WOD Fundamentals:  Active Recovery

by Jason Jaksetic

There is a fact that seems to always escape the mind of an athlete, even though it is simple and commonsensical:

Recovery is a huge part of your training. 

Sometimes we go on huge benders of maniac training sessions where we pile on intense workouts day after day.  These are great, but after 7-10 days of this you need to schedule yourself some time to let all those recent breakthroughs in fitness (that you created by breaking down your body) to be manufactured into reality by the healing process (that which will build up your body to a higher level of fitness).

You train to get weaker, not stronger.  Immediately after a huge effort you aren’t exactly feeling fresh, right?  But when strain and struggle is produced in the body, the body is forced to respond.  How does it do this?  By building itself back up (and here is the cool part) to a point fitter than before your initial weakening.

Ever hear that a bone heals stronger after a break?  Same idea.  The important point is to understand that the process takes time.

We’ve known so many athletes who’ve lived in that foggy and flat stage called Overtraining.  Face facts:  you are not invincible.

Acknowledging this you can be a smart athlete and rise to bigger, longer term goals because you methodically and systematically work recovery days into your training.  You should look at a bigger picture, too, and schedule in weeks to back off training volume by 50%.  Doing this every 3-4 weeks works well for many athletes.

How does one do a recovery WOD?  There is a wide spectrum of workouts to try out and experiment with.  It offers a great chance to be creative and to try new cross training activities.

YOUR recovery workout needs to meet YOUR needs as an athlete.

Generally speaking, as you develop as an athlete you recover better with some extremely light exercises such as stretching or swimming, or even jogging.

Sometimes, though, if you body is demanding to sleep, take that time in your day normally reserved for training, and schedule ‘sleep’.

A great way to think about scheduling recovery days is to pick a day of your week reserved for healing related activities.

Take the time to organize yourself.  Do the laundry -finally take care of those piles of  workout clothes that have been gathering because you spend every spare second of your day training.

At Spartan HQ we tend to do low impact sports – swimming or cycling, most often.  The key is to keep the pace recreational.  We find Bikram yoga to be a great way to stretch out and help the body along in the healing process.

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Taking Spartan WODs up a Notch

by Andi Hardy

You have raced a Spartan Race or two, or like me, many more. You love to train, you love to shout those AROOS, you love to gobble up the courses, and you love to finish with a decent time. But you want more, you want to finish with a trip to the podium, or win your age division, or just shave several minutes off of your PR. So what can you do to up your game?

You need to first set a realistic goal. Know exactly what it is you want. What IS it that you want? Write it down. Tell others. Put it on Facebook.  Whatever your preferred way, put it in writing and make your goal public.  You are more apt to follow through when there is some kind of accountability. When you know what you want out of training and racing, you can then map a way to get there. Although I’m a firm believer that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to, I also believe you need to know yourself and what goal is realistic and what may just not be. For example, I can say that my goal is to be a podium winner in the next Spartan event. Realistic? Yeah, for me it is.  However if I say my goal is beat Spartan’s number one ranked male this season I am not being realistic and am only setting myself up for failure and huge disappointment.

My first goals in Spartan racing were

1) Finish the race without injury

2) Not finish last in my heat

3) Finish first in my age division.

All three goals were realistic. I felt if I reached these goals, I’d be content with my racing performance. I knew I would have to really work, though. First in my age division was no small feat, many women in my age category were die-hard athletes. My first Spartan Race was in March 2012. I arrived at the venue nervous and ready to run. However, once surveying the competition, I felt at a huge disadvantage, I didn’t know what to expect. The competitors in that elite heat were FIT, they were in shape, they knew what they were doing. I considered changing the last of my three goals. Oh well, just give it your all I told myself, to not try to reach your goal is much worse than not reaching it while giving it your all.  So I left that starting line with those three goals resonating in my head. I not only reached my three goals on that cold March morning. I surpassed any expectation I could have had. Why I not only won my age division, I won 2nd place female overall. Needless to say I wasn’t last, nor did I sustain any injuries.

Now, onto new races with new goals. Indiana seemed to be next on my list. I wanted to place first overall female, I wanted a better overall placement, too. This time I wanted the helmet, the prize that comes along with first place.  But I knew to be number one overall female; I had to step up my game, I couldn’t assume because I had done well at one that I would be a shoe-in for other races. I knew I was already training hard, what more could I do?

1)  I added light weight training to my WODs

2)  I added more stretching before and after running

3)  I cracked down on my already clean eating habits.

4)  I practiced some of the obstacles such as a sand bag carry, throwing a spear, running with a tire around my neck, climbing a rope, sit ups with rocks.

5)  I modified the Spartan WODs (see below for an example of modifying to step it up)

WOD:

Warm up: 1 mile jog and/or jump rope.

