A New Season Approaches

We are lucky to have our first Sported Insight from Tim Lawson, owner and founder of Secret Training  sports nutrition. Tim will be visiting the UAE in November so look out for one of his talks.

When people start asking questions such as, ‘How fast can someone expect muscle adaptation once you start a training block?’, you know there’s a new racing season around the corner.

IT is an interesting question but perhaps not so simple an answer, especially if the question is really a prelude to how long can I procrastinate until I start panic training for the first races.

Anyone who has started a block of resistance training will know that they can lift heavier weights within a few weeks of starting a program providing they have gotten over any serious muscle soreness.  With a conventional strength training program the first increases in strength tend to be with increased muscle fibre activation, so these are more adaptations to the neural system.  A muscle is made up of many individual muscle fibres, when a new training movement is started only a small percentage of the available fibres will fire, by recruiting more fibres into the movement strength is increased without any increase in muscle size.  Usually it takes around 6 weeks of strength training before any real increase in muscle size.  Some novel training techniques such as katsu or blood flow restriction training may increase muscle hypertrophy within 2 weeks.  This is thought to be because with blood flow restriction training only light weights are used and it is possible to obtain an anabolic response without the muscle damage and breakdown associated with the heavy weight necessary to elicit an anabolic effect with conventional training.  Whether blood flow restriction training is a good modality for ‘panic training’ or even as an adjunct to conventional training is still of scientific debate though there is at least one study showing impressive results with 2 weeks of indoor cycling.

When it comes to endurance exercise there are more complications, whilst muscle and neural adaptations are important so to are central factors.  It is OK having great muscles and muscle activation but to keep these muscles going requires a great cardiovascular system.

Low volume high intensity training tends elicit –the quickest improvements in endurance performance.  Typically these kind of efforts are used during a taper to peak for the most important races of the season, so if they are so effective why are they not used all the time?

Modern training does tend to include more high intensity training than in the past but the adaptations tend to be more peripheral and biochemical; increased muscle fibre activation, increased enzyme capacity and increased buffering (of lactic acid) capacity.  It is often easy to draw the comparison with motor vehicles, an easy way to improve performance is to wind the turbo up.  Keep winding the turbo up and eventually the engine breaks.

Unfortunately the factors that contribute to an athletes ‘engine capacity’, the heart and lungs can take considerably longer than peripheral factors, so long training sessions over long periods of time are important parts of an endurance training program.

Whilst modern training programs are increasing combining HIIT, endurance and even strength training the best results are usually found with a periodized training plan where improvements indifferent aspects of fitness are prioritised during the build-up to specific events.

Whilst it can be great for motivation to perform well from the start of the season, and even better to keep winning from the beginning until the end of the season, there’s not many athletes for which this represents a realistic proposition!  Even Valverde takes breaks from competition and builds up to his season targets.

Its best to prioritise some events in which you would like to do well and work with a coach on a periodized plan to achieve these goals. Super intense ‘panic training’ can get impressive results, but it is probably best to avoid the outcome suffered by participants in the famous Hickson study.  In this study researchers showed impressive weekly improvements in VO2 max, at the end of the study participants were still improving.  However, none of the participants were willing to carry on training at the end of the study.

The season is long; pick your events, periodize your training, last the season.

But if you really want some panic training, try this;-


Bio of Tim Lawson

Founder of Secret Training and previously founding director of SiS (Science in Sport) Limited.  Life time interest in Sport and Nutrition for Sport and Exercise Performance.  Masters Degree in Sport and Exercise Physiology, Honours graduate in Sport Science member British Association of Sport and Exercise Scientists.  

Medallist at World Masters Track Cycling Championships, regular medal winner at National Championships (one of the oldest ever winners of a National Elite Championship).  Tim has competed in triathlons and swimming competitions (including long distance open water).  Main sport is cycling, in which he has competed in most disciplines and still competes regularly at high level, overcoming severe injuries including a broken back and fractured pelvis.

 A popular “in demand” speaker on Sports nutrition, has advised athletes and sports people at all levels on nutritional strategies for many sports and physical challenges.  Key member of the SiS management and scientific team that received Queens Award for Enterprise (Innovation) for the development the worlds first “isotonic” Sports Nutrition Gel.

Tim has also fought back from several severe injuries (and physical neglect) to achieve National and International honors in cycle sport. 

As the owner and brains behind Secret Training Tim is a major inspiration and source of knowledge for the UAE Secret Training team and now for ‘Sported’.

Posted on 17th Apr 2019