By Matt Ham
When periodising our programs the way we do, we always consider external loads both outside and inside the gym to achieve optimal results while minimising fatigue, illness and injury. Our upcoming Run Forrest, Run Clinic will incorporate the principles of concurrent training including a higher loads of conditioning (running) combined with resistance exercises that complement our running performance. In Part 2 of this article, Riley will go in to more detail on how running and resistance training concurrently proves to be incredibly beneficial. But for now:
What is Concurrent Training?
Concurrent training is involves training various modalities (strength, power, endurance) at the same time in order to see an improvement or a slow down the reduction in performance of each individual modality.
To capture this in a simple analogy: Think about the rugby league player – he’s just received the ball on the burst from the dummy half and he sprints (modality = power) as hard as he can at the defensive line. He then collides with the defense and has to try and break through the line (modality = strength/muscular size). He has to do this 10 to 20 times per game (modality = endurance). (1)
This article will address the question: Is it possible to get stronger, get bigger, get faster and become fitter, all at the same time? The answer is YES and NO. But do read on…
How training effects muscle anatomy
The issue we see here is at both a physical and physiological level. All modes of exercise effect our muscle anatomy in contrasting fashion. For example, when we lift heavy weights our muscles adapt by increasing in size to accommodate the extra load we are putting on it. Neurologically, we see changes as well as more motor units (which is like a spark plug for your muscle) populate the muscle architecture to increase the muscles ability to contract with more venom and velocity. (1, 2)
However, when performing aerobic work the muscle cells can also deregulate and become catabolic and the concentrations of mitochondria (energy producing cells) increase which results in muscle loss. (1,7,10) The reason for that is if we are travelling long distances, be it running, swimming, rowing or whatever the exercise mode is, the body will look to reduce the amount of muscle/body weight in order for to become more efficient in energy conservation. The less we weigh, the less work is needed, hence why you don’t see very muscular long distance runners. (2,3,5)
To recap: High intensity training like weights, sprints, jumping etc. increase muscle size whereas endurance training does the opposite and reduces muscle size. We can get in to talking about muscle fiber types and the details of the genetic changes and pathways etc. but for the folk playing at home this is all you need to make it through the rest of the article. (7, 8)
What does science think?
Modern research (4, 5) argues reasons for and against the concurrent adaptation of various modalities. For example, Bell et al found that some subjects respond incredibly well to high volumes of resistance training and endurance training together, but the variance is high and depends largely on the individual (7). Most of the time it is difficult to maintain strength, power, muscle size and endurance throughout a season or collectively in any training regime.
Most professional teams and athletes will look to build high capacities early in the season and do what they can throughout the season to minimize the degradation (8). For example, rugby union players will start their pre-season training off with high volume weights training and only minimal to moderate endurance training. They want to get the muscle mass as high as possible before they start the rigors of the endurance training. Why? Well if your muscle size is high the ability exert force is higher and therefore to perform tackles, sprints, jumps, rucks and mauls, scrums etc. they will be prepared. On the other side of the coin, they have to be able to do that over and over which is when the endurance element of the game is important.
The next phase is usually a higher endurance phase and then the amount of reps etc. starts to reduce. They do this because if their athletes are doing both high volumes of running and then hitting the gym and doing high volumes of weights it leads to a significant load through the body. This can lead to a plethora of issues like overtraining illnesses, overuse injuries, or just more at risk of major injury due to fatigue effecting your body’s mechanics. In some cases this type of training can be carefully implemented getting a super-compensatory adaptation (intentional overtraining). But this has to be planned carefully and it has to be followed by a sustained period of low volume training.
How do we maintain strength, power and endurance together without exposing our athletes to injury/illness risk?
By producing big capacities prior to undertaking a concurrent regime.
As explained earlier, we build the foundations of muscle size, strength, power and endurance in prior phases where one individual parameter is the focus. Once appropriate capacities have been achieved a more detailed and specific concurrent plan can be implemented to either maintain or slow the decrease in the capacities earned in pre-season.
Nelson et al suggest that the two best parameters that work well concurrently is the strength (heavy lifting nearest to your maximum) and endurance training. They found that strength work in the gym aids the neuromuscular component, thus getting more out of the muscle that is already there. This is logical because if you are performing big loads of endurance, the actual muscle you have is starting to reduce (as mentioned earlier), so if our motor units (spark plugs for your muscle) increase and our actual muscle mass decreases then we get a better contraction from the existing muscle even though it has shrunk a bit in size (10).
This highlights the benefits of strength to weight ratio, getting the strongest you can at the most effective physical size you can be to be competitive. This obviously can be very different depending on the sport you play. If you’re a cyclist then you want to be light and strong as possible, but if you are a NFL player then you want to be a muscular and powerful as possible.
For our upcoming Run Forrest, Run Clinic we are aiming to improve running performance while maintaining strength and power. If you’d like to know more about this visit this link or get in touch.
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- Kraemer WJ, Patton JF, Gordon SE, et al. Compatibility of high-intensity strength and endurance training on hormonal and skeletal muscle adaptations. J Appl Physiol 1995; 78: 976–89PubMed
- Sale DG, MacDougal JD, Jacobs I, et al. Interaction between concurrent strength and endurance training. J Appl Physiol 1990; 68: 260–70PubMed
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