Showing You The Ropes

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A jump rope costs less than $10 (the one I use in this video was $2.79) and is a fantastic tool for performing high-intensity cardiovascular exercise with minimal space — especially useful when you’re stuck indoors on rainy days. Additionally, a rope workout can help you improve agility, balance and coordination. Learning to perform different moves keeps things interesting and these advanced techniques can be added to make workouts more challenging. Here are demonstrations of 5 different jump rope exercises…

Athletic Secrets of… Norway?

It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that Norway has had a successful run in the winter Olympics. With Sochi coming up, Norway’s present total is 303 medals — impressive, especially compared to the United States’ 253. Of those 303 medals, 96 of them have come in the brutal endurance sport of Cr0ss Country Skiing. If you’ve never tried cross country skiing, I assure you, that it taxes the body’s resources like no other. Of any athletic endeavor I’ve ever participated in, cross country skiing is one that — when performed at a high enough intensity — had me feeling like an ambulance ride would be a nice little break. Naturally, when I found out that Norwegians have spent decades putting a whupping on the competition, I set out to find out a little about their training philosophy. What I found out didn’t surprise me. I knew you were smart, Norway.

Let’s begin a study that was conducted in Trondheim, Norway…

Maximal strength training improves work economy in trained female cross-country skiers. Hoff J, Helgerud J, Wisløff U. Department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jun;31(6):870-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10378915

“Maximal strength training in the upper-body improved the double-poling performance by improved work economy. Work economy was improved by a reduction in relative workload and time to peak force while double poling.”

Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. A huge component for success in the most endurance-y of endurance sports is maximal strength training. Not only does it improve the generation of power as needed in propelling the body with a double-ski-poling movement, but it also helps improve work economy of the muscles, which, in turn improves efficiency of energy consumption. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’e a study from Olso, Norway…

Effect of heavy strength training on muscle mass and physical performance in elite cross country skiers. 
T. Losnegard, K. Mikkelsen, B. R. Rønnestad, J. Halle´n, B. Rud1, T. Raastad. The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway, Lillehammer University College, Lillehammer, Norway. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2011: 21: 389–401.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20136751

“Supplemental strength training improved both VO(2max) during skate-rollerskiing and double-poling performance.”

The most important thing to remember when using maximal strength training to enhance performance in an endurance based sport is to make sure to program it in such a way that the strength training has its proper place, in a supporting — not a starring — role.

Occasionally, some points are so important that I feel the need to repeat them in a hilariously massive font.

When using maximal strength training to enhance performance in an endurance based sport, make sure that the role of strength training remains supplemental.

Allow me to illustrate my point with an example. If your 1-rep-maximum on the squat is a barbell equivalent to 1x your bodyweight, working up to squatting 2x your bodyweight will make you a better athlete. A 2x bodyweight squatter will be able to jump higher, run faster, and punch harder than a 1x bodyweight squatter. However, the point of diminishing returns usually lies somewhere between a 2x BW squat and a 3x BW squat. In other words, going from 1x to a 2x BW squat is a great idea, but going from a 2x to a 3x BW squat may not be, because it starts to detract from the goal of overall athleticism and eventually turns you into a squatting specialist. In an intelligently planned program, maximal strength training should be programmed in such a way as to avoid hindering other training. The authors of the above mentioned study did this by utilizing three exercises in an undulating periodization model.

These were the exercises they utilized:

  • Half Squat
  • Seated Pulldown
  • Triceps Pressdown

For our purposes, I’m just going to go ahead and change those to:

  • Back Squat
  • Weighted Chin-Up
  • Close-Grip Bench Press

You’re welcome.

Now, here’s the training schematic from the study:

Week 1-3
Day 1: 3 x 6
Day 2: 3 x 10

Week 4
Day 1: 3 x 5
Day 2: 3 x 8

Week 5-8
Day 1: 4 x 8
(Train 1 day/week only in weeks 5-8)

Week 9-12
Day 1: 3 x 4
Day 2: 3 x 6

If all sets x reps are successfully completed in a session, increase the load by 2.5%-5% next session.

