Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What's the Right Way to Train Strength for GS?

Becoming stronger is useful for most of us, never mind where strength is on the list of qualities required for girevoy sport. The question is, how to correctly fit strength training into the already physically challenging schedule of training for girevoy sport.

GS is primarily and endurance activity, and it has been shown many times that concomitant strength and endurance negatively affect each other. This has been coined an interference phenomenon. Research has come up with various reasons for this phenomenon, but I am more interested in the practical side of things. In 2000 two Canadian researchers came up with the model of training that could possibly overcome the effect of interference. In their article they set up four goals:

  • To review the effects of training methods used to increase aerobic power and their physiological adaptations
  • To review methods used to increase strength and consequent neuro-muscular responses
  • To identify which combinations of training protocols used to enhance aerobic power and strength produce maximum or minimum interference
  • Finally, to come up with the model that may be used to study the interference phenomenon in a systematic and controlled manner.

Training for Aerobic Power

There are several parameters to consider in this section. Maximal aerobic power (MAP) is the maximal rate at which energy can be produced in a muscle primarily through oxidative metabolism.[18] The 
most common measurement of MAP is maximal 
oxygen consumption, or VO2max. Transportation of oxygen is dependent upon the cardiopulmonary system, referred to as the central component, and the adaptations that occur at the muscle tissue level, referred to as the peripheral component.
Central component. The efficiency of the cardiopulmonary system to de
liver oxygen to the muscle tissue is dependent on 
pulmonary diffusion, cardiac output (Q) and haemoglobin affinity.
Peripheral component. Glycogen stores in muscle, capillary density, mitochondrial volume and density, aerobic enzymes and myoglobin content all influence the utilisation of oxygen in the muscle.
Another useful parameter that reflects the ability to generate aerobic power is Maximal Aerobic Capacity. It refers to the maximal amount of work that can be performed using oxidative metabolism. The indicator that reflects maximal aerobic capacity is lactate threshold.
There are various training protocols used to improve aerobic capacity. The most important point for me is that depending on the intensity of training resulting adaptations are different. At lower intensities, the physiological adaptations occur primarily in the central component, while high intensity interval training leads to the improvement of the peripheral oxygen utilization.
Lower intensity training is associated with changes in the cardiopulmonary mechanics, such as pulmonary diffusion, cardiac output and haemoglobin. As training intensity increases the location of adaptation appears to shift to the peripheral components with changes in muscle capillarization, increase in oxidative enzyme activity, mitochondrial volume and density, and myoglobin concentration. Interestingly enough, strictly speaking interval training is not “cardio”. It is also clear from the information above that statements by fitness gurus in regards to HIIT being more productive than LSD are simply illiterate. Both central and peripheral mechanisms are important for improving aerobic capacity, and therefore both should be employed for that purpose.

As depicted on the diagram above, training at intensities close to the maximal as during HIIT elicits peripheral adaptations, while training below aerobic threshold (AT) leads to adaptations in the central component.
Training Muscular Strength.
Muscular strength is measured by the force produced during a maximal voluntary contraction (MVC). Two factors can improve strength: an increase in muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) – growing a bigger muscle - and the ability to effectively activate motor units.  Muscle growth is the result of protein synthesis, which produces a greater number of contractile units. More efficient motor unit activation (MUA) occurs when a greater number of fibres are recruited, firing frequency increases, co-contraction of antagonists decreases, motor units are better synchronized and various reflexive mechanisms that limit the amount of generated force are suppressed.
Again, various training regimes lead to different adaptations in terms of strength. Muscle hypertrophy has been shown to occur in training with loads of 6RM or greater; however, the greatest increases in CSA have been found to occur with 8 to 12RM loads.
In addition, muscle hypertrophy is also optimized when there is sufficient training volume and there are multiple exercises per muscle group. Time under tension is also considered an important factor in enhancing the size of muscle. Finally, 8 to 10RM loading protocol has also been found to produce the highest circulating levels of growth hormone (GH), which has been associated with protein synthesis.
Training at higher loads - 4 to 6RM – also increases strength, but achieves less muscle hypertrophy. This strength gain is attributed to neural adaptations that include increased muscle unit activation, faster firing frequency of motor units, improved synchronization and decreased co-contraction of antagonists. It has also been suggested that these training protocols are in wa way antagonistic: as the training stimulus promotes muscle growth, the contributions from the neural mechanisms to force production diminish.
The diagram below illustrates the principle: higher repetition training increases muscle size, while training with lower RMs mostly elicits neural adaptation.

