Seriously, people, you're not going to like my answer

Originally Posted on Tuesday, July 03, 2012 9:43 PM
A friend of mine was asked during one of her weightlifting classes at her local gym:

"What do I need to do to do really well in this meet in four weeks?"

"You're not going to like my answer."

"I have to stop conditioning, right?"


Why, though?  Why can't we do well at a weightlifting meet and still do crazy conditioning workouts?  Well, you can, provided you're satisfied with going to a meet, having a good time, and competing to see where you stand against your everyday goals and training.  That's awesome, everyone should do a meet like this, be it weightlifting, strongman, powerlifting, or running a 5k.  Heck, I do that for Highland Games, because the games are fun.

But if you expect to go to a meet, and just because it's a meet hit a PR and increase your total by 10-20 kg, you need to serve one master, and that master is lifting.  Even for four weeks, your lifting will improve enough that you get better and hit a good total.  I would prefer you plan for the meet 12 weeks out (12 out of 52 weeks... maybe you could do that, even if engaged in another sport in which you are, technically, in the offseason).  

Why, though, can't you engage in hard conditioning and expect to improve drastically in a power sport?

There are a few reasons.  Suprisingly, one of them is not strictly technique.  Technique is improved through practice, and good practice can be done in many ways, even if you do train for muscular endurance rather than power output.  

Here, then, is our first reason:  Power output.  In order to do well in lifting weights, you use fast twitch muscle fibers.  

Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers are one of the two basic types of muscle fibers (fast and slow, though there are subcategories which we won't bring up) which contract to produce force in a muscle.  Fast twitch fibers fire quickly and powerfully and need an extended period of recovery before firing again.  Slow Twitch fibers fire less powerfully but can fire again without as much down time.  Very simple reasoning shows that fast twitch fibers are used in the snatch, clean and jerk, and the dancing following a good lift.  Since your body essentially adapts to whatever kind of exercise you're doing, doing an exercise routine which develops slow twitch fibers over fast twitch means that a fast twitch sport like lifting will suffer.  Similarly, expecting to kick ass in a marathon after doing nothing but squats and cleans for a year is poorly thought out.

The other reasons that mid-level conditioning will inhibit your performance in lifting is in the energy systems used to power your body in these situations. Homo sapiens sapiens have three basic energy systems for work:  ATP PCR and Glycolisis, Glycolisis and Oxidative, and Oxidative.  A conditioned weightlifter makes the most of her ATP PCR Glycolisis system when they lift, giving them much more available energy than an individual focused on another energy system, like the Glycolisis and Oxidative System.  If you focus on exercise activities lasting more than a few seconds, you prepare your non-weightlifting energy systems to be more efficient, and you lose the efficiency of the ATP PCR Glycolisis system.  Basically, if you train to move for a while, your body gets used to moving for a while.  Moving for a while means you're better at moving for a while using 70% of your strength than moving very quickly and using 100% of your strength.  
The third reason you can't engage in hard conditioning and expect to be awesome at lifting is that lifting a limit weight is one of the most difficult things a human can do.  

Seriously:  I can train for six months and run a 5k in 25 minutes or less weighing over 270 pounds.  Why?  I'm a human, and we're really more designed for running than lifting a heavy weight.  However, I can train for six months and come not even close to my PRs in lifting.  I've done this recently; I can get back to 80% or so quickly, but that last 20%  is a cruel master requiring another 18 months to conquer.  Since humans are designed for long, slow things, testing the organism with a limit weight takes a psychological and emotional toll. Getting used to that toll through training helps you on the platform day.  

Expect out of your training what you put into it:  if you train for endurance, you're going to be better at endurance.  That's fine, there is nothing wrong with that.  Just expect to to better at endurance events.  You just need to have a good mindset on competition day.  I know many lifters who run a mile for fun, but they don't get upset when the run isn't blazing fast.  They run for the heck of it once every month or two because they want to challenge themselves that way.  It's the challenge which is important, after all, and not beating everyone at their own sport.  

Michael McKennaComment