brain when it doesn’t have enough oxygen, like when you train anaerobically.

brain oxygenationGuess how much learning the brain on the right is capable of versus the brain on the left.

Exactly.  None.

When you are performing Hi Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), when you are in the red zone, when you exceed the capacity of your core muscles, when you can no longer breathe diaphragmatically, when you are working at a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of at 8 or higher… you are training anaerobically.

RPE 2016-01How ‘smart’ do you think you are when your are training at this intensity, training HIIT?

Exactly. You aren’t. There isn’t enough oxygen available to the higher functioning/executive decision making parts of the brain for you to be smart (hence why any child diagnosed with attention deficits and/or learning impairments in either academic, athletic or performing art environments should have their breathing assessed).

How ‘smart’ do you think your decisions are when you are in such a state?

Exactly. They aren’t. How can they be when you aren’t thinking, when you are reacting, when you are in survival mode depending on flight-fight-freeze reflexes. Ever reflect back on a moment while training or competing and wonder to yourself what was going through your mind that made you… run a red light through an intersection, cross a road without checking twice, taking that double black diamond trail, doing that extra interval, that extra hill, that extra rep with extra weight? Now you know.

How ‘smart’ do you think you’re becoming at executing skills, at learning strategy, at refining awareness and performance evaluation, at coordinating patterns of movement to move with greater ease, with greater efficiency, with greater agility, balance, speed, strength, and with greater endurance?

Exactly. Not at all. You aren’t improving in any facet of the execution of sport specific technique in an anaerobic state.  You are resorting to hormonally induced surges of power to attempt to cause yourself to lift heavier weights, to run faster, to pedal harder, to last longer. And we call this… fitness? Fitness is not based on training the neuro-endocrine system to pump out more hormones while temporarily inducing a state of perceived stress. That’s blatant ignorance, all out stupidity, and not only is it unhealthy but it it risks causing cardiovascular accidents in the short term, and cardiovascular disease in the long term. If that’s our definition of fitness then we truly are walking around with blue brains (i.e. no oxygen reaching the brain).

HIIT is not training because you cannot and will not gain any skills, nor will you improve in the execution of any skill while performing HIIT.  HIIT is peaking for competition, that’s it. HIIT is last of the last bit of training, to push the needle just a bit into the red zone prior to competition. It is not a lifestyle, because it leads to lifestyle diseases.

If you want to improve in sport, its not about how much adrenalin you can force your adrenal glands to puke up mid workout by resorting to getting all psyched up, ramped up, or by how deep into beast mode you can go.

If you want to improve in sport, then its all about skill acquisition, and skill acquisition happens at low RPEs, at low intensity, where oxygen and blood are in abundant supply to the brain, muscles, all vital organs and when the conditions are non threatening ensuring that survival instincts are not triggered, when the athlete is able to oscillate between diffuse and focused mindsets, when learning, attempting, experimenting, and then evaluating, tuning, refining, and applying the lessons to be smarter are possible.

Smart training leads to a mentally nimble, physically flexible, and emotionally stable athlete who is able to evaluate moment by moment while training or competing all aspects of both their performance and that of their competitors leveraging all their skills simultaneously and consistently to deliver peak performance after peak performance. Smart training yields resilient, robust, dynamic, capable athletes who can translate their skill set from sport, to academics, to the arts, to business, leading a life that is as dynamic out of sport, as it is in sport.

Hard training leads to a hard body, hard muscles, a hard heart, hard arteries, hardened joints, a hard head, and an athlete who is hard fixed in their belief that every problem is a nail, and hitting those problems harder and harder with a hammer is the definition of training. In time, this athlete will suffer either a self inflicted injury, heart attack, stroke, breakdown, melt down or will simply blow up. Because of their hardness they are blind to see that they have done it to themselves, not because they are lacking in anything, but because they have hardened themselves to the point that they have become fragile, brittle, the exact opposite of what they wanted.

What Does It Take to Be Your Best?

