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Running Research News And Events
November 17, 2010
How Do Female Runners Push Lactate Threshold Speed Closer To VO2MAX?
I HAVE A LONG-TERM INTEREST in lactate threshold, lactate-threshold training, and in the way in which lactate-threshold speed determines the quality of endurance performances; the book, Lactate Lift-Off, addressed these topics (1). So, I am very interested in research which has recently emerged from Spain, in which researchers from the Department of Research and Development at the Athletic Club of Bilbao compared the physiological characteristics of 17 highly trained male runners with those of 11 equally well-trained female harriers (2). All 28 of these runners were tested for maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max), running velocity corresponding with a blood-lactate concentration of 4 mmol/liter, lactate-threshold speed, the energetic cost of running, and the running velocity corresponding with maximal aerobic capacity (vVO2max).
As you might expect, the Spaniards found that the male runners had higher max aerobic capacities, higher running speeds at VO2max, and higher lactate threshold speeds. These comparisons are not ďfairĒ ones, however, since males typically enjoy higher blood-hemoglobin concentrations and lower percent body- fat readings, compared with females. These edges naturally give males higher aerobic capacities and loftier speeds at lactate threshold.
A much-more interesting comparison involves the degree to which male and female runners can push their lactate thresholds up toward VO2max; the greater the extent of this pushing, the better the running performance. For example, novice runners often hit lactate-threshold speed (defined as the velocity above which lactate begins to accumulate in the blood) at a modest intensity of just 60 percent of VO2max. In contrast, many well-trained runners do not reach lactate threshold until they rise to 85 to 87 percent of VO2max, and some Kenyan-runnersí threshold readings have soared to 92 percent of max aerobic capacity. These are important considerations from a performance stand point, because muscular fatigue seems to increase dramatically above lactate-threshold intensity, while remaining more manageable below the threshold.
Do experienced female runners compensate somewhat for their lower VO2maxs, less-hefty hemoglobinís, and slightly enhanced fatty tissue by narrowing the gap between lactate threshold and VO2max to a greater extent, compared with males? The Spanish research indicates that they do: The competitive female runners in the Bilbao study attained a higher percent VO2max at both lactate-threshold speed and at 4 mmol/liter blood-lactate concentrations, in comparison with the seasoned males.
What remains is to find out why this is so. Do the muscles of female runners respond to their slighter inflows of oxygen (compared with male oxygen floods) by becoming more efficient at utilizing oxygen to break down lactate, or perhaps by getting better at pulling lactate out of the blood so that it can be processed to provide the fuel for running? Or, were the Spanish women simply training in ways which fostered greater improvements in lactate threshold, compared with the male training techniques?
Once we can answer these questions, we should have a better understanding of how to narrow the gap between lactate threshold and VO2max Ė we should comprehend the techniques which are best for pushing lactate-threshold velocity as close as possible to vVO2max. In the meantime, it is comforting to know that any running workout conducted at 10-K pace or faster is a powerful stimulus for lactate-threshold improvement, since it upgrades the ability of muscle cells to break down lactate for energy Ė and also enhances their capacity to remove lactate from the blood. Become A Faster Runner
November 09, 2010
Off-Season Conditioning For Runners
Have you thought about your winter training yet? If not, keep in mind there isnít a magic plan. If you want to improve your running, you should follow an off-season conditioning program. Most important youíll want to stick with it, and itís not unheard of to bang out your best 10K time in the first spring road race, around April or May. This, of course, can be a motivating factor that spurred you on even more to train longer and harder.
I suspect that far too many recreational and semi-serious runners, marathoners, triathletes, and ultra runners regard the short, dark, rainy winter days as an excuse to take it easy. This makes their attempts to regain their previous hard-earned fitness so much more of an uphill struggle and wastes a lot of time. Conversely, if runners can improve their fitness during the winter months there is no reason why they should not have their best ever season the following year.
The winter months should be seen as a time when you put in as much conditioning work as you can comfortably handle, without getting sick, injured, causing a divorce, or having your kids fail to recognize you because youíre always out on the roads or at the gym.
With the winter months looming up, itís time to establish a concrete plan and set some goals for your winter conditioning program. Hereís some advice that will help you achieve these.
The Goals of Your conditioning Program
Improving your distance running is all about learning to delay fatigue while maintaining a higher wattage for a longer period of time while running. Your conditioning goals is thus to lay a foundation for the higher intensity training to follow. The better conditioned you are, the better you can handle the anaerobic training that follows, and recover from it faster. The key is simply running time on your feet.