Fundamentally sound programming for the pre-season preparatory period. Use it in good health.

Sources

“Effect of heavy strength training on muscle mass and physical performance in elite cross country skiers.”
T. Losnegard, K. Mikkelsen, B. R. Rønnestad, J. Halle´n, B. Rud1, T. Raastad. The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway, Lillehammer University College, Lillehammer, Norway. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2011: 21: 389–401.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20136751

“Maximal strength training improves work economy in trained female cross-country skiers.” Hoff J, Helgerud J, Wisløff U. Department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jun;31(6):870-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10378915

“Norway at the Olympics” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norway_at_the_Olympics

The Athlete’s Heart

No, the heart I’ll be discussing in this blog entry isn’t metaphorical triumph of the human spirit in regards to sports — it’s about the actual adaptation the circulatory system of an athlete makes in response to the stimulus of endurance training. Yeah, the real athlete’s heart. I know, gross, right?

The most notable adaptations the body makes to cardiovascular exercise stimulus include:

  • Reduced heart rate during submaximal exercise and potential reduced heart rate during maximal exercise
  • Increase in stroke volume during exercise
  • Increase in the mass and chamber size of the left ventricle
  • Increase in capillary density and recruitment, which facilitates oxygen delivery to the contracting muscles

The cardiovascular system is made up of blood, blood vessels, and, of course, the heart.

During exercise, the primary functions of the cardiovascular system are to deliver oxygen to skeletal muscles and remove carbon dioxide and heat from contracting muscles. The cardiovascular system also is responsible for the maintenance of mean arterial blood pressure as exercise intensity increases.

Cardiac output refers to the volume of blood pumped by the left ventricle of the heart. It is a combination of the heart rate (beats per minute) and stroke volume (amount of blood pumped with each beat). Endurance training increases maximal cardiac output, which increases the maximal level of oxygen delivery to the body’s tissues. The heart of an endurance athlete generally has a cardiac output much higher than that of an untrained person. Long-term adherence to a proper cardiovascular exercise program will create adaptations in the heart to increase stroke volume, which is the amount of blood pumped from a ventricle with each heartbeat. It is this increase in stroke volume that determines the level of cardiac output.

Physical exertion increases the demand for oxygen in the muscles. VO2 Max is widely viewed as a measure of assessment regarding a person’s aerobic athletic potential. VO2 Max is the capacity of the body to incrementally supply itself with oxygen during physical effort. Along with respiration, the oxidative potential of the muscles, and central nervous system motor drive, circulation is a physiological determinant of VO2. The body’s ability to distribute oxygenated blood in the contracting muscles is obviously a crucial component of physical endurance.

Blood volume refers to red blood cells and blood plasma in the circulatory system. Increasing blood volume increases the efficiency of the heart by assisting it to pump more blood per beat. Additional red blood cells transport more oxygen to muscles, allowing them to perform at higher intensities for longer periods of time. Erythropoietin — better known as EPO — is a hormone that signals cells to produce more red blood cells. When synthetic EPO is added to the body, uh… hypothetically, in the form of injection into a professional cyclist, the expansion of plasma volume and production of additional red blood cells can effectively increase VO2 max, which, of course, provides the athlete with higher levels of endurance. If you’re not as fond of injecting synthetic substances into yourself as cyclists are, similar adaptation can be achieved by prolonged training at high altitudes. This is the reason why high altitude locations like Big Bear Lake, California (surface elevation 6,750), have been popular training camp locations for boxers — a sport that requires superlative cardiovascular conditioning… oh, and for those of you that were expecting metaphor after reading the title — boxing also requires a “big heart”. There. Happy now?

There you have it — the abridged version of the literal athlete’s heart. Metaphor was never my strong suit. Who do I look like to you, Mark Twain?

Sources

Ekblom B and Hermansen L. Cardiac output in athletes. J Appl Physiol 25: 619–625, 1968.

Grimby G, Nilsson NJ, and Saltin B. Cardiac output during submaximal and maximal exercise in active middle-aged athletes. J Appl Physiol 21: 1150–1156, 1966.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. EPO erythropoietin. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gene/2056