Excerpt from The Athletes Cloud [TAC] Book

TAC pyramid lvl2

Level 2 – Consistency

 

TAC matrix01Physical Dimension – Stamina                                                                                       

What is the underlying ingredient for an athlete to be successful?  This has been a highly debated question for many years.  The psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin’s Elite Academy of Music conducted one of the important scientific experiments in this field to offer an answer.  By studying young violinists and monitoring their progression they were able to discover who were the ones capable of reaching the highest level of their discipline. They discovered that those students, who practiced the most, became the top violinists.  “Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.  That’s it.  And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.” “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hoursThe emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin.  “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.” (1)

Reference

  1. Gladwell Malcolm, Outliers (New York NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008), 38-40.

———————————–

First, ten thousand hours applies to acquiring true expertise, to becoming a master, perhaps a grand master of the art, the sport. Its to train to achieve the highest levels of performance.

Second, everyone starts at zero, no one is born with an account already credited with any hours.

Last, its not ten thousand hours of mindless repetition, of pure volume, of ‘garbage miles’, or ‘junk hours’, it is training performed with specific intent: mindful repetition to gain, to improve, and to refine skills. It is ten thousand hours of knowing at all times what it is that you are training, why you are practicing the skill, the sequence, and reflecting on how it feels.

It is ten thousands hours of constantly asking…

  • Can my execution be improved?
  • Can the effort be made to feel easier?
  • Can anything be modified? What? How?

The goal of those ten thousand hours is to progress from a state of:

  1. unknown unknowns – not knowing that you are unaware of what is required to succeed, to
  2. known unknowns – gaining awareness of the complexity of what excellence entails, to
  3. known knowns – able to execute skill sequences on demand with a degree of proficiency, to
  4. unknown knowns – able to flawlessly execute form, skill, and technique while managing foreseen and unforeseen variables moment to moment without conscious decision making.

Excellence is being able to consistently execute at the highest level of performance regardless of changing variables such as competitors and conditions.

2013_IWC_003

“Anyone can win something once or do something once.  You can be opportunistic, but turning up at the biggest races in great form and putting in a great performance year after year is the toughest thing to do in sport [in art, and in life].”

3x Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander

There Is Only One Path To Peak Performance

There is only one path to peak performance…

3D_printer_printing_pyramidIts a long slow detailed process – which requires a time lapse recording – in order for the entire process to be visualized within a reasonable period of time. At the outset, what is being built cannot be identified from the base. In fact, in many cases the base itself often requires a foundation, and that foundation requires massive footings, cornerstones, or other support structures to be installed.  These structures take significant time to construct, making the building process seem outlandish in duration, but to the builder seeking engineering excellence these are non-negotiable. The builder knows that at completion, it is the base that allows a structure to withstand all forms of stress… earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, even a tsunami. Cutting any corners at the start will shorten the structures life, and at the worst will doom it to a structural failure, even total collapse.

It is no different in health, with fitness, and in the pursuit of peak performance: cut corners at the start, and you will not have a worthy finish, perhaps no finish at all.

The construction process moves back and forth, as if to cover the exact same piece of foundation time and time again with progress barely noticeable. The time it takes to complete the foundation seems endless, the repetition, the consistency, the perseverance required to remain focused, to hold to the architectural plans require determination, faith, belief, and drive.

This is no different then children in elementary school learning the 3 Rs, or in basic athletic programs developing physical literacy, FUNdamanetals, or in the arts gaining an appreciation of the musical alphabet, scales, chords and key signatures. For years, children learn but you cannot predict what the career of any individual child will be.  For years, children gain physical abilities but you cannot predict the sport to which they will apply their skills.  For years, children refine an ear, an eye, their sense of balance, of movement but you cannot predict the type of music they will write, the form of dance which will capture them, or the art medium they will use to express themselves.

Attempts to short circuit the process do not work.  You cannot force, coerce, manipulate a child to mature into becoming an aerospace engineer, an Olympic gymnast, a virtuoso at the piano ahead of schedule, much to the chagrin of parents, teachers, and coaches.

Attempts to short circuit the learning curve leads to physical injury, mentally to burn out, and emotionally to a max out, rendering the child spent before they have even started. All to often, it is well meaning parents, teachers and coaches who gamble the long term potential a child could enjoy if allowed to peak at their physiological and psychological peak (typically in early 20s), but due to the need for short term results, push and push until their child breaks.

