Anti-Glycolytic Training for Endurance Athletes
From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.
"Glycolysis is stupid like cancer. It kills not only the host but also itself." - Pavel Tsatsouline
Running and cycling coaches already have a substantial bag of tricks for increasing an athlete's ability to go faster and farther with less effort. Interval, tempo, threshold, hill repeat and long workouts are staples of endurance athlete preparation. On the surface, these workouts are simply different methods of applying stress to the body, each type of stress designed to evoke a different adaptation and, if all goes well, the athlete's performance improves.
As Mike always points out, the science of why these workouts produce results is certainly there. In some cases it is well understood, in other cases not so much. The big limitation of trying to be too "sciency" here is because while the individual reactions are well understood, the complexity of the interactions, all the possible pathways, the dynamics of the system make hard and fast statements virtually impossible and outcomes difficult to predict. This complexity is the reason, as Mike explains we still crash test cars instead of doing computer simulation crashes: we as yet don't have enough computing power, it's cheaper to actually crash the cars and the test results are more easily measured.
It's similar when it comes to programming athletes. We know what the science says should happen at the biochemical level (the staff sports docs/exercise physiologists on professional/elite teams can analyze blood, saliva etc to confirm) but for the most part for most of us most of the time, observing how the athlete responds and performs to our programs is more easily measured. (It's funny. I have always joked that my athletes are Crash Test Dummies whenever they start a new program I've written for them.)
My goal as a lifting coach is the same as the sports coach's goal: help my athletes to go faster, farther with less effort: to increase their 100% capacities so they can use less to accomplish more. And I am always on the lookout for information I can use to further that goal. So it was with great interest that I attended a two day course in Portland, OR last fall called "Strong Endurance" designed and led by Pavel Tsatsouline of Strong First. The course was a presentation of Pavel's several years long research into the Soviet exercise science literature on how to improve athletic endurance via what came to be called Anti-Glycolytic training. The biochemistry section was daunting, graduate level as one participant noted, but necessary to draw the distinctions between what AGT is compared to other modalities that might seem similar, but aren't. (It's not HIIT, it's not Tabata, it's not a Metabolic Conditioning WOD)
In a nutshell, rather than frequently push athletes to near exhaustion to improve endurance (long term HIIT training for example) AGT uses movement time and intensity to initiate biochemical phenomenona which improve alactic power, produce less acid, improve lactate shuttling by way of increasing the number, size and quality of mitochondria. The protocols differ. Some are designed to promote mitochondrial respiration, others mitochondrial biogenesis, and some do both. Type I and Type II fibers have their own particular protocols. With the exception of "glycolytic peaking," all the protocols are designed to produce less lactic acid while improving the body's ability to buffer and use it. A variety of sports are cited in the literature with impressive results compared to control groups training conventionally.
Because I want to respect the proprietary nature of Pavel's work here, I won't go into specifics about how I implement the AGT protocols outlined in the course for my athletes. I will say that because my athletes get so much lower body work from their sports specific training that I set up their AGT protocols with building more upper body / upper limb mitochondria in mind, thus increasing the overall size of their "lactate battery." To that end we use kettlebells and barbell exercises combined with bodyweight movements. We usually incorporate the AGT work as "finisher" circuits after our strength training. Most of the protocols are deceptively "gentle" for having originated in the old Evil Empire. The coach does not have to adopt the attitude of Ivan Drago in Rocky 4, "If he dies, he dies." This is smarter/not harder (well, there are some hard efforts) training at its best.