September 20, 2019

USA Weightlifting – Beyond the Basics

Over the course of the last couple of years, I have dabbled in the Olympic moves (snatch, clean, and jerk) with limited success, frequently getting discouraged by the difficulty of these seemingly simple moves (I have preferred to read about these movement patterns rather than incorporate them into my ongoing training programs).  I mean you look at a clean, and you go, “Ok, I can move this bar from the floor to my shoulders.”  In practice however, it is much more difficult than it looks.  This year I decided to get serious and change from a bystander to a participant, no longer  content to look at movement “theory,” I wanted to begin formal practice.  To that end I calendared the USA Weightlifting, Level I – Sports Performance Coach Certification and made learning and teaching the “O-moves” (as they are affectionately know by those who run in weightlifting circles) a priority.  My rationale for wanting to learn more about these movement is fairly straightforward, these moves are “functional” in the broadest sense—they are ground based (as are the majority of sports and activities), they can offer a wide variety of clients an efficient workout with tremendous training adaptations (e.g., increased power, development of kinesthetic awareness, increased muscle fiber density, increased intramuscular/intermuscular coordination), and they introduce clients to fun and challenging movements—these reasons, laid out in the USA Weightlifting curriculum, are the very reasons I wanted to attend this certification course.  Over the third weekend in April, I found myself at Red Rocks CrossFit in beautiful Colorado Springs, CO.   Along with some 25+ others from both Colorado and a few from beyond Colorado’s borders, Paul Fleschler introduced both “theory and practice” and then took me way beyond the fundamentals as both an athlete and a coach.

Olympic reminders that adorn RedRocks CrossFit (many of these athletes have trained with Paul at his facilities or at the USA Olympic training center).

The Venue: Red Rocks CrossFit occupies an old trolley car building that offers the essentials and then some.  Power racks, barbells, and lots of bumper plates adorn the floors of a facility, that by both its design and decor feels “serious.”  From its high ceilings hang multiple iron rings and suspended braided ropes.  Rowing machines are the only “cardio” equipment (a frequent hallmark of CrossFit gyms).  But beyond all the necessary equipment, e.g., medicine balls, plyo boxes, PVC dowels, the thing that stands out and sets it apart from other CrossFit gyms are the large-scale tributes to the USA Olympic weightlifting athletes.  As it turns out, much of the equipment in use at the facility came directly from the USA Olympic weightlifting center, also located in Colorado Springs.

Paul Fleschler, a coach and trainer with 30+ years of experience, exuded enthusiasm for this “lifelong” sport.  Over the course of his career, Paul has competed at a national level, worked with Olympic and collegiate athletes (he was a strength coach at Indiana University in the days when Bobby Knight reigned supreme), and, like so many other coaches and trainers that I admire, he has managed to find a way to progress the health and fitness with the “everymen” of the world—average men and women who are interested in learning knew skills and increasing their fitness levels.  Oh, and I failed to mention that he represented the USA in the sport of weightlifting in the ’92 Barcelona Olympics (see more about Paul and his credentials here)!  At the outset, Paul affirmed what I have long believed, the Olympic moves should be a part of my training routine.

But you can’t just start with the clean.  One should walk before he or she runs.  And the progression of learning these hallmark O-moves, based on some 30 years of practice within the USA Weightlifting organization, begins with a general physical preparedness regimen (a general warm-up) followed by a minimum mobility assessment.  For the sake of expediency, I will pass over the details of a warm-up, just know that the completion of a comprehensive dynamic warm-up is a prerequisite for performing these movements well (as well as serving to reduce the possibility of injury).  The minimum mobility assessment, consisting of an overhead squat, straight leg raise, front squat (in “receiving” position), and an upright row with a PVC bar/stick provides a look at an athlete’s readiness to attempt the Olympic moves.  This short assessment identifies potential structural and flexibility restrictions that can be addressed with specific warm-up and even corrective techniques.  By way of personal example, I have tight latissimus dorsi muscles (upper back) and pectoral muscles.  I also perform the majority of my squat movements in the “low bar” position.  As a consequence, my overhead squat presents significant forward lean—not a problem if you wish to squat large amounts of weight, but a significant problem for getting in the proper position for the Olympic moves.  Add some decreased mobility in my hip joint and tight hamstrings and I have some work that needs to be done before I will be able to progress to higher levels of Olympic lifting!  My ongoing exercise prescription will be to work on progressing my flexibility and gradually transitioning to the “high bar” position back squat.

An overview of the weekend’s itinerary provides useful insight into how these moves are taught: Day 1: Two sections: 1) Understanding and Preparing for Weightlifting (introduction, objectives, rationale; safety and evaluation; and basic biomechanics, and 2) Learning and Teaching Techniques: Basic Exercises, Clean Related; Basic Exercises, Snatch Related; and Basic Exercises, Jerk Related and Day 2: Powers Assistance Exercises and Implementing Program Design (Day 2 also included an extended coaching session during which participants worked on the clean, snatch, and jerk movements).

Following a self-guided general warm-up, completion of the minimum mobility assessment, and dividing into small groups, we began working the progression for learning the technique of the O-moves.  First, up the “starting position.”  The starting position sets the stage for a successful moment.  As I frequently share with my clients in the weight room, “Sometimes how you start determined how you will finish!”—this is particularly true to the Olympic movements.  The keys to a good stating position are as follows: 1) all body levers are “tight,” 2) feet are straight (neutral) or slightly turned out, 3) the back is flat (or even concave), 4) the arms are straight (elbows are rotated out), 5) the head is up (again, neutral) and the eyes are focused straight ahead, 6) the hips are higher than the knees, and 7) the shoulders are in advance of the barbell.  Note: the weight is distributed evenly on the athlete’s feet prepared for the changes that take place during the movements (i.e., 1st pull: weight moves toward the heels, and 2nd pull: weight moves toward the toes).  Paul was “hands on” during the practical portions of the training (which made up more the 3/4 of the curriculum), rotating through each group and emphasizing certain critical points to the group as whole as needed.  In addition, Paul was assisted by three experienced assistant coaches, one of which, a 23-year-old female lifter, competes at the national and international level and narrowly missed an Olympic trial spot this year—she is about to begin another 4-year training cycle and dreams of representing the United States in the Olympics.  Each coach offered unique perspectives and cues to the moves that we practiced throughout the weekend.

Me, assuming the proper "start position."

By the lunch break of day 1, I  had performed LOTS of clean and clean related moves.  After lunch and another self-guided warm-up and brief work through a barbell complex, we attacked the snatch and snatch related moves.  But for the difference in the grip (the snatch features a substantially wider grip), these two moves share a great number of similarities.  Note: A surefire way to determine the proper width of the snatch grip is to use a jump rope.  The procedure goes like this: have the athlete stand with her back facing toward you, left arm extended at her side, with her right arm extended away from her hips at shoulder level.  Measure from the top of the left shoulder (the AC joint, or acromioclavicular joint) to the middle knuckle on the right hand—simply transfer this measurement to the bar.  (With the clean, the focus is moving under the bar to the receiving (aka “rack”) position, whereas with the snatch, the barbell moves on a trajectory over the head.  As with the clean, by the end of the day I had performed LOTS of snatch and snatch related, along with a good quantity of jerk and jerk related moves (the jerk features footwork where the feet split underneath the bar).  I said goodbye to my group and Paul, then headed slowly to my truck to make the trip back home to Denver.

Learning from Each Other:

The Level 1 course, in addition to providing instruction from high experienced coaches, facilitated additional learning and coaching opportunities within our small groups.  My group featured a standout named Grant Cahill.  From the moment Grant joined our group, sporting his well-worn Risto weightlifting shoes, I knew that there was something special about this 32-year-old.  Grant is a trainer who has been working through the CrossFit competition ranks, while practicing solo in his garage.  I learned a great deal from Grant as we all learned more about these movements.

Grant Cahill nailing a jerk, "spot on" just like he did on almost every movement that he practiced over the weekend.

Day 2 ushered in the power assistance exercises.  We initially focused on the snatch and clean pulling movements.  With these moves, the goal is to develop strength in the pull.  And, in the case of the Romanian dead lift (RDL), strength in the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.  The power assistance moves also include overhead pressing and lower body squatting movements.  The overhead movements include the push press behind the neck, power jerk behind the neck, and the jerk behind the neck.  The squat power assistance exercises include the squat (the “high bar” back squat is implied here), and the single leg squat in two varieties: 1) the split squat and 2) the split squat with the rear foot elevated.  Each of the power assistance movements are designed to serve to improve performance in the O-moves.