The champion development process starts from a base, not the peak. Building a base takes years and years; the process demands thousands and thousands of mindful repetitions so technique is executed precisely from subconscious direction, freeing the conscious mind to flow in the moment of performance. The process builds slowly upon itself, snowballing so that the physiological and psychological changes take deep deep roots, so new growth is always built on a well reinforced stable level which sits upon another structurally sound level, and so on.

Based on the articles found on your typical running, cycling, swimming, triathlon website, in your average health and fitness magazine, in the attitude of your average amateur athlete and coach, there is another way… its called Hi Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and it is proclaimed to be the short cut of short cuts to achieving all your health, fitness and performance goals.

In theory, even in research, the concept makes sense.  Short bursts of hi intensity efforts performed with recovery periods of varying periods yield results.  Strength, endurance, power, even calories burned all arrive with significant change with only a few sessions.

In practice, the concept seems to make even more sense. The goal and plan are laid out start to finish. The resources required to achieve the goal to fulfill the plan are acquired, connected, and then using as much force as possible, a full-out effort is made to bringing the goal to its full height, to its fruition. Relying not on structure, nor skill or technique, but depending solely on force, an attempt is made to cause the goal to happen.

Lifting_a_Flag_Pole

Based on this, who wouldn’t use HIIT to achieve their fitness, health and performance goals? Its the best of all worlds, isn’t it? In no time – especially when compared to building a base over years and years – being able to set and achieve a goal in weeks, what could possible be wrong or go wrong with this short cut of all short cuts?

This is where the literature, the research, the articles on HIIT fall silent. No one discusses the consequences to HIIT, the cost of HIIT is swept under the carpet as if it matters not. Isn’t it amazing how ambition blinds vision.

HIIT – Hi Intensity Interval Training – and its yet to be publicly known alter ego, HIIL – Hi Intensity Interval Living – were once exclusive to the top of the top athletes.  These training methods were reserved for those who had already trained for a decade at a minimum, whose physiology and psychology was rooted deeply in countless hours of training, who were approaching major competition and were seeking the final piece, the edge, to win.

The mindset is that If it works for the pros, then surely it must work for everyone else.  Indeed, HIIT works, but what is not mentioned, what is left out of the conversation is that HIIT was always a temporary, final, topping to years and years and years of training, a last effort to peak a peak, to fine-tune, to sharpen the athletes already razor edges to a diamond finish.

HIIT was never the primary means to training, but today in our pursuit of immediate results and instant gratification, the attraction of HIITs instant outcomes is simply to sugary sweet not to be manipulated into the trend of how to achieve instant fitness, instant health, instant results.

If you want to build something that lasts like the pyramids, then there is no alternative but to build a base, and continue building base and base and base, and allow for the tip to build itself, because all pyramids eventually peak.  Upon that peak, you can always elevate a flag post.

If you want to waste your time, your effort, and sacrifice your health, your well-being, in a futile attempt at photoshoping onto yourself the appearance of health, giving yourself a spray tan of fitness, then HIIT is the way to go.

To learn more about base training, and the risks of HIIT, see the Blog Library.

Hi Intensity Interval Training [5]

Research consistently reports that intense exercise (e.g. Hi Intensity Interval Training, aka HIIT) increases the risk of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI) and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).

HIIT is not synonymous with health.

Health benefits (i.e. improvements in cardiovascular and respiratory health) occur with exercise of moderate intensity. The following charts show the ‘J’ curve relationship between exercise intensity and URTI, and the reverse ‘J’ curve relationship between exercise intensity and CVD.

J curves

Its not only intensity of physical exertion, but the intensity of the mental drive (i.e. passion which morphs into obsession) which is equally unhealthy.  A study in the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport connects mental intensity to athlete’s permissive attitude towards the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Emotional intensity towards training and competing has the potential to leave athletes contemplating suicide or into addictions or into any number of syndromes and disorders when performance is linked to self worth, to worthiness of love.  A balance is required: there is a time to train and race with abandon, freeing yourself into the experience, but there is also a time to withdraw, evaluate, meditate, rest, recover, and most importantly sleep. Balance in training, balance in mindset, a balanced perspective of winning and losing, success vs failure are all required for consistent peak performance. Getting out of balance is easy, getting back into… now that’s what separates champions from the pack of pros.

