Cardiac Capacity

So, to recap, I've discussed conditioning and why it's been so confused. Then I discussed fatigue and why it's an important defensive mechanism for our body.  If you've missed them check them out here.

Conditioning -

Fatigue -

All that being said, it should go without saying that the better conditioned you are the longer your body can produce energy before it needs to fatigue.

The thing with conditioning is that it's so complex that I could spend days upon days writing about the topic.  In the previous two blogs I just wanted to introduce you to a couple principles, and now I want to introduce a method that you can start incorporating right away.

I learned this method from the conditioning master Joel Jamieson.  Called different names whether Cardiac Capacity or Cardiac Output it's a very effective method, that could and should be staple in your training. 

Our heart is a muscle, and like any muscle it goes through a concentric phase and an eccentric phase. Concentric simply means when the heart is contracting and thus becoming a little smaller, whereas eccentric means the muscle is relaxing and as a result becoming bigger.

Strength and conditioning professionals, myself included, have been very good at improving the concentric contraction of the heart.  Just go out and push a sled as fast as you can for as long as you can.  You'll love it... Okay maybe not... But in any case the closer you get to your max heart rate the stronger you will make your heart concentrically.  However, while this type of training is a must, this is just one piece of the puzzle. 

What we miss is the fact that if you make your heart, in a sense, bigger you'll thus improve the ability of your heart to get oxygenated blood to the body. (I bet you the Grinch became really well conditioned that one fateful christmas day). With more of this blood you're body can better tap into the aerobic system and produce energy for longer periods of time. 

So that's where Cardiac Output/Capacity comes into play.  By maintaining your heart rate between roughly 130 to 150 beats per minute for an extended period of time, over time you can increase the size of the your hearts left ventricle that makes up your hearts main pumping chamber. 

So by now you're probably thinking this is all well and good but what's the practical application.  Well, I'm glad you asked.  Here's the guidelines for how you can start to incorporate this into your own training.

  • Frequency: 1 to 3x per week
  • Duration: 30 to 60 minutes
  • Exercises: Low impact exercises
    • At HPI we typically like to alternate between exercises that "spike" your heart rate, and then correctives/movement pattern training to help stabilize your heart rate back down.

Pretty simple right? Typically we'll perform this in a circuit.  If you have a heart rate, that's even best, because then you can just continue to monitor your heart rate the whole entire time.  Sometimes I'll go a little low tech, and just have the athlete to jog over to an elliptical and check it there. If it's too high (above 150) then I have them slow down a little bit as they go through the circuit, and if it's too low then we up the tempo.

So here's an example of what it may look like.  To start just keep going through the exercises until 30 minutes are up. After a solid warm-up of course.

  1. Sled x20yds down and back
  2. RDL x10
  3. Bear Crawls x 10yds down and back
  4. Glute Bridge x10
  5. Ball Slams x15
  6. Planks x"20
  7. Elliptical (To check heart rate)

There you have it. It serves as both great conditioning and even a good workout to do for active recovery. Stick to the guidelines and have fun with it!


Fatigue (Or as we used to say in the 90's phat-igue)

If you recall, last week I began to start to sort out the crazy puzzle of conditioning.  If you missed it well then you can check it out here...

However, before we can keep talking about performance and energy systems we also need to briefly discuss fatigue. 

You've seen it before. An athlete gets exhausted and just can't compete for whatever reason.  As a result they get destroyed.  Well as the old adage goes, "fatigue makes cowards of us all".

That being said, fatigue is actually a natural safe guard our body imposes to protect itself from serious damage.  While it may hinder your performance, fatigue itself is actually a good thing.  In last weeks blog I discussed ATP and well bottom line is if our body ever truly ran out of ATP then it would cause catastrophic damage to our cells. 

However, fatigue isn't just cut and dry, there are actually two types of fatigue; central fatigue, and peripheral fatigue.  

Central fatigue is the fatigue of our central nervous system (hence the name).  When this happens our body sends out fewer signals to the muscles, so as to ensure that less force is produced. 

central fatigue.jpg

Most research on central fatigue centers around endurance runners.  If you've ever ran for long distance the tiredness you feel at the end is often this type of fatigue. Many times it can be seen in the acute hindrance of coordination. 

Peripheral fatigue is more akin to your muscles. This is most recognizable when think of lifting to failure.  You eventually get to a point in which your muscles just don't want to move.

muscular fatigue.jpg

So those are the two kinds of fatigue in a nutshell.  Truth is, that fatigue is a necessary evil, and as we continue in the series of energy systems and conditioning I'll continue to provide methods, and ways to train to help make sure that your body continues to increase in its ability to better utilize its energy systems.

We can never truly eliminate fatigue, but the better conditioned we are the longer we'll be able to last before fatigue fully sets in.


