Stewart Athletic Development

A beginners guide to Hybrid training part 4: Hydration, recovery & monitoring training

Now we are onto the final instalment of concurrent training. Firstly, well done for making it through parts 1, 2 & 3.  They are big reads, so.. kudos!.

In today’s article, We will be looking at monitoring, hydration and recovery for concurrent training. It’s easy to overlook, but monitoring training and ensuring you are looking after your recovery is important for any programme. But, due to the high intensity & dual focus nature of concurrent training it is of particular importance. If you are not monitoring and manipulating training load at necessary times, and your hydration and recovery is pretty poor you are going to gas out fast. Reaching at best a state of non-functional overreaching, at worst picking up a moderate – severe injury which side-lines you. So we will begin by looking at monitoring training.

Monitoring training

Now, for some of the things being discussed in monitoring, you may need some tech or equipment. However, many of you will probably already have some of this tech (or very close to considering purchasing). For some metrics, it will make your life a whole lot easier.

The obvious starting point for monitoring is your training intensity and training volume. Now this may seem fairly intuitive, but you need to ensure you are tracking both your resistance training sessions as well as your cardiovascular sessions. There is 0 sense in tracking one training type, and not the other. So, track how much tin you’re lifting, track how far you’re running, cycling, swimming etc, and keep an eye on the training load (both volume and intensity). Volume load (total work done) can be useful for tracking progress, as well as providing information on state of readiness. If you are working at a certain load, and you notice your touching on non-functional overreaching (i.e overcooking a bit) you can record what this workload is, and reduce. This information can also be carried forward into subsequent blocks.

Looking at intensity, you need to ensure you are not pushing too close to max effort to often. Training at too high an intensity for too long will result in fatigue (both peripheral and central) and negatively impact training. The reason being, is the central nervous system (CNS) suffers from decreased drive, resulting in decreased performance. When this happens, it indicates you are edging toward non-functional overreaching. Which increases your likelihood of injury (particularly repetitive strain injuries), as well as decreasing performance. This state (if left unchecked and hard training continues) will result in overtraining syndrome. This condition can take months to recover from, and often requires total rest, and then a gentle reintroduction of training. The good news is, that true overtraining is quite hard to achieve, and is usually found in semi pro > pro athletes. Most people don’t have the grit to push on when they are a little over cooked (and this is absolutely a good thing).

Which brings us nicely onto our next metric –  going to want to track your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This is simply how difficult a task is. In terms of barbell training, RPE has been popularised and is basically another form of repetitions in reserve (RIR) training. Even if your weights are prescribed as specific numbers, RPE  should be tracked, as it can give valuable information that might be otherwise missed. For example, your working sets at a prescribed load should be breezy and at a 7, but the prescribed load feels more like a 9. Patterns and data around RPE can indicate if training is perhaps overcooking (or undercooking) you. RPE should also be applied to your cardiovascular based sessions as well. RPE can be linked to volume load. You will have an idea of what loads / intensity are having what effect in terms of the perceived effort of these sessions.

Alongside RPE, you should be keeping an eye on general life metrics. Are you sleeping ok, or are you getting broken sleep? Are you willing to train or is it a total chore? Have you lost your appetite and feeling generally lethargic? Or has your sex drive / libido taken a massive hit? all of these are important questions, and if you are noticing negative impacts on these (with no causative explanation) then you might need to deload or amend your training. Note, these are consistent feelings. We all have days where these are negatively effected, but if it’s a few days on the trot, something might be amiss. Apply some thought to this, or if you have a coach, discuss it with them.

Tracking your heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) can also be great data metrics to track. If your HRV is consistently decreased, it may indicate you are starting to overcook. Conversely, if your resting heart rate (RHR) starts to increase above typical baseline (on average), then your stress levels may be increasing, which could be related to training. It is important to remember that HR data is incredibly sensitive, so see if there is changes in the data on average.

