A Concept Model for Mixed Modal Athlete Development

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 7.11.34 PMBy Evan Peikon
If you’ve read any of my previous article you know that I rarely, if ever, speak in absolutes. However, i’m a strong believer that we, as coaches, must have a philosophy or mental framework which guide or decisions, as well as the way we process and integrate new information. In the wise words of John Kiely, “Your background philosophy steers all training designs and decisions: it should be a fusion of all your experiences and learning. If you want it to be robust you need to invest time and energy: you need to evolve it”. However, it’s also important to note that our philosophies, and the principals we ascribe to,
need to be based on biological facts. Otherwise they are just fantasies, and have no grounding in reality. Below i’m going to layout my current philosophy, or mental framework, for the development of mixed modal athletes…..

Note- for those unfamiliar with Kiely’s work I strongly recommend giving the following paper titled, “Periodization paradigms in the 21st century: evidence-led or tradition driven?” a read.

A Concept Model of Mixed Modal Athlete Development:

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 1.42.15 PMThe photograph, attached above, is a simplified pictorial representation of a concept model I created for the long term development of mixed modal athletes. Essentially it’s a system which allows me to target multiple adaptations through different systems interconnections, and tangential relationships. Which allows me to explore alternative ways of layering, and phasing, specific protocols for each adaptation. With the various demand of the sports I believe this type of model is the way to go for long term development as trying to train all characteristics independent of one another will inevitably lead to hormonal dysfunction and injury- both of which are rampant, and ever increasing, among the “elites” in the sport of fitness.     

In order to fully understand this model, and it’s implications, you must first understand how each individual system works, as well as how systems are related. Once you have this base of information you can then layout general, and specific, training methods for each boxed characteristics. Which, if properly applied, will allow you to consolidate stressors and develop a proper program relative to the athlete, their goals, and their training priorities. Rather than explaining every boxed characteristic, and connecting junction, i’m going to layout some general thoughts to give you an idea of how you can apply parts of this model to your own personal philosophy…

*Note- this model, in its pictorial representation, is predicated on tacit knowledge as well as the way I organize the information between my ears. As such it may not make sense to you in the form depicted above. That being said, i’ve done my best to explain it below. If you have any specific questions feel free to shoot me an email with the subject line “a concept model for mixed modal athlete development”. 

To start with a simple example let’s examine absolute strength and it’s relationship to the various forms of strength capacity (extensive, intensive, and absolute strength endurance). As i’ve mentioned in previous articles increasing absolute strength has a diminishing return as it relates to improving muscular endurance, which is a consequence of it’s indirect relationship with said qualities. In actuality improving one’s absolute strength is merely a prerequisite, or foundational element, for building say extensive muscular endurance. Whereas a more specific form of strength development, targeting extensive muscular endurance, would be oxidative fiber hypertrophy (which can be achieved through static-dynamic protocols). When examining the diagram you’ll also notice that muscular aerobic adaptations play a direct role in improving extensive strength capacity as well; and that one’s ability to develop muscular aerobic adaptations are limited by the degree to which they’ve incurred cardiac aerobic adaptations (which have overlap, but are not in fact one in the same as i’ll discuss shortly). Which brings me to my next point- as coaches we need to identify weaknesses on a less myopic level. We can no longer, simply, say that an athlete needs to prioritize aerobic capacity, muscular endurance, or improve their lactate threshold. Instead we need to take out our magnifying glasses and found out WHY they need to improve said characteristics, and WHAT that actually means in their scenario (ie- do they need muscular or cardiac aerobic development, extensive vs intensive vs absolute strength capacity etc) . In this vein I also think many coaches go wrong by ascribing a group of boxed characteristics under the same umbrella term, and assuming they will all improve in tandem with a given training protocol. A real world example of this is the prescription of MAP (maximal aerobic power) training when trying to target cardiac aerobic adaptations, or “build an aerobic base”. This is an instance of not fully understanding biological mechanisms, what adaptation said protocol elicits on a physiological level,  or questioning what exactly you’re trying to achieve with a given training protocol. Another boxed characteristic I see incorrectly prescribed all too often is alactic-aerobic work, which if done correctly has the potential to yield concurrent developments in alactic-power, strength-speed capacity, and cardiac aerobic adaptations- i’ll touch on this point further in an upcoming article, but suffice it to say that EMOM olympic lifts, and the likes, are missing the boat big time.

So… where does this leave us?
1. As coaches we need to create, evolving, mental frameworks based on what we’ve learned and experience working with athletes. 
2. The training principals we ascribe to, and the methods we use, must be based in biological facts.
3. Training methods, based on physiological mechanisms, remain as theory until proven otherwise on an, individual, case by case basis.  
4. Evan’s diagrams are rad
4. No one training model, mental framework, or philosophy is correct. The point i’m trying to make is that having a philosophy, which you abide by, gives you a framework to organize your thoughts. Then as you assimilate new knowledge, and re-learn what you already know more deeply, you can keep what works, discard what doesn’t, and rebuild your current paradigm over and over. Ideally this process should continue indefinitely and over time you’ll extrapolate ideas and build new frameworks. On this note 10-20% of the above model will likely me replaced, or reworked, within the next year. Only time will tell.