Conditioning is Confusing

Recently I'm learning that there are so many misconceptions about conditioning. There's the idea that you just gotta go til you puke, and then keep going. Then there's the idea of running mile after magnificent mile. To top it off there's the idea that you shouldn't condition at all, cause... well, train slow be slow.

I've bought into each of these views at one point or another in my own training.  The first gave me night terrors, the second bored me to death, and the third... Well it got hard playing even a couple of games of basketball.

First off, there's so much more complexity to conditioning then puking or running mile after mile, because our bodies are pretty complex. And second off, conditioning done right won't make you weak, but actually maybe even stronger because you're recovering better after workouts.

Bottom line is this; conditioning is important. We just got a lot of confusion that needs to be cleared up.

The problem is not just the confusion but how we approach each sport. Take for instance, a sport like baseball. How could conditioning possibly be important? You're barely moving the whole time. Well this is true, but what happens to our power, when we start to get fatigued? Well it starts to decline. Our Athletic Trainer Matt Repa has talked about how when an athlete gets tired, their mechanics break down and injury is more likely.  While it's not a cure all, a better conditioned athlete will recover faster from bouts of explosive display, and as a result be able to reproduce said bouts much more often and safely. 

There's something in our body called ATP or adenosine triphosphate, it's the chemical that tells our brain "hey this person is about to do something awesome" and as a result we then put on impressive displays akin to Usain Bolt outrunning a bullet train.

In order to produce ATP a midst physical activity our body relies on several different energy systems. I like how MMA Trainer Joel Jamieson classifies them best... Aerobic, Anaerobic lactic, anaerobic alactic. To make it clearer think of aerobic as conditioning, anaerobic alactic has pure power, and anaerobic lactic as everything in between.

Well in order to be a better athlete all three of these need to be in working order. Many athletes are really good at training the anaerobic systems, or so they think, because well it's easy, and it looks cool expressing pure power and doing a bunch of crazy circuits.  The problem is, these systems exhaust ATP very rapidly, and if these are the only systems you rely on then you're in trouble. 

So while aerobic energy system training is extremely boring and mundane it's also the longest lasting.  Meaning when this bad boy is up and running (no pun intended) then our body is actually able to better restore the ATP and when we get to those moments of extreme athleticism we're ready to go. 

From a performance standpoint this sounds pretty cool, right? Well from an injury reduction standpoint it's even better. Because the better our aerobic system operates not only can we express power more often but as I alluded to earlier, our body can also recover between bouts of said power expression.  And recovery is the backbone of performance.  If you can't recover even in the midst of competition your setting yourself up for injury. 

This is just a very brief and basic overview of conditioning, and our energy systems needed in sport. I definitely just skimmed the surface today, and there's still so much more to go into, which I will do. I just hope this is starting to teach you why you need to train your aerobic system regardless of your sport.  And over the course of the next few blogs I'll cover how to do so in the safest and most effective way possible.


Exercises You Should Be Doing - Farmer Walks

Farmer walks, are a staple of Strongman Competitions, and have become ever more popular for other athletes.  The unique demands they provide for the body go a long way in helping train the strength of a body's "linkage".  Teaching the body to work as one unit.

For the above reasons, Farmer Walks are great for simply building athleticism and strength. They're truly a great "big-bang-for-your-buck" exercise, efficient, and they don't require too much equipment.

The premise of a farmer walk is simple. Pick up a heavy weight, and carry it quickly over a distance. However, there are a couple things to be careful about.

1. Consider the Distance When Selecting Weight - If you're going to walk 100 yards you don't want to use a weight that will cause you're grip to start slipping at 20. As the distance gets greater the weight will need to be lighter or you could run in to issues.  I find that usually a good distance for getting a good effect is between 20 and 40 yards for most people

2. Pick Up the Weight, Before Walking with It- A common mistake a lot of athletes make is that they want to pick up the weight as they begin walking.  However, you need to give yourself a solid base to start from. Make sure you pick up the weight, and are standing tall.  That means... Don't let your shoulders get pulled forward, and don't let your core go soft.  KEEP EVERYTHING TIGHT. If the weight starts pulling you out of position before you even start walking, there's no question that you are using too much.

These are probably two of the greatest mistakes people make.  There are lots of small mistakes but those are typically corrected when we give an athlete an appropriate weight, and make sure that they keep everything tight.

For most of our readers you are not a Strongman Competitor, and it is important to make sure that you perform these exercises well. Any exercise performed poorly can be dangerous, but when performed well the reward is immense.

As I mentioned earlier, the benefits of Farmer Walks, and their variations are huge.  The act of building core strength while moving will help an athlete improve not just their strength, but even their power output, and also help with moving better.  Basically, the unique core strengthening effect of loaded carries will help athletes have stronger, safer, and quicker lateral movement.  Meaning everything from cuts on the football field, to breaking ankles on the basketball court.

If you're not doing Farmer Walks yet, you ought to be.

- Dave