Performance metrics are of course important to track as well. Pick a couple of strength-based movements, and track how they are progressing over time. Note, you don’t need to test it frequently, but having baselines and working out theoretical maximums can indicate if training is trending in the right direction. Same with distance-based metrics. If you have a particular route you know is a specific distance, it can be used as a good gauge. Just remember that outdoor based times will be a bit more sensitive to conditions such as rain, wind etc (especially if you live in Scotland!). Tied into this, you can monitor physiological based metrics such as VO2 max, critical power, Wingate tests etc. Just make sure what you are tracking is relevant to you and your sport / activity and goals.

As a conclusion to monitoring, you will hopefully see the importance of the metrics outlined above. This is by no means an exhaustive list, far from it. If there are more you feel would be useful, then feel free to track them as well. You do want to avoid a “paralysis by analysis” and it can feel like a bit of a data overload. But it is all useful and important data for following a concurrent training programme, so I would recommend you track as much of it as you can. If you are unsure how they interact, my advice would be to hire a coach who does know what they are doing, and leave the hard analysis and number crunching to them.

Recovery

Onto recovery & recovering from training now. The biggest components of recovery (Out with PED usage) are nutrition (discussed in article 1), sleep and hydration. Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely trying to push a product or service on to you. If you haven’t got those 3 nailed, no amount of theraguns, ice baths / heat treatment, deep tissue massage or flopping about on a foam roller is going to help you. Nail those 3 before you even think about other modalities (discussed below)

Sleep

I have already covered the nutritional element of the main 3 components, so we will look at the remaining 2 now. Firstly, sleep. Sleep is one of the biggest things you can do to improve recovery. If WADA could ban sleep, they would. When we sleep there are various physiological processes which occur, including substrate resynythesis (energy store replenishment) in as well as tissue repair. It’s also the chance to switch off and just rest.

There are also correlations between increased number of injuries and decreased hours of sleep. I,e if you sleep less, you are more likely to get injured. You are also more likely to make poor decisions when fatigued, which can also lead to injury. Further highlighting the need for sleep. Specifically, good quality sleep. For a typical adult you should be aiming for 8 hours. You can get by on less, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do regularly. If you are a teenager, you may even need a little more.

To improve sleep quality, there are a couple of things you can do to improve bedtime hygiene. 1) Try and avoid fluids 1-2 hours before bed. Just sip if you’re thirsty, but if you have been drinking enough through the day, your thirst shouldn’t be unquenchable. The idea from limiting fluids close to bed, is that you shouldn’t need to wake up to pee during the night too often. 2) Avoid screens that emit a blue light before bed such as phones, laptops etc. It would also be prudent to avoid tv too – but, I get that Netflix is fantastic for chilling. And definitely switch off from work before bed. Put that laptop down!, . 3) Try and find something that deliberately relaxes you. Reading and journaling is a good idea to help switch off (as long as it isn’t work related reading content).

There are also various breathing techniques that can be used to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This sends signals from the brain to the body that its time for a nappy nap. There are various ways to do this, however my personal favourite (and one I actively use) is to lie on my back, legs flat with my hands behind my head. I take a deep breath in through my nose for 4s, and exhale gently through my mouth for about 8s. I repeat this for around 5 mins. This isn’t the only way, its just one I personally find useful. Play around with different methods. Key thing is long, slow and deliberate breaths. Short , sharp breaths do the exact opposite.

Finally, there are some supplements you can take which can aid with sleep. One of the most effective supplements for sleep is Melatonin. If you are in Europe or the US (Presumably other countries within the world too), you can get this over the counter. And speaking from personal experience it can be a game changer. However, if you are in the UK, you can only get it on prescription, unless you import it (Which is what I personally do). I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t take it, just highlighting that it can be useful. You do you. It is a supplement that has some solid research behind it, however it should be used quite sparingly.  

Magnesium supplements and lavender have also been used by others to aid with sleep. I cannot personally comment on their efficacy, as I have not used them (Hate lavender) and as I use melatonin, I don’t feel I need anything else.  I cannot comment on what the research says on Magnesium (as I haven’t checked as I’m not personally interested in it). This could be a placebo, it could be legit. I don’t know. What I do, is a fair few people whom have had great success with it. If you are reading this you are probably an adult capable of making your own choices, so make yours. That being said, supplements are meant to be supplementary, if your night-time routine and bedtime hygiene is piss poor, supplements aren’t going to make much difference. So put the damn phone away! 

