Monday, January 04, 2010


First things first: getting back on track. After spending a few weeks recovering from the Ironman, next there was my son's wedding, and then the holidays were upon us and then I went back to full weeks of hard training, in addition to fitting in shopping, parties, etc., only to be hit the week of Christmas with whatever it was "going around" in the office and throughout the family. Looking back, I think I jumped in too soon and was still a little run down.

I am definitely feeling MUCH better and hope this continues.

While recovering, many thoughts went through my mind as to what my focus for 2010 would be. One thing I definitely wanted to do was get stronger, meaning adding more weight training into my program. Training for the Ironman did not allow much extra workout time for more than one hastily performed weight training workout a week. As it was, I was working out every single day most weeks, so to add another workout in was unthinkable. Ten workouts a week was all I could imagine and do without totally losing it.

But I knew I had to add in another weight training session, as well as more quality. Adding in another weight training workout was going to require a lot of thinking and planning, but how to do this?? I am constantly reading articles and looking over training plans, but all the weight training plans were not geared around endurance training. In fact, the majority of new thinking on this subject suggested otherwise if you wanted to get completely fit from added strength training. And I know there is a book on weight training for triathletes, but again, most of those programs consisted of too much time in the gym in addition to the long endurance workouts, which I just couldn't bring myself to get excited about or figure out how to fit in.

Then, in a round-about way, I came across a couple of revealing thoughts about weight training in addition to endurance training. One involved a discussion with a guy in my office who has been doing personal training for family and friends for a while now, although he isn't certified. Since he doesn't charge for his services, I thought I would at least pick his brain and try to get some good ideas to start out the new year. During our discussion, he mentioned that he had added 35 pounds of weight over the last few years due to weight training, yet still had 6% body fat and was extremely lean looking, so I started believing he had some credibility on the subject. The second revelation came from reading articles he sent me in addition to going to the links in some of the articles, which eventually led me to read a very interesting article. Here is an excerpt which definitely caught my eye. See if this sounds familiar:

Feeling soft around the midsection? Can't see your abs anymore? Feel the need to get lean in a hurry?Slacking off on your diet and workouts can do that to you. In my case, training for an Ironman triathlon can do that, too.What? Yeah, you heard me right. This is exactly how I felt after training for and completing in my first Ironman.My body was soft, with no definition, and had definitely changed due to spending the majority of my training in the steady-state aerobic zone — the same "fat burning zone" many books and magazine still talk about.I was in great shape as far as my endurance and cardiovascular system were concerned, but I had less noticeable muscle tone and didn't have the definition I was used to having in my abs and arms.

If you want to read the rest of the article, by Rachel Cosgrove, go here. The theory here is that training all the time in the aerobic zone, while necessary for endurance events, is not that fat burning zone we've been led to believe. We have been conditioned to believe that training for hours aerobically, doing steady-state workouts (when you move at the same pace for a certain amount of time), that your body does burn a higher percentage of calories from fat. This is where that "fat burning zone" myth comes from. On the surface, it sounds like you're burning more fat calories. There are two big problems with this: 1. As explained in the article, you burn fewer total calories as your body adapts. So even if you're burning a higher percentage of fat, you aren't burning as many calories overall. 2. Your body actually becomes efficient at storing fat. Since you're now burning fat as your primary source of fuel, your body adapts and becomes very good at storing fat. Blame it on a dumb self-preservation mechanism built into the body's operating system.

This all made sense to me, especially after also reading where she spent 374 hours working out for her Ironman race and the net weight loss was only 5 pounds. I'd have to say the same. People (especially women) always commented they weren't losing any weight, only seeming to gain, while training for an Ironman, and I can again say I felt the same. After talking with my work colleague, he made me feel a little better about this when he mentioned that added muscle was contributing to weight retention or gain (which I already knew and used that excuse in my mind to console myself) and also that BONES gain density from all the weight bearing exercise, which also contributes to added weight, something I hadn't considered.

