The Concurrent Training Effect Blog #4

The Concurrent Training Effect Blog #4

The first three blogs of this series provided a basic understanding of the molecular underpinnings of the concurrent training effect (the blunting/elimination of the hypertrophy and strength response when both strength and endurance training are performed concurrently).  This edition is going to take that knowledge and use it to recommend specific training protocols focused on mitigating, and potentially even eliminating it.

The primary training factor which seems to drive the concurrent training effect is the intensity of the endurance exercise being performed.  Closely following intensity is frequency, and when high intensity is combined with high frequency the effect is maximized.

Recommendation 1:

As noted in blog #3 both AMPK and SIRT1 are activated by high intensity endurance exercise.  As both can inhibit mTORC1 one clearly does not want them activated when strength training is performed.  What has not yet been noted is that both will return to baseline levels roughly three hours after activation from intense endurance exercise.  The simple conclusion is that there should be at least three hours between an intense endurance session and a strength training session.  CrossFitters take note, if you are going to do an intense endurance session, and can only train once that day, skip the strength training afterwards (or prior to).  If you can do more than one session, intense endurance in the morning followed by strength training in the evening would be ideal.

This couple needs to wait at least 4 hours before any endurance work...
This couple needs to wait at least 3 hours before any endurance work…

Recommendation 2:

As noted above, frequency of high intensity endurance training is a factor in the concurrent training effect.  The molecular reason for this effect is unknown, but empirical evidence and personal experience indicate that no more than three sessions at greater than 70% of VO2max are best for mitigation of the concurrent training effect.

Recommendation 3:

Blog #2 focused on the molecular machinations relative to the hypertrophy response to strength training.  It was noted that mTORC1 is the driver of hypertrophy.  It was also noted that the mechanical stimulation of strength training was not the only manner in which mTORC1 is potently activated post workout.  A huge skeletal muscular spike in the uptake of the BCAA leucine occurs immediately after strength training.  Leucine itself is a potent stimulator of mTORC1.  The recommendation is thus to make sure plenty of blood-borne leucine is available.  Below are some specific recommendations using ALN products:

1) Take one serving of ALN Finish immediately after strength training.  Within 30 minutes, and preferably as soon as possible, take one serving of Recover as well.
2) If fat loss is the primary goal replace Recover above with Nitrean, or take two servings of Finish and skip either Recover or Nitrean to minimize total caloric intake.

ALN's Finish
ALN’s Finish

Recommendation 4:

Strength training immediately after an endurance session of low to moderate intensity (no more than 69%) is fine.  In fact, strength training immediately following a low intensity endurance session positively influences the endurance adaptation while simultaneously not impairing the hypertrophy and strength adaptations.

We aren’t done yet.  I am going to do more research and we are going to learn even more about the concurrent training effect and how to control it.  

Chris Mason
Owner
AtLarge Nutrition, LLC

The Concurrent Training Effect Blog #2

This 2nd edition of The Concurrent Training Effect blog is going to focus on the molecular underpinnings of skeletal muscular hypertrophy.  Understanding the driving force behind the molecular response to strength training can provide us insight into why concurrent strength and endurance training can negatively affect muscular hypertrophy and strength.  In addition, a better understanding can lead to ways to mitigate the effect and optimize progress.  If you are a CrossFitter, or any other form of hybrid athlete this blog is for you.  Keep reading…

Mike Mentzer - knew a thing or two about muscular hypertrophy.
Mike Mentzer – knew a thing or two about muscular hypertrophy.

A Very Cursory Overview of the Science:

The currently agreed upon molecular key to skeletal muscular hypertrophy is the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR).  mTOR exists in two complexes with mTORC1 as the type associated with muscular hypertrophy.  mTOR is most commonly activated via growth factors, but with strength training its activation is executed in an entirely different fashion.  An unknown kinase gets activated causing a chemical cascade resulting in the potent stimulation of mTORC1.

Mechanical kinase activation is the not the only manner in which strength training stimulates mTOR.  We have all heard of the post-workout anabolic window for nutrient consumption.  The following molecular explanation is THE reason the post-workout window has been so widely touted (and misrepresented equally as often) in the fitness world.

After an intense training session (and for several hours) the skeletal muscles pull a significantly greater amount of the amino acids leucine and glutamine from the blood.  The leucine individually is a potent activator mTORC1 and augments the previously mentioned kinase based mTORC1 activation.  The increased glutamine yet again enhances this synergistic effect as the resultant transport of glutamine out of the muscle further up-regulates leucine intake.

Start and Finish provide both leucine and glutamine (as well as other great stuff).
Start and Finish provide both leucine and glutamine (as well as other great stuff).

