Physiology: Current Trends and Tidbits

Note: This is another post which incorporates technical data & information is from the USATF Podium Education Program session presented by Robert Vaughan PHD UNT. He was Olympian Francie Larrieu Smith’s coach.
All references he used are on Medline. Other points here are made by Dr. Robert Gary also from the Podium Project presentations.

Do-do rule

It’s not the training you don’t do, it’s the training you do do; and if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do your results will be do-do. – Robert Vaughan

What follows, are key learning points from Dr. Vaughan’s presentation. I’ve adapted some of the technical information for everyday use and understanding. Dr. Vaughan is a good researcher and user of research study results. I want also to share that the language used by good researchers is one that is based in statistical relevance. This means that there are outliers – individuals or data that doesn’t fit the “norm”. There is seldom only one specific answer. Rarely can any result be universally applied to all runners/athletes. So researchers will state things like “the majority…”; “most runners in this study…”; “this study seems to indicate…”; “the results support the notion of…” (not “proves”). Therefore, recommendations (such as paces or percent VO2max) often have ranges involved and so must be applied by a coach or the runner. Anytime you hear absolutes (always/never/only) often someone is trying to sell you something. [i.e. “The only exercise energy drink that works is…” “The only way to run is…”]

Energy Systems Research Fact
Contrary to what has traditionally been thought, energy is derived from all three systems simultaneously (ATP-PCr, glycolytic, oxidative) rather than sequentially. That means, there is no such thing as working ONLY one energy system with a given workout. You in fact work all of them but in varying degrees depending on intensity and duration of the workout.

There is an equal contribution of aerobic and anaerobic energy between one and two minutes – most closely identified around 1:15. The longer the effort the more the aerobic energy system is stressed. What is interesting is that other sources (that is other than what Dr. Vaughn states) have the 50:50 mark for energy systems at just under two minutes. So depending on what you read somewhere between 1:15 and 2:00 there is an equal distribution of energy. This coincides with the 800 meter race as a very unique race and why at this distance we have a real variety of “types” of runners being successful at it. Alberto Juantorena was a large powerful guy (6-3, 185) who also was very successful at the 400. He was more the sprinter-800 guy. Sebastian Coe was slight of stature (5-9, 119) and more like a distance runner. He was successful at the 1500 so was the 800-1500 type. Yet both were Olympic 800 gold medalist and record holders.

Here is a fun trick question:
What is the difference between a 10.1 and a 9.6 100m time?
Surprise it’s not what you think! The answer is .01 second (one one-hundredth of a second). In a 100 meter race there are approximately 50 steps. If foot contact time is reduced by .01 it yields .5 seconds for the 100m. So the real difference is in each step being more powerful that yields the faster time. Power output is critical to being faster – and this is true for sprinter as well as distance runners.

Sprinting Trivia Data
Did you know that sprinters reach their maximum velocity by 50 meters and that they hold that top speed only about 15-20 meters? Everyone slows down from there on out! (Yup – even Usain Bolt) The object is to slow down less than everyone else which is exactly what Mr. Bolt does better than anyone else in the world. While we’re on speed points. The fastest 100 is not run in a 100 meter race. The fastest human 100 is in the middle of a 200 or in a 150 due to the start of course. Once up to speed (50 meters or so) that next 100 is far faster than the first 100 meters from a stationary start. The most recent information I’ve read (as of Spring 2009) also has “Bullet” Bob Hayes as the fastest ever 100 split back in the early 1960s. I haven’t seen an analysis of Mr. Bolt’s 200 meter record run yet… so, stay tuned on that point.

But before we jump on the band wagon to decrease foot-strike time for distance runners we have to balance this with oxygen uptake. Decreased foot contact time requires power… power that uses up more oxygen. That is NOT a good thing for distance runners though it is irrelevant in races that do not require high oxygen consumption. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work on drills that help distance runners generate more power in each stride but that it must be balanced with all other training. Training for power will pay dividends especially for that late-race kick!

[Something to consider in changing running form. A forefoot striker should have less contact time than a heel-striker. But to force a change from a heel-striker to forefoot striker may in fact work to your disadvantage by using more oxygen – tiring you earlier. My advice is to stick with you natural form and foot-strike and work on it “organically.” That is, integrate drills and workouts to optimize YOUR power and efficiency. Do not arbitrarily try to “become” a forefoot striker.]


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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