Main Set:

2-5 mile tempo run.  (What is a tempo run?  It’s not a jog, that’s for sure.  10k race pace is a good place to start.)

2-5  100 meter sprints a 3-4 minutes recovery

25-100 crunches

10-50 burpees

Cool down:  stretch

 

How did I modify this WOD to step it up?

Warm up: 1 mile easy run and/or 10 minute jump rope.

Main Set:

5-8 mile tempo run

5-8  100 meter sprints with a 3-4 minutes recovery

100 crunches with a rock/medicine ball

100 burpees with push ups

Cool down:  1 mile easy run and stretch

Followed by Yoga

 

So what do you need to do?

You’ve got it! Set those goals, know where you are headed. That is your map. Now follow your map, listen to the signs of your body and train hard. You won’t get a thing out of something you put nothing into.  Mediocre training transpires into mediocre race results.

Since winning 1st place in Indiana and in two New York Spartan Sprints following, I have set new goals and therefore have been figuring out just how exactly to step up my game to yet another level.

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WOD Fundamentals:  Beginner Friendly

by Andi Hardy

Elite Obstacle Racer, Spartan Champion Indiana, New York & Montreal

 

Even the longest journey must begin where you stand.

-Lao-Tzu

 

So, you’re new to Spartan Race.  You’ve never done anything like it.  You’re not sure what to expect or how exactly to prepare? You may have checked out the Spartan Workouts of the Day (WOD), but found them too intimidating to even begin.

The purpose of this blog is to let you know that whatever your current athletic abilities are, you can utilize the Spartan WODs effectively to finish your first Spartan Race.  They are always written with the beginner in mind, regardless of how intense they look.  I was able to go from complete Newbie to winning Spartan Races by simply following the Spartan WODs as best as I could.

It wasn’t so very long ago that I was in your shoes. In fact, it was less than 12 months ago that I signed up for my first Spartan Race, a Sprint, near my home in Atlanta. I wasn’t a runner, I wasn’t a Cross-fitter, I wasn’t really much of an athlete at the time. I had just completed my first ever 3-mile mud run after only running three miles/day for two weeks. Seriously, I had NOT trained for it and I completed it. I loved it so much; I wanted to do another, but a more challenging obstacle course race.

Spartan Race was the buzz of the mud run, so when I got to my iPhone I googled it right away. “I’ve got to try this one,” I thought to myself. I signed up the next day for the next race in my area.  It was four and half months away. I would NOT be able to not train and finish a Spartan Race.  So throughout the next few months I studied the Spartan Race website, watched race videos, followed the Facebook posts and pictures, and most importantly, signed up for the Spartan WOD.

Could I complete the WODs when I started training?   Nope.  I had to scale the workouts down to my level.  I would try and do all the components of the workout, and do them in order, but I would adjust the repetitions and sets so that I could ‘do’ the WOD to the best of my abilities.

Spartan WOD

Andi’s (as Newbie) WOD

1 Mile Warm up Jog 5 minute warm up jog or 2-3 minute jump rope
Main Set (repeat 3-8 times) Main Set (repeat 2 – 6 times)
400 Meters hard run then 30 burpees 200 meters hard run then 15 burpees
1-2 minutes recover 1-2 minutes recover
30 burpees, then 400 meter hard run 15 burpees, then 200 meter hard run
1-2 minutes recover 1-2 minutes recover
10 minute cool down jog and stretch 5-10 minute cool down walk/jog and stretch for at least 10 additional minutes

 

By attempting the WODs every day I grew stronger and more confident. The variety of workouts helped prepare me by working different muscles and getting me to do different tasks that I would not have otherwise considered part of training.

Still asking, “Can I do this?” No fears, my friend. You don’t have to be super competitive or in ultra-shape to complete a Spartan Race. What you do have to have is a sense of adventure, a desire to get a little dirty, and a mindset to have a lot of fun.

The first step is to simply sign up. Spartan Race has so many races, there is bound to be one near you. And if not, why not take a little trip, it’ll be worth it. Sign up then the rest will fall in place. By signing up, you will have the most important goal set and something to look forward to.  You can the circle and star it on your calendar or start making travel plans, but also you can start making and implementing training plans.

So maybe your goal is to just finish the Spartan Race. Perhaps your goal is to compete the whole race without walking. Or possibly you want to place top 10 in your age division or in your heat. Whatever it is, set your goal, it will help you to prepare for YOUR race. Once you know what you expect from yourself, you can then work toward meeting that expectation with your training. Use the Spartan WOD to help you prepare. You don’t have to do every burpee, or every mile. Modify the WOD to fit your goals and what feels best for you. You won’t regret trying a Spartan Race. It will remain one of your favorite memories for life. Who knows? You might even find yourself signing up for the next one that very day.

