You Want The Highest Power to Weight Ratio? Most Endurance Athletes off Season Gym Training is Adding Little Or No Value! You Better Understand the GAP.
Posted on October 2nd, 2015
We are coming to the end of the season for most Endurance Athletes and winter is gym time. Why do most gym programs for endurance athletes produce such poor results?
If you ever get the chance to go to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) national convention, which is a wonderful convention of Strength and Conditioning Coaches, you would see that the look of a Strength Coach is often a 200+lb guy with no neck, bald head, and a goatee. I know this is a stereotype, but it is pretty accurate. I am also a strength coach (CSCS) and member of the NSCA that came from a power sport, wrestling, and later in life became an endurance athlete and elite level cycling coach. (I also have hair and no goatee and would be considered very lean)
The GAP of endurance athletes exists because most of the science of strength and conditioning is focused on the power sports. Baseball, football, basketball etc. For years endurance athletes never spent any time on strength and conditioning. So most of the strength and conditioning coaches know how to get an athlete to squat a ton of weight, but they do this by trying to fit an absolute strength and power workout to an endurance cyclist, runner etc. This often leads to weight gain and in some cases slower times in the sport.
The other side of the coin is that most endurance coaches have spent very little time under the bar in the gym or have a really good understanding of how power, and especially maximum sustained power, can be improved in the gym. They are often ill equipped well to develop strength and power programs for their athletes.
So hence the GAP. The endurance athlete is left in the GAP trying to figure out what to do for improving strength, power, and ultimately maximum sustained power in their respective sports.
I have seen many articles and advice to many endurance athletes that is better than nothing, but just does not really get the athlete what they need or is just flat our wrong. If you google strength or power training for the endurance athlete you will find that most of the information available talks about some form of strength training and how it will help reduce injury, improve efficiency, and increase power. All true, however this is just the tip of the iceberg. How can it really change your game?
The problem is most programs miss the biggest component of adding time in the gym to an endurance athlete’s training schedule. The result that you should be looking for first is an increase in Absolute Power (Force x Distance/Time) and then more importantly follow that with a training program that improves the ability to hold the highest percentage of this newly developed power the longest. Then ultimately greater overloads take place in outside of the gym in training as the new power is available.
For example a better way to understand this concept is as follows. Your 40k time trial performance on a bicycle is a result of your highest average power output over the 40k distance. Your average power output over that 40k is a percentage of your absolute power! Absolute power would be your maximum wattage in a short effort. Maybe 100 to 200 meters. So you can increase your 40k performance by either bumping your short duration absolute power output ( with out any gain in weight) or you can become more effective at holding a higher percentage of your current short duration power. There are also a number of other factors that can effect power besides just muscular power. Biomechanics, aerodynamics etc. will all have a role. Endurance coaches know that the highest VO2 max does not always win the race. What usually wins is the ability to hold the highest percentage of VO2 max the longest. That ability to sustain the highest percent of power is what typically wins the race. When I was coaching Dave Zabriskie he talked about going to a “dark place” when he was time trialing. This place would help him to sustain the highest percentage of Maximum Sustained Power the longest.
The problem with most strength and power programs for endurance athletes is that they primarily focus on Force( adding strength) with a sprinkling of power (plyo jumps) and I have yet to see anyone discuss how to increase your ability to hold the highest percentage of maximum power through training in the gym. So the focus is typically on increasing Absolute strength and power. This helps, but the golden ticket is taking that increase in Absolute Power and training your body to hold the highest percentage of this power longer. This increase is a game changer, and even more so on more mature athletes, both in age and maturity in their sport.
The GAP exists because of the lack of recognition and understanding of a training program to develop maximum sustained power not just absolute power. I have developed a program for endurance athletes we train that addresses the GAP. This training dramatically improves the ability to hold the highest percentage of absolute power for the longest amount of time and gives the athlete (even more so in masters athletes) the ability to produce greater wattage longer on a bike for longer periods of time.
So the progression of a program should be as follows: First focus on an increase in Force production without adding body weight, next increase velocity to increase absolute power, and then train for holding the highest percentage of your maximum power the longest in the gym. This training for an endurance athlete is a game changer. If you want to find out more about what we do for our endurance athletes contact us.
Maximum Overload Training for developing Maximum Sustained Power!!