Hydration

Now it goes without saying, hydration is hugely important for both recovery and performance. Anyone who has been dehydrated (And I mean properly dehydrated, not just a bit thirsty) will know how fucking dreadful it feels. And it can be hard to get over. When you reach a stage of dehydration, water is often not enough on its own to rehydrate you, but why? And why is hydration so important for performance?

When we exercise we sweat (duh) which releases fluid. Many see sweat as a bad thing, and whilst being a sweaty mess is a bit grim, it serves a very important purpose, in that it helps us to thermoregulate – I.e it helps us maintain a safe core temperature. This is why we sweat when we go somewhere hot, or do anything physical in a warmer condition. If we are not adequately hydrated, the body has a far harder time thermoregulating in warm conditions. Dehydration can also cause a reduction in blood volume, which in turn causes the blood to temporarily become more concentrated and thicker, as the body tries to retain sodium (An electrolyte – these are important and discussed below). As a result, blood pressure & cardiovascular strain increase as the heart has to work harder to get blood around the body. Not ideal for just general activity, let alone performance. So, you are starting to see why hydration is important.

All exercise causes a sweat effect as our body rises, but longer endurance type events cause a greater fluid (and electrolyte) loss compared to resistance training. That’s not to say you don’t need to hydrate when lifting, you absolutely do! But the fluid  (and electrolyte) demands are likely to be far less than your cardiovascular sessions (Unless you are lifting in a Sauna). The climate you are living in will also have an impact on how much fluid you lose. Warmer climates are likely to make you sweat more than colder climates, so from wherever in the world you are reading, consider these factors.

Going back to electrolytes, these are substances in the body (e.g Sodium, Calcium, potassium) which are electrically conducting. We need these substances for a variety of tasks such as muscle contraction, so maintaining an equal electrolyte balance is very important for maintaining homeostasis. If we lose excess electrolytes through sweating, we disrupt this balance. This has a negative cascade effect on the body and can seriously hinder performance, and put a person at risk of adverse health issues.

If you are doing endurance events, water on its own is unlikely to be enough to maintain hydrate (But should still be consumed). You will need to look into adding in some sort of electrolyte drinks. These can be home made to keep cost down (google can teach you how) or specifically bought sports drinks. For endurance, you would ideally be looking for an isotonic (electrolytes and small carbohydrate content) or Hypertonic (electrolyte and high carbohydrate content) drinks. When competing, fluids with carbs will be your friend as your stomach will empty fluids faster, and get the nutrients to your bloodstream far quicker than digesting solid food.

Ideally these will be consumed during performance to prevent dehydration, but if you do end up dehydrated, they can still be used to help rehydrate you. Again, water alone is probably not going to be enough. You may also want to strongly consider some medicinal rehydration sachets to help. If you do end up dehydrated, you need to try and minimise strenuous activity as much as feasibly practical, and keep drinking fluids / electrolytes and use how you feel and the colour of your urine as a guide on your hydration status. But, like most things, prevention is the best cure, so stay hydrated.

Active recovery

This is something that I personally feel is underrated when done properly, but, more often than not, people butcher it. Essentially, an active recovery session is when you do some low (and I mean low) level exercise or activity. The purpose of it is to enhance blood flow, movement, removal of waste products from the tissues (via blood flow and other processes) and generally just aid and facilitate recovery and movement

So why do people get it wrong? Because they turn it from a recovery session into another training session. Instead of aiding recovery, they just perpetuate the issue they are trying to mitigate.

If you are looking to do an active recovery day, the activity should be at a low enough level that you could hold a conversation fairly comfortably whilst doing so. For those familiar with HR zones, you would be in approximately HR zone 1. As for the mode of exercise, you have plenty of options. If you are a runner I would suggest getting “off-feet” to reduce the amount of training impact exposure. A bike would be ideal here. It can also be something as simple as getting outside and going for a walk on a relatively flat, easy going terrain. You could also do some gentle movement / mobility circuits such as animal flow or low-level calisthenics. The important thing is to keep the intensity low. Active recovery sessions shouldn’t be long, and you should be able to hold a conversation whilst doing them (unless you’re swimming, lest you risk drowning)