Experimental Procedures:
As previously stated the training principals we ascribe to, and the protocols we develop, must be based in biological facts. I’d take this one step further and say the methods we select, and the way we express them, must be based on the individual. However, this isn’t as simple as it looks on paper. Even the protocols we know work don’t work as they “should” for 100% of athletes 100% of the time (biology often works on a bell curve). The key word here being “should” as biological systems are far too complex to be fully reduced with theory. Despite what the science, or empirical data, says a given protocol will stimulate varying systems among individuals. Because of this the experimental protocols we create need to be based on known physiological mechanisms, but continue to remain as theory until proven otherwise on a case by case basis. Below i’ve included a procedures i’m currently tinkering with, which builds off the concept model outlined above….

Protocol #1 (multiple variations):
3 Sets:
8-10 Back Squat @3030 tempo w/ partial vascular occlusion (30-45% 1RM)
:30 Rest b/w sets
(Rest 3-5 Minute actively without occlusion, then reapply before the next series)
x2-4 series

6 Rounds:
10 Double KB Front Squat @3030 tempo (15% FS max/ arm)
30 second Assault Bike @70-80%
(Rest 3-5m)
6 Rounds:
10 Pushup @4040 tempo
30 second Row @70-80%

The goal of this protocol is oxidative fiber hypertrophy, muscular aerobic adaptations, and consequently extensive muscular endurance development. We know that rate of force development dictates the fiber recruitment, and that oxygen carrying blood cannot enter the muscle while it’s contracted. As such this creates a scenario is which we desaturate the muscle, consequently leading to hypoxia of the slow twitch fibers (ie- the slow concentric/eccentric coupling will recruit ST fibers whilst the limited ROM will maintain tension on the muscle). Which will hypertrophy the oxidative fibers and increase the number of mitochondria present (in theory one can hypertrophy their ST fibers to the extent that that they can elicit higher outputs, aerobically, than others are able to anaerobically).

Protocol #2:
15:00 Assault Bike w/ partial vascular occlusion @~75% HR @lactate threshold
*3-5 second sprint at the top of every 3rd minute

The goal of this protocol is to concurrently elicit muscular and cardiac aerobic adaptations. As I mentioned previously, with the example of maximal aerobic power training, these adaptations occur at different intensities (though there is some overlap). However, once we know the rules we can them begin to break them (sort of). As a general statement the intensity at which we optimally achieve muscular aerobic adaptations (and create hypoxia in the muscles) it too high to make cardiac aerobic development. On the converse the intensity at which we are optimally targeting cardiac aerobic developments it too low to create hypoxia in the muscle and achieve significant developments in muscular aerobic adaptations. By applying partial vascular occlusion to the upper thigh we’re able to induce local hypoxia in the leg musculature while staying well below the lactate threshold and operating in a range that is also conducive to aerobic adaptations of the heart. In this vein of though I believe we’ll be seeing more of these types of protocols as tech like the moxy monitors become more mainstream.

and now a closing statement from the man himself…
The fundamental error in the development of training processes in Russia, the USA, and other countries of the world is in using an empirical approach combined with a low level of understanding of the adaptation processes in the organism of athletes. A successful approach to training requires a comprehensive and systemic approach to the analysis of immediate and long-term adaptation processes, with the utilization of mathematical modelling.’’-V. Seluyanov

Stimulus & Adaptation (part 2): work SMARTER, not HARDER

sportsscience-image-for-ireland-article-660x330By Evan Peikon
If you haven’t yet read part one of this series, which you can find HERE, I recommend you do so prior to continuing. In this article i’m going to expand on a few of the concepts  discussed in the first part of the series, as well as introduce a few new concepts.

Minimum & Maximum Intensity Threshold:
To start, there is a minimum threshold in terms of intensity that must be crossed in order to disrupt homeostatic equilibrium and improve a given training characteristic. In the same vein of thought there is often a maximum threshold, for intensity, beyond which a given characteristic is no longer being trained optimally.

Often times increased effort beyond the minimum threshold does not yield additional gains in performance; and if it does the margin is simply not large enough to justify the additional fatigue and mechanical stress. In other cases effort beyond the maximum, intensity, threshold yields a different functional adaptation all together.

Example 1: Slow Twitch Fiber Hypertrophy:
In order to elicit significant hypertrophy of one’s slow-twitch, oxidative, fibers one must present a highly specific stimulus. If the intensity is too low, or high, the effects will range from insignificant homeostatic disruption to fast-twitch fiber recruitment. Neither of which accomplish the specified goal. In order to elicit ST fiber hypertrophy one should apply ~30-50% intensity in a static-dynamic fashion such that there is constant tension on the targeted muscles. Which prevents blood flow, consequently leading to hypoxia and an increase in GH. Also note that tempo, and range of motion, must be manipulated to achieve the desired result as well as an increase in rate of force production will recruit the fast twitch fibers and full ROM will take tension off the targeted muscles.

Similarly there is a minimum threshold required to produce significant FT, glycolytic, fiber hypertrophy. Barring changes in TUT, metabolic stress, etc one should select a load of 60% or higher in order to cause significant hypertrophy in the FT fibers (with total volume, above said threshold, being the largest contributing factor). However, exceptionally large increases beyond this threshold (80-85% <), whilst controlling for volume, yield similar hypertrophic gains, but at the cost of an exponential increase in fatigue/ mechanical stress.