Truth in Exercise
Jacques DeVore, CSCS
President of Sirens and Titans Fitness
Posted on September 18th, 2015
Over the last 6 years I have successfully coached hundreds of women and men on weight loss and how to change body composition. I hear the following comments with regularity. “ I don’t agree with your diet, the food journal is hard, nothing works for me, I don’t want to get big, if I lift heavy I get huge, why am I not losing weight faster, why can’t I have cheat days, you are trying to do (x) to me.”With this in mind I thought it would be good to discuss how we coach our clients on food and how Fat Set Point Theory impacts your ability to make change.
First let’s talk about association, observation, correlation, and causation. The rooster crows and the sun comes up. Does that mean the rooster causes the sunrise? Of course not. However many people look at changes in their bodies and use the same reasoning. They use observations and associations and leap to causation. This is a flaw of our brains. We try to seek the most readily available answer based on the information. We all want clean easy answers to complex questions. However, fitness and weight loss may seem simple, (calories in calories out) but they are extremely complex and requires some critical thinking to figure out how our bodies respond to different environments.
I use the metaphor of the big sink which represents your body fat. The level in the sink is regularly changing. Calories in are more calories pouring into the sink. The calories out are dictated by the size of the drain. When you are young the drain is big and you can pour as many calories in and it is easy to maintain the sinks level. As we age the drain shrinks for a myriad of reasons. Loss of lean body mass, hormones, stress, activity level etc. Very few people focus on how to make the drain larger. You calories into the sink will match the energy output of your body. If you pour in less than you expend in energy eventually your body will try to bring you back into equilibrium by down regulating energy output. I have seen people through force of will live in this environment, but it is eventually doomed to fail.
Without completely isolating someone in a lab and measuring every gram of food on both a micronutrient and macronutrient basis it is very difficult to determine how your body responds to food. In our program at Sirens and Titans Fitness we use an online food journal to give us a better understanding of how food impacts an individual’s health, energy, and body comp. With enough data and monitoring of body comp and energy level one can have a better understanding of the impact of food on a body. Most people realize that body composition is impacted more from food than exercise, but everyone spends all their time quantifying the exercise and very little time quantifying food intake. Without any measurement at all it is almost impossible to identify what foods cause you to gain or lose weight. Exercise is only one variable in the size of the drain.
Let’s discuss Fat set point and how this ties into weight loss and gain and why weight loss can be so difficult for so many people. I always counsel clients that we have to first find what changes in your eating trigger weight loss and then determine how to make it sustainable. It is usually easier to know what does not work than what does work.
What is the Fat Set point theory?
Let me start by explaining this internal thermostat that regulates how much body fat is stored. Much of weight loss, and believe it or not, weight gain is impacted by this concept. This thermostat for body size is in your brain.
Our bodies are very clever at trying to maintain an equilibrium based on external environments. The easiest to see example of this is body temperature. When we get too warm we start to sweat to cool our bodies, and when we get cold we begin to shiver to try to increase the body temperature. Why do some of us do better in heat and some in cold? Our genetics have an impact on our ability to adjust to changes in our environment. It does not say that we cannot get better at adjusting, however some of us just feel more comfortable than others in different environments.
“Fat set point theory” is similar. In the simplest form we all have a particular range of weight that our bodies will hover around. This range may change over time. Most of the science points to a range of plus or minus 10% of body weight. Movement within the range is considered normal, but once we start getting beyond the range the body will start to make changes. The body will start to shiver or sweat in a weight loss manner. This is the body’s way of taking you back to homeostasis. This applies to weight gain as well as loss. There are a lot of factors that can disrupt this homeostasis. In today’s crazy world the list is long and can make weight loss very difficult for some. Disease, diabetes, thyroid issues, adrenal burnout, depression, medication and yoyo dieting, stress etc. can all impact body composition. Some people gain weight when stressed and some lose weight.
So this brings me back to why understanding this theory is important. Most people have great difficulty losing weight and keeping it off. How are people successful at overcoming this fat set point?
When coaching someone on weight loss, I first have them fill out a food journal and we can see what type of food is currently maintaining their homeostasis. It is similar to developing a strategy for athletic performance in a sport. We establish the starting point and then identify strengths and weaknesses. From a great deal of science of sport, our experience training other athletes, understanding the needs of the particular sport, we identify strengths and weaknesses of the athlete and then create an overarching strategy that is tactically dynamic so that, dependent on individual responses, it will give the athlete the greatest amount of improvement in the time we have to train with them. All of these strategies must be dynamic. We may try squats with one athlete and find that deadlifts are more appropriate with another athlete based on biomechanical individualities.