 

Register now for a Spartan Race near you.

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Muscular Analysis of The Burpee

by Jeff Godin, PH.D., CSCS

Phase 1:  Squat Position

From standing position to squat position.

Squat down so the hands are flat on the ground. The knees and hips are flexing and the ankle is moving into dorsi flexion.  The spine is also flexing to a minor degree. This movement requires the eccentric contraction of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and the gluteus maximus. The muscles of the back are working to prevent excessive flexion of the spine. Think about holding the chest high. Eccentric means that the muscles are contracting and lengthening at the same time. The muscles are producing force to control the rate of descent against the effects of gravity.

 

Phase 2:  Push-up Position

From Squat position with the hands on the ground, to the start of the push-up position.

-        From the squat position, using the arms to support the upper body, the legs are thrust back until the body is elongated into the start of the push-up position.

-        This movement requires concentric contraction of the quadriceps to extend the knee, and concentric contraction of the hamstrings and gluteus maximus to extend the hip.

-        The pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and rotator cuff are contracting isometrically to stabilize the shoulder and the triceps brachii are contracting isometrically to stabilize the elbow. Isometric is a term to describe a muscular contraction without movement. In this case, the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii are producing just enough force to oppose the effects of gravity and prevent the chest from crashing to the ground.

-        Muscles of the scapula, including the trapezius, rhomboids, serratus anterior, and the pectoralis minor, are contracting isometrically to stabilize the scapula. These muscles are co-contracting creating a stabilizing effect on the scapula so the muscles of the rotator cuff have a stable platform to act upon.

-        Muscles of the trunk are contracting isometrically to stabilize the core and prevent unwanted movement in the spine. Muscles that extend and flex the spine are co-contracting to stabilize the spine. If you notice the back sagging or an exaggerated arch in the back this is indicative of a weakness in the abdominal muscles. Practice the Plank exercise to strengthen this region.

 

Phase Three: The Push-up

One push-up is completed.

-        The chest is lowered to the ground in a controlled fashion. It should be fast but under control. The pectoralis major and anterior deltoid muscles contract eccentrically allowing the shoulders to horizontally abduct. The triceps brachii contracts eccentrically to allow the elbow flex.

-        The torso should be rigid throughout the movement; the muscles of the trunk continue to act as stabilizers.

-        In the down position, the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii contract concentrically causing shoulder horizontal adduction and elbow extension respectively, returning to the body back to the up position.

 


Phase Four:  Return to Squat Position

From the top of the push-up position to the squat position

-        This is an explosive movement where the athlete springs back to the squat position.

-        The gastrocnemius, contracts forcefully causing plantar flexion, lifting the feet from the ground so that the knees and hips can be rapidly flexed and the body is returned to the squat position.

-        Flexion of the hips is caused by a concentric contraction of the iliopsoas and rectus femoris muscles and flexion of the knee is caused by concentric contraction of the hamstring muscles.

Phase Five: Jump

From the squat position the athlete jumps as high as possible.

-        Jumping is the product of a forceful concentric contraction of the gastrocnemius muscle at the ankle, the quadriceps at the knee, and gluteus maximus and hamstrings at the hip, causing plantar flexion, and knee and hip extension respectively.

-        Prior to the jump the back should be rigid and this stabilization is provided by the back extensors.

 

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Understanding the Lactate Threshold

by Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS

The lactate threshold is often misunderstood and underutilized. The purpose of this article is to discuss the source of lactate, the metabolic consequences of lactate accumulation, and the utility of the lactate threshold in practice.

A discussion of the lactate threshold has to begin with the source of lactate. Lactate is a by-product of carbohydrate (CHO) metabolism, called glycolysis. Glycolysis starts with a molecule of glucose that comes from the blood  or muscle glycogen . Blood glucose is derived from either liver glycogen or from the diet. At the onset of exercise the most likely source of glucose is muscle glycogen, but as the reserves become depleted blood glucose becomes more important. During glycolysis, the glucose molecule is broken down in a series of chemical reactions to produce 2 ATP (3 ATP if the source of glucose is muscle glycogen) and pyruvate.  Pyruvate has two potential fates; 1) complete oxidation in mitochondria or 2) conversion to lactic acid. The fate of pyruvate is dependent on a number of factors, the most important is the demand for ATP.

If the demand for ATP is high, the conversion of pyruvate to lactate accelerates glycolysis and ATP production. Under conditions where the demand for ATP isn’t as high the pyruvate will be oxidized in the mitochondria. The demand for ATP is dictated by the intensity of the exercise. Complete oxidation of pyruvate produces a greater quantity of ATP; however it is produced at a much slower rate. The amount of ATP produced per unit of time during anaerobic glycolysis is almost 2x faster than aerobic glycolysis. Anaerobic glycolysis has a high rate of ATP production but it has a limited capacity, it fatigues quickly.