But even with those two added facts, I still was concerned about adding more weight the next time I trained for an Ironman, which I knew I wanted to do.

So I asked for some ideas from Chris (work colleague) about what he would recommend to not only get stronger, but hopefully leaner in the process, and at the same time continue endurance training. His number one suggestion, of course, was adding more strength training and cutting back on some of the endurance, making the wise comment "your body already knows what to do there" adding that doing higher intensity workouts would only enhance and improve not only my training but my body fat composition and shape as well.

Then I emailed Rachel Cosgrove, asking her how to combine the two also, since she had the added credibility of being not only an Ironman finisher but also a triathlon coach. She also has a new book out which has gotten very good reviews, The Female Body Breakthrough. I am in the process of obtaining that book and am looking forward to reading it. Anyway, here is Rachel's response to my email:

Ahhh yes, trying to merge Endurance training and fat loss training. I always had this idea in my head that I wanted to cross the finish line of an endurance race looking like a fit female and I could do it on shorter distance races - up to an Olympic Distance Triathlon (or a 2-3 hour race). Anytime, I start training for anything beyond that it is tough to keep a firm physique. You have to fuel your body for the event and your body adapts to the workouts so quickly. I have written many articles on this and talk about it in my book. Your best bet is if you can set aside 12-16 weeks to focus on becoming a fit female before your event and then the goal is to keep it while training for your event. But that doesn't mean that you cannot do The Female Body Breakthrough if you are already training for something- YES, absolutely the programs will increase your strength and make you more efficient as an endurance athlete PLUS less likely to get injured and more likely to get and keep a fit female physique(especially if you have not done anything like the programs in the book). So go ahead and use the programs. When training for an event I always keep 2 days minimum of strength training as a priority in my program. Just use the strength training part and don't worry about the metabolic workouts because your cardio will be your endurance workouts.
As far as food- Yes use the principles in The Female Body Breakthrough. They will work to fuel your body and EVERYTHING I talk about in the book will only help your performance as an endurance athlete. I follow everything in the book when I am training for an endurance event.
Something to think about- I have been a Figure competitor and have lifted weights and my fit female body looks and feels a certain way. If you are an endurance athlete and just want to gain some strength and tone and look more like a fit female on the spectrum this program will get you there- does that make sense? We each have a different fit female body and as an endurance athlete you will look closer to or be at your fit female body by adding in the concepts in the book even if you are still training for endurance.

Once I read the book, I hope to implement as much of this program into my fitness routine as possible over the next few months. Whether that forces me to reconsider what races I am doing this year or not, I don't know. I just know I have a stronger desire to get back in better shape so that in 2011 I will be ready to do another Ironman, fitter and stronger, and hopefully leading to a faster finish and not having to make it a necessity to look for an "easy" race.


Phoenix said...

I think I need to check that book out! I also like Crossfit a lot for its quick and intense, functional strength building. I have a suspicion that her workouts might look a lot like a Crossfit session.

Happy New Year!

Anne said...

I remember research that showed many marathoners actually gain weight during training, and not from muscle gain. The appetite also increases and the runner feels justified in indulging more often because, well, you're always hungry at the height of training.

The book looks like it might be a good one. Do let us know when you read it.

Lisa said...

Best wishes with the added weight training focus. I did more weight training this past year and ended up feeling better overall. I hope to take it up a notch this calendar year as well.

Just_because_today said...

Weight training is an important part of an athlete's schedule. I downplay it and never find time for it. But even I dont do it, I know it's important. Good luck, and stick to it (since I dont')

Sunshine said...

Interesting Post! Thanks for the input.
You are one fantastic athlete. I cheer you.

ShirleyPerly said...

Vicki, great thoughts on a subject that has no doubt confounded many. I too do not feel as "lean" as I did several years back when I was exercising mainly for fitness vs. events (i.e., in one hour increments and strength training regularly). So while I can go much longer than before, I don't necessarily feel any fitter. A lot of what you mentioned makes sense to me. I might have to get that book too.

Hope you have a great 2010!