Example 2: Left Ventricular Cardiac Hypertrophy

ultrasound+athlete+heartRelative to the training philosophy you prescribe to the nomenclature used to describe sub-threshold aerobic efforts differ. However, similar principles can be found across the board. The first principle is that work below a given threshold, often referred to as Z1, EN0/EN1, MAP10, or simply recuperation work stimulate the aerobic system without causing significant physiological adaptations often associated with endurance work (angiogenesis, increased stroke volume, hypertrophy of the heart, improved lactate threshold etc). Conversely, energy system work above a given threshold will decrease muscle’s abilities to function, damage mitochondria, and place intense stress on the cardiac system. In order to improve one’s lactate threshold specific work aimed at stimulating left ventricular cardiac hypertrophy, also known as eccentric cardiac hypertrophy, should be applied. According to Dr. Viktor Seluyanov one should perform, aerobic, work within the range of 120-150 BPM to elicit this adaptation with total volume of work, not intensity, being the variable that one should manipulate for further development of this characteristic (note that HR ranges will vary based on the individual). If one were to perform work under said ranges they would not hypertrophy the left ventricle to a significant degree; and if the work was performed too high above said ranges the the functional adaptation would be concentric cardiac hypertrophy. Which causes a thickening of the heart, increase in pressure, and a net decrease in stroke volume.

*For those interested in the example above I recommend checking out Dr. Viktor Seluyanov’s lecture titled, “Biologically determined concepts for athlete preparation”. Which I was introduced to, at a seminar, through a lecture given by Aaron Davis of Train Adapt Evolve (You can find his summary of Seluyanov’s concepts HERE).

1. Cardiac Remodeling: concentric versus eccentric hypertrophy in strength and endurance athletes
2. Eccentric and concentric cardiac hypertrophy induced by exercise training: microRNAs and molecular determinants
3. Is there a minimum intensity threshold for resistance training induced hypertrophic adaptations?
4. Maximizing Strength Training in athletes: A meta analysis to determine the dose-response relationship

Minimum Effective Dose & Maximum Recoverable Volume:
Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 4.37.16 PM
The same principles, described above, also apply to the net training, and stress, load. As with increased intensity, an increase in volume does to always yield an additional, positive, adaptation. Which is contrary the the “more is better” mentality that pervades the fitness industry in it’s current form. While I covered the concept of “maximum recoverable volume” in part one of this series, I want to expand on it a bit by adding the concept of “minimum effective dose”, defined as the least amount of stress needed to disrupt homeostasis/ create a functional adaptation, into the mix.
In this model our goal is to set the cumulative stress load above the M.E.D and below the M.R.V. with each individual falling somewhere on the spectrum (Ie- some athletes will train closer to their MRV, while others will train at MED). The point being that we want to empirically find ones MRV, MED, and curtail volume, intensity, and frequency accordingly (ie- not too much, not too little, but just right. AKA- The Goldilocks Zone)

Subjective, Perception, of Effort:
I’ve covered this topic extensively, HERE, so rather than rehashing information i’m going to keep this section fairly brief… As i’ve previously mentioned our perceptions of effort, and the degree to which we are psychologically stimulated, influence the way we adapt to training as well as the degree to which said training sessions tax our bodies. While this is a fairly complex topic the implications, and the subsequent application of principles, is simple. Rather than getting as amped up as possible before every session, or lift, we should let the intensity, and importance, of work dictate the degree to which we we allow ourselves to be aroused. After all, do you really need to snort Jacked-3D before a moderate effort, technique, based session? While this may seem like common sense I see athletes approach their training with the wrong mental framework all too often; and after all those who are easy to heat are also the easiest to cool. Whereas those who maintain composure, and never get too high or low, tend to make the best progress long term.

Programmed Detraining:
Tangentially related to the above points, pertaining to working smarter, is the concept of programmed detraining. As it currently stands the longevity of elite athletes, in the sport of fitness, are short and ever decreasing as the demands of training escalate at an exponential pace. I’d argue that intentional detraining blocks would not only increase longevity, but also improve performance in the long term.
Empirical evidence shows that the magnitude of effect that we receive, from training, over the course of our athletic career diminishes with time (Aka- beginner/ novice gains). One such reason for this is that we become sensitized to intracellular signals whose mechanisms are triggered by resistance exercise. Another reason is the “repeated bouts effect”, which states that “Unfamiliar, predominantly eccentric exercise, frequently results in muscle damage. A repeated bout of similar eccentric exercise results in less damage”. One way to restore sensitivity to the aforementioned signals, and decrease the repeated bouts effect, is to take a planned chunk of time off training. However, this is not where I see the greatest potential use for detraining blocks. Instead I believe they should be used for extensive periods post competition as a means to decrease microtrauma to muscles, restore hormonal balance, improve fascial quality, and re-heal an athlete’s GI system. While a month off isn’t necessary for all, or most, athletes I do think it has application for higher level crossfit competitors. Baring training induced stress the average crossfit regionals competitor would have performed 2339 reps between the open and regional events. When accounting for the run throughs of said events, and daily training, it is likely that a given athlete accumulates 20,000+ contractions in the intensification and competition phase of their training alone. If we look at the big picture and analyze their entire training year this number increases multiplicatively. Which means the body is in a constant, catabolic, state of playing catch up with no time to truly repair itself. If this cycle, of constant stress, continues for too long the body’s hormonal system also begins to take a hit, adrenal dysfunction occurs, and the potential for catastrophic injury increases. So, in this regard 2-4+ weeks off at the start of the offseason can save an athlete months lost to injury or sickness in season (Also note that research shows adaptations incurred through, past, progressive overload are kept for extended periods of detraining).

