Friday, November 18, 2016

Intensity is the Key to Conditioning

I've been experimenting a lot lately with lower intensity training, as I've written about here and here, among other places.

Now intensity can mean many different things in different contexts - like percentage of one rep max when lifting weights, for example. From a conditioning perspective I mean something more like heart rate. I think of low intensity as any activity that keeps my heart rate lower than 140 or so beats per minute, or averages around that but never goes much higher. Jogging, not sprinting. If you do intervals in that zone, they have to be short with decent amounts of rest in between - maybe bursts of activity lasting no more than 5-10 seconds.

There was a time when I thought such work was useless - that was a big trend in fitness towards the early part of this century. There was a sort of general overreaction to the old paradigm, which placed a lot of importance on doing lots of low intensity training. Just as the proponents of doing lots of low intensity work were wrong, I was wrong to say it was useless.

The thing is that low intensity training (again, keeping heart rate at or below 140 beats per minute, more or less) does result in some adaptations that are useful. You'll increase your cardiac stroke volume, which will increase the rate of recovery from training, and make you more fit for daily life (activities like light hiking, climbing stairs, etc.). That will probably help you recover faster in between workouts, which will ultimately lead to an increase in how much training volume you can withstand. all of these are good results, and important to martial artists.

The problem/concern/thing to keep in mind is that low intensity training really doesn't do much to improve your ability to do high intensity exercise.

To put it a little more technically, work done that doesn't involve the lactic energy system won't result in improvements in the lactic energy system. And low intensity work isn't very lactic.

This all came to a head for me the other week. I've been doing, as I said, mostly alactic and aerobic work - work that kept my heart rate in the lower range. When I did strength training, which was more intense, I was doing very short sets (although a lot of them), which again doesn't really tap the lactic energy systems, even though it's been doing interesting things for hypertrophy.

That's been my training modality for probably six or eight months.

Then I joined a gym.

First, a personal trainer put me through a short but fairly intense workout - short circuits with weights, sled pushing, that kind of stuff.

Now I'm fairly strong - I've been doing strength training - but my body's ability to handle those longer sets is completely gone. I'm strong enough to push the sled hard, but I'm not able to handle the lactic acid buildup from doing so.

Then I started doing kata for the first time in a year.

Now kata, unlike the microsets I've been experimenting with, are definitely long enough to put some serious demands on that lactic energy system. Kata in my style take roughly 45 s to a couple of minutes, rarely less than that, certainly not 5-10 seconds.

And. They. Kicked. My. Ass.

What's the take home?

Aerobic endurance training, by itself, will NOT get you in shape for more intense activities. I've said this before (but sometimes it seems I need a reminder).

If you want to get in shape for sparring or kata practice some (or most, but not all) of your endurance training has to be at an intensity at least as high (preferably higher) than your sparring or kata practice.

And by intensity I mean the heart rate that results from the training.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is probably the best way to do this. I've written up HIIT protocols before on this blog, I'll add some more soon.

Low intensity training like the SVT I described before is good for you, will make you healthier, help you recover between workouts better, and improve your quality of life, but it will NOT get you in shape for serious work. My aerobic fitness is higher than it's been in a long time, but my ability to handle lactic work is shot.

The good news is that lactic conditioning comes fairly quickly. If you're in decent aerobic shape, a few weeks/months of HIIT will make you significantly better at high intensity training. It's hard work, and very unpleasant, but the results come quickly (unlike strength training, where it takes years to make real progress).

So wish me luck as I pull out the old dumbells and start up my Tabata -style One Arm Dumbell Power Snatch workouts again.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What I've been listening to (Podcasts)

I'm a big fan of podcasts, to listen to during steady state cardio, while driving, and sometimes while working (I work from a desk and have relatively little verbal interaction with anybody while working, so the podcasts are rarely interrupting, say, a phone call or a conversation).

There are podcasts on every topic under the sun, but I mostly listen to podcasts related to martial arts or fitness/nutrition.

I tend to think of podcasts I like in two different ways. First, how much information do you get - and by information I mean the kind of stuff you might learn from a textbook or training manual. Second is how entertaining or motivational it is - how funny are the hosts, how interesting are the stories involved.

There's nothing wrong with a podcast that aims to be primarily entertaining, just as there's nothing wrong with one that can be dry but contains lost of information.

Also keep in mind that these vary in what kind of content they include. Iron Radio is really for strength athletes - it's about getting big and strong. If you're not interested in that, it won't be for you.

I'm going to include all my regulars, with ratings based on both parameters and a little writeup.

One other note: All of these podcasts are free. Some have ads. Some have patreon support enabled, which allows you to easily make regular contributions to the shows, but you don't have to do so (I personally give them money whenever I can).

Martial Arts:

Entertainment Value: High
Information Content: High

Hosts Connor Ruebusch and Patrick Wyman analyze fights, mostly discussing MMA with a few forays into boxing and even fewer into kickboxing. All the analysis is geared exclusively to combat sports, so if all you care about is self defense/streetfighting this isn't the place for you.

