By Evan Peikon
Though some may give credence to the fact that training prescriptions are the only factors coaches need to manipulate, the fact of the matter is that they are wrong. In actuality there are a myriad of factors, outside of training, that dictate the functional adaptations we receive (and to what degree we receive them) from a given training stimulus. By now i’m sure we’ve all seen, or are familiar with, the classic diagrams depicting the mechanism by which our bodies adapt (ie- stimulus → messenger → signaling pathway… etc). Rather than going into the details, as they’re beyond the scope of this article, we can sum the process up with a simple analogy….
Imagine your body is test tube and the various biochemical processes taking place within you, on a molecular level, compose the homeostatic solution within the tube. If you add something potent enough to this test tube you will disrupt it’s homeostatic equilibrium. Consequently catalyzing a reaction. In this scenario it’s easy to see how any given input will lead to a functional change in the system; and how the addition of multiple inputs at once will yield a different result.
However, we often disregard the effects that simple, easy to control, variables have on our training and subsequent response to said training sessions. These variables range from work stress, supplementation, mental frameworks, pre-workout nutrition…etc. The list never ends. I’m not advocating that you manipulate all of these variables, and honestly a majority of them don’t fucking matter for the average athlete. But, there are some low hanging pieces of fruit that are going completely ignored in the Crossfit realm at large that I believe will have large impacts if properly applied. Im also of the opinion that you, as a coach, should know how, and why, a given variable influences training outcomes whether or not you choose to manipulate it; and if your goal is to get a spot on the podium in a sport where one second dictates whether or not you succeed you should care about these little things as they will add up over time.
Rant over. It’s time to tackle some bigger picture items….
Commonly Overlooked Variables:
1. Fasted vs. fed aerobic training: Honestly, i’m surprised this is one is overlooked so often considering its widespread use in the endurance realm, as well as it’s ease of application. While I wouldn’t recommend one do all of their aerobic training in a fasted state, I do think it is beneficial the the right athlete at the right time (assuming their hormonal profile is such that they can benefit).
–Adaptations to skeletal muscle with endurance exercise training in the acutely fed versus overnight-fasted state.
–Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state.
–Training in the fasted state facilitates re-activation of eEF2 activity during recovery from endurance exercise.
–Muscle protein synthesis and gene expression during recovery from aerobic exercise in the fasted and fed states.
2. Maximum recoverable volume: The prevalence of type-A personalities in the crossfit community has led to a more is better mentality despite the fact that we should be trying to do more with less. If training once a day is good, then twice a day is better and three times a day must be great- or so they say. The problem is that many athletes train above their MRV, or max recoverable volume, on a regular basis. While this type of training is still beneficial, the problem is that these athletes do not have large enough adaptive reserves to recover fully and reap all the rewards of their sweat equity. In many cases athletes would make better progress with less volume and frequency. The goal here is to empirically find your MRB and curtail training volume, and frequency, accordingly. It’s also important to note that your MRV can change from day to day, week to week, cycle to cycle… etc as their are many factors which influence it. Those with low stress lives, more time dedicated to recovery, and a strong support system will typically have a higher MRV. Since most athletes in the sport of fitness do not make a living off competing it may be difficult to arrange one life around training, which increase the importance of having a simple recovery protocol in place. Note- For those interested in exploring the concept of MRV further you can check out Dr. Mike Israetel’s work and lecture online.
3. Pre-Workout Caffeine: At this point everyone knows caffeine can be an ergogenic, but i’d argue that it is overused by many. As with fasted training, caffeine is a tool that should be used at the right time in place. For those with high training volumes, largely composed work that requires a high sympathetic drive, and insufficient adrenal support/ recovery protocols caffeine is the equivalent to pouring gasoline on a fire. You’ll feel fantastic while the fire is raging, but eventually it burns out; and when it does you’re looking at an extended period of time dedicated to un-fucking your shriveled raisin esque adrenals. Also note that caffeine can have ergolytic or ergogenic effects relative to the type of workout (ie- High contraction, muscular endurance based, workouts and those with large respiration components). Note- For those interested in this topic you can check out Ben House, from Train Adapt Evolve, and Mike Kesthely, of Dynamic Nutrition, as they both have a wealth of empirical knowledge on this subject.
