Upping the Tempo in Your Training
By Don Otis –
The track workouts at my suburban Los Angeles high school were brutal. A typical mid-week workout included intervals, a combination of 200- or 400-yard sprints with very little rest. The purpose behind these workouts was to teach our muscles to adapt to the speed. If you want to be fast, you have to train fast. This is true in any sport, but it is especially true of professional athletes. So what does this have to do with recreational athletes or those just wanting to stay in shape?
There are two types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch and fast-twitch. The former are oxygen-rich and darker in color. The latter appear white. A marathon runner has slow-twitch fibers while a sprinter has fast-twitch. There are no differences between men and women in terms of fiber-type distribution. Nevertheless, in general men are stronger because they have a greater amount of muscle tissue. Likewise, some people inherit a high percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers. This genetic effect means they have a greater potential for endurance activities.
You will notice a marked difference between sprinters (more muscle mass) than distance runners (leaner). As we age, we lose more of the fast-twitch (speed) capabilities we had when we were younger. We also lose our capacity to process oxygen, which makes distance training more difficult. It is important, however, even for those who are just trying to stay in shape, to include at least one workout a week that engages fast-twitch muscles. Here’s why.
There is a direct correlation between the intensity of your workouts and engaging your fast-twitch fibers. If the intensity of your workouts is always the same, your results will remain flat. I recommend some form of higher-intensity workout each week. In practical terms, this means doing whatever you do–but faster and for shorter periods of time. For example, if you swim 1000 meters three days a week, try adding 6 X 100 meters at a faster-than-average pace. The same is true for running. Increase your speed for shorter distances. When you do intervals it’s expected that you will rest between each–thirty to sixty seconds. It is expected that you should be out of breath from the effort.
You can achieve the same effect through other exercises such as jumping rope or increasing the tempo in an aerobics class. While I suggest you keep your exercise intensity high during regular workouts too, the fatigue from higher intensity exercise should leave you feeling added fatigue from the effort. I am a proponent of spending less time to get the same or often better training results from workouts. You don’t have to spend an hour on an elliptical machine. Instead, push the tempo harder and get your heart rate into a higher zone.
By increasing your speed you burn more calories as well. Keep in mind the universal formula of 220-your age. This will give you a general idea of your maximum heart rate. Then, divide that number by 70 percent. If you are 40, here’s how it works: 220-40=180 beats per minute. This is your maximum. You want to train at 70-80 percent of this which is calculated by .70X180=126.
Fight the urge in your workouts to “just get through.” Instead, focus on the quality of your efforts.