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by Thomas Kurz
Do not make the following errors unless you want to get overtrained rather than to achieve lasting good shape.
1. Error: Warm-up with high-intensity exercises so you huff and puff and run out of breath quickly.
Warm-up should start with exercises of low intensity and then progress to the intensity of the exercises that are the main subject of the workout. It is an error to start a warm-up with high-intensity exercises. Such an intensive start reduces the athlete’s work capacity needed for effectively carrying out tasks of the main part of the workout. Intensive exercises quickly use up stores of muscle glycogen and increase the level of lactate in blood. The higher the blood level of lactate, the lower is the use of free fatty acids for energy (Romanowski 1973). Conversely, the greater the use of free fatty acids for energy, the more work an athlete can perform before fatiguing.
2. Error: Tire yourself out with long sets or long aerobic exercises and then do a high-intensity finish.
Doing speed work after endurance work raises lactate levels and increases recovery time more than doing speed before endurance. Prefatiguing slow-twitch muscle fibers with long-duration aerobic work impairs intramuscular coordination, so a greater mechanical stress is put on the structurally weaker fast-twitch fibers. This causes greater muscle soreness after a workout that begins with aerobic endurance, proceeds to increasingly anaerobic efforts, and ends with sprints. Mechanical stress, which damages muscle fibers, is the main factor in muscle soreness.
Damage from mechanical stress is compounded by chemical damage from muscle acidosis when a workout ends with exercises of intensity exceeding the anaerobic threshold.
An athlete is likely to feel overstressed after a few workouts with this arrangement of increasing the intensity of effort after fatiguing aerobic work (the longer distances). This is explained in and in the books on exercise physiology listed at The Athlete’s Bookshelf.
It is better to start the main part of a workout (after the warm-up) with short sprints (maximal speed) and end it with longer distances. Light movements after heavy muscular effort also help to relieve mental tension and improve blood flow in the muscles, which speeds up the recovery. Faster recovery means a greater possible volume of work (in a workout and in the whole training process), thus attaining better athletic form.
Doing long distances and then short may be good for mental toughness if done occasionally, but it is not very good for endurance in the long term and is bad for speed and agility because the short runs are done when you are fatigued and relatively slow. See the chapter “Speed” in the book Science of Sports Training.
Two popular explanations are given for doing sprints when tired by the preceding endurance work. One is that such an arrangement helps recruit fast-twitch glycolytic fibers, which are recruited for high-intensity efforts such as the 100-meter track-and-field sprint or 50-meter swimming sprint. The other is that sprinting when fatigued gives the ability for a strong finish, the final “kick.” Neither of these explanations makes much sense as I explained in depth in the article “Endurance Workout: Slow to Fast or Fast to Slow?”.
The ways of arranging exercises in a workout for best effect and the rationale for these ways are covered in the chapters “Basic Concepts of Sports Training,” “Structure of a Workout,” and “Endurance Exercises in a Workout” in the book Science of Sports Training.
3. Error: Do exercises that have little or no resemblance to the movements of your sport.
The purpose of conditioning is to prepare an athlete for the demands of sports practice and competition. To improve endurance for sport one has to get tired, but not with just any exercises. It does matter what exercises one does to get tired. The right exercises are those that have a movement pattern similar to actions/techniques of the sport or martial art. They may be similar to the whole pattern of action/technique or to its parts. For example, for karate fighters and kickboxers shadow kickboxing and shadow boxing are similar to the whole pattern of competition activity. Exercises that are similar to parts of the typical actions are done to isolate and improve strength or endurance of potential weak points—for example, pushups to strengthen the shoulder girdle and arms for punching, squats for strengthening and conditioning legs for evasive maneuvers and for withstanding low kicks, sit-ups for protection of abdomen and for strength in twisting actions such as punching, rope jumping for lightness of footwork and for overall endurance, running for overall endurance and for balanced strength of the lower body.
One wise fencing coach, Zbigniew Czajkowski, offered this simple division of exercises used in sports training:
a. exercises directly applicable in the sports competition;
b. those that, while not being directly applicable in the competition, still prepare for it—for example, technical drills or coordination exercises to develop time-space orientation; and
c. exercises that prevent injuries and overtraining, or speed up physical and mental recovery.
Exercises that do not fulfill the above requirements are useless and ought to be discarded (Czajkowski 1998b). One such exercise is jumping jacks. There is no technique in sports that is similar to and can be improved by doing jumping jacks, but what is more important jumping jacks can neurologically disorganize a person. Jumping jacks, even for normal persons, can cause regression to an out-of-sync, homolateral pattern of locomotion (left arm swings forward with the left leg, right arm with right leg) and “a vague feeling of confusion” (Diamond 1983).
References are listed in Science of Sports Training.
This article is based on the Stadion book Science of Sports Training. Get it now and have all of the info—not just the crumbs!
If you have any questions on training you can post them at Stadion’s Sports and Martial Arts Training Discussion Forum