The Bottom Line

Bottom line, and there is a lot more to it than described here, the end game for strength training induced muscular hypertrophy is it is almost totally dependent on mTORC1.  One can thus reasonably deduct that endurance training can somehow blunt mTORC1 activation, and or its ability once activated to execute its normal spike in protein synthesis and the resultant muscular hypertrophy.

The next installment of The Concurrent Training Effect blog will focus on the manner(s) with which endurance training may effect mTORC1.

Sequence Your Training for Optimal Results

Sequence Your Training for Optimal Results

by Chris Mason

With the recent massive increase in the popularity of training multiple fitness components simultaneously (CrossFit being the driving force of this movement) the topic of exercise sequencing for optimal results has become particularly poignant.

CF gals

Physical fitness and performance are comprised of many different specific attributes. For example, strength has many forms all of which contribute to the body’s ability to move through space. Strength can be viewed as a spectrum ranging from starting strength (the ability to produce maximal force in the first 30 milliseconds of movement), to explosive strength (the ability to very quickly, albeit not quite as quickly as starting strength, generate a high degree of force), to maximal strength (the ability to volitionally produce the highest force possible). Muscular endurance, the ability to produce relatively low levels of force for prolonged periods, also has a strata with things like speed endurance and strength endurance.

Clean

Each attribute above and more must be trained in order to excel physically across a broad spectrum of performance markers. In short, you must get good at a lot of stuff to be a well-rounded athlete. The decathlete has historically best exemplified the all-around athlete, but the best of the best CrossFitters now equally well personify one.
As training time is limited for most athletes those that seek to be all-around machines must organize their training to permit optimized adaptation to all physical traits which are being worked. If all, or multiple attributes are to be trained in a single session the order should be as follows:

1) Technique or skill work
2) Speed work
3) Strength work
3) Endurance work of all forms with speed endurance work being done first to be followed by lower intensity prolonged exercise

Following the order prescribed above will allow for maximized results within the confines of training multiple attributes in a single session. A similar order should be followed when training will target multiple attributes via individual sessions over the course of several days. Care must be taken in those situations to permit recovery of the nervous system after endurance work prior to the next skill, speed, and or strength session. Either a day or two of rest or active rest are recommended.

A Special Note about the Nervous System and Performance

Technique or skill work for athletics are generally understood to be essentially wholly a function of the nervous system. What is perhaps less generally well known is that strength and speed work are also almost exclusively the domain of the nervous system. They may be less known in the scientific sense, but we can all empirically appreciate it as each of us have tried, at one point or another, to perform a high intensity activity when already fatigued from a lower intensity effort and know the sense of a lack of coordination and explosiveness which are manifest at such times.

The Why

In a simplified nutshell, lower intensity prolonged activities exert a negative effect on the nervous system in the short and mid-term. They reduce coordination, increase reaction time, and increase the chance of injury when higher intensity activities succeed them prior to complete recovery.
There is a paucity of scientific explanation for the specific causes of this central nervous system fatigue (central fatigue). One generally agreed upon factor is an increase of serotonin (5-HT) in the brain. This is thought to occur due to an increase in brain levels of free tryptophan (f-TRP) which is an amino acid precursor for 5-HT production.

During prolonged exercise f-TRP transport across the blood brain barrier increases due to two main causes. One has to do with tryptophan and albumin. Tryptophan (TRP) binds to albumin in the blood. During endurance exercise, blood borne fatty acid levels increase. Fatty acids displace TRP from binding to albumin thus increasing f-TRP.
The other main cause relates to branched chain amino acids (BCAA). F-TRP (i.e. unbound TRP) competes with the BCAA for transport to the brain thus a decrease in circulating BCAA will result is more f-TRP being able to pass to the brain. Prolonged exercise decreases circulating BCAA as the skeletal muscles take them up and oxidize them for energy.

A Wrap

While the science as to the specific physiologic cause(s) of central fatigue is scant, there is no lack of scientific and empirical evidence verifying the existence of central fatigue as a result of prolonged endurance exercise. There is also no lack of scientific and empirical data verifying the proper sequencing of exercise for specific adaptations. Take care to properly sequence your training and you will permit the best results possible.

Chris Mason

Chris Mason is the owner of AtLarge Nutrition, LLC and an accomplished author in the fitness genre. He has written for numerous websites and magazines to include The CrossFit Journal and Iron Man Magazine.

Sequence Your Training for Optimal Results

Sequence Your Training for Optimal Results

by Chris Mason

With the recent massive increase in the popularity of training multiple fitness components simultaneously the topic of exercise sequencing for optimal results has become particularly poignant.