1.Exercise Induced Muscle Damage and Potential Mechanisms for the Repeated Bouts Effect
2. Myonuclei acquired by overload exercise precede hypertrophy and aren’t lost on detraining
3. mTOR signaling response to resistance exercise is altered by chronic resistance training and detraining in skeletal muscle 

Stimulus & Adaptation

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 8.01.42 AMBy 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.

Changing Gears:
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; 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)
(Rest fully)
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

Cognitive Fatigue Training

By Evan Peikon

This is an article i’ve been wanting to release for months, but have kept on the back burner for various reasons. At one point I considered scrapping it entirely as I didn’t feel I explained my thoughts eloquently enough (I still don’t), which is partially due to the limitations of written, short form, content. The second reason for my hesitation to put this out is that my, theoretical, concept model was incomplete up until recently- though it is still evolving, as are the prescriptions I will give to my athletes to train this characteristic (as with physical training, no two athletes mental frameworks are the same). 

The information provided below is not directly related to the methods/ prescriptions outlined later in this article, but a general understanding of the topics is needed to understand the mechanisms at play, why the prescriptions are structured as they are, and the neurological phenomena from which I built this model (ie- The “whys” behind the “whats”).

Theories of Emotion:
First and foremost we must cover the dominant theories of emotion and their implications on this model.

Lange Theory of Emotion- According to the Lange theory of emotion changes in our autonomic nervous system precede and produce emotions. That it to say that we experience emotions as a result of autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity.

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion- On the other hand the cannon-bard theory states that ANS changes are independent of emotion, and that thalamic activity of the cortex creates emotion.

However, there are a few issues with both of these opposing theories. The first being that emotion can be observed in the absence of physiological responses; and the second being that artificial ANS stimulation can produce emotions (ie- the faults of Lange and CB respectively). Which leads us to….

The Neural Network Model of Emotion- This theory states that emotions result from cingulate cortex activity and can be evoked by either sensory stimuli (thoughts) or physiological streams (feelings); and that these streams overlap/ affect one another.

In short what this all means is that our emotions can alter our physiology/thoughts and our physiology/thoughts can alter our emotions (ie- a two stream circuit). The implications of this statement are huge to say the least and upon further thought you can easily see how negative emotions like doubt or pain (yes, pain is an emotion) can be caused by physiological processes as a result of exercises, and further perpetuate the cycle if left unchecked. On the other hand learning to cope with said emotions, and strengthen our cognitive endurance, can prevent mental breakdown in high stress scenarios. Which leads us to the next section….

Cognitive Endurance: Training our Emotions
At rest our minds are in a state of cognitive ease. Meaning that there are no threats, or need to redirect attention. Conversely, cognitive fatigue is a state in which a problem exists. Cognitive fatigue results from high, mental or physical, efforts and the presence of unmet demands. In the presence of cognitive fatigue we must fight to maintain effort, and any slips will lead to a decrease of output. As with other elements, we must train to our cognitive endurance directly to improve it to a high degree. Which, is the purpose of this article. Before we get into the details of how we increase cognitive endurance i’m going to lay out the following scenario….

To start, lets say you progress an athlete such that they should theoretically have the potential to get 300 cals on the AD in 10 minutes (based on training results/ progressions). But, when you test it they don’t quite reach their physical potential due to whatever is, or isn’t, going on in their mind. My hypothesis is that the breaks between intervals not only allow for some physical recovery, but also allow for a high degree of cognitive/mental recovery (ie- we use the breaks to regain footing/ mentally prepare for the upcoming work, or unmet demands). While this type of training yields the correct physiological adaptation it does nothing for the athletes “mental capacity” so to speak. So, as a solution you can give an athlete cognitively demanding tasks (of a very specific sort) between intervals which will inhibit their ability to mentally recovery between intervals (note that they’re physical output will not be as high because of this). Then when the time comes to retest they will have the mental and physical capacity to excel. Obviously this is a gross oversimplification of the interplay between mental/ physical capacity, as well as the physiological processes that dictate training adaptation,  but for the sake of explanation it suffices.

Cognitive Endurance Training:
So now that i’ve defined cognitive fatigue, and explained the goal of cognitive fatigue training, it’s time to discuss the methods/ prescriptions. But first, more definitions…

According to psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West our brains operate via two distinct systems. Daniel Kahneman, author of thinking fast and slow, explains the functions of these two systems concisely when he states…

“System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of system 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration. “

At this point you may be wondering why this is relevant. The reason is that conflict between these two systems creates cognitive strain. So, by inducing cognitive strain voluntarily, and at the right moment, we can utilize it and strengthen our abilities to keep it at bay. Consequently, improving our cognitive endurance and decreasing the aforementioned cognitive fatigue that hinders performance.

