Implications and advancements in Endurance Sports Training
As Triathlon coaches, we are designed to train athletes and our role is to bring out the best possible physical performances! We are tasked with taking athletes from where they are to where they want to be. At a basic level this is relatively easy to do, as most of us have a huge capacity for improvement. I once joked that most athletes could read a program and go faster. As athletes get fitter, faster, and stronger, this capacity for improvement decreases and gains become harder. At the elite level, it becomes significantly more difficult to make drastic improvement and it comes down to marginal gains. In elite sport, winning and losing is often defined by fractions of a percent.
It is easy to look at the results sheet and see and athlete who finishes 10 min behind the winner in a two-hour race as almost there, and right up with the pros. What people don’t realize is that even with the best possible coaching, that 10 min could be a lifetime of work away, and in truth may be completely unattainable. This can be evident even if the athlete’s time in the sport has been relatively short. The law of diminishing returns in sports basically states that “The better you become at anything, the harder the future gains will be to attain.” This is particularly true in endurance sport. It is the fundamental reason why it is so much easier to work with age group athletes and see massive improvement, and yet so hard to work with elite athletes and make those same gains. For everything we gain, we lose something. In age group athletes, what we lose is usually a lot less important than what we gain; However, in elite/pro athletes what we gain is often equal to what we lose, causing a plateau in performance, and even decreases if we focus too much on the wrong things.
As an elite coach I have often found myself doing what I thought was right, only to come up short of my goals for athletes on race day. The reason this happens is because it is so hard to balance all the training variables and still get adaptation that moves the athlete forward from one personal best to the next. To find a way to overcome this and get the additional gains I was looking for requires some out of the box thinking. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.
It’s often easy as coaches to only focus on the training; After all, training plan design and delivery is what we do. More volume, more speed, more biomechanical work etc. The issue is that more of all these things requires more recovery, and from that greater adaptation.
Load –> Recovery –> Adaptation ->Test/Race/Assess -> Load
Where the issues lie, and my conundrum as a coach, is in the simple fact that recovery and adaptation take time, and time is always limited. If we add more volume or more speed, we need more time to recover from it. If we rush the process, then we don’t adapt, and that is the whole point of training. If we allow for recovery and adaption to take place correctly, then we may not have enough time to add additional loading. Peak performance certainly requires the right balance between load, recovery, and adaptation.
So, the question I ask myself often is how do I speed up the recovery/adaptation process so that I can subsequently increase the loading and performance gains without putting the athlete at risk? The answer came to me while I was reading an article on increased injury recovery rates for wound care using hyperbaric oxygen therapy HBOT. If we stop looking at injuries as either broken or not broken, and rather look at it as a continuum, then if HBOT can heal wounds faster, why couldn’t it speed up the recovery process, and thus the adaptation process in athletes? Afterall, training load is essentially athletes creating micro injuries within the body, which then (after proper recovery) stimulates the athlete to adapt. I propose, if done correctly, that implementing HBOT could allow me to increase the intensity of training sessions or alternatively the number of training sessions I could run per day, while also drastically lowering the potential rates of injury.
It was for this reason and out of curiosity that I reached out to Carlos and the team at Élevé Health. I had seen the variety of athletes they have worked with, and have found evidence using HBOT and Light Therapy for treating injuries in impact sports like the NFL, MMA, NBA etc. They have been fantastic and were also very interested in the potential gains to endurance athletes based on the idea of looking at injuries as a continuum, as well as seeing if we could take performance training to the next level.
I have been using one of the HBOT units from Élevé with my team over the past three months and we have noticed the decrease in recovery time, less injury prevalence, and more consistency day after day. By increasing the atmospheric pressure (both with or without supplemental O2), it facilitates getting O2 directly into the blood stream.
This happens in 2 ways:
Firstly, by allowing O2 to reach the red blood cells easier, primarily by using pressure to help move O2 across the lung to blood barrier and onto the red blood cells-think of O2 being pushed harder by the pressure in the chamber.
Secondly, and likely more importantly, it allows O2 to be absorbed better into the blood plasma that holds the red blood cells. This means that more O2 than normal (a lot more) can get to where it’s needed. Also, this O2 that is suspended in the plasma can get to areas that the red blood cells may not be able to reach traditionally, such as areas of low blood flow.
As a coach, I am still in the learning phases of using this technology with athletes. I am also in no way a medical professional; however, the technology is simple to use and remarkably user friendly and once an athlete has been taught how to use it, they can run it on their own. I am in the process of developing protocols for using the HBOT system with performance athletes and will post these later. I’ll also talk more about the physiological benefits and why I think we are seeing it making such a big performance difference. But for now, I have attached a few photos and videos using the system.
Feel free to post in the comments or reach out to me directly about your own experiences with HBOT as I am in an information gathering phase, especially as it related to the use in endurance athletes. I am available and open to answer any further questions you may have about the purpose of implementing HBOT therapy in training plans, specific protocols, and/or recovery data.