April 4, 2015 posted by

Mixing Power & Endurance

Mixing Power & Endurance

One of my fitness gurus, Dr. Fred Hatfield, titled a chapter in his book Power, “Power and Endurance: ne’er the twain shall meet.” From a physiological point of view, he’s right, and most people choose a camp to train and perform in. My exploratory demeanor motivated me in exactly the opposite direction, because both are awesome so why do just one? Today’s post is part Psyche, part explanation of why he’s right and I’m crazy, but also why I have so much fun.

Let’s start with some psyche. Wonderkid Alex Megos on Lucid Dreaming, a 3-move perfect power problem, which he loves because there’s no way to cheat it with technique. You simply need the strength.

My last post, on the best way to train, outlines how human energy systems dictate training and why preparing to do something like a 3-move boulder problem is completely different than today’s endurance example, stage 13 of the classic ’86 Tour de France, where Bernard Hinault, the leader of the Tour, attacks the peloton with three mountain passes to go, on a descent no less! It’s the type of brash bike riding that doesn’t really exist anymore. While almost suicidal for race results, it’s the ultimate cool thing to try; a pure testament to someone who’d rather crash and burn while attempting to be amazing than play it safe. While moves like this are certainly easier when the guy in second is on your team and likely to win if you fail, characters like The Badger make sports worth  watching.

Training for power is almost 100% different than training for endurance. Power requires full concentration for single force load movements at your body’s absolute limit. You can’t get pumped, and any endurance component, even anaerobic endurance, reduces your body’s ability for pure force.

Endurance is about getting pumped, fighting the pump, recovering from it and toiling in utter torment until your body forces you to stop.  Maximal forces are not a consideration. Nothing you are doing is that hard on its own, and it all comes down with how long you can stay in “the pain cave.”

Combining the two doesn’t just waste time, it actually changes the physiology of your body to the point you get worse at both. You’re either born with a propensity for power or endurance, meaning you’ve been given either more fast twitch or slow twitch muscle fibers. You can’t change this much, but you can change it some. A natural born sprinter who trains for endurance will convert some of their fast twitch fibers to slow, and while this improve their capacity for endurance it reduces their ability for pure speed. Since you can never convert enough muscle fiber to offset your natural talent, you are diminishing any chance of getting all you can out of your body. Essentially it’s curtains for you if your goal is to maximize your athletic ability.

Most of us, however, are not born with world class ability at anything. I was born a fast twitch athlete with reasonably high lung capacity. While this allowed me a dabble in endurance, although I was best at power. Perhaps it was my ability to do both okay, or maybe just a curious nature, but something made it more interesting to pursue limits of both than focusing on one. While this killed any chance I had of becoming a professional athlete, it opened a lot of very interesting doors, as well as my pursuit of birthday challenges that focused on both.

The lesson of the day is that if you want to be a sprinter or powerlifter, never train for endurance. If you’re only into endurance, never train pure power. But if you’re not trying to win the Olympics and just want to be fit, training for both can help you do a lot of fun things.

Some professional sports have elements of both, and one of the best of them is happening tomorrow. The Tour of Flanders, arguably the greatest single day race in the world, is one of the few bikes races not on a track that requires anaerobic power. The wispy climbers who win the Tour de France are generally too small to hammer up short 20% grades on cobblestones and then sprint to the finish fast enough to win. It’s a race for cycling’s big guys. At 260k, it’s still an endurance sport, but it’s definitely one where you need some power, so occasionally the twain do meet.

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