Sunday, February 17, 2008

Functional and Structural Training. By Juerg Feldmann

I had a very nice mail with the clear straight forward question:
"How do I explain functional and structural adaptation in combination with the ECGM (extended central governor model)".

Okay here is a short try:
I will use VO2 max as one of the examples to explain how I see functional and structural training and the limitation. VO2 max (if we are able to measure it) is the maximum volume of oxygen that the body consumes during intense exercise. That means we have to use a whole body exercise to be able to come close to or perhaps reach VO2 max. That is the reason why in sports like cross country skiing we see often higher VO2 max levels than in kayaking. If you test a cross country skier in his sport and in kayaking, he will reach a much higher VO2 in cross country skiing than in kayaking. A beginner in any sport will increase his VO2 relatively quickly in the beginning because with improved technique and balance he can incorporate more muscles for the workout. Therefore, we see at the beginning an increase in VO2 not because there is a change in anything other than the ability to use more muscles, which are already here. Now, because they are a part of the workout they use as well O2 to produce energy.

So to go back to the beginning, to have a high VO2 we need 2 main systems.

1. An outside system, let's name it delivery system, which has to deliver O2 from the outside world to the working muscles. Airways, lungs, movement from the lungs to the blood, O2 transportation in the blood, red blood cells reaching muscle cells which can use this O2.

2. Motors (mitochondria) which can carry out the energy production with oxygen. (If they run into problem with oxygen dependent energy production we can measure that in the blood stream with lactate accumulation, as a trend information of more and more involvement of an oxygen independent energy production in the working muscles).

So based on the 2 points above we need:

a) A good functioning air delivery system to bring the Oxygen into the body and over to the blood (respiratory system) but as well, the CO2 out from the blood into the outside world.

b) A very big and efficient pump to deliver the oxygen loaded blood to the muscles, so they can "suck" it up and use it for energy production.

c) Mitochondria rich muscles, so that they have the ability to use the delivered O2 efficiently.

So the basic question is:
What is the limitation of the VO2 now? Oxygen delivery or oxygen utilization? That's where lot's of people start to discuss and even in the exercise physiology world there is still some discussion here. I like to explain perhaps why.

The ECGM will clearly state that it is always the O2 delivery which will be at the end the limitation of VO2. There are possibly very easy tests you can do, like 1 leg biking. The VO2 will be very low even though you have to stop. That means the limitation was not in this case the delivery, but the utilization in the single leg. So there was not a problem for the heart to deliver enough blood flow to this small portion of working muscles.

Now, if we add a much bigger portion of the muscle mass the heart just simply cannot deliver enough high blood flow to all the "users" and maintain a sufficient blood pressure in the vital organs (brain, heart, respiratory system). The body controlled over some hemodynamic processes controlled by the brain, just simply will not send enough blood to the extremity muscles, so that it will not compromise the blood pressure and oxygen situation in the vital organs.

To control this the brain has some specific ideas; decrease muscle fiber recruitment, produce some vasoconstriction to name two popular ones. There is again a very easy test where it can be shown that it is easy to improve performance if you use a small muscle group in order that the Vital organs will not be a limitation. One leg endurance can be improved by 200-300% but you have a problem to see a change in VO2 max if you test in an overall cycling test.

Now here comes the functional and structural part into the picture.
In a beginner or young athlete, the extremity system (utilization) is not very well trained. Now if delivery is the limitation then we have the problem that oxygen rich blood reaches very well trained muscles. The bigger the capillary network and mitochondria density in these muscles, the more O2 will be extracted from the blood and therefore the O2 difference between arterial blood and venous blood is bigger. Resp., we see less O2 coming out in the expiration air. There is only so much O2 being delivered (limited by O2 inspiration and moving onto the red blood cells and by the amount of red blood cells).

If in a highly trained endurance athlete the capillary density and the mitochondria density is extremely well developed. That will create a problem of not enough O2 for everybody. Now with the ECGM the brain will kick in to protect the vital organs with adequate O2 saturation and will not deliver O2 in the extremity. This very clear system shows why in top athletes respiration and red blood cells are limiting factors together with the heart. If the heart is the limitation, that's just it. If the respiratory system is a limitation it can be trained because we very often don't do that. If the blood transportation (red blood cells) is a limitation we can inject EPO. This is the easiest way of quickly improving delivery limitation and that's the reason why so many athletes "cheat" with this possibility.

