As competitive athletes, we train to win; as recreational athletes, we train to be better, and ultimately improve our lives along with physical and mental health.

There are many ways to train, most of them have valid reasoning, but some show greater overall benefit than others. ?Ultimately a holistic approach to fitness and training is the most effective in not only producing the best competitive level fitness, but also for a recreational athlete as well. ?This means not only focusing on direct performance indicators such as endurance or maximal power outputs, but also on lower intensities as well. ?This translates to higher performance in longer events, better resistance to overtraining, and the normalization of current training loads; allowing for higher training volume and intensity in the future.

For the purpose of this article, we will ignore the ideas of muscle strength and muscle mass, as with endurance training, muscle mass effectively optimizes itself based on the type, volume, and intensity of training. ?By leaving muscle mass out of the equation, we are free to focus on the key concepts to greater fitness; metabolism, energy utilization, and oxygen consumption.

Most coaches and trainers focus on two variables relating to performance: overall endurance and threshold intensity or power (be it lactate threshold, anaerobic, aerobic, or functional threshold power). ?While these two ?aspects are key indicators to performance, they overlook a significant factor in performance, handicapping athletes?? ability to train or perform in a race or event of any kind or length. ?The focus on these factors leaves out the idea of developing fitness and effective efficiency across all intensities which is paramount in not only long-term performance, but also in avoiding overtraining and burnout. ?The idea that training harder is better is by no means true; it can be true in the correct circumstances, but surely should not be a constant.

One key training adaptation is so-called ??normalization?? of effort; which translates to lower effort at relative intensities. ?This means that as you train, your body adapts to make your effort at any given intensity, less impactful on your body, from a fatigue and recovery potential perspective. ?While a lot of trainers (and athletes alike) only focus on the maximal performance side of training as it is easy to measure gains; efficiency and normalization remain extremely important across all intensities.

As an athlete, your goal should always be an improved fitness profile: specifically strength and efficiency across all intensities; not only at maximal effort. ?By focusing on a comprehensive approach, you not only become more resilient in regard to fatigue resistance and training load normalization, but you also give your body the potential to develop greater power in the future. ?The first and most obvious way, is that by becoming more efficient at lower intensity, your body adapts to deliver more oxygen, faster, to specific areas; those being active muscle groups.

The most effective, and only true way to assess an athlete??s fitness across all intensities is a step-test, that establishes test parameters from the lowest intensities, all the way up to intensities that quickly cause fatigue. ?By utilizing a test of this kind, we are able to establish efficiency, oxygen utilization, and metabolic response across the entire spectrum of effort that an athlete is capable of. ?The key metric that is usually tested in a step-test is blood lactate concentration, which is a good indicator of metabolic efficiency as it relates to oxygen utilization. ?By utilizing this type of test, it is possible to define an athlete??s training zone intensities across the board, based on their actual test values at each intensity. ?This not only allows us to establish more accurate and effective training zones that will translate to greater gains, and greater avoidance of overtraining; but it also allows for more accurate measurement of performance improvements over time.

This specific concept is where training theories diverge significantly. ?The most prolific concept being utilized by trainers and/or coaches at this point is that of ??Functional Threshold Power?? or FTP. ?FTP does allow an individual to establish their maximal sustained intensity, which is simply a (relatively accurate) predictor of ??Maximal Lactate Steady State?? or MLSS. ?The largest problem with using this method, which I touched on above, is that it ignores all other training intensities, and assumes that all athletes have the same fitness profile at intensities below FTP or MLSS. ?The other problem with this concept is that it then becomes the sole goal of the individual and coach to improve upon this singular value, while not assigning any meaningful value to lower intensities which are just as important and likely play a larger role long-term than MLSS. ?In doing so, it is very easy for an athlete to become overtrained, as they are not giving nearly enough credence to efficiency across the board. ?This leads to training at higher intensities more often, which not only leads to more fatigue, but can also be very difficult mentally as this is the only aspect of the athlete??s training to which they see improvement; where in reality, gains can be made everywhere that will be beneficial; not only at the top end.

For these reasons; proper and accurate training zone intensities, training focus and performance enhancement, as well as measurability, it becomes very clear why utilizing blood lactate concentration as a performance indicator in testing is not only better in terms of increasing performance, but also in the long-term viability and success of a training program. ?The ability to define all training intensities for each individual based on hard data, rather than using a statistical model to generate training zones as a percentage of MLSS provides the greatest chance for success of the athlete.

 

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