Physical fitness and performance are comprised of many different specific attributes. For example, strength has many forms all of which contribute to the body’s ability to move through space. Strength can be viewed as a spectrum ranging from starting strength (the ability to produce maximal force in the first 30 milliseconds of movement), to explosive strength (the ability to very quickly, albeit not quite as quickly as starting strength, generate a high degree of force), to maximal strength (the ability to volitionally produce the highest force possible). Muscular endurance, the ability to produce relatively low levels of force for prolonged periods, also has a strata with things like speed endurance and strength endurance.

Each attribute above and more must be trained in order to excel physically across a broad spectrum of performance markers. In short, you must get good at a lot of stuff to be a well-rounded athlete.

Bruce Jenner is definitely the most famous decathlete
Bruce Jenner is definitely the most famous decathlete

As training time is limited for most athletes those that seek to be all-around machines must organize their training to permit optimized adaptation to all physical traits which are being worked. If all, or multiple attributes are to be trained in a single session the order should be as follows:

1) Technique or skill work
2) Speed work
3) Strength work
3) Endurance work of all forms with speed endurance work being done first to be followed by lower intensity prolonged exercise

Following the order prescribed above will allow for maximized results within the confines of training multiple attributes in a single session. A similar order should be followed when training will target multiple attributes via individual sessions over the course of several days. Care must be taken in those situations to permit recovery of the nervous system after endurance work prior to the next skill, speed, and or strength session. Either a day or two of rest or active rest are recommended.

A Special Note about the Nervous System and Performance

Technique or skill work for athletics are generally understood to be essentially wholly a function of the nervous system. What is perhaps less generally well known is that strength and speed work are also almost exclusively the domain of the nervous system. They may be less known in the scientific sense, but we can all empirically appreciate it as each of us have tried, at one point or another, to perform a high intensity activity when already fatigued from a lower intensity effort and know the sense of a lack of coordination and explosiveness which are manifest at such times.

This gentleman exemplifies the neural dominance of demonstrable strength
This gentleman exemplifies the neural dominance of demonstrable strength

The Why

In a simplified nutshell, lower intensity prolonged activities exert a negative effect on the nervous system in the short and mid-term. They reduce coordination, increase reaction time, and increase the chance of injury when higher intensity activities succeed them prior to complete recovery.
There is a paucity of scientific explanation for the specific causes of this central nervous system fatigue (central fatigue). One generally agreed upon factor is an increase of serotonin (5-HT) in the brain. This is thought to occur due to an increase in brain levels of free tryptophan (f-TRP) which is an amino acid precursor for 5-HT production.

During prolonged exercise f-TRP transport across the blood brain barrier increases due to two main causes. One has to do with tryptophan and albumin. Tryptophan (TRP) binds to albumin in the blood. During endurance exercise, blood borne fatty acid levels increase. Fatty acids displace TRP from binding to albumin thus increasing f-TRP.
The other main cause relates to branched chain amino acids (BCAA). F-TRP (i.e. unbound TRP) competes with the BCAA for transport to the brain thus a decrease in circulating BCAA will result is more f-TRP being able to pass to the brain. Prolonged exercise decreases circulating BCAA as the skeletal muscles take them up and oxidize them for energy.

A Wrap

While the science as to the specific physiologic cause(s) of central fatigue is scant, there is no lack of scientific and empirical evidence verifying the existence of central fatigue as a result of prolonged endurance exercise. There is also no lack of scientific and empirical data verifying the proper sequencing of exercise for specific adaptations. Take care to properly sequence your training and you will permit the best results possible.

Chris Mason

Chris Mason is the owner of AtLarge Nutrition, LLC and an accomplished author in the fitness genre. He has written for numerous websites and magazines.

CrossFit Legend Chris Spealler Q&A 2nd Installment

CF snatch

Question: Chris, how do you alter your training immediately following a competition?

The competition that you have just completed and the time of year largely dictate the recovery process afterwards. By the way, and to digress from the question for a moment, if you are serious about being competitive in CrossFit it’s a good idea to do some local or larger regional competitions. What that does is give you a chance to “test” your plan for tapering, warm-ups at the competition, meals between workouts, and so on.

For the local/regional competitions your rest/recovery time can be as short as a day, and no more than two. You should be able to quickly get back to your training cycle that will allow you to progress for your main competition. If you are feeling run down it’s a good idea to initially get back to the gym with lower intensity and loading in your workouts. Examples of this might be something that provides built-in rest like and EMOM (every minute on the minute). This can also be great to work on some simple skill development or longer cardio respiratory endurance days since they are by nature of lower intensity.