In athletes where the heart is the limitation the O2 delivery will just stop to protect the heart. If it does not do that, then we have a sudden death in sport. (Failure of the ECGM to protect the heart.) So no EPO will help here. If the respiratory system is a limitation, then again EPO will not help. If the transportation of O2 in the blood is a limitation EPO will help.

Now in a beginner all the above will not be pushed to any limitation and the adaptation of extremity muscles is very fast. Therefore, we see in 6-8 weeks a very quick improvement of performance as well as VO2.

A beginner has not very efficient O2 utilization, but can easily improve that.
Training for capillarization
Training for mitochondria density
Training for inter muscular coordination
Training for intra muscular coordination
Training of balance to use less muscle for stabilization and therefore be able to use them for mobilization.

Example: A beginner in skating will use lots of leg muscles, just to keep him upright (stabilization). The same muscles would be needed as well for mobilization (moving forward). Now with this double duty they are not very happy. An improved balance will take the stabilization duty off these mobilization muscles and therefore he moves faster with the same amount of O2 used, but now used for different purposes.

Now I hope you get the picture.
Functional training is doing all of that and will show quick and easy improvement. Structural training may not even have kicked in at that stage. So the key is to design structural training for heart and respiratory system. Improve nutrition for blood system production and blood plasma retention so that at the moment the extremity system is in full swing the delivery system can deliver more and better. This will end up all in the way the heart, the respiratory system and the nutritional situation will play together.

The functional training will move through Hans Selye's Alarm Stage and will help the body in a decent time to use what is already there with some minor adaptation in the extremity systems. Duration is 6-12 weeks in most of these cases. Result after that: stagnation and/or even UPS (under performance syndrome) or negative adaptation.

Problem: If you read 100 threads of exercise physiology papers and you carefully watch the groups which were tested and the duration of the test (6-8 weeks), you can see why so often the hard intense overload groups have a much better result over this time than the less intense groups.

If you take a highly trained group, you will see often very little if any improvement at all in VO2, or any other factor, because there is just no functional adaptation available any more. This is one of the reasons why "peaking" with high intensity workouts towards an important race just does not work. The highly trained athlete has not to "peak" because there is no peak production due to high intensity. The highly trained athlete has to recover to peak. His "fatigue" level is so high that he can't perform. If he can get his fatigue level lower he can perform better. He not will lose performance because it is based on structure, compared with the athlete who has no structure, but everything is built on functional reaction.

In the VO2 case delivery, not utilization will be the limitation in well trained people. The key is to find out whether that is the case and where in the delivery is the weakest link; heart, respiratory system, blood situation.

If is is the heart, train so that the respiratory system will challenge the O2 delivery so the heart has to react and keep the extremity muscles on a minimum fire for O2 usage. We use PET (Pulmonary Endurance Training) with specific resistance to do that.

If your respiratory system is the limitation, keep the heart rate down but work your respiratory system as you would go for a 1 hour all out run and don't integrate the extremity muscles. We do that with the SpiroTiger.

If your blood system is the limitation you improve that over a proper nutritional delivery (Maryanne Kelly, NOC California) and a hormonal challenge for EPO with a IHT (intermitent hypoxy) workout with the PET and an integration of O2 sat control.

If the limitation is your extremity muscles, you improve that with specific coordination training and possibly stabilization training. The worst case scenario for dynamic sport is the fitness center equipment. The cheapest and most advanced one is the Swiss ball coordination training. (I remember when we tried 15 years back to make a Swiss ball distributorship in Vancouver, everybody would ask us whether we are nuts. Smile they are right we are nuts, but just 15 years later we would be rich, ha ha.)

Now let's see what goes on with FaCT IRIS and the other nutty stuff we have to offer.


1 comment:

Andrew said...

This is a great summary Juerg. I have forwarded it members of our High Performance Team to help them understand the approach we (Balance Poitn Racing) have taken when developing our long term plans for athlete development.

Our other team members are well on their way to putting these theories into practice, and we are very happy with the results.

I think some athletes find it difficult to break out of the "yearly planning" cycle that is so pervasice in Canada. It may be due to our long winters, and desire to race our "best" at each attempt. But the concept of planning training based on a yearly cycle really does not make sense if you consider the practical application of structural training. We have seen in our own training, how development has taken 4-5 years to see the kind of results we have been striving for, and only now can we change our focus somewhat to put this structure to better use.