Ultrarunning Strength for "Tactical Athlete"

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  • #25338
    hungrycoop
    Participant

    Just yesterday I finished reading Training for the Uphill Athlete. Excellent book and everything is laid out logically and progressively. My kind of writing!

    I am looking for thoughts on incorporating and maintaining “tactical” strength while training for a 50K.

    I am 46 5’10″/160 and career law enforcement. For a recent, hilly 25k I trained aggressively using a Pfitzinger running program with only a day of strength each week. I got a top 30% finish (which I am satisfied with), but throughout the training plan and after the race, I felt weak (not worn down, just weak. I also lost too much weight for my lean frame and my strength assessments decreased significantly). I am looking to train for a 50k in the spring, but I want to maintain, not lose strength. Not only is it critical for my job, but I always feel better in the outdoors and seem to be less injury prone when I am doing barbell work.

    What are other athlete’s thoughts on incorporating more general strength (2 or 3 days, including upper body) into a 50K plan even at the loss of some endurance and a heavier racing weight? Any thoughts on how to program this?

    I understand strength programming for the endurance athlete, especially as described in the book. I am more interested in strength programming for a middle aged recreational endurance athlete who wants to maintain weight and “tactical strength” while still training.

    Thank you,
    RC.

Posted In: Tactical

  • Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #25367

    RC:

    This is the classic trade off of wanting to have your cake and eat it too:-) Training induces adaptations specific to the type of training stimulus. The training stimulus activates a series of signaling pathways that up-regulate certain gene expressions. The principle pathway caused by your running is known as the AMPK that up-regulates mitochondrial biogenesis leading to better endurance in those trained muscle fibers. Heavy strength training induces Hypertrophy through the mTOR pathway.

    The conflict comes because the AMPK (endurance pathway) also inhibits protein synthesis (growing new muscle fibers). You’ll loose muscle mass, especially fast twitch (high strength) muscle fibers when you run high volumes.

    The mTOR pathway (Strength gains through hypertrophy) will cause you to be carrying more muscle around which will reduce your running economy and endurance performance. Some studies have shown that mTOR also down regulates the AMPK pathway.

    The upshot of this is that strength training may not directly hurt your endurance but adding muscle mass will reduce your running performance. Endurance training will definitely have a negative effect on your strength. It is a trade off and only you can decide how much of a trade off you can tolerate.

    I’d recommend you focus on max strength (4-5 sets of 2-4 reps with 90% 1RM) methods rather than hypertrophy (6-8 sets of 8-12 reps going to failure in each set) methods to maintain and build strength with minimal mass gains.

    I hope this helps.
    Scott

    Participant
    hungrycoop on #25394

    Scott,

    Thanks for the explanation of the science behind the “conundrum” here. I am familiar with Max strength work and find that 4 to 5 reps in a percentage based progression works really well for me (hypertrophy does not-I have a hard of a time putting on muscle mass). I will be sure to incorporate 2 days of good barbell work into my 50k plan that I will develop based on Uphill Athlete. I just always feel good with strength work.

    On a side note, a very important point I took from the book was the advice to plan your microcycle in 2 week segments. A simple concept, but I have never done this for any training I have ever done. I have always planned all the way through and inevitably ran up against the anxiety of having to make every work out as written, then watching the whole plan fall apart when I missed some. After reading this and following the theme throughout the book, it feels like a weight has been taken off my shoulders when it comes to training.

    Thanks,
    RC

    Participant
    mike.p on #28970

    Awesome question hungrycoop! I, like you, want to keep strength “on” while training for ~50km races (for whatever reason I “feel better” when I do this; interestingly I am also 46).

    This July and August while base training I was able to keep two days a week with heavy 5×5 sessions in the mix (I stayed away from heavy DLs though, that seemed to affect my running a bit too much, but squats, bench, shoulder press, bent over row, weighted pull-ups). Closer to the races now and I’ve backed off 5×5 to focus on some specific work, but plan on returning for another 5×5 cycle once these are done.

    I guess I will try what Scott outlined in that excellent post too, perhaps moving to 2-4 reps in the new year and see how that goes. That said I’m not worried about muscle mass, to the contrary I would like to keep as much as I can :).

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