Our coaching methodology with eating is not dissimilar. We understand that everyone is different so we do not recommend a specific diet to anyone. What we do is establish their start point and initially just try to eliminate as much of the processed food and refined sugars and flours. Most of this food is nutrient vacant and typically promotes weight gain dependent on activity level and age. Once we begin to make these changes we try to establish where the tipping point for weight loss occurs. In some cases these initial changes will result in body comp changes. Our goal is sustainability so we initially do not focus so much on calories. We also try to incorporate foods that the client is already comfortable eating. This helps in making the changes sustainable. We look at calories to make sure the client is eating enough based on BMR and activity level. We cannot determine this tipping point and what changes caused this without a food journal. Weight loss is very elusive for most because they think they know what may cause changes in their weight based on changes in how much they eat. These changes may have an impact but not be the cause of the weight loss. In other words if you eat 3000 calories a day and you cut your calories to 1500 calories and all else is equal you have not only cut your calories, but all of your micro and macro nutrients as well. So the loss of weight may have been a result of the calories but also were impacted by the macronutrients and how a body responds to the food. The sticking point with calorie restriction is that in a short amount of time your internal thermostat will slow metabolism based on the lower amount of calories. Through a process of making changes and seeing how an individual responds to these changes we are usually able to see where this weight loss tipping point exists, based more on causation not on just observations or associations.
The issues with clients typically arise with filling out the food journal. They think they can just “pay attention to what I eat” and that will tell them everything they need to know. The clients who are successful at weight loss are the ones who make the commitment to diligently record their food for 6-8 weeks. After recording food for this time clients have usually figured out how they lose or gain weight based on the amount of food and types of food.
Once this first step is established we then have to come up with tactics to make it sustainable. This is typically where people run into problems with most weight loss programs. They have the initial success and then cannot sustain the diet. We try to create a way of eating that coupled with exercise, is sustainable and fits into one’s lifestyle and also deals with your internal fat set point more effectively. It typically means that it is a slower process for some, but we believe it is a much more sustainable approach. The client really learns how their body metabolizes food and how this translates into health, energy level, and body composition.
Now back to the Fat Set point. The irony of weight loss is it gets harder as you lose more weight. Part of this is every pound of weight lost is a greater percentage of your body weight and your internal thermostat begins to work against you. We try to get our client’s to focus on body composition. This aids on two fronts. One is that you will look better which everyone wants. Your clothes will fit better, you are healthier with more lean body mass, you are physically stronger and more powerful, and because your body’s thermostat is trying to keep your weight in a certain range it is easier to accommodate your genetics.
When we lose weight your body will accommodate this loss to a point and then it will start making changes to get you back to your fat set point range or previous homeostasis. It does this by slowing metabolism, changing your desire for certain foods and in some instances changing the overall set point. There are also hormonal changes in leptin (the hormone that makes you hungry) and ghrelin (the hormone that makes you feel full). This is why some people get even heavier after a diet.
So Fat Set Point Theory can be an issue, but one that can be addressed best by not starving yourself, determining foods that cause you to gain weight, adding exercise to maintain a higher metabolism, adding lean body mass, and focusing on body composition instead of weight, and staying consistent. These tactics can create an environment for sustainable weight loss. Patience, patience, patience is key when overcoming your bodies desire to maintain homeostasis. I always remind clients that if they have been this weight for some time, it will take some consistency in your changes for their body to recognize that the changes in eating and exercise will be the new homeostasis.
In summary: A good strategy for weight loss and improvement in body composition is to journal your food and determine a weight loss tipping point. Once this is accomplished develop eating habits that can fit into your lifestyle and allow you to maintain this tipping point. Both of these require tracking food for about 8 weeks. Some people are able to figure this out quicker than others. If you do not account for the food your odds for success drop dramatically.
Combat your Fat Set Point by not restricting calories and semi starvation, focusing on adding lean body mass through exercise, focus on body composition and not weight. All of these will help you maintain the highest possible metabolic rate which will help you to overcome your current fat set point.
Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!