A Model for the Interference Phenomenon
According to the authors of the article there has been no systematic approach to studying the interference phenomenon, with particular reference to the components of strength and aerobic power. Because various protocols for strength and endurance have been used in different publications, the outcomes have been all over the place: it has been shown that combined training of strength and aerobic power results in compromised strength gains, uncompromised strength gains and uncompromised gains in muscular power, with no apparent compromise in the development of aerobic power.
So these guys come up with the model of interference, which is presented in the next diagram.

 The basic premise of the proposed model is the idea that there is an inverse relationship between the intensity and volume of training. Normally, as the training intensity (resistance and percent of VO2max) increases, the volume (sets and repetitions) would decrease.
From the model it would be hypothesized that interference would be maximized when athletes use high intensity interval training to improve aerobic power and an 8 to 12RM multiple set resistance training protocol to increase strength. The strength training protocol would be attempting to enhance protein synthesis in the muscle and stress the anaerobic energy system with corresponding increases in muscle lactate. Aerobic interval training would create hypoxia in the muscle, requiring the muscle to increase its oxidative capability. In this situation the muscle would be required to adapt in distinctly different physiological and anatomical ways, which may reduce the adaptation of one of the systems.
If aerobic interval training was combined with high intensity - 3 to 6RM -  resistance training, the model would predict less interference because the training stimulus for increases in strength would stress the neural system and not place metabolic demands on the muscle. Presumably the muscle could increase its oxidative capability without affecting neural adaptation such as increased firing frequency, more efficient synchronization of motor units, decreased inhibition and co-contraction of antagonist muscles.
Continuous aerobic training would be predicted to have minimal interference on strength development using either high load or medium load strength training protocols. The physiological adaptations associated with continuous aerobic training would be centrally mediated, involving increased cardiac output, haemoglobin and greater pulmonary diffusion. Consequently, it should not interfere with either neural adaptation or muscle hypertrophy since the location of physiological adaptation and metabolic response would seem to be different.
 Testing the Model
According to the existing literature, there is some evidence that this model may be valid. You can read full analysis at the link provided at the beginning of the post.
 Implications for Girevoy Sport
I train for GS snatch only, and my training sessions generally consist of high intensity set with heavier bell and higher cadence, followed, after a short break, by 10 minute set with the light bell. High intensity set sends my heart rate through the roof, and it takes a while to catch a breath after it. Long sets vary in terms of RPE, but they are seldom easy. When they get easy I increase the weight of the bell. So, I would call both of these sets high intensity exercise.
After GS sets I do circuits, and this is where the model above may detect a problem. Circuit sets are multiple repetition barbell or body-weight exercises, and according to this model they may cause interference. I wonder if moving the intensity/volume towards the right side of the spectrum – 3 – 5 reps with heavy weight – could be more beneficial.


  1. Just wanted to say that I found your older blog first, and found the 2008 post on "the heart is not a machine" to be incredibly useful. Real kick start to making some changes. This post added to the evidence and a clearer way forward for me. Thanks.

  2. First of all I really enjoy your blog. Lots of great information. I particularly like to thank for recommending the DVDs by Kanygin. They are really great.

    The paper you discuss is really interesting. I'd like to discuss the implications. It states that bodybuilding and intervals don't go well together. The least amount of interference should occur with a mix of LSD and relative strength training. That is somewhat the opposite of the current message of the ongoing HIIT hype, but quite intuitive. Aerobics just don't exhaust in the same manner. But could one conclude also that aerobics plus bodybuilding are fine (many people did very well with that) and that HIIT and relative strength training are still ok? I think the latter is tricky, because of recovery. Although I am still wondering if GS and olympic lifting can be done in the same week potentially even in a supporting manner. What are your thoughts?

  3. Hey, where've you been ? Are you still Girevoying ? ;-)