Prior to the final practice session devoted to the clean, snatch, and jerk movements we discussed the essential components of program design.  As with endurance training and traditional resistance training, training for the Olympic movements should be both rational and periodized (note that I frequently make the argument that nutrition should be similarly periodized).  Using the lift related movements (i.e., snatch or clean), the overhead movements (i.e., snatch or jerk), the squat related movements, and pull related movements, a systematic training program can be designed to promote ongoing positive training adaptations—the idea is to manipulate the application of stress over time to elicit consist and ongoing training adaptations.  Paul and USA Weightlifting break the basic training macrocycle into a 12-week block that includes three 4-week periods.  Each 4-week period is respectively devoted to preparation, strength, or competition.  The volume begins high at a relatively low intensity in week 1 (the first week of a 4-week preparation training block) and steadily progresses, via an inverse relationship, to week 12 (the final week of another 4-week “competition”/peak training block) where the volume is low and the intensity is high.  Note also that the number of lifting (e.g., the clean, snatch, and jerk) versus strength related exercises (e.g., pulls, squats, and overhead presses), as well as the repetition count, changes across the 12-week cycle).  Every third week serves as an “unloading” week, where the athlete’s body recovers and adapts to the systematically increasing training loads.  The bottom line is that it is not sufficient to know how to execute the O-moves, the athlete must incorporate the moves into a rational training plan that will serve to consistently advance the athlete’s training adaptations.

Homemade lifting straps fashioned from 1" tubular webbing and athletic tape (used to increase grip with the pulling exercises).

Coaching Tips & Tricks: Olympic weightlifting, by definition, is an international sport.  Consequently, a well-appointed training facility will offer weights labeled in the international standard kilograms and and not US pounds.  Most of us are familiar with the standard conversion of kilograms to US pounds (i.e., multiply kilograms x 2.2 = US pounds); however, there is an easier way to get at the correct conversion in the weight room: simply multiply kilograms times 2 and then add 10%.  For example, 60 kilograms of weight equals 132 (120 + 12) pounds—simple as that!  Also, I discovered a new type of “strap” that can be fashioned out of 1″ tubular webbing (note that this is readily available from an outdoor store or climbing store, e.g., REI).  These straps help overcome the limitation of grip strength (especially in the pulling exercises where grip is frequently a limiter when lifting heavy loads)—note also that this is why the hook grip is preferred.  As Paul pointed out, these straps have the advantage over the store-bought variety since they will not tear as easily.  You know the ones that wrap around the athlete’s wrist and then double back through (see one example, here).  Approximately 18″ of tubular webbing folded over on itself and then joined at the end with athletic tape (this tape may need to be reapplied from time to time) will yield a durable pair of lifting straps.

The entire weekend was a complete success.  Paul provided a wealth of knowledge along with some great stories that served to add a richness and context to the material that we covered in the curriculum.  In addition to the great instruction by Paul and his assistant coaches, the course participants were similarly engaged and eager to learn.  As I left the gym on the final day, the comments flying through the air where uniformly positive.  Through their diversity as trainers, coaches, CrossFit’ers, and competitive athletes, my fellow attendees challenged and progressed my learning.  The bottom line is that the Olympic moves offer the ability to promote tremendous muscular and neuromuscular development.  The snatch, clean, and jerk, along with the related exercises, are challenging and can add variety to your workouts.  Want to know more?  Contact me and I will be happy to share what I have learned (we can learn more together).  Alternatively, make an appoint to see Paul or drop in at Red Rocks CrossFit for one of the monthly “open gym” days—you will be able to joint fellow lifters and coaches in learning more about these great moves (note the upcoming “open gym” days are as follows:  see the Red Rocks CrossFit page for additional information).  Find a local lifting club or a local gym where the Olympic moves are understood and taught: two gyms that Paul recommended include Flatirons CrossFit in (see Randy Hauer for learning the O-moves) and Front Range CrossFit (see Skip Miller for learning the O-moves)—in addition to working with Paul, I will certainly be drawing additional knowledge from these local resources!  For an active blog concerning all “happenings” in Colorado weightlifting, see here.

I have included the core curriculum of the USA Weightlifting progression in the slide show that follows (these slides will hopefully serve to get you thinking about how these movements should be approached, taught, and practiced).  I am extremely grateful to Paul Fleschler and USA Weightlifting for allowing me to include these slides here (note that Paul authored the USA Weightlifting, Level I manual).  Contact USA Weightlifting to learn more (perhaps even take a the Level I certification) … you will not be disappointed!

A review of the “basics”:

As an aside, the majority of this post was drafted at The Coffee Exchange, a quaint and well-appointed coffee shop that is located just beyond Red Rocks Crossfit on Tejon Street in the Springs (click here to view the Yelp reviews of this independent coffee shop).



Garmin 910XT … New Training Tool

My new Garmin 910XT with optional Garmin Foot Pod.

This month I received my new Garmin 910XT along with the optional Garmin Forerunner Foot Pod.  I find significant value in training with heart rate (HR), as do many other trainers and coaches.  I recently started leaving my Polar products behind after a very positive 6+ year history with Polar’s 725X (no longer available), RS400sd, and CS200cad, having switched to the latest versions of the GPS-enabled Garmin products.  I made the change primarily to provide my coach for Ironman Cozumel, Michael Hagen, a more robust look into my training activities (the wealth of data that the Garmin products collect is exceptional, if not overwhelming at times).  Also, the switch to Garmin coincided with my move to the Mac platform (Polar’s ProTrainer5 is not currently supported on a Mac).   The Garmin units, utilizing the Garmin Connect interface offers sharing features as well as near seamless integration with Training Peaks.

Watch the YouTube Garmin video introducing the new 910XT here.

During my last endurance training cycle, I utilized both the Garmin 310XT (the predecessor to the new 910XT) as well as the Garmin Edge 500.  The Garmin 310XT was plagued by several nagging issues (primarily, although billed as multisport training tool, it lacked any true swim features).   There are others, e.g. relatively short battery life, large size, etc.  The dedicated swim feature is what sets the 910XT apart … Garmin touts the new 910’s swim metrics (e.g. stroke count, lap count, etc.) and for that, I could not be any more excited … I love to swim, but find stroke, length, lap counting tedious and monotonous (even on the high intensity days).

Note: I can’t say enough good things about the Edge 500.  It is a fabulous cycling computer that has become a constant training companion on my bikes.

My hope is to simply share my “out of the box experiences” with the 910XT.  (I will also plan to revisit this post and comment further as my experience with this unit grows over the upcoming training year.)

Out of the Box & Initial Set Up

The out of the box "essentials."

What you get in the box that are the “essentials”: (1) 910XT unit, (2) USB ANT stick, (3) HR strap and transmitter, (4) wall charger and USB cord, and (6) “Quick Start” manual (note that you receive the Quick Start manual in nearly every known language; however, you do not receive an “Owner’s Manual”—it can be downloaded here) along with some extraneous items (e.g., country-specific power adapters, extra watch band, etc.).  Right out of the box, I noticed the sleek new profile of the 910XT, sporting a significantly smaller footprint than the somewhat awkward 310XT.

After repackaging the unnecessary components and filing a copy of my receipt in the box (never hurts in case of the need to return or expedite customer service), I moved on to the “Quick Start Manual.”  STOP: Charge unit before first use (mine arrived with a 56% charge)!  On to the charger the unit went (the 910XT boats a 20-hour life, significantly greater than the 310).  So much for the quick swim, bike, and run that I had hoped to accomplish within minutes of unpacking the unit!?

Garmin's USB ANT stick (allows wireless data transfer)

Fully charged, 100%, and ready to tackle the “Quick Start” manual before heading off for a swim, bike, and run workout.  Before turning the unit on for the first time, I am directed to go outdoors to an open area … out I go.  Once powered on, the unit finds the satellites (or vice versa) in less than 15 seconds.  I take a moment to enter my “user information,” and read the remainder of the manual.  Total setup took approximately 7 minutes; however, note that due to the fact that I already train with other Garmin units I had previously installed the latest version of Garmin’s ANT Agent software (for Mac/for PC—this software allows wireless communication between the 910XT, Edge, etc. and your computer via the “USB ANT stick”—unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, the Edge 500 requires a “hardwired” USB connection and does not use the USB ANT stick.  Next, I set my pool length to 25M, and headed off to the pool to have the unit count stokes, distance, and calculate my SWOLF score.


A word about SWOLF … SWOLF is simply a measure of efficiency.  Although the name is new to me, the efficiency metric is not.  Your SWOLF score is the sum of the time for one length (1/2 a lap) and the number of strokes taken to complete the measured length.  The lower the score the better.

In my initial swim test, I swam 800M (I counted laps) and looked down at the end of my 800M set to see that my 910XT showed precisely 800M … so far, so good.  A SWOLF of 55 … yikes (whatever that means!? … see text block above).


