Pain and discomfort, throwing up after exercise and sore muscles the day or days after is not an indicator of progress… believe it or not!
Working overly hard is hardly working compared to working strategically hard… and that’s what I’m about to get into here.
My last blog post discussed High Intensity Interval Training and it’s many demons for both trainees and even the gyms who don’t overly sell this over-marketed form of exercise.
Today I’m introducing to you the findings of some exciting research that demonstrates receptively how a simpler form of training hard (yes, I’m saying you can still work hard) elicits better and safer results.
This updated method of performing high intensity training for strength and power comes from the latest evidence based practice (and much research) from StrongFirsts Pavel Tsatsouline and plenty of credit goes too to Dr Craig Marker who shares his research with the wider StrongFirst community of instructors.
So boys and girls, let me introduce you to Anti-glycolytic training (AGT)
First off, let’s check off a few truisms.
- Some exercisers like to feel pain when exercising hard.
- Most exercisers don’t like pain the day after training.
- Working hard feels great to some people in the gym.
- Most people are exercising in part to burn fat / lean out.
- Most exercisers just follow the herd.
- Most gyms and trainers do not care about health first (just count all the gym chains that focus and market HIT!)
- 80%+ of training benefits are gained through accumulation of and adapting to moderate volume and intensity throughout the year.
- For a day or two after an HIIT session, quality of life is compromised and gym time is cut or affected (stiffness, pain, low motivation).
- HIIT does have its place – in a peaking phase of training once or twice a year for a few weeks only.
- Mmmmm, #10 – Training hard but NOT to the ‘burn’ can help promote more favourable circumstances to oxidise fat over glycogen (blood sugars) as the main fuel during exercise.
Listing 10 is a total accident there in case you’re thinking I worked hard to come up with 10 key facts.
By definition, anti-glycolytic training refers to not using the glycolytic energy system during high effort training.
Digging a wee bit into exercise science for you, here’s the normal sequence of fuel sources the body uses once high effort exercise commences and continues.
Instant Energy: ATP/CP
Stored in our muscles and liver, adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate is a powerful, clean fuel that gives us the quick bursts of energy we need for a quick dash up the stairs, vigorously scrubbing the bath or a quick sprint. A set of 5-7 swings or a heavy press fits in this energy category.
Downside – it drains out very quickly requiring us to rest to replenish the ATP or, to start utilising the next energy source.
Fuel Booster Energy: Glycolysis
Glycolysis is a slightly less powerful source of fuel than ATP/CP itself but it will last up to 2 minutes further but, it’s a dirty fuel. The metabolic waste bi-product of using this fuel source is probably something you’ve experienced in the past in the lovely sensation of burning pain in your side. This is the feeling of a build up of hydrogen ions that the body is desperately trying to buffer out of the body – it’s removal as a waste product takes priority over any further energetic efforts. So, you’ve got to rest up to let the body do what it does – repair itself!
These highly acidic waste products cause a few issues that in the long term, we want to limit and prevent.
Issues of concern include:
- Inhibits the creation of more ATP.
- Causes damage to cells.
- Extends the recovery times between training sessions.
- ‘Muscling’ through further repeated efforts carries increased risk of muscle strain, poor form and breathing patterns will take a hit – doesn’t sound too healthy actually!
For efforts to continue longer than two or three minutes, we cannot depend on the ATP/CP system or glycolysis and must instead rely on the use of oxygen. This incredibly efficient energy system utilises the oxidation of fat to produce energy the ins and outs of which go far beyond the scope of this post. This is where you get your energy for basic functions, long walks, jogs, bike rides and in the sporting realms, ultra marathons and such.
No supplements are needed to optimise this fuel source, just a lowering of the average overall intensity and breathing in lovely oxygen.
For the most part, we want to spend time using the latter and avoiding the nasty bi-product producing glycolytic system whilst still training to get stronger.
“How’s that gona work”? You ask.
Knowing that the ATP/CP system lasts 10 – 15 seconds or so and that we want to prevent going into the glycolytic system of producing energy we now have a window in which to work. Work in this case means hard work, explosive and pushing the comfort zone to the upper limits.
Yeah, this sounds like any other HIIT session doesn’t it.
So let’s define HIIT in its standard form.
HIIT = maximum effort intensity for a predetermined time followed by minimum time to recover and repeat.
Tabatta for example is 7 – 8 rounds of 20 seconds max effort and 10 seconds recovery. It was designed to be carried out on an indoor cycle and not the terrible forms you can see being performed in some gyms and programs.
While not all intervals are in the form of the now famous Tabatta, they all follow the same principle of max effort, short rest, repeat and pass out on the floor. Yay – way to go.
What is observed in E.V.E.R.Y workout is that form and technique and power output diminishes per round. The final set does resemble the first set in the slightest.
Is this good training practice?
Will this really develop good movement practice?
Will this create a good stimulus for strength and power improvements?
This has been observed for quite some time but was accepted in the name of forcing the body to accept the new level of pain and perhaps an increase in V02 max. To be honest, while conducting such training on an ergometer, running, rowing and such, there is only so much scope for a degradation in form compared with the likes of kettlebell swings, snatches, barbell moves and other loaded tools.
So, getting back to AGT, the findings in the labs have been quite the game changer and not what you’d expect.
What has been seen is that by stretching out the recovery time between high efforts of 10 -15 seconds, the body started to adapt to demands for ATP/CP through the oxidative system.
Essentially, if you stop asking the body for fuel sourced by the glycolytic system it is more than happy not to go there. Why would it – it’s damaging. Not what the body does best.
We know that strength is a skill and we talk of practicing the skill of strength to, well, get stronger. It works, it makes sense. It therefore goes without saying that being able to repeat those high effort bouts is a sane approach to high effort training.
It is now about High Intensity ‘Repeat’ Training.
Kind of ironic how the label given to High Intensity Repeat Training has the acronym of HIRT! You’ll possibly never feel the kind of pains and hurt from this method compared to HIIT.
Having these numbers gives us a massive boost in programming some high effort training to keep everyone happy, to increase our fat adaption during exercise and avoiding burnout, injury and all those aches and pains for the days following the training session.
How the Program looks
Amazingly simple looking, the program goes like this:
- 10 seconds flat out with powerful, crisp and strong form
- 50 to 90 seconds rest
- Repeat for up to 10 rounds.
The rest period will depend on the individuals recovery rate.
An easy method we use is the talk test. Once the exerciser can speak a sentence without gulping for air, they are ready to go.
With time and as the session seems to feel easier, and more manageable, the 10 seconds of high effort can be stretched to 12, 15 seconds.
For simplicity in the gym, we’ve found that 10 secs ON and 50 secs OFF works just fine.
The movements that the exerciser can carry out well and safely at high efforts are the obvious choice.
- Kettlebell Swing
- Medicine Ball Slam
- Sprinting on the spot!
- Clean and Push Press
- Cycle sprints.
- Kettlebell Snatch.
This list is no particular order but I do prefer the kettlebell swing as a stronger swing equates to a stronger clean, press, squat potentially and a bigger deadlift as well as all-round feel good factors. Who wouldn’t mind swinging the heaviest kettlebell they can get their hands on.
Actually, on that note, when we last ran this program last year, one lady started swinging the 12kg and finished 8 weeks later swinging the 32kg! A gent also started on the 20kg and finished on the 48kg!
Impressive you’ll agree.
So that is the first component of this next program.
Are you game??