Other recovery modalities

I am aware that this article is quite sizeable, so I won’t take up too much more time on recovery. There are multiple different recovery tools (Theraguns, foam rollers, massage, cupping and about a million other things etc) that people employ. If you have gotten sleep, nutrition and hydration nailed than you can think about implementing these. It should be remembered, that for most of these modalities, the effect is largely psychological. The majority of the research on physiological impact of these modalities for recovery predominantly suggests that they don’t have any real impact on physiological markers of fatigue & muscular damage such as creatine kinase levels, RHR etc. The research that does suggest they help is usually sketchy and quite poorly conducted. The results are usually explained by poor methodology rather than being ground-breaking, but that’s a separate discussion.

What is often forgotten by the “hard data” crew (I myself have been guilty of this in the past) is the effect these modalities can have psychologically. People often feel and perceive themselves to be in a far better place following these treatments or practises. And something like massage can be really good for de-stressing and unwinding (I openly admit I get massage work done, why? It feels damn good!). People are often quick to dismiss the psychological aspect of training and focus entirely on physiology or biomechanics. And it is incredibly narrow minded. If someone believes something helps them, then you best believe it helps.  

So if you feel better from these modalities or treatments, use them. They can help with the perceived effect of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and they are unlikely to hinder performance. And I admit I do get massage work done and occasionally a gun myself.

However, as a quick note on these modalities, they are not for “injury prevention” and shouldn’t be labelled as such (this really grinds my gears when people do). Technically speaking, injuries cannot be prevented unless you stop doing the activity where the injury may occur in the first place. But you can reduce the likelihood / risk of an injury occurring. However, it is not from foam rolling, theraguns etc, but from strength training. Being strong and improving strength has the strongest correlations with reduced  (not preventing) injury risk, because you are building up strength and robustness in the muscles, connective tissues joints and bones. Through strength training, you are literally making yourself harder to break and to kill. Being more mobile (for the sake of being mobile) or flopping about on a foam roller isn’t going to stop you from breaking. Being harder to break in the first place will.

Cold water immersion, friend or foe?

One method of recovery that has gained a lot of popularity recently is cold water immersion (CWI) therapy, and I do want to give some advice with this. That advice is, use it sparingly. CWI can be great for people who are very close to competition, particularly if they have 2 sessions a day. But, and this is a big thing, CWI downregulates  anabolic signalling. What does this mean in layman’s terms? Well when we do resistance training, the growth and repair process is “anabolic”. Anabolism is induced by adequate nutritional intake and through signalling of hormonal processes (Such as mTOR upregulation). When we undertake CWI, these signals are blunted, thus the rate of adaptation is affected. Particularly for strength, power and hypertrophy.

There are some arguments for CWI for aerobic adaptations, but, the argument for CWI helping to improve aerobic performance is nowhere near as strong as the argument for developing strength and power to aid aerobic performance. So if you are using CWI, use it very sparingly. Typically, they are used by people who have 2-a day sessions and are closing in on competition. I admit though, it does feel bloody good to get into some cold water (Sea or a Loch is my go to). Overall, there are multiple modalities at your disposal with varying degrees of efficacy from both a psychological and physiological standpoint. It might take a bit of trial and error to figure out what suits you best.

And that is all she wrote! Thank you for tuning into this gargantuan 4 parter. I appreciate that it is a lot to read in one go, and this hasn’t covered everything that is involved with concurrent training. I will cover more on hybrid training at some stage at some stage. However, this will be in the future. I will be covering some different areas next, so stay tuned!

thank you for taking the time out of your day (or evening) to read these. I hope you enjoyed these articles and got some good insight into the world of concurrent training. If you did, please please share with fellow endurance & hybrid athletes, friends, family etc that you know!

Personally, I admit that Hybrid athlete’s are some of my favourite to work with. So if you are a Hybrid athlete, or if you are either 1) and endurance athlete looking to develop strength, power and muscle mass or 2) A strength sport athlete wanting to dip into endurance training, but unsure how to approach it.. shoot me a message. I would LOVE to have you on board, and I can definitely help your performance in both aspects.

Until next time

Stay strong

Callum

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