Jacques DeVore, CSCS
President of Sirens and Titans Fitness
Posted on August 12th, 2015
Training/Program Design: An overarching strategy that changes as you change to insure delivery of the desired fitness and body comp result. This is what the best athletes in the world do to insure success in their sport. Time is the enemy for an athlete so the design, both strategically and tactically, is constantly being assessed and reassessed. Why are you not doing this?
Exercise: Randomly pick workouts that make you go as hard, easy, intermediate, for as long as your body will tolerate or time permits with the belief that this will lead to a lean and athletic body. Usually ends with the statement “It is better than doing nothing”. This statement is true, but this type of random approach can be easily remedied with the proper coaching and program design. This means that with no additional time spent on exercise the result would be dramatically improved.
Coach vs Trainer: We consider ourselves coaches because our goal for our clients is to come up with strategies and tactics that will take them to their highest level of genetic potential in the time we have to train them. Kind of like a parent for exercise. Parents don’t care that one cigarette won’t kill you as a child, they just know that strategically that is not good for the long run. Most trainers are good at creating exercise entertainment for an hour and have great abs and a smile. Look at how most Trainers market themselves. If you want results you need to have program design.
If the fitness industry was judged on results being delivered there would only be a handful of companies that would exist today. This business is driven by top line sales with very little concern about results!
Everybody laments why they do not see results in their body composition or fitness. Yet they continue to buy into the marketing hype that the fitness industry is great at providing. This leads people to do the same metabolic conditioning workout day after day and usually couple that with a nutrition plan that includes starving themselves. These workouts can be great exercise, but are poor training and typically are unsustainable. The difference between exercise and training is that training is not random and has a well thought out design in order to deliver a change in body or fitness that is desired.
There is a place for a metabolic workout, but most people feel that peddle to metal is what is important in each workout or they are not going to make change. Quite the opposite!! What type of Facebook response would come from someone posting about the ease of their one hour workout? It is always a killer workout… This workout will bury you etc., etc. This is what grabs attention. A great workout in the eyes of the uninformed is that it has to be hard to be great. This is so much BS. It is not to say that hard workouts are not good. However, it is to say that great workouts can also seem really easy and also some easy workouts can be really hard. Communicating this to the client is the job of a coach.
No program design= Short term results and minimal change with lots of time and money spent and regular failure.
Treadmill “sprints” and lift some weights, burpees and lift some light weights, run a sprint and do some cleans, pull ups followed by box jumps. Get the heart rate as high as possible and do a “strength” exercise. This has reached a fever pitch. The array of modalities is starting to become comical. The common thread with all of these workouts is harder is better in all cases.
I will admit that if someone that has not exercised much, or is just new to exercise may see some gain if they can get through the initial shock of these types of workouts. I call this post traumatic exercise syndrome. Clients are so hurt by the initial workout they never want to do it again. It is part of our DNA for survival to avoid trauma of this nature so there are a lot of people who could have really changed their health and just threw in the towel because of poor program design.
Great for marketing, poor for results. Idiotic!
The predominate workout available today is Metabolic conditioning. It creates an environment where you never lift heavy enough to make change and in addition you are too winded during the workout to really get an overload in your cardio effort. I call this zone zero. Most people spend too much time in this zone which results in a constant feeling of fatigue, overuse injuries, or chronically feeling under the weather with a mild cold etc. You make some early gains and then you stall quickly. I mean seriously where do you go from a workout that makes your eyeballs bleed? Do you go harder? Throw-up twice in a workout instead of once? If it is intense and can make you throw up it must be good, so everyone puts a high value on this type of workout. CNS (Central Nervous System) fatigue is real and needs to be understood or you will soon be getting up in the morning after a good night’s sleep exhausted and overweight even though you are training like crazy.
It is like a 16 year old just getting their driver’s license saying ” I am a great formula one race car driver because I can take my car point it straight ahead and just stomp on the accelerator. This is not driving and usually ends poorly. Lack of program design usually ends poorly as well.
This type of sales pitch is the big deception of the fitness industry today.