Metabolic Consequences of Lactate Accumulation

Even at rest, some pyruvate is converted to lactate, but it is cleared at a rate that equals production. As a result lactate levels stay low in the blood. As the exercise intensity increases so does lactate production and its removal, but at some point lactate production surpasses removal and the lactate begins to accumulate. There is a lot of misinformation about the metabolic consequences of lactate accumulation, one of which is the association with fatigue. Lactate, in itself, does not cause fatigue; rather it is the acidosis that accompanies lactate production that does. Whether or not the acidosis is a direct result of lactate production or another step associated with the high turnover of ATP is currently under debate. But what we do know is this; when lactate levels accumulate – fatigue will follow. Also, we can assume that under exercise conditions when there is an accumulation of lactate that there is a high rate of glycogen usage and depletion of this important, but limited, fuel source will also result in fatigue.

During a graded exercise test (GXT) (see figure) lactate levels stay close to resting values during low to moderate intensity work. As the exercise intensity increases from moderate to high lactate accumulates above resting levels. During high to very high intensity exercise, lactate levels will increase exponentially.  During high intensity exercise slow twitch muscle fibers cannot produce the force necessary to meet the demands of the activity and fast twitch muscle fibers are called into action. Fast twitch muscle fibers are more reliant on glycolysis for energy production and therefore produce greater amounts of lactate. This rapid rise in lactate indicates a high rate of ATP production, a high rate of glycolysis and the onset of acidosis in the muscle. This intensity cannot be maintained for much longer than 45 minutes – maybe an hour in well trained athletes who have a high tolerance to muscle acidosis.

Some athletes mistakenly believe that the rise in lactate, called the lactate threshold (LT), indicates a switch from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism. This is not true, the muscles are still very aerobic, yet there is a greater contribution of anaerobic metabolism. The anaerobic contribution comes from the activation of fast twitch muscle fibers. The fuel for this activity may be coming from 99% aerobic and 1% anaerobic sources.

Practical Application

What is the significance of this? Why do we care? Many endurance sports (Triathlons and marathons) are raced for durations that are greater than an hour. Any race that lasts longer than an hour would require the athlete to race at intensities below the LT. Events of shorter distances (10k runs) are race at or above the LT. As you can see, knowing the LT can provide important information for the athlete attempting to determine their race pace and predicting performance. Even more importantly, the LT can be a guide for determining training intensities. Training sessions that are intended stress the slow twitch fibers and fat metabolism should be conducted well below the LT and for training sessions intended to improve lactate tolerance VO2max, and stress the fast twitch muscle fibers should be conducted at and above the LT. The lactate threshold can also be an accurate gauge of which fuel sources are providing the energy during training sessions. For example, as the intensity approaches LT there is greater reliance on CHO metabolism. At first, the CHO will be oxidized aerobically, but once the intensity gets closer to the LT more of the CHO is broken down anaerobically. When a molecule of glucose is broken down aerobically we get 32 ATP,  if it is broken down anaerobically we get 2 or 3 ATP. Thus when exercising at an intensity at or above the LT we are using 16X more glucose to produce the same amount of ATP and the glycogen stores will be depleted faster than if the glucose was broken down aerobically. This information would be relevant for any athlete who competes in endurance events where glycogen depletion causes fatigue.

The lactate threshold can be correlated with heart rate, running speed, or power and training zones can be established based on those variables depending on the athlete’s needs. Some coaches use time trials to estimate the LT based on average heart rate or power achieved during a maximal effort over a predetermined distance. The advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require blood sampling and can be conducted under “real life” conditions. However, time trial estimates are also more prone to error and dependent on the motivation of the athlete. Lactate measurements precisely measure the metabolism of the muscle which is the best gauge of intensity not perceived effort.

To summarize, lactate measurement is a measure of the metabolic activity of skeletal muscle. During lower intensity efforts blood lactate levels are relatively low indicating less of a reliance on CHO metabolism and low metabolic stress. As intensity increases, lactate levels increase indicating an increase in CHO metabolism and muscle acidosis.  This information is important to understand pacing during endurance events and to precisely determine training intensities that elicit the appropriate response and adaptations during training. The lactate threshold is measured during a graded exercise test. The information provided by a lactate threshold test is helpful for any athlete who wishes to train and perform better.

 

Jeff  received his Doctorate in Kinesiology from the University of Connecticut and is certified by ACSM, NSCA, and ISSN.  He is currently Chair of the Departmental of Exercise and Sport Science at Fitchburg State University and the Director of Spartan Coaching. Spartan Coaching will go nationwide in November 2012. www.SpartanCoaches.com

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