Running for sustained time periods requires a high level of stamina. We call this cardiovascular or aerobic endurance. Many adaptations happen with aerobic training; increased capillary beds that deliver more oxygenated blood to your working muscles, increased proliferation of mitochondria to process your ATP, an increased oxygen uptake that enables you to distribute more oxygen, maximizing your use of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers for long cruising, and learning to burn your carbohydrate and fats more efficiently as fuel. The combined effect of these is to enable you to resist fatigue for longer.
Recent research shows that flexibility may not be the panacea it is claimed to be in terms of injury prevention, reducing post exercise muscle soreness, and improving sports performance. Many exercise scientists now believe that having a stronger, less flexible musculature enables you to develop more power in your movements, Vs over-flexible muscle groups that resist high force movements less efficiently, and are thus more prone to injury.
Nevertheless, Iím not giving you absolution to ignore basic stretching of the muscle groups you use when running. You should do a few stretches for your back, shoulders, hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles, hip flexors, buttocks, and arms, especially after finishing each workout. The goal of your stretching is to prevent a further reduction in the range of motion about your joints that may come from strength training and aerobic activity. You do need a reasonably lengthy range of motion while running.
Itís important to keep up several days of running each week, including at least one long run. Winter is also a great time to introduce some cross-training into your program. How and when you do this running and cross-training is your choice. Some runners cut back their outside running and hit the treadmills, bikes, elliptical trainers, stair machines, swimming pools, etc, at their nearest fitness club. Others bite the bullet, throw on the Gore-Tex, and slog through the rain and wind out on the roads every morning or night (wearing their reflecting vests, I hope!). At least in winter, you wonít have to deal with the overheating problems that you experience in summer.
There are five distinct phases that you should be following in your overall training program to improve your distance running. They are base building (aka conditioning), strength building, speed building, tapering for your races, and recovery. In your winter conditioning program youíll be focusing on base building and strength building.
RRNews takes a different approach from many coaches in the conditioning phase because we include strength training in the conditioning program. We also strongly recommend that runners do at least one faster run each week to keep their leg speed and neuromuscular coordination up, work on their anaerobic capacity, further increase their VO2 max, and the myriad other improvements that fast paced running endows you with.
How long should your conditioning phase last? For recreational and semi-serious runners Iíd recommend a solid three months. A good time to start this is in November, December, or January at the latest. And how many days should you be training? As many as you can squeeze in given your time, personal, and energy constraints.
Programming Rest and Recovery into Your Conditioning Program
Gradually increase your weekly mileage and the distance of your long run. Avoid racing during your conditioning phase. Every third or fourth week, youíll need an easier week where you do less volume than the previous three weeks, to allow your body to adjust to the high volume of training. Simply cut 20-30 minutes off every training run or cross-training effort.
A Typical Weekly Running and Conditioning Schedule for Runners
We no longer believe that running alone is enough adequate conditioning for the sport. Running is hard work. The essence of resistance training is to train your muscle groups to deliver more force, or power, with each stride, by overcoming the resistance more efficiently. The stronger your muscles, the larger the range (or reserve) will be between your cruising and maximal efforts when running, which translates into cruising at a lower percentage of your maximum effort for a longer time.
Physiological benefits of resistance training include increasing the size of your fast twitch muscle fibers and motor units, improved neuromuscular coordination and thus better muscle fiber recruitment, greater resistance to muscular fatigue, greater storage of intramuscular energy stores such as glycogen and Creatine Phosphate, a lower risk of injury, and a faster metabolism.
The following split workout strength training program allows for balance between muscle groups while focusing on the major muscle groups, the legs, buttocks, back, core, shoulders, and arms, used while running. Few sports activities place such repetitive stress on the leg musculature as running, so thatís primarily where we concentrate our strength training efforts.
What muscles should you be strengthening and stretching?
Designing Your Off-Season Conditioning Program
This program should be followed for 10-12 weeks. The strength training workout can be done 2-3 days each week, with at least one rest day between each session. If you are very fatigued and sore after this workout, split it into two workouts, and allow two days rest between each session.
Start with one set of 10-12 repetitions of each set for 2-3 weeks until you are comfortable with the exercises. Then from weeks 4-6, do two sets of each exercise. From weeks 7-12 do 3 sets of each exercise. If you are already an experienced weight trainer, start in at 2-3 sets of each exercise.
Start your resistance-training program gradually, especially if you have not done weights before. Beginners should enlist the aid of a personal trainer to ensure they do the exercises with good form.
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