Following the main competition of the year I typically recommend a week or two off from the gym. Personally, I am usually back in the gym within 5-7 days, but with similar principles mentioned above. Even if you placed well in the competition, coming off of the intense pre-competition cycle can often lead to a let-down. In such scenarios it is best to give yourself the time you need to recharge your batteries. Do some fun physical activities which are not stressful. If a couple of weeks have gone by and you are not yet physically hungry to be back in the gym take another day or two and it could lead to a better week or month of training.

CF gals
Question: What do you recommend to get someone up to Rx as quickly as possible? Is it better to use Rx weights sooner and try to build from there, or scale and then work on strength independently?

This is a great question and exposes what many people fall victim to when starting out CrossFit. First of all, CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program, not just a conditioning program. With well varied programming you will find a variety of loadings, rep schemes, and movements throughout a week that will help increase strength for most beginner to intermediate athletes.

CrossFit has 4 models that help support our definition of fitness: “work capacity across broad time and modal domains”. One of those models is The 10 General Physical Skills. This list was developed by Bruce Evans and Jim Crawley, track coaches in Texas and is as follows:

1. Cardio Respiratory Endurance
2. Stamina
3. Strength
4. Flexibility
5. Speed
6. Power
7. Coordination
8. Accuracy
9. Agility
10. Balance

Our belief is that he or she who is most fit will be best balanced across ALL 10 of these General Physical Skills. If we have excess capacity in one area it usually means we lack in another. Many people make the mistake of assuming that one of these is more important than the other. This would be true for a specialist such as a power lifter, or marathon runner, but for a generalist that is looking to have GPP (general physical preparedness) none is more important than the other.

It’s easy to think that we need to increase our strength to do workouts Rx’d, which may be the case, but the same could be said about coordination, ctamina, flexibility, or any one of the 10 GPS.

Doing a workout Rx’d is a huge achievement for many and should be celebrated. Having said that we still want to maintain the intended stimulus of the workout the majority of the time. Take the following workout for example:

3 Rounds

Run 400 meters
21 Pull-ups
7 Front Squats (225/155)

If you don’t have a baseline to start with regarding how long this should take an athlete think of a Regional level CrossFit competitor, or even the “fire breather” in the gym. The workout listed above for a Regional Level athlete should take anywhere from 7-10 min.

-Run 400: roughly 1:30/round
-21 Pull-Ups: roughly 45 sec/round
-7 Front Squats: roughly 45 sec/round

Each round taking approximately 3 min

These times allow for transition, chalking your hands, breaks between the bars, etc. Some athletes will be able to do it faster, some a bit slower, but the intention behind the workout is for power output. That means that the athlete should be able to move through the workout with a strong pace. Below would be two different athletes that although capable of doing the workout as rx’d, would be missing the stimulus.

Athlete 1:

This athlete may lack strength and have difficulty with the front squat. They may be able to get them done, but the rep scheme for the front squat is singles or doubles with long breaks between reps from the start to complete the set of 7.

The run and pull ups may not be the issue at all for this athlete since they suit his strengths, but if the front squat weight holds him back so much that the workout now takes him 15 min, we have lost the intention of the workout.

Athlete 2:

On the opposite end of the spectrum this athlete may have no issue at all with the front squat but the combination of the run and pull ups slows them down. Their cardio respiratory endurance for the run which is now taking 2:30-3 min, and stamina on the pull ups which forces them to do sets of 5 and less with long breaks to get to 21 holds them back from getting through the workout quickly. If this causes them to finish the workout in 15 min we have lost the intention of the workout.

The majority of the time the workout should be scaled to allow for a similar time domain and power output to be reached. Athlete number 1 should scale down the weight on the front squat to something where they can get at least the first round in consecutive reps. Athlete number 2 may scale down the distance on the run to 200 meters, or the pull up repetitions to 15/round, and if needed, scale both of them.

From the examples above you can see that strength may not be the glaring weakness. And if it is, well varied CrossFit programming including one strictly heavy day/week will increase the athletes strength over time. If our stamina or CRE is the limiting factor the same could be said. Well varied CrossFit programming providing a variety of rep schemes, loadings, and distances will increase this athletes capacity in these areas.

On occasion it is ok and recommended that you give your athletes a chance to perform workouts as Rx’d without worrying about the time. It will give them a victory, and baseline to work from for improving their fitness. Most of the time, in most situations, and most scenarios the workouts should be scaled down appropriately, first with load, then reps or distance, and lastly the movement, in order to maintain the stimulus intended.

Author Chris Spealler
Author Chris Spealler
Chris Spealler is a multi top 10 finisher at the CrossFit Games and one of the sport’s legends. He currently works for CrossFit HQ and owns his own facility (CrossFit Park City) in Utah. Chris’ amazing strength endurance, endurance, and work ethic always made him a fan favorite.