the myths about back pain
We know the
right kind of exercise resolves back pain and prevents it from
returning. However, most people do the wrong kind of exercise!
Injury Bulletin discovered that many of the most popular
beliefs about caring for your back have little or no scientific
support. Several of these beliefs, which up to now have been
treated as ‘gospel’, are exposed as myths.
here to receive this special issue of Sports Injury
Bulletin (issue number 25) on free trial, or to read more
about the myths of low-back pain.
If you want to reach
your peak level of performance and be a winner, especially in an
endurance sport, you must accomplish five tasks:
1. Raise your lactate threshold as high as possible, so that intense
efforts can be maintained with a minimum of fatigue
2. Fortify yourself psychologically, so that the changes in training and
competing can be handled more easily
3. Maximise your aerobic capacity (V02max) so that more energy is
available to sustain your exercise
4. Become more efficient at carrying out the exact activities required
in your particular sport, so that less energy is wasted during
competition and hard exertions feel less stressful
5. Learn how to rest, so that your hard training is perfectly balanced
with adequate amounts of recovery
threshold (the exercise intensity above which lactic acid begins to
increase appreciably in your blood) is fairly straightforward. If you
improve your V02max, you will usually raise your lactic threshold as
well, since lactic threshold is often a fixed percentage of aerobic
However, it is also possible to raise lactic threshold independently,
which is lucky in those cases where V02max refuses to budge. Training
continuously at about 85- 90 per cent of max heart rate for 20- to
25-minute periods will generally have a profound effect on lactic
threshold. If you don't own a heart monitor or hate checking your pulse,
a good lactic threshold raising intensity is one which feels as though
it would be impossible to sustain for longer than 30 minutes during a
Compared to the
physiological requirements of a winning performance, the exact
psychological needs of the top-level athlete are less clear. It is
certain that superior performers are able to concentrate almost totally
on their bodies during workouts and competitions, blocking out
extraneous thoughts and negative information which might impede their
The best athletes also tend to be somewhat self-critical, but not overly
so, and they often engage in "positive self-talk", giving
themselves encouragement both during exercise and throughout the course
of an average day.
Supreme competitors also have the ability to let bad performances roll
off their backs; in fact, they tend to regard poor outings as
opportunities to learn more about themselves and to make necessary
changes in both their physical and mental preparations for competitions.
The best athletes also seem to form mental images of themselves moving
powerfully and quickly, and they tune in these images before major
Finally, almost all top athletes have the apparently paradoxical ability
to both relax and remain somewhat tense. Their muscles are relaxed and
ready for maximally powerful efforts during competition, yet within
their minds keen fires burn, which are ready to ignite almost superhuman
Improving this is
probably the easiest of the five tasks, since just engaging in your
sport for extended periods of time can heighten your V02max. If you're a
runner, for example, and currently training 40 miles per week, you can
earn a nice V02max upgrade simply by expanding your weekly schedule to
50-60 miles, without increasing the actual intensity of your workouts.
However, beyond a certain point, increasing your quantity of training no
longer boosts V02max. Once that point is reached, intensity of training
becomes the key factor: you'll have to cycle, run, row or swim at speeds
which lift your heart rate to at least 95 per cent of maximal in order
to push V02max as high as possible.
To make things more difficult, attaining such high heart rates for brief
periods of time won't work. If you're really interested in sending
V02max to the stratosphere, your "intensity needle" will have
to point to 95 per cent of maximal heart rate for four-to-five minute
stretches several times during selected workouts.
The key to improving
your efficiency of movement is to recognise that each muscle in your
body is composed of collections of individual muscle cells.
If you make a particular muscle stronger, then fewer of the individual
cells within that muscle will be required to sustain a certain level of
effort. In other words, more muscle cells within the strengthened muscle
are allowed to rest while you're engaging in your sport, and other
muscles, which assist your power-boosted muscle, are less likely to be
called into play.
Since you'll need to activate fewer individual muscle cells to pedal a
bicycle at 20 miles per hour, swim at 1.5 metres per second or row a
boat at a particular velocity, your overall energy demand will be lower
and you will be more efficient!
As a result, you'll be able to step up to higher than expected
intensities of exercise, or else conserve large quantities of precious
muscle fuel if you prefer to remain at your traditional work rate.
To get more powerful, and therefore more efficient, you'll need to
carry out some training at levels of effort which are actually higher
than your usual competitive intensities.
Obviously such exertions can't be sustained for long, so the, usual plan
for the endurance-oriented athlete is to employ 30 to 90 second
intervals at close to top capacity. The recipe for the correct recovery
interval during such workouts is, a bit ambiguous.
Utilising recoveries that are equal in duration to the work intervals
can be good, because it helps an athlete's muscles to develop
"lactate tolerance" the ability to control increases in
acidity and sustain high power outputs for longer periods of time.
On the other hand, longer rest intervals allow more work to be done
during each work interval, so it's probably best to have some workouts
with short recoveries and others with more extended rest periods.
Sprinters, of course, usually won't want the 90 second work intervals;
for a 400m sprinter, for example, 10 and 20 second intervals at faster
than 400m pace would be ideal. An additional way to become more
efficient is to make use of an esteemed tenet of training called the
"specificity principle". There's no special magic here; the
idea is simply to do some training at the exact intensity one hopes to
use during an important competition. For example:
- the top-level
runner who wants to sizzle through a 5K in 13: 10 should complete
some 1000m intervals in 2:38 each,
- the I0k
competitor shooting for a 30-minute race should carry out 200Orn
intervals in six minutes
- the marathoner
hoping for a 2:11 clocking should cruise through 10 miles runs in 50
In each case, these
runners are practicing the exact tempo, which will be required for the
race. Likewise the rower who wants to hustle a boat through the water at
a particular cruising velocity, the cyclist shooting for a goal time,
and the skier needing a specific pace to win a race, must all practice
that particular intensity during training.
The bottom line is that competition is not just a muscular event, an
athlete's nervous system must learn to control muscular activity at the
precise exertion level required for the race. Specific training allows
the nervous and muscular systems to come together in a coordinated way.
how to rest
workouts are necessary to get to the top, rest is equally important, but
is all too often missing from a potentially great athlete's schedule.
Attuned to the idea that high-level workouts produce winning
performances, the majority of athletes go overboard, pushing themselves
to the brink of fatigue and overtraining. Top athletes have learned that
optimal training involves exercising and resting; it's not possible
to reach supreme performance levels unless fierce exertions are balanced
with restoration and recovery.
Even the seemingly fatigue-proof Kenyan runners take two-month respites
each year during which they do very little training. As they put it so
simply: "Our bodies need to take a rest, so that we can train hard
the rest of the year". All competitive athletes should have at
least one annual six- to eight-week period in which very little training
is done, and should avoid the temptation to carry out too many
high-intensity workouts during the training year.
True, not every athlete needs to reach the five goals, which are
outlined above. Sprinters and throwers, for example, don't require high
V02max levels or lofty lactate thresholds, and they may in fact lose
some of their raw muscle power if they focus on V02max-building
training. They need to enhance the anaerobic capacities of their
muscles, not the aerobic, so the maximum amount of force can be exerted
in the shortest possible time.
However, for athletes involved in activities which last for more than a
couple of minutes, hitting all five targets should lead to the biggest
pay-off of all: a winning performance and a new personal best.
- Training methods to increase your lactate threshold...
- Mental training techniques that will increase your
- VO2max workouts that will boost your performance...
- The secrets of vVO2max...
- Training programmes to improve your efficiency and beat
your personal bests...
- Identify overtraining syndrome and achieve the balance
between training and rest required to reach your potential