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Cardio Junkies—Take Note!

No, this is not going to be yet another article touting the benefits of high intensity interval training (I.e. HIIT) at the expense of longer, slow distance aerobic training—although there are many benefits to both.  Nor is the content going to hammer home the point that one needs to incorporate muscular strength/endurance and flexibility training into their regular exercise regimen—although this is true.  The core of this column is to speak to those of you who are running three miles plus five to six days/week or those of you that are preparing for marathons/triathlons, that train for endurance only day after day at the expense of HIIT, muscular strength and flexibility training and wonder why you are not faster, stronger or fitter than you were this time last year.

To get faster, fitter and stronger you have to train across the gammet—cardiovascular endurance (setting the foundation), high intensity interval training (i.e. HIIT), muscular strength/endurance and flexibility. If you omit one of these components, your performance may be negatively impacted.  Training is a complex matter, particularly when working with elite athletes, both professional and recreational.  However, the basic fundamentals apply across the board.

The fact of the matter is that your body is a machine that has an incredible ability to adapt to physical stress.  And, as has been mentioned in many of these columns, once the body adapts, you may either plateau or begin to actually lose fitness.  Spending many consultation sessions with clients from elite athletes to novices, often identifies a common issue as to why these individuals are not improving—they are performing the same activity/component/program week in and week out and spend huge amounts of time sitting in their comfort zones.

To use a running “cardio junkie” as an example, a client recently came to me that was running five-six miles six days/week with a little muscular strength training thrown in, no specific flexibility training and had been suffering from plantar fasciitis as well patellar pain in one, and sometimes both knees.

 So, we immediately began therapy on the plantar fasciitis, decreased the number of days she was running to two to three, shorter duration runs (pain free), added indoor cycling for two of her four cardio workout days with different cycling formats including HIIT and beefed up her muscular strength training sessions to two solid, sometimes three days per week on non-consecutive days.   This was with a concentration on strengthening her lower body, specifically the quadriceps, to hopefully alleviate the patellar discomfort.  And, every day, including rest days, performance of myofascial release on the foam roller, and stretching/flexibility training. (I also referred her to one of the physical therapists that we work with for further evaluation guidance and exercise protocols and to a sport’s nutritionist to clean up her eating regimen).  We also added in a specified rest/recovery day as this is essential to permit the mind and body to rest and repair.   This cannot be over-emphasized!

Within 12 weeks, her plantar fasciitis was manageable, her knees were healthier and she was running faster, felt fitter and stronger than when performing the five-six day a week running grind.  Plus, she was excited to train again, fully engaged and ready to continue moving forward, making further training progressions as time and her body allowed. 

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