So, how do we induce cognitive voluntarily? The answer is that we must create conflict between our automatic (fast), heuristic, cognitive processes and our logical (slow) cognitive processes. To give you an example, lets take the following statement…

In a lake there is a patch of lily pads. Every day the patch doubles in size. It takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake. How long does it take the patch to cover half the lake? 24 or 47 days. (Answer as fast as possible).

When answering this questions our immediate thought is that it takes 24 days. This solutions comes to us automatically, and makes intuitive sense. However, it is also wrong. In this scenario system 1 kicks into gear and gives us a quick answer. In order to solve the riddle correctly we must shift to using system 2. But, the process of doing so creates conflict between the two systems. Thus causing cognitive strain/fatigue.

 Note- In this concept model we are using the conflict between systems as a training tool, meant to increase our resistance to cognitive strain, which will allow us to gain control over the neural network model (ie- preventing a negative feedback loop of physiological processes causing self doubt/ negative emotions and vice versa).

Training Prescriptions & Methods:
As preciously mentioned the process of cognitive fatigue training involves the induction of conflict between systems 1& 2 in the midst of physical training. As previously mentioned it is important to note that most athletes will not be able to perform to their physical potential while trying to improve their cognitive endurance concurrently. Because of this it is important that the physical work performed is sub-maximal, and dose appropriately such that it is challenging, but doable.

During these workouts we induce conflict with “games” or app such as the stroop test, in between intervals, which hinders our ability to mentally recover.
Note- You can get an app called “EncephalApp – Stroop Test”, among others, that will make this process more efficient. 

An example workout may look something like…..
___ Sets:
300m Row @2k PR pace
:60 Stroop Test during rest (on rower)
*Note- There are dozens of workout variations that can be performed, but this gets the point across well. 

As previously mentioned most athletes will not be able to perform to their physical potential while trying to improve their cognitive endurance concurrently. Because of this it is important to time the use of these training sessions. The most effective, and important, time to use these methods is during a peaking/ pre-competition phase. At this point the physical training is done, and we can use these workouts to sharpen the mind/ give our bodies a break (ie- shifting the training stress from physical–>mental). However, we want to use these workouts sparingly as to now hurt an athletes confidence as they are psychologically stressful. Because of this it is important that athletes gain exposure to this type of work earlier on. My recommendation is as follows…

Off season- 0 to 1 session per month.
Intensification- 1 to 2 sessions per month (for exposure)
Pre-Comp Phase- weekly or every other week.
Competition Phase- No exposure (at this point all cognitive fatigue workouts should be replaces with “confidence workouts”).

Closing Thoughts & Further exploration:
Though this was a long(er) article I feel I barely scratched the surface of what I have to say about this topic. A LOT of information/ context was left out of this article for logistical reasons, and needless to say a static article can seldom do such dynamic topics justice.  That being said, i’ll be writing a few, shorter, follow up pieces discussing the strong points and shortcomings of this model, as well as areas for further research. Such as how pain, as an emotion, ties into this model and how athletes can shift their perspectives/ alter their mental frameworks, via mindfulness practices, to improve performance (which is a massive topic in an of itself). It is also important to note that this a theoretical model. The mechanisms behind it’s results may in fact be different, but this is the framework I created
to house it/ the way I conceptualized it.

The Hierarchy of Training (Pt.3): Athlete Assessment

By Evan Peikon
This Article is the third installment in the Hierarchy of Training Series. Before continuing I recommend you check out the first two installments, which you can find HERE & HERE, to get some background info on the previously discussed concepts.

In this article i’m going to discuss the general concepts surrounding athlete assessment/ testing, and how to subsequently structure an athletes program relative to said testing phase, time of year, individual makeup etc.

Best Practices:
First and foremost, the most important element of testing is to make sure that the battery of tests you present an athlete with are valid. Meaning that the tests actually isolate the characteristic you are trying to get data on. For example, lets take open WOD 13.1 (10 Min AMRAP: PS & DU’s)… One can argue that this is a test of aerobic power, and one may also be right in saying so. However, it can also be a test of muscular endurance, postural stamina, skill under fatigue and so on. In this instance it is pretty easy to see how this is not a valid test of aerobic power, or overall aerobic capacity.

But, its not always that cut and dry. I’ve programmed for athletes who have gotten fantastic scores on simple, cyclical, tests of aerobic power such as a 10 minute airdyne for max cals despite the fact that they had poor aerobic development and the successes were solely predicated on a high pain threshold and willingness to suffer greatly.
Which is why we not only need a battery of valid tests, but also a large scope of tests that span different extremes to paint a full picture. After establishing validity you must also assure the tests are reliable and applicable. ie) Do top scores on said test correlate with performance in this sport/ is the score spread large enough to extrapolate data.

Types of Tests:
When assessing my athletes I categorize tests in three different ways:

1) ID Tests-   These are used to figure out an athletes individual makeup, relative strengths/ weaknesses, and how they are hard wired. After putting an athlete through ID testing I will know where they fall on the spectrum of powerful to enduring, if they are stronger than fast (or vice versa), how developed their cp-recovery/ aerobic/ anaerobic systems are, and if they need to prioritize absolute strength over muscular endurance (or vice versa).

2) Absolute Tests- Absolute tests are used to determine where an athlete sits relative to their competition for a given characteristic. For example- Whereas an ID test will tell me if an athlete is more enduring than they are powerful an absolute test will tell me how enduring/ powerful they are relative to other athletes. This concept can then be further extrapolated to individual tests and training characteristics.
Note- if the absolute tests you’ve designed are valid/ applicable to the sport an athletes results on a given test should tell you how they stack relative to other athletes in the sport for that given characteristic (assuming you have enough data from athletes at different levels).

The most difficult part of designing an absolute test is that it must target the same characteristic in all athletes to be valid. For this reason simplicity is king. For example, a 60 Minute Row for max distance is a far superior test of aerobic endurance as compared to 60 minute amrap due to the low muscular endurance/ skill component (ie- minimizing variables as you would in a scientific study). However, there is a time and place for blended tests (as it is the corner stone of the sport). In these instances I recommend combining testing characteristics in as many ways as possible to paint a full picture. Examples include…. Muscular endurance w/ or w/o a respiration component, aerobic power w/ or w/o a muscular endurance component, postural strength under fatigue, etc..

3) Relative Tests- The simplest way to explain relative tests is that the testing characteristic is relative to the athlete taking the test. For example, lets take the following workout….

5 Rounds For Time:
10 Kipping Deficit HSPU @6”

10 Deadlifts @275
50 Double Unders

Depending on the athlete this can be a muscular endurance, aerobic power, or cp recovery based test (ie- it’s relative to the individual). The purpose of these “relative tests” are to determine if an athlete improved upon a given training characteristic. For example- If I determine an athlete need to improve their CP-recovery system in a mixed modal setting I will design a test that I know elicits that response (for them). Then we can objectively determine if they improved upon that training characteristic down the line  (ie- if they improve their score on the test we will know it is not due to another factor).

Note: The actual process I use for testing a quite a bit more dynamic, but in order to make it comprehensible in written form it’s necessary present it as a static “A+B = C” closed system. While it may seem like the process is based around input/ outputs, in actuality it is based around the “whys”. Ie) Knowing that an athlete needs to improve muscular endurance isn’t what’s important. The key is knowing WHY their muscular endurance is lacking (Do they need to improve localized mitochondrial density, global oxygen consumption, and subsequently their aerobic system…etc).

Hierarchical Testing:
After putting an athlete though the aforementioned types of tests you must figure out how to prioritize the elements they need to improve. An easy, albeit oversimplified, way to conceptualize this is to use the hierarchy depicted in part one of the series. In this instance you can determine where an athlete sits on the hierarchy and subsequently prioritize their training in terms of where they lie relative to it. Another way to utilize the hierarchy is to reformat your “absolute testing phase” in a hierarchical manner (as seen in the concept map below).

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 3.30.12 PM Hormonal Assessment:
Performance is built on a foundation of mental and hormonal health (though health and performance can be diametrically opposed at times). Which is why it is critical that these systems are optimized to the best of our abilities. As it currently stands the most efficient  way to asses an athletes hormonal state is through the use of an ASI (adrenal stress index) which will give data on an athletes DHEA, cortisol, testosterone, estriol, estradiol, progesterone, and melatonin levels. As with physical assessment figuring out WHY things are the way they are here will be critical to restoring an optimal state.

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 7.15.24 PM
When laying out the framework for a program we need to take the following into account….
1) Strengths/ Limitations  —> to determine priorities.
2) Individual Makeup  —> to determine what methods will be effective.
3) Time of Year  —> to determine what types of methods are appropriate
4) Mental/Hormonal Status  —> foundational elements (interplay w/ volume & intensity)

*Again, this is oversimplifying a dynamic, fluid, concept model.

Case Study:
The following mini case study is with an athlete i’ve worked with for ~9 months. Since I already have extensive data on this athlete the scope of testing sampled below is limited to absolute/ relative tests performed over the course of the past month as part of an offseason assessment.

Tests Used:
Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 7.28.43 PM Based on the results of this testing phase, as well as previous assessments, i’ve determined that this athletes training priorities going forward are….
1) Aerobic base development
2) Gymnastic Pullup Strength/ Overhead Pressing strength
3) Gymnastic Based muscular endurance
4) CP Battery/ Recovery @moderate loads 

Based on the aforementioned training priorities, time of year (offseason), and athlete ID I wrote the following training split (M/Tu/W/Fr/Sa), which will be used for the next eight weeks before reassessing progress and adjusting the split moving forward. 

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 8.08.03 PM


Powerful Vs. Enduring

physed-480 By Evan Peikon  
This is a two part article on training powerful athletes versus enduring athletes. The first portion will focus exclusively on how to identify an athlete as powerful or enduring, while the second will focus on the programming application side of things (among other topics). So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and have identified the purpose of this piece we can get going…..

In most instances coaches characterize athletes as powerful or enduring based on a number of factors. However, these characterizations are often subjective and are based on relativities and comparisons rather than concrete data. But there is a better, objective, way to make these assessments. Which, is through the use of speed preservation tests.
*Note that we use specific cyclical and mixed tests/ assessments on our athletes. But, those tests and their implications are beyond the scope of this article. So, this serves as a good objective measure for those looking to asses themselves/ their clients without that knowledge base. 

The way that the test works is by taking an athletes 1k, 2k, 3k, and 5k Row PR’s and finding the following ratios between them….
1. 2,000m : 5,000m
2. 1,000m : 2,000m
3. 2,000m : 3,000m
4. 3,000m : 5,000m

With on this data we can plot a line on a graph and quantitatively measure our athlete against seven theoretical avatars (which will be explained later in the article…).
*Note that this test is best done with rowing as MOST crossfit athletes are proficient enough that technique does not skew the data (versus running where VERY FEW athletes have the required technical proficiency. Seriously…. Crossfit athletes on a whole have dog shit running mechanics).

Testing Phase:
As previously stated, we will need an athletes 1k, 2k, 3k, and 5k Row PR’s to run the numbers on this test. Most crossfit athletes have 1k and 2k PR’s on hand already, so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue to throw the 3k and 5k into an athletes testing phase to get the full range of data moving forward. So, as previously stated we will need to calculate the following ratios…

1. 2,000m : 5,000m
2. 1,000m : 2,000m
3. 2,000m : 3,000m
4. 3,000m : 5,000m

In order to calculate these you will need to do the following equation:
(PR Pace of Distance #1) / (PR Pace of Distance #2) = ___ x100 
*Note- units for pace = seconds. 

So For Example…
An athlete has a 1k PR of 3:00 (1:30/500m or 90s/500m) and a 2k PR of 7:00(1:45/500m or 105s/500m). 

So in this instance you would calculate their speed preservation for test #2 as follows…..
(90 seconds) / (105 seconds) = .857 x100 = 85.7%

Athlete Classification Types :
Once you calculate the ratios for all four tests you can compare them to the following “Athlete Classification Types”. While your specific numbers may not match any of them exactly, it should be clear where you fall on the spectrum. So for example an athlete with the following numbers (85%, 90%, 89%, 95%) will fall in between Type A & Type B.

Type A- 84.5%, 89%, 87%, 94%
Type B- 86.5%, 92%, 90%, 95.5%
Type C- 88%, 93.5%, 91.8%, 96%
Type D- 90%, 93.8%, 93%, 96.5%
Type E- 91.5%, 94.2%, 94.8%, 97%
Type F- 92.5%, 94.8%, 95.8%, 97.5%
Type G- 93.5%, 95.8%, 96.3%, 97.8%
*%’s represented as test 1, test 2, test 3, test 4

So what do these classification types mean…..

Classification Meaning
In Order of Increasing Power:

G< F< E< D< C< B< A
*Ie- A is the most powerful & G Is the least powerful.

In Order of Increasing Endurance:
A< B< C< D< E< F< G
*Ie- G is the most enduring & A is the least enduring.

Specialty Time Domain Per Classification Type:
Type A/ B- ~2-4 Minutes (~Lactic Endurance)

Type C/D- ~6-8 Minutes (~Aerobic Threshold/Power)
Type E/F- ~10-20 Minutes (~Aerobic Power/ Endurance)
Type G- ~20+ Minutes (~Aerobic Endurance)

Athlete Case Study
Athletes PR’s
1k- 3:14.4,  2k- 7:03,  3k- 11:17,  5k- 18:47

Athletes Speed Preservation Scores:
2000m/5000m- 94% 1000m/2000m- 92% 2000m/3000m- 96% 3000m/5000m- 98%

Based on the Classifications above This athlete would match the most closely with Type F, meaning that they fall on the enduring end on the spectrum with  their speciality being in the 10-20 minute range. *Note that this athlete was previously a 3200m & 5k Running Specialist.

Moving Forward:
Now that you have an idea of where you (or your athletes) fall on the spectrum of powerful –> enduring, and have a base level of knowledge on how your athlete’s “engine” operates, it’s time to explore the implications and how to properly train/ prescribe training based upon it. Which leads us to the implications section. 

These are general patterns i’ve recognized based on an extended analysis of both my exclusive coaching clients and followers of the HPA Competitor’s Blog. As such, these recommendations MUST be taken in that context, and interpreted as a statistical average of multiple individuals. 

Note- Individual makeup is king. Rather than applying this information directly you should use it as a starting point for future analyses or apply it to the current paradigm centered around a given athlete (ie- Don’t scrap what you already have. Apply one thing at a time, asses the results, adjust your athlete centric paradigm as needed, then start over). 

Consistency/ Progression Schemes:
In my experience “Type A” athletes tend to be less consistent, and more temperamental, in terms of pure numbers from week to week (regardless how how things “feel”). Whereas you can guess with high certainty what numbers/ scores/ times a “Type G” athlete will get on a given lift/ workout. Based on observation i’ve also found that “type G” athletes tend to have a slower skill acquisition rate, though it is highly likely that this is a correlative relationship rather than causative (ie- Type G athletes tend to come from low skill endurance based sports, so there is a selection bias in place here).Knowing this you can adjust progression schemes as needed to account for ups and downs in numbers, skill acquisition rates, and individual athlete’s speeds of adaptation on given elements (ie- How quickly do they adapt to abs strength vs musc end vs aerobic threshold progressions etc). 

