Earlier in this series, I discussed how efficient recovery starts with efficient training. In short, that means you have to make sure that the program you're using is right for your needs, and then train optimally in that always-changing sweet spot between under-training and over-training.
We also discussed the SAID Principle, which basically teaches that adaptations are specific to what you do and what part of you is doing it. This means that you have to be really specific about what you want to achieve, since your body is specific in how it responds.
Do you need to be faster? To be stronger? To last longer? To be more stable on your feet? To be more flexible? All of the above? Whatever your answer is, there's a unique mode of training for it.
So now we're going to dig down and look at exactly what it takes to improve each and every foundational ability you need.
Use the Force, Young Padawan
OK, well, maybe not "the" force, but all sport specific abilities and forms of fitness are in some way related to your interaction with forces. This includes the forces that you produce through action, and the forces that pass back through your body because every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Fortunately, you don't have to be an expert in physics to master your own internal force production, but you do gain an advantage by having a basic understanding of what it is and how to use it. So here's a super-quick reminder:
Force = Mass x Acceleration
Work = Force x Distance
Power = Work / Time
Remember those? High school physical science? Anyone?
If you stack up the variables in each of those equations, you’re left with four fundamental ways you can measure and improve your performance:
- Move More Mass (Strength) – improving force production by moving greater loads.
- Increase Your Acceleration (Speed) – improving force production by moving things faster.
- Increase Your Distance (Endurance) – increasing total force output by moving things further.
- Do It All In Less Time (Power) – getting more work done in the same time by collective improvements in strength, speed, and endurance.
Here’s how they all work together to transform your body and your abilities:
You'll notice that your body adapts to different kinds of force in different ways. Your nervous system is largely responsible for strength and speed, but your circulatory and respiratory systems and other systems involved with energy metabolism are more responsible for your endurance. And all abilities require that your structural components are strong enough to withstand the impact, or else they break.
As a general rule, the forces that pass out of you trigger adaptations in your nervous system, and the forces that pass into you trigger adaptations in your structure -- like muscle mass, bone density, and connective tissue strength.
The Six Fundamental Abilities of All Physical Mastery
You also have to be able to stabilize yourself when producing forces, or else you'll just fly backward or collapse into a puddle. And if you can't extend your body into the necessary positions in the first place, you're dead in the water.
So, taking this together with what we've said about forces, there's really just six fundamental abilities supporting the massive list of all possible sport specific actions and skills:
- Stability - maintaining balance and control through all your necessary positions and movements
- Flexibility – extending your body through all your necessary ranges of motion
- Impact – the ability of your structural tissues to withstand forces passing through them
- Strength – overcoming greater resistance (i.e. usually by moving heavier loads)
- Endurance –sustaining force production for longer without rest
- Speed – moving things faster
These foundational abilities then combine like molecules into more specific abilities:
- Strength + Endurance: increasing the volume of work you do under resistance
- Speed + Strength: moving heavier loads more quickly
- Speed +Endurance: increasing how fast you go and how long you do it
- Power: Speed + Strength + Endurance
- Agility: power in multiple directions
Choosing the Right Order To Train Your Abilities In
If you picked a single goal, like speed or strength for example, you still need to know whether that ability is dependent on another ability. If it is, you have to build your more foundational abilities first. When it comes to the right order to train your abilities in, we've laid down four ground-rules:
- Stability and flexibility come before action. (You can't begin until you are able to anchor yourself into position or extend yourself in the necessary ranges of motion.)
- Structural strength (Impact) comes before force production. If your tissues can't withstand the forces passing through them, they break.
- Endurance comes before performance. (You can't do your job if you wear out before its done.)
- Strength and control come before speed. (Speed without control is just an amateur flare of chaotic limbs, and speed without strength is like trying to get faster at whipping someone with a wet noodle.)
Do You Know Which Gear Should You Be In?
Your body also uses different kinds of fuel to power different modes of force production. When you're driving a stick shift car, you know that trying to drive 60 mph in first gear is just as bad of an idea as trying to start up a snowy hill in 5th gear. As it turns out, your body actually has three different fuel types that work just like those gears in a stick shift car, so you need to know which of your gears you’ll be using with each kind of training.
ATP/CP (First Gear): The highest grade fuel source used by your fast twitch muscle fibers is known by the abbreviation ATP/CP. (Adenosine Triphosphate and Creatine Phosphate.) If you’re trying to go your fastest, hit your hardest, or lift your heaviest, you’ll be recruiting the ATP/CP system when you’re at your best.
But … it only lasts between 20-30 seconds, and takes about 3-5 minutes to fill back up once you’ve spent it.
This means that if your goal is to increase your strength speed or power, you should design sets of high intensity bursts that last no longer than 30 seconds each, with a least 3 minutes of rest in between.
Glycolysis (Second Gear): Once you run out of the good stuff, you suddenly can’t hit as hard, go as fast, or lift as much. This is called a force decrement, and it happens because your fuel system switches over to a lower grade fuel that relies on a process called glycolysis that’s able to burn up stored sugar in your muscles.
Glycolysis lasts, on average, somewhere between 60-90 seconds before the chemical fallout shuts you down. At that point, whatever muscles you’re using will feel completely on fire and incapable of performing with any strength or precision. They recover from that state in about 60 seconds.
This is how your strength endurance is powered. Your body knows the right gear to use based on your intensity. So if you do something with only moderate intensity, it will jump right to second gear for you and leave the ATP/CP system pretty well alone.
Oxidation (Third Gear): If you shift gears and keep going, you’ll notice another significant drop in force production as your muscles switch to the lowest performing but longest-lasting fuel: your oxidative system, which combines oxygen with fat or blood sugar for fuel. This is your cruising gear. You can do this for hours. Technically, you can do it until it's time to sleep, or you run out of fat, or something breaks.
Fuel Source, Level of Power, Time to Failure, Time to Functional Recovery, Time to Full Recovery
Creatine Phospate, 1500, 30 Seconds, 3-5 Minutes, 24 Hours
Glucose, 1000, 90-120 Seconds, 10-60 Seconds, 48 Hours
Oxygen + Fatty Acids, 500, N/A, N/A, N/A
Your greatest strength and speed will always rely on the ATP/CP system – that first glorious 20-30 seconds of a truly maximal effort. Endurance, on the other hand, is always oxidative – no other system lasts longer than 2 minutes without needing a break.
But here’s the real beauty of it all: every single fuel system can, and should, improve. The better the shape you get in, the more you’re capable of doing in the oxidative zone. Things get so easy, it feels like you could do them forever. For example, marathon runners get in such good shape, their average speed per mile is something that most people couldn’t keep that pace for longer than two minutes.
If mastery is your goal, you want to bring yourself to such a level of fitness that you feel like you could do forever what most people would drop out on after two minutes.
You want to make your glycolytic system so strong and fast, that you can do for 60-90 seconds what your competitors can only do for 20 seconds.
And, of course, you want to make your 20 seconds so that you can smoke anyone, anytime, anywhere.
What You Need to Know In Order to Improve Each Ability
So if you want to improve any of these abilities, there's a few things you'll need to know about each one:
- The right protocol to target it (which fuel system to use, and its set length and rest length)
- The right way to increase your level of challenge
- How to measure your results to make sure you're improving
- How not to cheat
- Your necessary recovery time
For the next six articles, we're gonna dig into these details for each fundamental ability. Stay tuned!