I encountered a snag when it came to the bike setup.  It had nothing to do with the data capture and connection with the HR transmitter, all of the training features worked flawlessly; rather, it had everything to do with my Type IA personality (I label myself TypeIA, as a play on the slow-twitch muscle type and my innate endurance bent).  I was determined to set up each of the three bikes that I typically train on (i.e., road, MTB, and TT).  However, I was unable to get the unit to accept more than a single bike (although the unit shows 5 available bike presets) and, as the minutes passed, I became more and more determined to solve this inconvenient little problem.  Against my better judgment, I called customer service (USA: 1 (800) 800-1020) and was pleasantly surprised.  “Amanda” solved my problems in a matter of minutes.  Unlike my previous 310XT, bikes must be added and selected using the “MODE” button.  First, you select the number of bikes that you wish to set up.  Second, you select “MODE” and then select “BIKE” and you will be prompted to “change bike” (it as it this point you can enter the selected bike details through the settings feature)  The unit allows you to then toggle between each bike by selecting “MODE” and “BIKE” … simply pick the bike you wish to train on and away you go.

As an aside, I also alerted Amanda to an apparent error in the Owner’s Manual (once again note that this manual is NOT included with the unit and can be downloaded from the Garmin site here).   This error had to do with returning the unit to its factory setting.  How did I discover this error?  Was I seriously considering returning my unit to its factory settings after entering all of my user information and experience precise lap recording at my home pool?  Well, yes.  I wanted everythingto work as designed.  Anyway, the correct instructions for this “nuclear option” aka “Hard Reset” (and, one that I thankfully did not have to employ) follow:

With the unit powered OFF, press and hold both the POWER and MODE buttons = restore to factory settings.

(or so I have been told … ha).


Amanda spoke about future software updates that the Garmin team was already working on.  I added my suggestion to the mix and she provided me with assurances that it would be passed along.  Here is my suggestion:  The unit allows the athlete to select different units (i.e., statute or metric) for various training modes: swim, bike, and run.  I run and bike with statute pace and distance on my mind (with the exception of track workouts that keep me focused on meters); however, I swim in a 25M pool.  I suggested that it would be great if the unit would allow you to keep statute measurements as defaults for both the run and the bike, but switch to metric measurements automatically when in the swim mode if you select the distance of your pool in meters.  We shall see!?

Update: My proposed suggestion has turned out to be unnecessary.  When you change the “mode” (e.g., swim, bike, run, or other) to the swim setting, you are prompted to select either open water or a pool swim.  If you select pool swim and select a length of 25M, the unit functions in the metric units while leaving all of the other statute setting unchanged (i.e. for the bike, run, and other modes).

As expected, performance on the bike was flawless.  I slapped the unit on the TT bike currently stationed on my CompuTrainer and started a steady-state workout.  HR, cadence, distance each paired precisely with the units calculated by the CompuTrainer (for HR I utilized the CopmuTrainer earpiece).  Although my Edge 500 will remain my primary cycling computer, it is nice to know that the 910XT will function in multisport applications as it is billed.


Off the bike and outdoors again!  (Note: That I turned the unit on and off to reset it from “indoor” mode).  As a true multisport device, this extra step would not be necessary depending on how you have the unit configured (e.g., “multisport”).  I ran a known course of 2.0 miles.  The 910XT again performed flawlessly, HR and distance were both accurate.

Supplemental Treadmill Test: Following my initial swim, bike, and run flash testing I put the unit to another “indoor” test on my treadmill.  I attached the optional Garmin Forerunner Foot Pod and started up my trusted Precor 93.1.  The unit detected my foot pod immediately and, even without calibration, distance fairly accurate with pace varying from ­+ 20 seconds at training pace, to almost 3 minutes at a walk.  I will revisit this issue after calibrating the foot bod by distance (the preferred method, see p. 25 of the “Owner’s Manual”).  A day later I performed a second test, again without calibration, and this time the distance measurement was accurate (no deviation) and the run pace discrepancy had narrowed to less than + 10 seconds.

Note that in each of the different modes (i.e., swim, bike, and run), the 910XT offers fully customizable data fields (e.g., HR, pace, lap time, time of day, etc., etc.—the available data fields are too numerous to name).

Data Transfer

After installing the latest version of Garmin ANT Agent, the data transfer was immediate and seamless (with new activities added directly to Garmin Connect).  No issues here.


After using the 910XT for approximately a week of training, I will admit that I am generally impressed.  The data collection is robust and the unit, while not exactly user-friendly, has met my expectations.  Really, it is new and improved over the 310XT and I can recommend the 910XT as a training tool for those who are inclined to collect data (if nothing more, this unit serves as a convenient device to keep track of training volume).  Spend some time with both the Quick Start and Owner’s Manual to familiarize yourself with the unit’s basic functions and you will be well on your way to collecting accurate training data.

While my review, by design, offers only a look at some of the “highlights,” several exhaustive reviews are available on the web, see one in Beyond Limits Magazine and, another, exceptional review by DC Rainmaker (a consistently reliable source for in-depth reviews of swim, bike, and run technology).


You Don’t Need Me, Really … You Don’t!

From time to time I encounter individuals who, due to either their independent nature, lack of availability of funds to dedicate to formal training, physical location (i.e., they live in another state) or some other valid reason are unable are unwilling to engage me in a personal training relationship; however, they remain interested improving or progressing their level of fitness.  While I believe that there is significant value in working with a well-qualified personal trainer (I would not be involved in this business if I didn’t believe that to be true), I understand the wide variety of reasons and obstacles that prevent everyone from working with a professional trainer.  Personally, although I consider my own training sessions valuable “personal time,” I know that I will typically work harder and train more effectively/efficiently when working along side a professional.  I only half-jokingly share with my clients the following … “If I could afford it, I would ideally work out with a personal trainer every session.”  This same sentiment is held even the most elite professional athletes (see the WSJ article concerning Shannon Sharpe, who, due to his training expertise was essentially left to his own devises by trainers during his NFL career, now regularly employs a personal trainer to help keep his fitness up in his life outside the NFL).  But what should one do when circumstances or “reality” prevents the ideal?  Enter Todd Durkin‘s book: “The IMPACT! Body Plan.”  Although there are many quality, “self-help,” self-guided fitness books on the market, Durkin’s book stands out among the field of current offerings and is one that I consistently recommend to clients that are looking to (or forced to) work independently.

Durkin is a star trainer (he also holds his NSCA, CSCS credential) who has had the opportunity to work with star athletes (e.g., LaDanian Tomilson and Drew Brees, to name just two).  Note: The story of Durkin’s relationship and work with Drew Brees should provide hope to those who are looking to recover from injury: Durkin led Brees out of the funk brought on by a 360-degree torn labrum tear and torn rotator cuff (a severe shoulder injury) to a complete and Championship recovery.  Durkin himself recovered from an injury that ended his professional football career at the age of 25—it was this “Impact,” sustained on the playing field, that has fueled Durkin’s drive to help others achieve peak physical conditioning.  Durkin, like me, understands that physical conditioning can be leverage to achieve what I call our “highest and best selves” (I will submit that my Christian faith commits me to viewing my ability to train, and do all things, as gifts from God).  In Durkin’s view “[w]hen you are in the best shape of your life, eating right, sleeping well, and feeling great, that’s when you achieve an energy shift.  And your energy can be directed toward creation.  And you can create whatever you want.”   Sounds good, right?

Countless other “household names,” from the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, New York Jests, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and numerous “everymen/everywomen” have thought so.  With a singular vision to help them unlock their athletic potentials through planed and purposeful training Durkin has helped them achieve that higher level of physical conditioning.  Durkin’s book provides great insight into both his planning and his purpose—his creative methods can be followed in a stepwise manner to help you expand your fitness.  Durkin, through his “Impact!” program conveys the motivation, accountability, and know-how that can yield surprisingly good results.

I often tell my clients, especially those that are struggling with a particular goal (i.e., usually weight loss or body composition change), “I wish that I could do it for you, because I could guarantee you success!”   But I can’t—my clients are responsible for their own outcomes.  So are you.  An excerpt from Durkin’s book mirrors my sentiment and is worth sharing here—perhaps it will motivate you to take action:

“One of my mantras—and you’ll see in this book that I have a few—is “Ready, fire, aim.”  Most of us live by the mantra “Ready, aim … aim … aim.”  And we never fire.  You say that you want to start an exercise program, but you never do; you say that you want to hire a trainer and get into shape, but you never do; you say you’re going to get a better job, but you never do; you say you’re going back to school, reconnecting with the people you love, traveling to a long-dreamed-of local.  You never do.  That’s why I live by “Ready, fire, aim”—it forces me to take action even when I feel fear, or hesitation, or uncertainty.  This program is all about action.  I’ll give you the game plan.  You take the action.  I’ll motivate you.  Inspire you.  Coach you.  I’ll also hold you accountable.  But, folks, have no illusions.  You have to take action.  You need to be there for yourself.  You need you.”