Metcon Tactics:
Often times more powerful athletes fare better with short sets/ short rest, whereas more enduring athletes can string together longer sets with more moderate rest times. This especially holds true in CP-recovery, or muscular endurance, based testing scenarios. However, both approaches should be applied in training and refined to match the individual. 

Note- These strategies are only applicable to a specific subset of testing scenarios as discussed above. As such they are not recommended in  lighter/ higher turnover/ ES based testers. 

Aerobic Base Development:
Lower (relative) intensity, cyclical, efforts should be used when trying to develop a more powerful athlete’s aerobic base to ensure they are getting the correct training stimulus (eccentric cardiac hypertrophy, mitochondrial density, angiogenesis etc). If they were to follow the same progression scheme/ prescription as a moderate → enduring athlete it would not only yield lackluster results, but may also worsen their aerobic development in some circumstances. 

Conversely enduring athletes often need high(er) relative intensities to further develop their aerobic systems and get lackluster results with the typical 85% (moderate approach). Also note that there are more options both in movement selection and training methods when dealing with aerobic base development in enduring athletes (ie- tempos, fartleks, progression runs etc with less strong of a focus on low tension, and cyclical, movements).

Strength Hierarchy:
I’ve covered this topic in depth HERE. But, as a general statement enduring athletes often need to further development their base strength level (regardless of how “good” or “bad” their CP-recovery system/ muscular endurance are. Ie- if you can’t lift the weight you can’t play the game). On the other hand stronger, more powerful, athletes often reach a point of diminishing return where additional strength gains do not yield further gains in performance. In this scenario CP-recovery/ muscular endurance must be prioritized (gross overgeneralization). 

Note- There are also correlations with absolute strength/ speed development (ie- is an athlete stronger than fast or faster than strong), but I will simply defer you to an extensive article on that topic that I wrote for the performance menu journal. Which you can find HERE.



The Hierarchy of Training (Pt.2): In season Vs. Offseason Rx’s

250px-Rx_symbol_border.svgBy Evan Peikon 
As discussed in The Hierarchy of Training Pt.1, it is imperative that training characteristics, and methods, are layered on top of one another correctly when trying to improve strength/ energy system development concurrently. Now that the offseason is approaching for many I thought it would be useful to provide a guide explaining the in’s and out’s of In season Vs. Offseason Rxs, and how to properly develop specific training characteristics relative to the time of year.

In the previous installment I left off by stating …
 “When taking a step back/ looking at the big picture we first need to assess an athlete before applying this knowledge. Not only in terms of where they sit physically on the hierarchy, but also where they sit in the year relative to their priority competition. Does the athlete in question need to build a foundation, or sharpen/ build upon what they already posses? These are big picture questions that I cannot simply answer for you; and in reality one should already know the answers to these questions. However, this is not always the case. Which is why it is critical that you, or your coach, not only implement an effective assessment protocol, but also design a periodization plan around it and follow evidence based training protocols to allow you to reach you goals in the most efficient/ effective manner- all of which will be covered in the next installment of “The Hierarchy of Training” article series

That being said, if you haven’t yet gone through a valid assessment protocol the information contained in this article will be limited in it’s scope of applicability. If you’ve undergone an assessment, and know where you sit on the hierarchy, then this article will help you decide what methods are appropriate, when training a specific characteristic, at a given time of year.

To start, when periodizing training prescriptions it works best to select a competition date (or range of dates in the case of the open) and then work backward to the current point in time. For example….

Lets assume we know the 2016 Crossfit Games Opens will be testing muscular endurance and aerobic power predominantly (for the sake of keeping things simple). When working backwards we can then decide what training “should” look like 1-2, 2-4, and 4-6 months leading up to the event to ensure the best performance possible. Following this logic we can then layout the following progression scheme…

Note- In the example below i’m going to provide 2-3 days of training, in each phase of the year, focusing on the above testing characteristics. For the sake of this example lets assume the avatar athlete is balanced on the spectrum from powerful->enduring, has no structural imbalances, has a decent amount of exposure to the sport, and is “balanced” in all regards (which is rarely, if ever, the case). Also note that these examples do not factor in the interplay with other training characteristics. Which is highly relevant as some athletes cannot develop absolute strength and muscular endurance concurrently for example (ie- another case for prioritization within fitness programs).
Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 7.21.59 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 7.22.18 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 7.22.33 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 7.22.43 PM

While the above examples only cover two very basic training characteristics other elements such as absolute strength, CP-recovery/CP-battery development, postural endurance, aerobic endurance, lactic power/ Endurance, absolute speed development….etc also have their own rules dictating how they should be trained at a given time of year. To further complicate the picture each element has interplay with the others and lies on a fine balance of stimulus and adaptation. In the third installment of the hierarchy of training series i’ll discuss the implications of these conflicting stimuli/ signaling mechanisms and how to optimize the balance between them.

If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy…
The Scientific Method of Programming: A Case Study
Energy Systems: N=1