HIIT does deliver results, it can yield strength, endurance, speed and power, but what is left out of the discussion is at what cost do these improvements come?

HIIT comes at a cost to your health.

Hi intensity training depletes health, the results from HIIT are a trade-off against health. This is why HIIT is not a sustainable methodology of training, this is why HIIT should be limited to those athletes who have the physiological and psychological maturity to be exposed to HIIT, why HIIT should be reduced (if not eliminated) from pre-varsity level training programs, why HIIT should be administered by highly trained and experienced coaches in partnership with physical and mental health professionals who are able to assess, diagnose, and guide both athlete and coach in the pursuit of peak performance. HIIT is not training for novice or intermediate athletes, and definitely not for individuals with medical conditions even if those conditions are being managed. No, performance is not indicative of health; in fact, performance can come at the cost of your life.

HIIT and all of its variations (e.g. spinning, bootcamps, Tabata, CrossFit, weight training) when performed excessively and without adequate recovery weaken the immune system, elevate risks of developing food and environmental sensitivities, reduce range of motion and flexibility, increasing risks of injury, pain, physical and mental impairment, and emotional instability.

A HIIT lifestyle is an unhealthy lifestyle.

Ever notice on whom HIIT research is performed.  It is rarely the middle aged male or female, single or married, with kids, with a career, commuting 1.5 hrs a day, prior to driving kids to piano, guitar, hockey, soccer, swimming, who runs errands in their spare time, and who in their spare spare time are trying to improve the quality of their life by exercising and eating healthy?

HIIT research is typically performed on university age athletes who have already accumulated thousands of hours of base training, who are preparing for national or international level competition, and who have few responsibilities outside training.  To take data, research, and conclusions performed on this population and to apply it to Boomers, Gen X or Y is misguided. It is no different than expecting an age group or masters athlete who is full-time in school, or has a full time career, is a spouse, is a parent, who is not a full time athlete and expect them to keep up with Phelps, Galen Rupp, or Melissa Bishop in training… not only is it nutty, it is unhealthy…physically, mentally and emotionally.

What has happened to our pursuit of health? Health has become yet another measuring stick of lifestyle, and to keep up, you need to look like a pro athlete, you need to train like a pro athlete, heck, you need to globe-hop and compete like a pro; otherwise you cannot possibly be healthy. Sports media, event companies, and coaching websites have jumped on the opportunity to monetize our insecurities, stoking a competition of egos, conveniently changing (for themselves) the definition of health from moderate physical activity, into a lifestyle which resembles that of a pro athlete. We need a healthy dose of reality…

There is no short cut to health.

Physical activity is appropriate to gain health benefits, but there is little to nothing to sell to be physically active.  You can walk, even run in almost any pair of shoes (in impoverished countries many have no shoes and end up Olympians), and in any clothing.  There is no need for performance apparel to be physically active.  But for the fitness and sports nutrition industries desperate for revenue and profit, physical activity alone is insufficient to drive sales.  To profit, these companies need the masses to move beyond simple physical activity, they need the masses to engage in maximal exertion, heavy sweating, heart palpitating HIIT where the product list becomes endless… apparel, shoes, hydration, heart rate monitors, and so forth.

Somehow athletes from countries with developing and emerging economies, without paved roads, without using GPS, HRMs, or Bluetooth/ANT+, without top of the line shoes, apparel or equipment, without neon sugar energy drinks arise to the level of Olympian, whereas those in Western countries with every piece of technological hardware and software imagineable can’t make Olympic qualifying times. What does that say about all the stuff that we can’t live without?

It says that our way of training is wrong. It means that our priorities are backwards: it says that we are obsessed with how we look when we train, what our data is when we train, who we are beating, concerned only to whom we can boast.  What is important – the how – isn’t in the top10.

We have been seduced by materialism in sport, preyed upon by companies seeking to profit from our insecurities of body image, size, beauty, fitness, health and performance capabilities convincing us that their products and services are the short cut, we fall willingly for the fantasy they pander of instant health, instant beauty, instant fitness.  Seduced, we acquire every piece of gear, all gadgets, consume sport nutrition which are anything but nutritious.  Its got to the point that pro athletes market equipment, instead of proper training, diet, and recovery.