Do you already put in your “time” at the gym or “time” on the road (e.g., running or cycling) or “time” in the pool (you pick the mode of activity that describes you), but frequently feel as though you are not making the gains that you feel that you should be making, or, worse still, have plateaued and are realizing no gains at all, perhaps even going backwards?  It may be time to enlist the help of a professional or find a resource that can help (perhaps Durkin’s book).  Many times we know that we need to train, so we train … but we may not know “how to train”—that is, how to train to achieve our individual goals (if we have goals at all?)  When my mind wonders at the gym, I look around and try to match up the people that I see working out with the goals that they may be training for: “What is he training for?”  “Why is she training that way?”  Frequently, I am unable to see the connection.  Don’t be that person … make your training time count, train for and achieve specific goals, get results!  Frequently, more “time” is not the answer!  I will suggest that Durkin’s book may be able to  help.  Durkin employs many of the same strategies, ones that I routinely prescribe and teach to my client-athletes (I call all my clients athletes), while emphasizing many of the fundamentals that are part of my own training philosophy!

I will hit the major points of  Durkin’s “game plan” and suggest that you “fire” and pick up a copy  (at the time of this review, you can get your own copy from Amazon for under $12).

A word about equipment (Durkin calls them cutting edge “toys”).  While Durkin provides substitutes to use in the absence of access to the supplemental equipment that follows, the “toys” WILL add additional results to your training (and add some great variety to your sessions).  TRX Suspension Trainer – an extremely portable, versatile, and “fun” training tool that uses your own body weight as the resistance.  Superbands – (I like the SPRI ones found here), used to perform multidirectional exercises and add resistance or assistance to exercises.  I frequently prescribe a TRX and SPRI bands to clients who travel frequently—extremely portable and offers a great workout almost anywhere.  Sport Cords (again, I prefer SPRI), Durkin calls these the “little brother” of Superbands—they are used in much the same way.   BOSU – used to create instability and progress a wide variety of exercises (challenges the core and increases balance).  Kettlebells (note that offers a wide variety of bells) – used to improve grip strength (which often limits performance of other resistance/strength movements) and allows exercises to performed through a great range of motion.  Most fully-equpped fitness facilities will have the majority of equipment that you need to follow the program to the letter (usually one will need to supplement with only a TRX system and a couple of Superbands).

The Plan

Prior to starting the 10-week plan, Durkin prescribes a battery of “self-test” exercises.  The overhead squat, wall slide,  hover plank, deadlift, pushup, single-leg balance touch, rack row, and the 300-yard shuttle run each serve as valuable measures of fitness and will serve as valuable  before and after metrics (do these)!  Repeat these same tests again at the end of the 10-week plan and see just how far you have come!

Durkin’s plan consists of following  seven phases of the “MUSCLE MATRIX” that are incorporated into three stages over the course of a 10-week training cycle.  This matrix includes a 15-station dynamic warmup, emphasizes joint integrity, places appropriate focus on core conditioning, strength and conditioning, adds power and plyometrics, specific movement training, and includes flexibility training.

An excerpt from “Impact” clarifies the value of the matrix: “The Muscle Matrix is a simplified system that utilized advanced training principles to deliver maximum results.  It combines training in different planes of motion (up and down, forward and back, side-to-side, diagonally, and with rotation), performing some exercises with only one arm or leg, and challenging your entire body in a diverse training environment.”

I could not agree more with Durkin’s statement that, “[l]adies and gentlemen, you need resistance training to get results in any program.”  Resistance training (adding weight, using bands, moving against any resistance) is essential to achieving enduring body composition changes and supporting improved fitness—it is essential!

Another excerpt of Durkin’s book drives this point home:  “Cardio burns the most fat.  Not true (emphasis added).  Resistance training burns the most calories overall.  When you do cardio, you’re burning calories during the activity.  With resistance training, you burn calories during the activity but keep burning them for up to 48 hours afterward.  This is knowns as excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or the more well-known after burn.  Resistance training also jacks up your metabolism, improves insulin resistance, and shuts down the fat-storing enzymes in your body.”  [These are all very good things.]

The plan progressively moves you through “Stage I: Training Camp” (dedicated to learning the fundamentals), “Stage II: In Season” (four weeks devoted to “mastering” the moves and learning to apply advanced training principles like plyometrics, complex sets, drop sets, and eccentric training), and finally, “Stage III: The Playoffs” (here is where it all comes together, this final push moves you toward excellence).  Try this program, you will learn, you will improve your fitness, and you will have fun!

A word about nutrition:

Durkin encourages the reader to move toward “World-Class” eating.  This is sound advice and a terrific goal and Durkin offers eating strategies to accomplish it!  The familiar training adage, “You can’t out train a bad diet” is a staple in the training world—and it’s true.  What you eat and when you eat it is extremely important (the field of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics, that is, how food interacts with our bodies, even at the cellular or genetic level, is starting to come into the forefront of modern nutrition—food is fuel, food is medicine, and it has a tremendous impact on our health!  Durkin’s 1o Commandments work; furthermore, he has concisely outlined principles that I have long used to guide my own nutritional regimen:

  1. Get your motor started: Eat breakfast!
  2. Slow down!
  3. Fuel up before training.
  4. Refuel after training.
  5. Go wild!
  6. Remember that supplements are just that—supplements!
  7. Water your body.
  8. Keep a nutrition journal.
  9. Follow the 90-10 rule.
  10. Experiment with the IMPACT menu

Durkin correctly notes, “How you eat will help determine your ultimate success with the IMPACT program.”  I cannot agree more … give it a try!

As with all resources, I tend to “take the best and leave the rest.”  Durkin’s  10-week “body/mind fitness” plan requires me to leave very little.  Note that I personally completed 5-weeks of his program during my preparation for Ironman Cozumel and have scheduled the full 10-week program into my current year’s training calendar.  If you work out in Denver, CO and belong to LifeTime Fitness (either the Parker or Centennial clubs), and see me with my SPRI bands and TRX … chances are I am working Durkin’s plan, or incorporating some of his moves into my own routine—feel free to join in and share you own experiences and results with me!  I will encourage you to pick a copy of the “Impact” plan and work the system.  Durkin’s program applies resistance at multiple angles, with varying resistances, and at different speeds in a rational and periodized manner.  If you follow his program and train with intensity on a consistent basis, you WILL get results.

Durkin owns and operates Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA.  A world-class center that combines personal training, massage and bodywork, sports performance training, Pilates, yoga, nutrition, physical therapy, chiropractic, life coaching and more.

*Note: Don’t worry if you can’t come up with all the “toys” as Durkin offers substitute moves.  If you are a “road warrior” he also offers practical guidance on how to stay on track while you are away.

Go West Young Men (via the Triple Bypass)!

Last month I completed the Triple Bypass.  The “Triple” is one of Colorado’s “epic” rides and one that had been on my personal “to do” list for a while.  The event is fairly straightforward: ride from Evergreen, Colorado to Avon, Colorado while climbing up and descending down three major mountain passes—Squaw/Juniper (11,140 ft.), Loveland (11,990 ft.), and Vail (10,560 ft).  The course covers 120 miles and offers nearly 11,000 ft. of climbing.

The 2011 Triple Bypass Route Map (courtesy of

Although I had spent a considerable amount of time on my bike in early-2011, I didn’t train specifically for the Triple.  The Triple, while it certainly captures the attention of elite riders who wish to “race” the course, it is more an “everyman” event—this was especially true for me, as I simply wanted  to put some miles in and enjoy the ride.  More importantly, I was planning on supporting my friend Paul Hardcastle, who, against my recommendation against it, had managed to gain an entry to the inaugural “double”: a westbound Triple on Saturday, followed by the eastbound Triple on Sunday.  I had hoped to join my friend Roy Swanson and other members of “Team Glxy” for some miles.

For those thinking of tackling the Triple, I would recommend a periodized training plan to get you ready for a very long day in the saddle (depending on your existing level of fitness, 3 to 6 months of consistent training should provide ample training time).  Close-in training rides such as Deer Creek Canyon, High Grade, City View, as well as the climb up Squaw/Juniper pass (west out of Evergreen or east out Idaho Springs—my personal favorite) will go along way toward getting you ready for the climbs encountered on the Triple.  Don’t forget that in addition to the 50% mental, 50% physical equation, long sustained efforts generally depend on having a solid nutritional plan in place (one that has been repeatedly practiced during your training while working under demands that are similar to those likely to be faced on race day).

