Two big questions

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Two of Ewen’s comments in recent times raise the two major issues that I face in planning my training. Two days ago he raised the issue of the possible advantages of running down hill. Running down hill at speed provides a large eccentric load on the extensor muscles, such as quads. Developing leg muscle that are strong and efficient during eccentric contraction is crucial for running, but it is also damaging in the short term. Indeed the short term damage is probably essential for achieving the desired training effect. The same issues apply to plyometric exercises designed to induce eccentric contraction. But does down hill running (or plyometrics) do permanent damage? Until we have a clear answer to this question, the response to the question abut down hill running is that it offers short term gains, but its long term risks are inadequately understood and hence, I personally am very circumspect about down hill running at speed and about plyometrics. In the near future, I intend to examine carefully all the evidence I can find about the long term risks of large eccentric loading of muscles, and will present the evidence I uncover here on my blog.

The other question is the issue of whether or not it is desirable to include some speed work in the training program throughout the year. This is contrary to the recommendations of Hadd who emphasizes that during base building it is important to avoid the training zone around lactate threshold and above. As far as I understand Hadd’s reasoning, it is based at least in part on the way he interprets the findings of Dudley’s study of rats. Dudley reported that in rats who ran at easy paces, the development of mitochondria in slow twitch fibres was greater than in those running a faster paces. This indicates that slow running has benefits. However it does not prove that some faster running will obliterate those benefits. I think that Dudley’s findings do not support the conclusions drawn by Hadd, and I am at present, inclined to disagree with Hadd’s recommendation about avoiding lactate threshold during base building. I am a strong believer in the beneficial effects of running in the lower regions of the aerobic range for the purposes of base building, but I do not think that the inclusion of some lactate threshold work during that phase is counter-productive. However the overall evidence on this issue is also complex, so that is another question that I want to review in some detail in future weeks.

I would certainly value other peoples opinions and experiences regarding these two issues.

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3 Responses to “Two big questions”

  1. Ewen Says:

    I haven’t any experience of fast downhill running for training purposes. It’s been suggested that I include some (on a gentle slope) for ‘leg-speed’ purposes, which I take it would mean sprinting at near maximal speed. I’ve done fast downhill running in races and it has caused quad soreness for a number of days.

    My experience with plyometrics is only through doing certain plyometric-type drills, such as hopping, backwards/forwards ‘springing’ running, and some hurdles drills. I’ve been wary of overdoing these, as in the past I’ve suffered achilles problems. I do think they’re good for improving running though. I’ve never done ‘box jumps’, mainly because of injury worry.

    My thoughts about including some sort of speedwork throughout the year are that it’s especially beneficial for older athletes. Younger athletes could do traditional base-training and get their ‘lost’ speed back relatively quickly. I do remember one anecdote about de Castella, who was normally a year-round ‘mixed’ trainer… after one particular long block of base training, he was surprised how slow his 400s were (75 seconds I think), when he returned to the track.

    I think in the early base period the speedwork could be relatively short and free of lactate production, such as 70 to 130 metres ‘fast’ or short hill repeats with full recoveries. Lactate threshold training during this period, perhaps could be ‘conservative’, such as short efforts at current half marathon race-pace or a little slower.

  2. Thomas Says:

    A friend of mine started fast downhill running 2 years ago in order to train for Boston. He promptly got injured, and nobody else I know has tried it since. It may well have good benefits, but I think the risks are too high. The same applies to plyometrics.

  3. Jason Says:

    I consistently run quickly downhill in my training. This is done over a variety of terrain types and training sessions (long run, threshold work etc.) I will often pay attention to technique which I best describe as a “controlled fall”, slight forward lean and higher leg cadence. When I have a few weeks of consistent downhill work, I definitely find reduced sorenes, DOMS even when I introduce harder training. Also downhill running is one of my strengths in races. I don’t see value in completing intervals of downhill work, just a gradually build of incorporating some faster work downhill. If you are getting sore from it, back off.

    In general a little bit of speedwork each week throughout the year I can only see as beneficial. I guess it all depends on your current physiology and how much of each type of training you do. Training trends seems to be one of two things: extreme (all low HR, or all fast, fast, fast) or trying to fit every single type of session in. The trick is to work out what to leave out, and how much of each type you best respond to.

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