I implore you to slow down, stop, think, and ask yourself for a moment does all that stuff that you have bought, to train, to compete, to look like a pro, has it in fact made you healthier, improved your qualify of life, quality of rest and sleep, has it helped you achieve any goal?

What RoT have you gained? If its only injury, pain, suffering, an addiction to sugary sports products, frustration and disappointment then maybe its time to re-evaluate. Maybe it ain’t you, maybe you don’t need to try harder, dig deeper, press into more pain, find your supposedly elusive willpower. Maybe you dont need a bike that weighs 100grams less. Instead, you may need to consider that the entire concept of what is training, what is sold as healthy is wrong.

What if there is another way to train?  A way that’s fun, engaging, a learning experience, a journey of discovery of potential.  A path which requires time and sacrifice but once taken leads to health, and function which can never we taken away from you.  Seek healthy training: develop base, a massive foundation of physical literacy, of FUNdamentals, of movement ABCs. Seek encouragement from those who want to see you healthy, alive and living an abundant life. Seek training partners and a coach who want to see you improve in skill, in ability, in function, who do not measure you as a person by your times, your position, or athletic rankings.

References:

  1. Exercise, upper respiratory tract infection, and the immune system.
  2. Sick and Tired Athletes
  3. Exercise for Health and Longevity vs Peak Performance
  4. Exercise, Over Indulgence and Atrial Fibrillation
  5. Exercise and Mortality Reduction: Recurring Reverse J- or U- Curves
  6. How much exercise is too much?
  7. Eating ‘Healthy’ Food May Not Make You Fit
  8. Why We’re Afraid of Carbs and Confused by Fats
  9. Exploring Relationship Between Passion and Attitudes Toward PEDs

Hi Intensity Interval Training [4]

If HIIT should be off-limits to the majority of athletes, then who should do HIIT sessions?

Athletes who have a substantial base of training, who have acquired thousands of hours, years of conditioning, who have gained a level of mastery of the skills, techniques, form, tactics and strategy; athletes who have acquired the self awareness and introspection skills to be able to self assess, evaluating their intensity level, and able to modify effort as required.

Athletes who have a maturity level which ensures that they take appropriate and sufficient time to recover, to rest, to heal between training sessions.  Athletes who understand what it means to recover, how long it takes to rest, and put in the necessary time sleeping, and napping to set themselves up properly for subsequent training.

Finally, HIIT should be reserved for athletes competing or are preparing to compete for National Team Qualification with the goal of competing at international events (e.g. Olympics, Worlds, Pan Ams, Pan Pacs, Commonwealth,…). The intensity of these competitions requires refinement of the athlete’s physiology and psychology and in these circumstances HIIT is an appropriate training tool (but still not the only training tool).

For amateur and age group athletes, HIIT should be reserved to final preparation for an ‘A’ race, only under the condition of health, under the guidance of a trusted coach who will offer objective direction when the athlete is unable or unwilling to be objective with themselves.

With this said, it must be highlighted that Michael Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman did not do any weight training (i.e. a form of HIIT) prior to Michael turning 19 years of age.  Yet despite this lack of HIIT, Michael Phelps qualified and competed at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens walking away with 6 Olympic golds and 2 Olympic bronze medals.  To train Michael to swim fast (instead of hard), Bob prepared Michael on dryland: he had Michael visualize himself swimming fast during mental training sessions.  When it came time to swim fast in the pool, Bowman had Michael “put in the (mental) video of himself swimming fast” and execute. Swimming fast wasn’t measured in pain, fatigue, nor by excessive exertion, it was a product of executing consistently a specific program of exquisite technique, on demand, irrespective of distractions.

Michael_Phelps_dive_start

If Bowman didn’t need weights to bring Phelps up to the level of competition at the Olympics, then this should demand all athletes to reflect on their own training… why do you need weights if you are nowhere close to Olympic level competition?  What aspect of training are you trying to short cut? Why? Why are you attempting to force progress, success? What are you afraid of?

If an athlete rises to the top in one of the most competitive countries in the world, in one of the most competitive sport programs in the world (US Olympic Trials can be more competitive than the Olympic Finals) and NOT be obsessed with HIIT, then we need to re-evaluate our approach.