Paul arrived at my home shortly around 4 a.m. (Paul is my neighbor, so he walked over in the dark) and we loaded up and made our way to Evergreen.  Fortunately for me, we were able to forego the obligatory stop for Paul at Starbucks as the Evergreen location was not open at this early hour.  The morning was both crisp and cool (and dark) and, after hitting the Porta-Johns and packing up our nutrition and “layers” (an essential for any ride in the Colorado mountains), we headed to the “open” starting line.  I had hoped to get going closer to 5 a.m., but we ended up making it to the start closer to 6. We met Roy and briefly chatted before he disappeared up Squaw ahead of us.  Paul and I found our place among the mass of nearly 3,500 riders and moved up and over Pass #1.  After a blistering descent down Hwy. 103 we coursed through Idaho Springs and moved through the remainder of the course that took us through Georgetown, Silver Plume, and Bakerville.  Although there were a few stops along the way, we didn’t really hit the aid station “scene” until we made it to Loveland Ski Area.  After a short break for some lunch (I think Paul ate a pizza and perhaps had a beer … just kidding), we managed to meet up with Roy who elected to join us for the remainder of the ride.  As always, it was great to see Roy, an accomplished and capable cyclist, not to mention a quality guy.  We also learned that Roy was being “supported” by his family … Roy’s wife, their young daughter, and his parents were jumping from aid station to aid station so that they could share in the day.  As I looked out over I-70 I couldn’t help but think about my wife who was traveling (or at least would be shortly) along the interstate corridor to meet me in Avon.  My goal was to be waiting at the Westin to help her unload the children for our weekend mini-vacation in the mountains (as check-in was 4:00 p.m., we needed to make the ride in about 10 hrs.) … we needed to get going!  Next, it was up and over Loveland pass—a first for me on two wheels.  Another screaming descent followed, with a second reunion with Roy’s support team at another well stocked aid station at Summit County H.S, leaving us a final up and over … Vail Pass.

Paul Hardcastle, me, and Roy Swanson ascending Loveland Pass

We traded mountain roads for a more congested bike path and coursed up and up until we made it to the top of Vail Pass.  A final push was all that remained  AND it was supposed to be all downhill.  I checked my watch … I knew it would be close and elected to push a bit to get to Avon to meet my family.  We pushed a lot … in fact, at least to me, the final 20-plus miles in to town seemed to be the most challenging of the day.  After a bluebird day with the only threat of some precipitation contained in distant clouds that managed to stay away, the wind had picked up and turned into a formidable foe.  We systematically took our turns at the front and pulled each other (as well as considerable group of hanger-oner’s who were comfortable letting us do the work) into Avon.  Again, the elevation map clearly shows a gradual descent all the way into Avon; however, it felt more like a gradual climb to me!

The 2011 Triple Bypass Elevation Map, East to West (courtesy of

We arrived at Avon’s Elementary School after nearly 9 1/2 hours in the saddle (with a total time of around 10-ish) … I didn’t really keep any telemetry for  the actual time; but I know that it was approaching 4 p.m. when we crossed the finish.  Roy’s “crew” was waiting to greet us and after exchanging our post-race congratulations, Paul and I headed across Nottingham Park toward our hotel.  I spent my final moments with Paul trying to gauge how he felt and encourage him to accomplish the “double” as he had planned—unfortunately, this was not meant to be (Paul rode home with his wife the next day …).  Just as planned, I found my wife in the circle drive and proceeded to help with check-in, the day was officially over!

Paul Hardcastle, me, and Roy Swanson atop Vail Pass - 2011 Triple Bypass

The Triple is a beautiful ride and, while both the distance and the elevation seem daunting, it is a ride that can be enjoyed by a great number of cyclists (just consider the actually numbers, with more than 5,000 riders participating in the solo west, solo east, and combined double offerings).  Mark your calendars as registration opens in early-January and the ride take place in early-July!  For more information visit Team Evergreen.



XTERRA Mountain Championship — Beaver Creek, Colorado

Images from this year’s XTERRA Mountain Championship race:

With the demise of XTERRA Buffalo Creek (my absolute favorite Colorado XTERRA—2009 marked it’s final year, pending new developments, see text box below), the Beaver Creek Mountain Championship has earned an annual place on my race calendar (I competed here in 2009 but unfortunately missed last year’s race).

Robert Martinich, the ever-capable and dedicated race director sent out the following e-mail of January, 2010:

As some of you know from news reports last October, the owners of Wellington Lake closed the lake to the public until further notice.  That means all scheduled activities at the lake were cancelled.  The owners/shareholders (city of Thornton, city of Brighton, and a group of farmers) wanted to re-evaluate the activities at the lake.  Please note:  All of this information is from my one source who is not on the Board of Directors; I am not getting much information directly from the Board of Directors of the lake.  My contact with the Board of Directors informed me in late October that the Board wanted to continue allowing the Boy Scouts and events like XTERRA Buffalo Creek to continue at the lake and that they would try to have a decision by December.  However, I still have not heard of the Board’s decision regarding use of the lake and property for XTERRA Buffalo Creek.  My source believes that a decision will likely come towards the end of January.  I realize that many of you rely on this race to compete for points in the XTERRA series and are now making plans as to which races to compete.  I have worked very hard over the past 6 years to make XTERRA Buffalo Creek a top notch race for you in the series, and will try to accommodate all requirements set by the Board of Directors of the lake.  I appreciate your kind emails and your patience.  I will let you know as soon as I know.

And, with that, that was the last I have heard about this TERRIFIC XTERRA: featuring lake-side camping at the venue, a COLD swim, a blazing fast bike course with a grueling ascent to mark the finish, culminating in a scenic and feature-filled trail run—I wish Robert the best and hope that this race returns in the future!

This year’s Beaver Creek Mountain Championship failed to disappoint.  The Beaver Creek venue is exceptional, both from an athletic challenge standpoint and venue—the Colorado mountains in the summertime just invite XTERRA.  The full course event challenges athletes with a 1 mile swim (2 laps), 15.5 mile bike, and a 5.75 run, while the sprint race (short course) includes a 1/2 mile swim (1 lap), 9 mile bike, and a 3 mile run.

As always, a very capable field assembled in T1 along Nottingham Lake in Avon, CO to start the COLD swim.  During race check-in the day before (held up on the mountain in Beaver Creek) my wife and I ran into our good friend Lee and Myra.  We learned that their grandson would be competing in his first XTERRA and we managed to spend some time with him and our friends prior to my wave start.  The canon fired and I plunged into the alpine “lake” and started the first of two busy laps (the swim venue is small and the swim course stays crowded throughout the nearly 1 mile swim—1500M to be precise).  Once out of the water I acknowledge the “chill” before setting off on the 15.5-mile bike (with + 3600 feet of elevation gain, with the majority of it coming early during the course of a nearly 4 mile climb).  I put some gas in the tank early as I rolled out of Avon and start the ascent (Hammer gel, of course).  Almost immediately I felt the effects of both the altitude—the race begins at approximately 8,000 feet (Avon is + 7431 feet).  I managed to ride the majority of the route with only a small “hike-a-bike” during the steepest section of the initial single track climb.

The Denver Post featured a beautiful photo gallery of the images from the ’11 event that can be viewed here.

I put the long climb behind me and focused on working my way to T2.  Although the route features additional climbing, competitors follow the scenic “Village to Village” trail before a fairly steep descent into the village.  The route at XTERRA Beaver Creek is not technical (the “Cinch” – “Corkscrew” – “Cinch” connection that funnels athletes into T2 is the only exception), but it does require concentration and solid conditioning.  After dumping my bike on the downhill section that leads into T2 the last time I raced here, I redoubled my focus to make a clean ride.

Once cleanly through T2 I headed out on the run that I knew would be a punishing, lung-busting 5+-miles.  This year’s course did not fail to meter out significant punishment (the elevation along the 10K route approximates 1,300 feet of elevation gain).  I tried to run the entire course; however, some of the steeps during the first third proved too much … I downshifted and transitioned back and forth between a run and uptempo hike.  I pounded down the downhill sections (there are fortunately a couple along the route) and saved just enough “gas” to sprint to the finish.

Once across the finish line I was created by my wife and children … it really doesn’t get any better than that.  I managed to once again meet up with Lee & Myra (Zack also had a successful race, finishing the “sport” course in just under XXX).

Beaver Creek: Two Races in One

Another benefit of the Beaver Creek XTERRA is that it features a half-marathon (along with a 10K option) trail run on the following day.  This works extremely well for my family.   Two events, one on each day of the weekend, allow me to race the XTERRA on Saturday while Hope watches our children and then Hope can run the trail run on Sunday while I takeover as PIC (here, instead of “Partner in Crime” … “Parent In Charge”).  The half-marathon run integrates much of the XTERRA off-road triathlon course while adding more time climbing (the race features nearly 2,400 feed to elevation gain) while the 10K race retraces the full XTERRA off-road triathlon course from the day before.