The public’s belief is that calories burned is the greatest way to lose weight and change body composition so therefore closer to throwing up must be the better choice. Clients are conditioned to never rest between sets of exercise so even if they do try to do a strength training session it is more strength endurance and then turns into a cardio workout as they never get heavy enough and rest long enough between exercises to get any types of overloads. Design for individual improvement is rarely implemented. Every client we have goes through an extensive evaluation and discussion of goals, limitations, expectations and responsibilities for both of us. We are coaches building a winning team. However, so many clients feel the evaluation is unnecessary. How can you establish a winning strategy without knowing where you are starting from and your strengths and weaknesses?
It reminds me of a line from one of the Godfather movies “when I finally think I am out they pull me back in” (not an exact quote). However, this is what happens in most workouts today. When you finally think you are going to do some real strength training they pull you back into a cardio workout. To make big increases in strength, fitness, body composition change, you need to manage all rest. That includes during a workout, after a workout, week by week. You ask a real strength athlete to jump rope right before a max lift or do a sprint, and they would look at you like you are insane.
Regeneration says it all!! You must have design that includes rest, recovery, light days, easy days, mobility, stability, strength, power, power endurance, cardio endurance, nutrition! Look at your weeks and months like you would a workout. Clients freak out if they do the same workout two days in a row, and if during a workout I told them to just do the same exercise without rest for the entire workout they would look at me like an alien. However, they do this all the time with the overall design of their exercise loads for weeks and months and sometimes years. Within a workout thought must be given to rest between sets, and reps, order of exercise etc. if you want to make gains. Total number of sets, exercises, order of exercises, volume intensity. I am sorry, but grabbing some light dumbbells on a spin bike is not strength training.
YOU HAVE TO HAVE AN OVERLOAD IN ORDER TO CHANGE YOUR BODY AND FITNESS!! An overload in simple terms is defined as anything over the norm in volume or intensity.
There are a number of ways to approach this in exercise, but volume and intensity is the broadest stroke. Simple example: 20lb overhead press. You regularly do 10 repetitions. An overload in volume would be to increase to 12 reps, 15, 20 with the same weight. Or you could overload by a greater number of total sets in a workout, a week, a month, a year etc. Increasing intensity would be to fewer than 10 reps with a greater amount of weight. You could also rest less between the efforts, workouts, etc. This is a very simplistic analysis but you get the idea of how overload is achieved. You can calculate this by total weight lifted relative to total repetitions. Your body has to have an overload that is big enough to signal the body to change.
If you wanted to improve your ability to lift a greater amount of weight in a particular movement pattern, would you just keep lifting a light weight multiple times? Of course not. You would have to lift a weight that is heavier than the norm. You could add some speed to the movement, which would add some overload, but eventually the training stimulus would become less and less and the changes in your body would slow to a crawl or stop completely.
So find yourself a coach that understands program design and workout design. This will save you years of frustration in reaching your optimum body comp and fitness.
By the way, as you get fitter the design of your program has greater and greater importance. People think because they are fit that it is not as necessary. That is a myth and a major error.
The WHYS of fitness.
This industry is poor at understanding why you do a particular type of workout, they just add some cool AV to the room and hope you will do it and pay for it. For example ask your trainer why a deadlift over a squat (outside of biomechanical differences in the exercise, why would you do one over the other?). What is the reason for the order of the exercises? Why 3 sets of 10. Why not 6 sets of 3? Why not 20 reps straight? Why not more? Why are you doing deadlifts at all? Why on Tuesday. Why are you doing cardio at the end of the workout? Why not the beginning of a workout for cardio or why cardio at all? Why not power over strength? What is power? What is strength? What is the difference? If you are doing intervals why 20 on 10 off? Why not a 20 sec rest or a complete recovery? Why not 30 secs all out? Why not 45 secs? Why not 2 min? Why are you really doing HIIT (high intensity intervals) in the first place? Why not 30 min easy? What is really considered high intensity? Why are you doing 5 days of exercise in a week? Why not one? Why not 7?
The wheels come off real quickly. Typically in the first few whys. If your coach cannot answer this and you do not have the answers yourself then you need to re-evaluate your program design. The real answer typically is that someone told me to do it that way.
If your coach is not truthful enough to insist that you rest and regenerate what are you paying for?
There is little Truth in Exercise today and I am constantly learning more. I do not have a monopoly on all the good ideas and I am always figuring out ways to improve my ability to answer the WHYS and bring the Truth to my clients.
“Truth in Exercise.”
Jacques DeVore, CSCS
Founder and CEO of Sirens & Titans Fitness