4. Pre-Workout Carbs for CNS based training: Most athletes have some form of post-workout fueling protocol in place at this point. But, I’ve found that the majority pay little attention to pre-workout nutrition. Specifically pre-workout carbohydrate intake (and carbohydrate intake in general). While I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone i’ve found that larger, heavily muscled athletes, do well with pre-workout carbs prior to CNS intensive sessions. Which makes intuitive sense when you consider the fact that carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for the central nervous system (this also allows protein to be spared as lack of carbohydrates leads to gluconeogenesis- ie the synthesis of glucose from amino acids).
*Also note- the majority of crossfit athletes have insufficient carbohydrate intake, in general, regardless of pre/post workout nutrition. If you’re a competitive crossfit athlete i’d start with 1.5g/lb as a bare minimum (titrate up if you’re significantly under this threshold whilst accounting for total caloric load) and as high as 2.5-3/lb depending on training load, body fat %, age, gender, etc (most will find a comfortable medium around 2g/lb assuming they are metabolically “healthy”).
5. Minimizing conflict- I’ve written about this topic extensively in the past, so rather than beating a dead horse i’ll keep this point simple. There are best practices when programing for concurrent strength and energy system development in terms of minimizing conflict (from a cellular signaling perspective). One way to minimize conflict is prioritize training. This can mean splitting training into AM/PM sessions base of characteristics, or prioritizing each day of the week to target a specific element (ie- the classic strength + metcon may not be the best approach is long term development is a goal). Note- As a general rule training should be more compartmentalized in the offseason, and characteristics should be blended, or mixed, to a higher degree as the season progresses.
-Interference between concurrent resistance and endurance exercise: molecular bases and the role of individual training variables.
–Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises.
Note- The above list is by no means all inclusive; and there are other variables, such as sleep, that are equally if not more important than the above. However, the point was not to list every variable that affects subsequent training sessions. Instead this article’s purpose was to shed light on commonly overlooked variables and get people thinking about the ramifications of their actions outside of training.
While we just discussed the downstream effects, on adaption, of differences in stimuli we’re now going to flip the scenario and discuss how different stimuli can yield the same functional adaptation, which has wide ranging implications. This is particularly important when trying to target multiple adaptations at once as it gives us more options in terms of training methods, which will help minimize conflict and overuse injuries.
One such method that i’ve been experimenting with recently, as means for improve muscular endurance without gathering large volumes of mechanical stress, is blood flow restriction training. Which is achieved by occluding blood to a given muscle group via the use of cuffs or bands. Through the use of this method strength capacity can be improved while using submaximal weights (20-50% 1RM) with far lower volumes than typical protocols designed to target this training characteristic. Meaning the volume of contractions that would typically be spent developing this characteristic can be spent elsewhere. This also gives us a chance to improve strength capacity in season when we want to keep mechanical stress low, to preserve movement patterns, and stay fresh for test scenarios. Since this protocol calls for the use of lighter weights it is also an effective means for maintaining strength, or strength capacity, while recovering from injury as heavier weights can further exacerbate the issue. Note- This concept extends to other training characteristics, and methods, as well. The point being that there is more than one way to achieve a given outcome, and the more methods you have at your disposal the better you’ll be able to individualize your prescriptions to a given client. For those interested in how i’m applying this protocol i’ve included a sample session below from my training…
Sunday: Jerk Intense+ Upper Push Abs/ Pull Strength Capacity + CP-Based Muscular Endurance (BFR) + Weight Carries
A. Split Jerk; 3-2-1-3-2-1; rest 2-3m (drop between 2’s & 3’s)
B1. Strict Press w/ full protraction; 2-4×5, rest 20s/90s
B2. Weight Pullup Cluster; 18.104.22.168.1 x5, rest 90s (increase weight across reps intra set)
3 Sets w/ blood flow restricted below shoulder joint
AMRAP UB Banded Lat Pulldown
AMRAP UB Double Arm Hammer Curl
Rest 30 Seconds b/w sets
(Remove band after third set, then rest 60 seconds)
Myo-Rep DB Bench Press (total load @30-35% CGBP Max)
1 Set w/ blood flow occluded below elbow):
Max Distance Seated Farmer Hold @24kg/arm
–Effects of resistance exercise combined with moderate vascular occlusion on muscular function in humans.
–Hemodynamic and hormonal responses to a short-term low-intensity resistance exercise with the reduction of muscle blood flow
–A Role for Nitric Oxide in Muscle Repair: Nitric Oxide–mediated Activation of Muscle Satellite Cells