Hope’s account of her half -marathon experiences follows:

Waiting to start the half-marathon along with my fan club.

Sunday provided  another blue sky day in Beaver Creek.  My husband and two children escorted me to the starting line of the Beaver Creek XTERRA Half Marathon.  It is a rare occasion when both my husband and I get to race, so this weekend was special.  Brian had completed the XTERRA triathlon the day before, leaving me to fulfill my  commitment to the half marathon trail race.  I had been training all spring to shed the baby fat from “No. 2” and had built up my mileage so that 13.1 miles wouldn’t be a stretch for me.  The race gun went off and the winding gravel and dirt climb started straight away.   I quickly realized that 13.1 miles on pavement/trail and 13.1 miles on a trail at altitude are vastly different (really … I know that).  I had vowed to not walk for quite a while if I could help it, but when the walkers started passing me I figured a long stride walk might be the better choice (I tried, but failed, to not go anaerobic).  After the long initial climb the course opened up to beautiful rolling terrrain.   Although the morning had started on the cool side,  the heat started coming on, but much of the course remained shaded in by trees.  During the middle of the race, I was joined by a pack of other athletes (which for me usually consists of fit older men and younger women who aren’t that fit) formed together—as usual, we engaged in the “pass me, pass you, pass me” game.  I maintained a run whenever possible and walked as the altitude strapped me with fatigue.  At one point I recall thinking, “How can an entire race be up hill?”  “My” personal race came down to me and another “girl.”  We were neck and neck through the final third of the course and I found myself fading as I tried to best “my” competitor—I couldn’t go any faster.  She seemed to have gained a second wind.  There was one difference between us, I had a Polar watch with mileage data and she didn’t.  I sensed that she thought the end was near, almost finished, but I knew we actually had about 4 more miles.  That explained why she was pushing so hard!  You won’t believe this, but out of nowhere, her boyfriend/husband appeared, cheering her on.  As she passed him she called out, “Am I almost done?!”  “About 4 more miles!” he yelled back.  Immediately she faded.  I never saw her again on the trail and ran to the finish alone.  I crossed the finish line and rejoined my family to celebrate the experience and “my win.”

The Beaver Creek race venue provides something for everyone (complete information can be found here).


Highlights from the NSCA Endurance Symposium

Earlier this year I attended the NSCA Endurance Symposium at the NSCA headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO.  I have long-held a respect for the NSCA and have been a member since beginning my training career (I am also a candidate for the CSCS certification and expect to take the exam sometime of the course of the coming months).  I received notice of the two-day endurance-specific symposium from the USAT and jumped at the chance to attend.  Continuing education is frequently a mixed bag, i.e. some are great, some are o.k., while still others are nearly a complete waste of time.  The NSCA event fell solidly in the first category—it was great!  What follows are some of the takeaways that I found noteworthy:

Note: If you ever get a chance to visit the NSCA’s headquarters, do so—it is a beautiful training facility that is appointed to train athletes at the highest level.

The symposium featured four primary presenters: Benjamin Reuter, PhD, CSCS, *D, ATC; Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D; Robert Seebohar, CSCS; and Randall Wilber, PhD, FACSM, with Sam Callan providing only a short presentation on the current state of technology used to monitor training (e.g. HR, GPS, Smartphones, and power meters) along with the attendant issues surrounding data transfer and management.   You can view the complete bios of the presenters here.  In addition, participants were provided with an opportunity for basic instruction on a few of the fundamental, compound Olympic lifting moves, namely the barbell squat and power clean.

Benjamin “Ben” Reuter, PhD, CSCS, *D, ATC, presented “Introduction to Endurance Training,” and “Injuries and the Endurance Athlete.”  A couple of my takeaways:  First, Reuter correctly defined endurance sports as “specialized movement” that places specific demands an athlete’s structural and metabolic systems.  These structural demands are fairly easy to conceptualize, as specific modes of activity (e.g. swim, bike, and run) place unique demands on the athlete’s body.  Metabolic specificity is a bit more removed from the mind of the typical multisport athlete; however,  it should frequently be at the forefront of an athlete’s mind when training.  Specifically, Ben emphasized that while three different energy systems function to meet the energy demands (by way of review: phoshagen, glycolytic, and oxidative systems) and all these systems are functioning all the time, each contributes a different portion of the energy necessary required depending on the stress placed on the body.  I frequently reference this concept with my clients and attempt to have them visualize the three energy systems distributed along a sliding scale.  Each contributes a different proportion of the energy required depending on the specific stress/activity the athlete is engaged in during a particular movement or training period (e.g. the phosphagen system primarily contributes to a single resistance training repetition; cf. the oxidative system primarily contributes to the energy demands of a multi-hour run or bike).  An understanding of the roles these separate but interdependent energy systems play and then training with metabolic specificity can lead to training breakthroughs.   Second, Dr. Reuter reviewed the common contributing factors to movement impairment and injury: muscle length, as well as muscle performance capability at different lengths (that is, a muscle can be weak or strong at specific lengths), joint mobility/flexibility (or lack thereof), anatomical impairments, psychological impairments, developmental factors, and environmental factors.  Frequently an athlete faces one or more of these issues on an ongoing basis and, as a result, one or more of these factors often degrade the endurance athletes training and racing experience and outcomes.  In combating these issues, either singularly or collectively, one can improve his or her “endurance performance.”  Note: There is a difference in “endurance training” and “endurance performance” training.  I frequently explain the difference between the two to my clients by means of the analogy of comparing what the posture and running technique of a marathon runner typically looks like at mile 1 of a marathon versus what his or her posture and running technique look at mile 26 of a marathon—in most cases these two pictures are very different.  The marathoner who completes the marathon has arguably completed sufficient “endurance” training; however, if posture and technique are severely degraded from the start to the finish then perhaps the athlete did not complete sufficient “endurance performance” training.  The elements of “endurance performance” training typically include resistance, flexibility, and balance training (there are certainly others that I incorporate into the endurance performance training mix).  As Dr. Reuter correctly highlighted, a typical endurance athlete overemphasizes cardiovascular, pulmonary, and metabolic training and underemphasizes underlying biomechanics of the modes of activity that they participate in (e.g., the skeletal, muscular, and nervous system components of movement).

In my opinion, Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D was the star of the weekend.  Although each of the presenters made significant contributions, Rhea zeroed in on the benefits of rational, programmed, and functional strength training for the endurance athlete (an area of particular interest to me).  As with each of the other presenters, Dr. Rhea managed to illuminate some key points.  First, stress is stress—meaning that when designing any training plan, it is important to consider all of the program variables (i.e., resistance training can’t simply be added “on top of” an existing periodized endurance training program).  Ultimately, the reasoned application of stress provides the basis for any training prescription.  Second, Rhea exposed the longstanding fact that most studies that relate strength training and endurance performance go the opposite way from what might reveal a benefit to the endurance athlete.  Specifically, “most studies have merely looked at the interference of aerobic training on anaerobic properties [e.g., strength, power, and hypertrophy], fewer have examined the potential positive effect of these anaerobic modalities on endurance performance.”  Rhea, is a serious student of the literature, and he synthesized various research studies into a type of meta-analysis that revealed that among highly trained runners “strength training” (i.e., explosive and heavy load weight training) improves long-distance  running economy 3-8% (with a mean of 4.6%).   Note: similar efficiencies have been shown with cyclists and nordic skiers (where both specific biomechanic economy and muscular power improved).  Accepting the positive relationship between increased muscular strength and improved muscular endurance, the question becomes when to add the resistance training?  Base, build, and peak phases all provide opportunities to apply resistance training to the endurance athlete and, while the addition of resistance training may open the door to overtraining (this is most common in highly-trained athletes), additional research has shown that there is a corresponding decrease in common overuse injuries!  The application of any strength training program must be rational and tailored to the fitness and recovery capacity of the individual athlete.

