Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Power & Aging
Power is the strength athlete’s Holy Grail. Power (absolute strength) training is our crack. It’s addicting, and I’ve know many athletes over the years who eschew everything, even their sport’s performance, in pursuit of numbers that indicate absolute strength. 100% efficiency is the goal. At 101% you’re injured. It’s the one thing in sport that truly is extreme. It’s dangerous. It’s fun. And it’s vital if you want to achieve your body’s potential.
Yesterday I had one of the best training sessions I’ve had in years. I did all the moves on my project simulation with a 10lb weight vest. I increased my performance on every set of my hangboard workout. I did a few moves on the campus board that I’ve been too scared to even attempt this decade. When it was over I felt as though I was just warming up. I iced my fingers as a precaution. I’ve been down this road many times and had an idea of what was in store.
This morning my heart rate was high, the first indicator of breakdown. My morning yoga practice was then very difficult. I’m much stiffer than normal; a reaction to the microtrauma incurred from trying to recruit high threshold muscle cell motor units. Over the coming weeks I’m going to have to be very careful. I’ve not completed a power training phase without injury or overtraining in at least a decade.
Aging sharpens the edge the strength athlete teeters on. Our fast-twitch muscle fiber decreases, as does the amount of various hormones that allow us to access it. The fast-twitch muscle we have recovers even slower than it did when we were young. And those inevitable 101% attempts set us back even further. It’s no surprise that there are hoards of aging endurance athletes. There are very few power athletes.
I try and explore the boundaries of both power and endurance. My challenges appear endurance oriented on the surface, mainly because anything that may be remotely impressive to an onlooker is their volume. But the thing of interest, for me, is the limit of human performance and this includes absolute strength. For this reason there is always a power element involved. Boulder problems, onsighting climbs, reacting to single track during the night, etc, all require engaging fast-twitch muscle fibers.
We don’t make power workouts for Beachbody. We have power elements within our workouts. Both P90X and Insanity have a lot of plyometric work, which is the essence of power training. But it’s tempered so that you can do a lot of reps. Absolute strength training is about maximal recruitment and, ultimately, the one rep max. But this like training under the Sword of Damocles. At some point it’s going to fall. To train for health and fitness it isn’t necessary. Only athletes play beneath it.
The quandary is that power training is healthy. High recruitment leads to hormonal release which is effectively anti-aging. The closer to 100% you can safely train the more effective your workout program will be. And that’s why I’m here, playing the lab rat so that you don’t have to. My goal is to find what that safe range is, and then how to increase it. This time, damnit, I’m going to get it right!
pic: photos of yore: phil campusing at the castle.