Melting Pot

I have taken 3 very interesting articles I have read and tried to weld or melt some common threads together from all three. The first article I read was the Sports Illustrated's (SI) article by David Epstein. The main idea that I took away from this article is that, at least to this point in time, genetic factors are not the end all when it comes to sport performance. However, David mentions that genetics play a critical role in how individuals respond to training loads. The SI article goes on to point out that although genetics are important, and that there are some common traits among world record holders at 100 meters as well as elite Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners, these traits are not consistent across athletes. A big factor in sport performance continues to be training load and environment and how they apply to the INDIVIDUAL.

I then read Alan Couzens' thoughts on training load in his article. His observations in coaching indicate different types of athletes respond very differently to similar training loads. Alan has found that the athletes he trains respond quite differently to certain training loads when preparing for an Ironman distance triathlon.

Alan's observations and findings correlate quite well with David Epstein's thoughts on this topic. Alan's graph below depicts the amount of TSS/day in terms of Chronic Training Load (CTL) one can handle in order to obtain the desired performance results. Alan's is attempting to quantify and make some sense out of what David Epstein's article brings to light.

Various athletes depending on build and body type, sex, age and experience respond differently to the loads listed above. That explains Alan's wide range of training stress required to complete an Ironman event and/or qualify for Kona. It is possible for a middle of the pack age-grouper to be training as hard as a pro at the same distanced event. Obviously, these two athlete's are going to get entirely different results.

Alan goes on to state in his article that a coach must be intimately aware of how the athlete is responding to the training being prescribed and then make adjustments in his or her program accordingly. Otherwise, the athlete may not be getting the most bang for their training buck. This idea directly ties into David Epstein's article on genetics and training. David states that some athletes respond quite differently to training loads based on genetic factors.

I then came across this IDEA article (May 2010) written by Jason R. Karp Ph.D.. Dr. Karp states in his article:

"Establish your client’s one-repetition maximum (1 RM, the heaviest weight he or she can lift just once) for each muscle group. Have that client do as many repetitions at 80% of 1 RM as possible."
< 7 reps: muscle group = > 50% fast-twitch fibers
> 12 reps: muscle group = > 50% slow-twitch fibers
7–12 reps: muscle group = 50-50 fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers
In addition to the above method, discuss the following with your client:
1. Are you able to do lots of repetitions when lifting weights, or do you fatigue after a few?

If the former, you probably have more slow-twitch fibers. If the latter, you have more fast-twitch fibers.

2. Are you better at sprint and power activities or at endurance activities?

If the former, you have more fast-twitch fibers. If the latter, you have more slow-twitch fibers.

3. Which type of workouts feel easier and more natural: (a) long, aerobic workouts and light weights with lots of reps or (b) sprints and heavy weights with few reps?

If you answered (a), you have more slow-twitch fibers. If you answered (b), you have more fast-twitch fibers.

4. Which workouts do you look forward to more: (a) aerobic/endurance workouts or (b) anaerobic/strength workouts?

If you answered (a), you have more slow-twitch fibers. If you answered (b), you have more fast-twitch fibers. (From observation, people tend to get excited about tasks at which they excel, while they feel more anxious about tasks that are difficult.)"

Based on this article I realized that it may be possible to have a simple test to determine your muscle type. Then, after taking sex, age, and training experience into account set out to develop a program that takes into consideration one's genetic muscle type, sex, age, athletic goals.

For example, if your muscle type is fast twitch type A or B, you are young (Under 40), male, and have a decent amount of training experience, your planned chronic training load (CTL) measured in TSS/day would be on the low end of Alan's scale if training for an Ironman. Alan's scale could be adjusted for cyclists, runners, or triathletes. The main thing is that there is a loosely standardized method of identifying one's physical factors and how they may relate to the amount of training stress require to obtain a desired performance. So in my above example, I would know not to prescribe more than "X" amount of TSS/day to a middle of the pack Ironman triathlete who is larger in build, fast twitched, male, and under 40.

Now, are these ideas going to work every time? Most definitely not. However, at least a coach could consider these things and rather than push you harder and harder to the point of injury,,,realize that you might be one of those athletes that respond better to less training stress. As a coach, I feel it is always best to slowly ramp up the training stress and see what is working based on the athletes feedback. However, if I already have an idea about what an athlete can tolerate I am that much further ahead of the game. I can avoid pushing that athlete too hard and it also reminds me as a coach that everyone one is totally different when it comes to response to training. Again, more is not always better.

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