Two key takeaways from Rhea’s “Program Design” and “New Updates on Prescribing Cardiovascular Exercise” that are worth highlighting.  First,  when designing a resistance training program for an endurance athlete, it is important to focus on movement patterns and not muscles—the key is to train specific movements that are most likely to translate to endurance sport activities (this is includes training both the prime movers and the associate stabilizers, thereby gaining both muscular endurance and postural/biomechanic efficiencies).  Rhea’s point translates well into a definition of the often used term “functional fitness.”  With permission, I have reproduced Rhea’s slide below:

Differences between functional and dysfunctional fitness (courtesy of Dr. Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D)

Accepting the distinction and focusing on “functional” training, subsequent program design ultimately should balance the overall training stress applied, include a variety of training stimuli, and the selection of specific resistance exercises should focus on sport-specific movement patterns, core stabilization (as this supports biomechanic efficiency in every mode of activity), as well as dynamic movement patterns.  Finally, the takeaway from Rhea’s “Cardiovascular Exercise” presentation will not make many of my multisport friends very happy.  This is because the conclusion that Rhea has drawn from studying the latest literature, as well as in his personal coaching practice, is that it is necessary to train with a much greater degree of precision when prescribing exercise intensity  than previously thought—simply piling on additional miles is not the answer and will not lead to the desired training/racing breakthroughs! (Note: Rhea is a principal in the development of a testing system, see Race-Rx).  The following two slides (again, reproduced with permission) highlight the essential points:

The all to common "add miles" approach to endurance training (courtesy of Dr. Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D)

The need for precision in prescribing training intensities (courtesy of Dr. Matthew Rhea, PhD, CSCS, *D)

Robert Seebohar, CSCS presented “Nutrition for the Endurance Athlete.”  Although I have a had the pleasure of hearing Bob speak before (he presented at the USAT-Leve I certification that I attended in Seattle, WA), it was good to  hear Bob’s latest thoughts on athlete nutrition.  Note that Bob has an active coaching practice here in Colorado and his book “Nutrition Periodization for Athletes: Taking Sports Nutrition to the Next Level” is a concise and useful guide to customizing nutrition for optimum performance—it is in my library.  Additionally, I frequently refer clients who are struggling with nutrition issues to Bob as he is a valuable and experienced resource.  At it’s essence, Bob presents nutrition periodization as a means to “support the body’s energy needs associated with the different training volume and intensity stressors throughout the year to elicit positive physiological responses.”  In sum, I couldn’t agree more!  To dig deeper into Bob’s methodology purchase his book (add it to your collection) and visit his vibrant website,

Along with his notable Qlympic credentials (a veteran advisor for athlete of five Olympic Games), Randall Wilber, PhD, FACSM used both science and “real life” experience to highlight some salient points in his presentations entitled “Overtraining: Causes, Recognition and Prevention,” “Altitude Training in Preparation for the Competition at Sea Level and Altitutde” and “Environmental Factors and Endurance Performance: Heat/Humidity and Jet Lag.”

Overtraining: Undoubtedly overtraining is a significant negative training response; however, there is a fine line between productive training, overreaching, and finally, overtraining.  The distinction between overreaching (the step just before overtraining) and overtraining is dramatic and significant.  Overreaching exhibits over the course of a few days (at most), is reversible with added recovery, and is a generally positive training adaptation necessary to improve performance; however, true overtraining is long term (lasting weeks or even months in severe cases), is irreversible with added recovery, and is a negative training adaptation that results in a performance suffers chronically and will serve to end an athlete’s competitive season.  Athletes that slip across the divide that separates overreaching from overtraining exhibit numerous performance, physiological, immunological, biochemical, and psychological symptoms.  These symptoms range from consistent decreases in performance compared to previous efforts or competitions to a persistent apathy and lethargy.  After reviewing the often complex symptoms and physiological models of overtraining (of which, I might, add Dr. Wilber identifies the endocrine system as the primary driver), he outlined 7 strategies to keep avoid falling into the overtraining trap.  (Dr. Wilber presented 5 models of overtraining: 1) glycogen depletion (chronic), 2) immunosuppression (elevated stress hormones), 3) autonomic nervous system imbalance, 4) central fatigue, and 5) elevated cytokines.)  Here are the strategies: 1) recognize the overtraining risk factors (note that many of the risks factors are associated with the personality type that of individuals that are commonly drawn to multisport/endurance endeavors, e.g., perfectionist, Type-A, or as I like to classify myself, “Type IA—a play on the slow twitch muslce fiber type, and excessive motivation, etc.), 2) rely on a scientifically sound training program (i.e., a periodized program that allows for sufficient recovery), 3) utilize detailed monitoring of training repines[s], 4) nutritional intervention (increase carbohydrates), 5) monitor biomechanical and biological markers, 6) application of specific training guidelines during systemic (providing the answer to the question, “Should I train when I am sick?”), and 7) recovery techniques (including passive rest).

Altitude Training: I can only hit the “highest” (ha) of highlights here, as the application of altitude training is an exceeding complex training prescription.  Dr. Wilber’s most fundamental point: everyone can benefit/achieve a positive training response from altitude training if it is carried out correctly.  Although I won’t go into the physiological details here, three important nutrients may likely need to be supplemented prior to and during altitude training; specifically: 1) water, 2) iron, and 3) carbohydrates, as each support energy production as the lower partial pressure of O2 results in the body’s hemoglobin molecules to be less saturated with O2.  Hydration is critical as respiratory H2O loss is magnified at altitude (cool dry air) along with urinary H2O loss (the byproduct of increased energy expenditure).  Sufficient iron levels are critical when training at altitude, as iron plays a critical role in energy production that is amplified at higher elevations.  Also, relative to training with metabolic specificity, carbohydrates must be increased when training at altitude to meet increased energy demands (they should be the preferred substrate when training at altitude).  Finally, Dr. Wilber provided the following answers to the four “million dollar questions” surrounding training at altitude: 1) What is the optimal altitude at which to live/sleep/train?  Answer: 6560 – 8200 ft.  2) How long does the exposure need to be?  Answer: 3-4 weeks at > 22 hrs. per day.  3) How long does the training effect last after returning to sea level?  Answer: 3-4 weeks, but the training response is highly dependent on the individual.  And, 4) Is simulated altitude (hypoxic tent/or other training aid) effective?  Answer: Evidence suggests so, but the necessary “hypoxic dose” must be obtained (it appears that this beneficial effect can be obtained in fewer hours per day, 12-16 hrs., but a higher simulated altitude must be used, e.g., 8200-9840 ft.

Environmental Factors: Heat/Humidity and Jet Lag:  Dr. Wilber again did not disappoint in bringing the science to two common training issue: 1) racing/competing in a hot and humid environment, and 2) racing/competing after a long flight.  Interestingly, the battle to racing at a hot and humid venue can be won even if you don’t live in a rainforest!  Dr. Wilber presented four strategies: 1) natural acclimatization (i.e., go to the hot and humid race venue and train there in advance), 2) pre-acclimitization (simulate conditions in advance of arriving at the race venue), 3) euhydration and thermoregulation (whereby fluid is preloaded, pre-competition and replaced, post-competition to keep the athlete’s body in a normal state of hydration), and  4) pre-cooling and cooling (use of ice vests, whole body COLD water immersion, ice packs, etc.).  Although it requires careful planning, an athlete can acclimatize  to these foreign conditions by following a relatively short program where both the training duration (up to 90 minutes) and training intensity (up to race pace) are gradually increased while simulating the race venue environment (note this is typically achieved by wearing additional layers of cotton clothing—cotton, not the pricey technical stuff that we typically train in, is in order here).  The goal of each of these strategies is to maximize performance while minimizing performance degradation or producing any of the specific types of heat illness (e.g., heat cramp, heat syncope, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, or hyponatremia).  Our Olympic athletes, under Dr. Wilber’s care, follow a complex schedule to “align their bodies with their destination” (utilizing a sliding schedule of gradually adjusting the sleep-wake cycles and is supplemented by the use of artificial bright light exposure).  Of three variables that can be managed by the traveling athlete: 1) the time leading up to departure (e.g., the week prior), 2) in flight activity, and 3) post-arrival (the 1-3 days, or more, before competition begins; the “in flight” and “upon arrival” are the most critical.  Dr. Wilber reviewed the use of several ergogenic aids for the in flight leg, including compression hose/suits, nasal air filters (he personally recommended the use of the “Breathe Pure” brand), nasal saline spray, anti-bacterial hand gel, melatonin, prescription sleep sids (e.g., Ambien), the use of caffeine, as well as the timing and composition of in-flight nutrition—each can be used by an athlete to mitigate the negative effects of lengthy air travel.  The “upon arrival” time must also be managed to ensure solid performance.  As a general rule, Dr. Wilber suggested that high intensity training should be avoided for the first few days, while bright light exposure (assuming a substantial time in the air) should be administered.  Apparently, an athlete who has been exposed to potential jet lag may exhibit reduced fine motor skills and impaired coordination, thereby opening up an increased risk of injury.

At the end of each day’s presentations, attendees were treated to some hands-on experience in the beautifully equipped NSCA training center.  Technique and modes of teaching proper technique for plyometrics, physioball exercises, dumbbell resistance exercises, and barbell Olympic lifts to endurance athletes were presented and practiced.  These techniques and exercises were presented as a means to improve performance and injury prevention as it applies to endurance athletes.

