As the winter season draws to an end and we continue training for the upcoming Spartan race, the next couple of months are dedicated to cardiovascular training, a somewhat gray area for those who may have become too used to the routine ways of resistance training. Resistance training has its obvious benefits but in order to become the athletic looking and performing figure, we need to train like athletes, and that means equal attention paid to cardio.
If you are currently in the process of applying, or are already a member of the military, you will understand and appreciate the importance of this concept.
Part One: The effects of walking
As one of the seven basic human movement patterns, walking plays a vital role to overall physical condition and is considered the first and basic step to getting fit. While aerobic activity like walking should make up a significant portion of our weekly training program, many of us do not make this a priority as we naturally turn to a plethora of alternate transportation options.
We know that for thousands of years, armies had to cover vast distances by foot. Improvements in road construction and footwear helped Roman soldiers cover twenty Roman miles (about 30km) a day while carrying loads half their body weight, with enough energy left to construct a fully defensible camp. This expectation hasn’t changed much in modern times. Soldiers are still required to cover similar distances under similar conditions.
If learning from the ancients seems irrelevant, consider the many benefits of walking. Walking helps maintain a healthy body weight, it lowers blood pressure and elevates mood, just to name a few. Walking trains the cardiovascular system to deliver more oxygen to the cells and accelerate the disposal of carbon dioxide (Hatfield, 2013, pg.42). Hiking can be an excellent alternative choice for people who don’t enjoy or otherwise cannot partake in a mainstream fitness program because of a past or ongoing injury, or for those who find they are just spending too much time sitting.
As Alpha Company Training, we hike on a monthly basis. Our aim is to challenge ourselves mentally and physically, condition our bodies to respond better to outdoor training, and explore the land. Depending on the specifics of your hike, plan and take all precautionary measures before setting out!
Part 2: The importance of running
Running provides tremendous benefits to the heart-lung complex as it forms the functional basis of every person’s aerobic fitness. If you’re going after the balanced athletic build, then running is a must. If there is nothing preventing you from running, you need to cut the excuses and do it like the forces do!
Running improves endurance which increases your cardiovascular base known as your VO2max. The greater this number is, the more you can tolerate being in an oxygen deprived state (like during resistance training). Running energizes cells through heat which improves their ability to fight bacteria, viruses and even cancers. The consequent immunity build up will ultimately make you more resistant to illness. Other benefits include better sleep, increased mental sharpness and an increase in lifespan. Recent research has found that for every hour invested into aerobic training, two hours are added to a person’s life (Hatfield, 2013, pg.296)
Since endurance is an important component to all Alpha Company training programs, we stress the importance of consistent running. Many bodybuilders, for example, view running with great skepticism, thinking that it is not that important. Keep in mind that just because someone may look fit and healthy, doesn’t mean they are. In order for muscles to take in oxygen and expel waste products efficiently, the cardiovascular system needs to run like a well-oiled machined (Hatfield, 2013, pg.300).
Balancing aerobic activity to increase endurance with resistance training to maximize muscle mass should be taking into consideration if you don’t want to end up at either end of the spectrum. To achieve the best of both worlds, 90 minutes of aerobic activity per week is sufficient exposure to strengthen the heart-lung complex without sacrificing muscle mass (Hatfield, 2013, pg.301). This point needs to be stressed since many of us are conditioned to think that more is better. Unless you are specifically training for marathons, running twice a week for 30-45 minutes is sufficient.
Part 3: Sprint for peak performance
If you think that you are ready to add sprinting to your training, know the importance of first having a solid running foundation established. Running and sprinting are different, even though the same biomechanics are involved. Before you can sprint, know how to run properly because with increased velocity we expose our musculoskeletal system to greater potential injury, especially when skipping the warm up! A fatigued sprinter with poor running economy will be less coordinated, producing changes in muscle recruitment patterns that lead to reduced running efficiency and increased injury (Hawley, 2000, pg.19).
It is easy to forget the immense benefits of sprinting. Because sprinting overlaps both worlds of the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, we are able to maximize the training effect over a shortened period of time to build muscle mass and lean down at the same time. Comparing world class sprinters like Usain Bolt to the average marathon runner, we see that the two are built for different sports. Not only do sprinters burn an insane number of calories, their training style generates so much lactate that the athlete will continue an accelerated caloric burn for the next 24-48 hours. Because sprint training is explosive in nature, the athlete employs the ATP/CP energy pathway in a way regular running cannot.
Sprinting is very important to training. Looking back to ancient Greek athletes we see that sprinting was a critical Pentathlon event used to single out a champion. It was a necessary form of combat readiness training and in sports competition it was often times used as a tie breaker (Zarnowski, 2013, pg.69). To the Greeks, the only thing that mattered was finishing first and sprinting performance helped determine the athlete most fit across all five events. We should therefore not neglect what has been practiced for millennia for the sake of convenience. If there is nothing holding you back from sprinting, step away from that treadmill and hit the track!
The purpose of this month’s issue was to establish a firm belief that cardiovascular training, at whatever level it comes, is as important as strength training to any aspiring athlete. Know that there is a potential athlete hidden inside every one of us and in order to unleash that athlete, we need to train like athletes. Next month, we will continue by examining the mechanics of running and leave you with some cues and sample workouts to try.
Hatfield, Frederick C., Arria, Sal, et al (2013) Fitness: The Complete Guide. Carpinteria, California: International Sports Sciences Association
Hawley, John A. (2000) Running. Carlton, Victoria (Australia): Blackwell Science Ltd.
Zarnowski, Frank (2013) The Pentathlon of the Ancient World. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc.