A recent post was called “Concurrent Training.”
In it I discussed the details around concurrent training, and hopefully dispelled some of the myths about it, and settled a debate or two. The bottom line is that you can concurrently train multiple strength (or metabolic) qualities, but the more you generalize, the less-capable you’ll be when compared to (or you compete against) a specialist.
Time and energy are the main determining factors in the development of any quality (athletic or otherwise) – or rather, that time and energy are limited is the determining factor. You only have so much time/energy to practice within, and the more you practice, the better you get.
There are discussions about metabolic pathways being mutually exclusive, but I think they’re misguided. Anaerobic and aerobic pathways are, by definition, different. If you focus on one of them, it seems like its exclusive (just like if you focus on anything…it takes up your field of understanding). But the anaerobic pathway depends upon the aerobic pathway. So they aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re just different, and interdependent.
For instance, increased “aerobic” capacity improves recoverability of the tissues, enabling more “anaerobic” training within the same amount of time. And, as mentioned, aerobic fitness improves anaerobic refueling.
There’s also an issue to consider with the differences between muscular (structural), nervous, hormonal, and metabolic (energy-process) training. But to keep things simple, let’s say that when you train a metabolic pathway, you’re also training the nervous system and muscular structural elements as well. It is not necessarily that cut-and-dry, but close enough for our needs.
There are two big distinctions we should make.
1. Between muscular/strength training (and related metabolic, hormonal, and nervous system training) and movement training; and
2. Between central (heart/lung) and peripheral (limbs) training. For instance, just because you improved your VO2MAX doesn’t mean that you’ve improved local-muscular O2 metabolism.
[VO2MAX also reveals little about anaerobic power-capacity (or movement economy), which is a huge factor in success. This has been the big knock against VO2MAX as a training-measure in the past few years. The body adapts specifically to precisely what it encounters. "General adaptation" refers to a system-wide change in homeostatic regulatory factors (nervous, hormonal, chemical, fluid, etc.). VO2MAX is a general-system number that can correlate specifically to trained aerobic activities, but is generally a poor predictor of performance.]
Enough about debates and sciencey-stuff! Let’s figure out how to do it!
In my opinion, you should focus on the main strength-qualities/pathways (Maximal Strength; Maximal Speed; Aerobic Performance), rather than the intermediaries (Speed-Strength; Speed-Endurance; Strength-Endurance).
The intermediaries tend to be skill-specific expressions of the main qualities. They are developed through movement-practice, the implementation of those main qualities.
Concurrent training within a session is usually called “complex training,” and has often been limited to two complementary training-types (based on sport-outcome and/or metabolic pathway (aerobic or anaerobic)).
Don Chu’s book “Explosive Power and Strength: Complex Training for Maximum Results” has a ton of good complex training routines within it.
You can also follow the entire metabolic pathway in a single session. For instance, a program that includes all three pathways looks like this:
Upper Body Power (say, clap pushups), followed by
Upper Body Maximal Strength (e.g., one-arm pushups), followed by
Upper Body Aerobic Endurance (100 consecutive reps of pushups).
To me, this follows a logical sequence. Power is the highest-demand activity, with the shortest timeframe, relying on aerobic metabolism to refuel it. Max strength is second-highest, with a slightly longer timeframe, pulling from muscle and blood glycogen stores. Local muscular aerobic endurance should be the longest-lasting capacity energy-wise.
But, if your priorities are different, you should organize it differently.
For instance, if you wanted to improve overall aerobic fitness and maximal strength/power within certain movements, you would have to split the session, concentrating and condensing the muscular strength/power; or do two workout sessions per day, each focused on different qualities.
I have used and like both. Condensing the muscular strength/power work means you can train it more frequently throughout the week (less overall strain = faster recovery). Following that up with systemic-aerobic work (run, swim, or both) also helps to flush the muscles with freshly oxygenated blood (as long as you aren’t swimming or running too hard, getting into an anaerobic state). Doing two sessions per day means you can also work harder in the skill-specific arena (doing sprints or threshold-runs, for instance).
Again, you will improve in all areas on a program like this. Will you improve as quickly in one particular area as someone only training in that one area? Probably not. But they will not improve at all in the other qualities you’re training.
Why is any of this important?!
The biggest reason is that each strength quality really does support the other, and that becoming a well-rounded athlete (or individual) is the key to long-term success in sport (or life).
But there’s another reason. If your sport or event only demands high output in two systems, now you know how to prioritize and schedule training for those qualities. Block periodization (where you focus on one strength quality for a time, then move on to the next) works well for beginners (and, really, only “beginner athletes” – not general fitness participants).
It is not a solution for beginner fitness participants, who should want to develop every quality equally. Nor is it ideal for intermediate or advanced athletes, who need to continue to develop specific areas in very specific ways, and still compete (i.e., express other areas of fitness).
What About Movement?
I feel like movement itself often gets lost in discussions like these. Things descend into “metabolic pathways,” and “strength qualities,” and the movement itself is forgotten.
Movement skill is similarly linked to repeated, deliberate practice over time. Practice and get better. Don’t practice and don’t get better.
Movement skill is the ultimate goal, too. What good is raw strength without any movement capacity? Granted, athletics are their own perverse thing, but even within athletics you need to be able to be at least a competent mover. And being better at moving will translate into better overall results – a smarter nervous system and body.
I’m reminded of the Powerlifter I knew back in VA. He was a huge and strong guy. But one night he was walking to his car from the gym. In the dark lot his lower leg got stuck between the concrete bumper and his car, and he ended up falling and shattering his entire lower leg through the twisted fall.
I’m also reminded of this:
There are so many approaches to improving movement quality that it’s really only useful to talk about two things – desire and coaching.
If your desire is great enough, you will practice. If you have high-quality coaching, you will improve.
No desire = no practice = no improvement.
No coaching = potentially poorly-placed practice = poor improvement.