One view of this extremely well-equipped exercise facility where the practical sessions took place.

I want to extend a special thanks to each of the presenters who shared their expertise and knowledge on these fascinating endurance sport topics.  For more information, please contact the NSCA.

A second view.


Zero Calorie Run?: Epic Endurance Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run – 25K

Paul Hardcastle, Michelle Grubb, Hope Beatte (my wife), and me pre-race in the parking lot at Cheyenne Mtn. State Park

Last Saturday I joined my wife, Hope, along with our friends Paul Hardcastle and Michelle Grubb for the inaugural Epic Endurance Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run 25K.  Epic Endurance is the brainchild of our friend Andrea Watkins and her new boyfriend, “Steve 6.0” … those are her words NOT mine!  Let me say at the outset that Andrea and Steve picked an outstanding venue.  Cheyenne Mountain State Park (one of Colorado’s newest) is located just to the southwest of Colorado Springs, CO and offers nearly 1700 acres to explore with over 20 miles of trail access.  Cheyenne Mountain offers an elevation of 9565 ft.

The morning arrived cold along with a potential for precipitation of the blowing, frozen kind (i.e. snow).  Although the skies eventually cycled through overcast to bouts of blue with intermittent snow—really, it was an ideal day for a trail run.  The parking lot featured lots of energetic, albeit cold, racers and many familiar faces as volunteers, our friends Beth Tennant, Tyler Walton, Barry Cross, and Anthony Beeson were just a few of the friendly faces that had turned out to support Andrea and Steve’s first race.  And now, a note about my personal guilt: I felt really bad about racing and not volunteering; however, when I had asked Andrea about how I could help, she had encouraged me to race.  However, even before I set foot to the starting line, I felt uneasy about being a competitor and made a personal commitment to serve as a race volunteer in subsequent years.

A bit about the lead photo on this post, the one withe the smiley face made out of various high protein, high fat, and low carbohydrate foods: Over the course of the last several weeks, I have been experimenting with elements of a “slow-carb” nutritional strategy, purposely training and racing on lower quantities of low glycemic index (GI), complex carbohydrates and higher quantities of “healthy” fats.  This nutritional plan also features scheduled “high carb” days to replenish my body’s energy stores, every 7-10 days.  The net effect or this type of nutritional strategy, when combined with metabolically specialized training, is an increase in the body’s ability to spare carbohydrates while relying on large percentages of fat as an energy substrate.  Note: To see one of the most dramatic slow-carb protocols, see pages 70-99 of “The 4-Hour Body” authored by the ever-controversial, but highly motivated and energetic Tim Ferriss.

The actual ingredients of my breakfast included 3 hard boiled eggs, 11 grams of Brazil nuts, 11 grams of organic whole almonds, 2 T (32 grams) of almond butter, providing approximately 652 calories and an approximate macronutrient breakdown of 14 grams of carbohydrates, 54 grams of fat, 36 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fiber.

There were two primary ideas behind this fueling strategy: 1) I wanted to provide a mental challenge to run 25K (15.5 miles) without an appreciable carbohydrate load, and 2) I wanted to test my own endurance while using a virtually no-carb pre-race meal and without the addition of on-course fuel (thereby testing the limits of my personal glycogen stores).

A brief biochemistry lesson: Glycogen is a “secondary” fuel source that is primarily stored in the muscle and liver (compared to glucose which is the “primary” fuel source that is made available to the body via the blood) and the average individual stores approximately 1500 calories of glycogen—this is highly variable and is determined by both genetic and lifestyle factors (think training and diet); but sufficient fuel to provide a couple of hours of sustained, moderately high intensity workout.  Note that only the glycogen stored in the liver can be made available to other organs.  The body has three principle energy systems: the phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative (each is always “on” but the amount of energy supplied by each is dependent on both the intensity and duration of the activity  the body is engaged in, e.g., complete rest versus heavy resistance training or sprinting versus running a marathon).  The energy systems fall along a continuum that places the phosphagen system on side, fully engage during high intensity but short duration exercise, and the oxidative system on the other, providing the predominant proportion of fuel during low intensity but long duration exercise.  The glycolytic system fall in the middle, being further divided between slow- and fast-glycolysis.  Each of the systems are “on” all the time, but each contributes to the body’s energy needs at different levels based on the demands being placed on the body at any given time.  Glycogen, or lack there of, is principally involved when an athlete hits the proverbial “wall” or “bonks.”  In this situation, energy expenditure outpaces energy (caloric) consumption and the athlete’s stored glycogen levels.  Not only does this have dramatic implications for the athlete during a training or race event, but it makes proper recovery nutrition paramount.

Running strong without any nutrition!

So as the mass of runners crossed the starting line, I set out on my personal quest to see when I would hit my wall.  The run from the parking lot along the park’s access road provided immediate elevation gain—it went UP—before quickly yielding to near perfect single track.  Once we made the single file line, the elevation continued to come.  I ran with Hope for a while as Paul and Michelle jockeyed for positions in front or behind us—I really had no idea where they were (only later did I learn that Michelle had bowed out early on due to some intestinal issues—I am sure that she will return next year to give it another go)!?  I was running free without pace of mileage data, only heart rate and felt strong.  Hope was now behind me and I started to really enjoy the trail experience, dodging roots and rocks, quickly changing direction, and following the trail as it coursed up and down.  Relatively early into the course I managed to hook up with a group of runners who was pushing the “perfect” pace (i.e., a bit faster than my comfort level) and provided an opportunity to draft … not that you can really draft in a running race, but I find there is a certain mental benefit and ease that comes by running on the end of a faster pack of runners.  This is especially true for me when running trails, as if I see that the runner (or runners as it may be) that I am following is making efficient foot placements, I can kind of put myself on autopilot.  Note: I still stay focused on where my feet are landing, but my mind seems to get a mental cue from observing a good foot placement in advance.  Has anyone else had this experience or is it unique to me?  Our group began to separate from the other runners (mind you, the runners ahead of me were three women … and all very experienced runners) and the pace continued to increase.   We were all running with iPods, but brief conversation was still manageable.  “You all are great trail runners,” I shared and then added, “thanks for the pull.”  To which I received a “glad to have you along and we will look forward to you leading us along in a bit.”  I promised to head out front and, at about mile 8, I did.  I worked out ahead and eventually pulled away from my little pack, only to assure them before I left that they would see me again as I was conducting a little experiment.  I passed all the nutritional goodies at the aid stations and only took water but continued to feel strong until about mile 13.  My wall appeared and I, as I had predicted, the other runners that initially followed, then paced, and eventually moved away from started to catch up and then overtake me.  I crossed the finish at 2 hrs. 47 minutes and 27 seconds after I started (12th in my division and 45th overall).  Paul finished at 2:53:04 and Hope followed at 3:24:39 with Michelle getting the DNF (really, it was DNS, “Did Not Start” as the nausea, etc. had plagued her almost from the start).

A word from the race director:

The Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race was my first attempt to organize a true race experience.  After spending years organizing teams of athletes to train, travel, and compete nationally and internationally event directing seemed the next logical step in my career.  My mission for Epic Endurance Events is to create an environment where competition is fierce but the race is also accessible and supportive to runners of all abilities.  For me this means support is available for every person on the course, whether you are in first place, in the middle of the pack, or the last finisher across the line.  The course will be challenging and well-marked.  Food and water will be available to you (even if you choose to pass it up!) at aid stations, volunteers will be on the course, and GOOD post race food and drink will be there for you when you cross the finish line.  Placing you in the race to hear your experience on the course was critical to building the race and achieving my goals.  I would have been crazy not to take advantage of your experience and knowledge as an endurance athlete.

This year [2012] I am looking forward to having you out there as a volunteer supporting our runners.  Your support means a lot to me, but more important, your support means a lot to all of the folks who made the decision to come run with us.  I wish you the best in your endeavors with your new blog.  I have no doubt you will inspire, encourage, educate, and support people in their endeavors to be fit and healthy.

See you at the races!


Owner | Race Director

Epic Endurance Events

The Takeaway:

My experiment was just that, a bit of experiment and a change from my usual routine.  Several weeks of lower- and slower-carb  (complex, low-GI carbohydrates) nutrition combined with an ultra low-carb race day breakfast had shown me that I had a “range” of nearly 3 hrs. of moderately high intensity exercise.  My experiment also solidified the importance of “good” carbohydrates on the athlete’s table as part of an ongoing training, recovery (they really can’t be separated), and race day nutritional strategy.

I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with the organization, the venue, and the execution of this inaugural event … congratulations Andrea and Steve 6.0—I will tell as many people as I can about this great new event and will look forward to seeing you next year, as a race volunteer, that is!!!