Since Michael Phelps – a swimmer – rose without full dependence on HIIT, then surely the sport of swimming leads in the development of technique, stroke, efficiency, and form?   Wrong.

Unfortunately, in swimming HIIT continues to be used to short cut the long term process of developing champions, with coaches refusing to let go of a ‘last one standing’ approach to validate training (i.e. ‘last man standing’ was a post-WWII Eastern Block mentality of training – still in use today – where athletes are driven to their limit day-in day-out, with the last man/woman hailed as the top athlete).  Despite piles of wrecked bodies, destroyed minds, and resentful athletes discarded by this training methodology which blames them for failing (as opposed to the system failing the athlete) the prolific use of HIIT goes unabated, with coaches and sport associations refusing to acknowledge reality (and worse, failing to acknowledge that this methodology underpins the use of PEDs amongst athletes…trying to stay in the system).

The sport of swimming is notorious for HIIT, for subjecting young swimmers almost from the moment they start swimming to HIIT and non-stop HIIT. Swim coaches refuse to eliminate a ‘last one standing’ approach despite efforts to retrain the mindset. The outcome is a drop out rate which should raise alarm within sports associations but is instead heralded as optimal for training. In a Swimming Natation Canada (SNC) powerpoint on Long Term Athlete Development, US statistics are used to identify the low retention rate of athletes in the sport. Only 2% of swimmers who ranked in the top 100 at the age of 10 are retained until the age of 17-18. Approaching peak years, the sport loses 55% of all female athletes and 71% of all male athletes in the course of just 2 years (between the ages of 15-16 and 17-18).  Why?

SNC LTAD age grprs

If any business lost 55-71% of their top clients in a period of 2 years, shareholders would fire the CEO if not the entire C-class along with management.  In swimming where 55-71% of all top athletes are lost, the system is not audited, instead the status-quo is held onto firmly.

Based on my experiences as an athlete, as a parent of children who swam competitively, as a health professional who works with swimmers, and as a NCCP swim coach, these stats simply reflect how age group athletes – children – are coached: all-out, all the time, with minimal focus on technique (perhaps once a week), with an attitude of either you got it, get it on your own time or get out. The agenda of coaches is to push for immediate results, disregarding the fact that there is absolutely no reason to expose children to HIIT, let alone peak children years ahead of their peak growth periods, ahead of their physiological and psychological peaks.

The sport of swimming lives and breathes HIIT, HIIT, and more HIIT despite the fact that the sport goes through kids as if kids are disposable.  The problem is that when children fail to improve, parents believe that it is their children who are incapable of more, thus coaches are not held accountable.  Without the performance of swim coaches evaluated, there is no pressure on coaches to improve, to gain in their understanding of physiology, behaviour, training and competition methodology. Most coaches coach the way they were trained, just like the coaches before them (with every error in coaching repeated). With a fresh supply of parents every fall coming with their children to try out for the swim club, the turnover gives coaches carte blanche to continue to repeat training which fails our children. In any other industry, this would not be tolerated and coaches would be fired.  When it comes to coaching our children, why do we tolerate coaches who fail at modelling a pursuit of excellence?

Swimming Canada’s policy is that the sport of swimming is highly intensive, that training can only occur within a swim club so that the high level of intensity is maintained.  At the same time, Swimming Canada’s document on Long Term Athlete Development [LTAD] reveals that the average age of athletes who compete at Worlds and the Olympics is the early 20s. If athletes don’t need to peak until their 20s, why is intensive training the basis for swimming policy in Canada? Why are 9, 10, 12, and 14 year olds trained into the ground? Why is intensive training the policy when such a policy violates the LTAD model, results in a mass drop out rate, resulting in such a lack of top swimmers that Ontario’s own former High Performance Coach Dean Boles admitted that he had few swimmers to coach as so few are able to train and compete at the national or international levels. Fact is that many top Canadian swimmers don’t train in Canada, instead train in the US. If the US system has a high drop out rate, yet Canadian athletes move to the US to train, it begs the question how much worse is the Canadian system? Bad enough that Swimming Canada uses US statistics instead of its own?

SNC LTAD ave age

Click on image for larger view

How Bob Bowman coached Michael Phelps reveals that when an athlete is trained properly, individually, when capacity, technique, skill, the mental and emotional dimensions of performance are made equal in training, then an athletic career can last a lifetime. In his book Without Limits, Michael Phelps shares how Bowman coached him to learn how to gain satisfaction beyond the clock; to seek success in stroke technique improvements, and strategy execution. It is with this mindset that Phelps now at the age of 30 is able to train to try out for his 5th Olympic team, extending a career which has lasted already two decades.

Swimming is not the only sport notorious for HIIT. In North America, cycling, running and especially triathlon rely on hi intensity red-zone training almost exclusively.  Base training is limited to weeks, treated as an unfortunate necessity as opposed to what it is: the foundation, the starting point, the fundamentals upon which development is predicated, the path to an healthy and long lasting relationship with physical activity, and sport. We wonder why kids drop out of sport? Maybe, just maybe its because parents and coaches want to see results now, leading to kids simply coming to hate sport because adults take out all the fun. Proof? How do most adults train, exercise, workout? Rarely do I see adults having fun, most tolerate the pain, the sweat, the agony of what they put themselves through in order to boast, not be healthy so why would that approach change with their children?  It doesn’t.

If you want what is optimal for yourself as an athlete, or for your children as athletes, then take the long approach, the long long term approach. Be willing to take the time to invest in skill acquisition, the development of technique, form, flexibility, building a massive base, aerobic conditioning, fat burning, mental skills of imagination, drive, imagery, belief, visualization, rehearsal, and emotional skills of breathing control, converting reactions to responses, learning stress identification, engagement, and management.  Most importantly, be willing to make it fun, and learning how to keep it fun when obstacles occur, adversity arises. There is a lifetime of learning available that can translate into all aspects of adult life if coaches and parents give each child the time to learn.  There is a lifetime of learning and refining for masters athletes, where HIIT is absolutely unnecessary in order to restore, maintain, and enjoy health, and to compete setting PRs in competition by improving the execution of sport specific skills.

With HIIT you will get either bored, injured, ill, sidelined with a medical condition, impeding progress and diminishing your interest in sport.

With base training you cannot get bored.  Base training is endless, with the only limits being those of curiosity, imagination, and what you impose as the limit of your own potential.

Hi Intensity Interval Training [3]

In a 2014 Bob Babbitt interview with Ironman legends Mark Allen and Dave Scott, Bob asks why there hasn’t been a recent course record set by the men, and none in the marathon since Mark Allen’s and Dave Scott’s sub 2:40 marathon in the 1989 Ironman World Championships?

1989_Ironman_Hawaii_Iron_War

  • 6x World Champion Mark Allen replied that it is due to poorer range of physiology (i.e. poor training) amongst the pro men.
  • 6x World Champion Dave Scott replied that it is due to too many oscillations in effort, poor recoverability. Scott went on to say that the marathon times are in fact shockingly slow.

To paraphrase: pros train insufficient base, and excessive HIIT.

Instead of developing the physiology and psychology to pursue athletic excellence, pros are training to compete with their ego.

HIIT depletes flexibility, reduces range of motion, focuses athletic ability to a specific event, and reduces the body’s ability to burn anything other than sugar as fuel.  Considering that the majority of athletes have little to no flexibility to lose (i.e. are stiff, rigid, and fragile), are limited to a small range of athletic abilities (i.e. have inadequate ABCs), and are almost incapable of burning fat as the primary fuel, HIIT is the last form of training needed.  If that wasn’t enough, athletes with an underlying medical condition (e.g. CAD, hypertension, overweight) already have a strained system, so to perform HIIT on top is simply asking for a medical emergency.

An athlete who is already at their limit, who then performs HIIT adds significant strain on their cardiovascular, neurological, musculoskeletal and endocrine systems.  As the red-line is approached, the body and mind start to lock up.  When the athlete pushes past, straining themselves to hold in the red zone, the body has no choice but to defend itself against strain now perceived as threat to its survival. In this state – an athlete engaged in self-combat – injury, illness resulting from a weakened immune system, mental exhaustion, emotional breakdown, and at worst a full out medical crisis (e.g. cardiac arrest, stroke, death) are all possible.