Both hosts are personable and fun, so they engage in some entertaining banter and occasionally disagree, making this an easy and fun listen. But it's the quality of the analysis where this show really shines. The hosts consistently analyze fight sports from a position of understanding the styles of various fighters - outfighters, pressure fighters, counterpunchers, etc., complete with a lot of discussion of how fighters of each style can make adjustments to match up better against their opponents.

Fights Gone By (Jack Slack)
Entertainment Value: Medium/Low
Information Content: Very High

Jack Slack is by far the best and most interesting combat analyst in the game today. Like Heavy Hands, focuses mostly on combat sports, but he will dip his toe into analysis of other topics, like history of combat techniques and even karate style sparring analysis (that's more in his writings than in his podcast). You should definitely be reading his articles for Fightland.

He podcasts by himself, and has a rather dry tone, but the content is absolute gold and very, very technical. They're available on YouTube, but there isn't a ton of visual content, so don't sweat it too much if you can only listen.

Entertainment Value: Medium
Information Content: Medium

Steven Wright, a high level MMA striking coach, podcasts about his first love, kickboxing (both Muay Thai and European style). It's usually just him, though he occasionally has an interview scheduled.

I put the information content as medium because the show isn't very technical - you're not going to learn how to be a better kickboxer from listening to it. It's (by design) really just coverage of the sport, and Steven excels at covering each week's important bouts, their ramifications, and so forth. For what it's trying to do it is great, but if you don't care about the sport of kickboxing give this one a pass.

Entertainment Value: Low
Information Content: High

Iain Abernathy's podcasts come across like a guy reading a blog post he's written. He seems like a lovely fellow, but it isn't sparkling entertainment.

What he does deliver is, unlike the previous three podcasts, is information related to traditional karate practice. He focuses a lot on bunkai (applications taken from kata), self defense, some historical analysis of karate, and some philosophical posts about karate. Very informative if you're interested in that stuff, even if you don't agree with everything he says.

Honorable Mention:
Applied Karate (Des Paroz)
Entertainment Value: High
Information Content: High

Des hasn't put out a new episode in almost 5 years, but you should listen to the first 14 episodes if you have a chance. Des interviewed some really high ranking, important karateka (and me, though that apprently killed the enterprise entirely.) Super valuable for the history contained there, and great to listen to if you care about the history side of martial arts.

General Fitness/Nutrition:

The Fitcast (Kevin Larrabee)
Entertainment Value: Very High
Information Content: Medium

This was one of the first podcasts I listened to, so it holds a warm place in my heart. It's been running for 10 years, but the quality has really gone up dramatically in the  last 2. I don't recommend going back before episode 300 (it's up to 412 as I write this).

The show is free, though patreon supporters get early access. Kevin interviews leading professionals in the strength and fitness industry. The discussion tend to be more about his guests' personal history and experiences in the industry, and less technical, with occasional exceptions. He does get deep into motivational/self help topics on occasion, so if you like that you'll love the show.

Entertainment Value: High
Information Content: Medium

I love this show more than I can say. It's more about strength athletes (powerlifting, strongman, bodybuilding, weightlifting), so the information tends to be more specific to that group. Three out of the four regular hosts are just exceptional people - if I had to get stuck on a desert island with a group of people they might be my top choices.

A lot of the 'information' is actually the opposite - rather than delving into complex periodization programs or the latest in edgy supplement/nutrition notions, these guys emphasize the basics; lift heavy but intelligently, eat big, get strong. A lot of it is very motivational, and moreso, the guys are just so much fun. It's like being a fly on the wall of a locker room full of dudes who just finished a high level strength competition.

Entertainment Value: Medium
Information Content: Very High (sometimes maybe too high)

Robbie Bourke, my personal hero, loves training and nutrition and it shows. He interviews high level strength coaches and physicians in the field of human performance. His show is super technical, and it's a place where you'd go to get the nitty gritty details on why a specific kind of endurance test might be suboptimal for a particular population of athletes but not another one.

This is mostly stuff applicable to high level athletes in a field sport, but there real nuggets in there good for anybody who trains. Every episode is super interesting, although this is more on the "like someone reading a textbook out loud" end of the spectrum (but not that bad).

Entertainment Value: Medium
Information Content: High

A recent addition to my list, this podcast is mostly about (wait for it...) nutrition, but covers other issues in strength training as well.  Less about personal stories and more about technical issues related to nutrition for health and for performance. Also hits on combat sports topics like nutrition for weight cutting, if you like that sort of thing.

Entertainment Value: High
Information Content: Medium/Low

A little more over the top entertainment wise (the hosts joke around a lot - out of this list, this is the podcast where you're most likely to hear screaming and threats of physical violence) that sometimes hits on some serious topics.

I'm sure there are other great podcasts out there, but I can recommend these to start with. I wish I had more on the list that had to do with tradtional martial arts.

Please share to comments if you have an podcasts to recommend!