Nonetheless, athletes push harder and harder with HIIT, only to be shocked when muscle spasms, chest pain, numbness, tingling or a momentary black out brings them to a full stop. The mindset is reminiscent of the Dark Knight from Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail…

tumblr_nkahl4bwTR1u0k6deo2_250

tumblr_nkahl4bwTR1u0k6deo3_250

HIIT does not make you invincible, and ‘Beast Mode’ is a cortisol/adrenaline fueled illusion created by triggering the flight-fight-freeze stress reaction.

The strength, endurance, and speed which occur in this state are illusions, fiction, and in no way reflect training. They are displays of the body defending itself, occurring because the athlete has triggered a heightened state using emotions of anger, fear, or hate to sustain themselves beyond the red-line to the point that the body believes that survival is being threatened.

HIIT does not develop aerobic capacity, fat burning ability, nor the capability of the athlete to recover, to heal, to rejuvenate between reps, sets, and workouts.  Prolonged HIIT without sufficient base leads athletes to rely on crutches of sports nutrition (i.e. sugar, sugar, sugar), sports rehab (i.e. taping, orthotics, braces, splints), medications and drugs (don’t forget alcohol and PEDs) in an attempt to hold themselves together as they try to demonstrate their ferocity.

HIIT does not develop mental focus, drive, nor does it permit skill acquisition, the development of technique, nor form.  Without proper base mental training, HIIT will drain an athlete, leave them depleted, exhausted, unmotivated, a hollow empty shell echoing doubt, regret, and hate.

HIIT does not develop emotional stability, nor the skills to engage stress. Without proper base emotional training, HIIT will push athletes into using a state of panic to induce in themselves the stress chain-reaction to be able to train and compete. Prolonged HIIT can lead athlete into developing various anxiety disorders (e.g. pre-competition anxiety), breathing difficulties which mimic asthma, illnesses resulting from a weakened immune system, and depression.

For the untrained, undertrained, and unhealthy, HIIT is a death sentence.

For the untrained, undertrained, and unhealthy, HIIT is not training. Its gaming of physiology and psychology by inducing larger and larger states of panic to cause a physical, mental. and emotional high state of reactivity used to overcome the strain of training.

This is not training.  This is not conditioning.  This is self-abuse. It is unhealthy in every sense of the word, yet research fails to note this, and sports related websites with editors who lack context for research relating to human biology, physiology, and performance cherry-pick journal conclusions just to post a new article. Athletes fall for advertised short cuts, failing to understand that neither excellence nor peak performance are available for sale.

In hi-performance athletics, HIIT is used to refine an athlete for competition. But if you are not competing at the national or international level then what need do you have for HIIT?

HIIT is not synonymous with the health, and health is not synonymous with fitness.

HIIT is marketed as the short cut to wellness and health, but this is misleading, and wrong.

The majority of athletes need simple low & slow training to build or rebuild a foundation. The majority of athletes need basic physical literacy, basic FUNdamentals (ABCs of movement), basic flexibility and control of their range prior to engaging in training with any degree of intensity, let alone training (i.e. peaking) designed to prep an athlete for competition. Athletes with prior experience rarely execute their sport with the same level of fluidity, flow, and ease as champions, so they too can build their base wider, refining technique, improving their aerobic capacity and recoverability. Base training can go on indefinitely, and thats the beauty of it… there is no end point to it.

If you want to test yourself, then enter a competition, but compete against yourself, your time, assessing your ability to execute new skills, tactics and strategies in competition.  Evaluate races results not simply by final times, but on the quality of your performance.

What is the Return on Training (RoT) that you seek? If you seek health, wellness, improving quality of sleep, fat burning and weight loss, then HIIT is not the tool.  Base training is the starting point for all healthy, active lifestyles, for achieving peak power to weight, for improving overall quality of life. If you seek final preparation, fine tuning, all out sessions to refine your training to competition readiness, then HIIT may be appropriate, but it should be administered under the supervision of an experience coach, a coach who refuses to sacrifice athletes simply for short term gain, a coach who values the health and well-being of their athletes.

Apply the correct tool to the desired problem, and you will achieve your desired goals.

Apply the incorrect tool to a problem, and you will set yourself back further.