My son came home from college last week and reconnected with many of his high school friends. A favorite pastime for them was a friendly game of pick up basketball at the local rec center, and they put together a game and invited me to join them. It sounded like fun, so I accepted.
Three minutes into the game, I wanted to do this:
I looked up at the clock knowing these guys wanted to play until the gym closed. I had to hang on for another hour and a half. Sh%&^&$#t! How am I going to make it that long? I made it, but I did not have the stamina I had the last time I played 11 years ago.
Does this mean that after all of these years of strength training in a high intensity fashion, I am not fit and in shape? Before I answer the question, consider two observations from Dr. McGruff in his book Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want:
- When Dr. McGruff lived in Ohio, he would do both cardio training and strength training on alternate days. In the winter he would run on a treadmill, but in the spring and summer he would run outdoors on the road. Even though he was consistent with his cardio training in the winter, he would always feel like he was going to die the first time he hit the actual road. Here he was, in great shape but he still could not run worth a damn his first day out.
- He gives another example of this same outcome from his air force days. They had a minimal fitness requirement test that the recruit had to meet every year, and in this case, the test consisted of an ergometer test performed on a bicycle to determine the max heart rate, which in theory would indicate the fitness level of the recruit. There were two people in his group who were avid marathon runners who assumed that they were in great aerobic shape, thus they did not bother to prepare for the test. At the same time, there was one other person who was overweight and led a sedentary life, but two weeks prior to the test, he would go to the gym every day and use the exact bicycle that was going to be used in the test. Furthermore, he would practice with the exact resistance for the exact amount of time the test would take. Guess who passed the test? Yep. The out of shape guy. Not only did he pass the test, he had the best score. And the two marathon runners? They didn’t even pass the test. Imagine that.
I think we can all agree that the guy who was overweight and sedentary was not fit like the two marathon runners, so why did he perform much better on the ergometer test? Because of the acronym known as the SAID principle. SAID stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. What this implies is that the body will respond…and adapt to the specific demands placed on it. This is surprisingly precise. Going back to Dr. McGruff, he explains that there is a specific motor skill of running on a treadmill that is very different from running on the road. There is a three-part component to running on a road: foot strike, push-off, then a recovery stroke, contrasting running on the treadmill where there is only a foot stroke and no push off nor recovery stroke because the ground is spinning. These two different movement patterns, even though they may appear to be similar, place different demands on the body, and as Dr. McGruff noticed (as did I), changing from one form of exercise to another feels like a real bear to do. One feels out of shape, even though that is not the case.
Going deeper still, we find that the cardiovascular system has an unexpected non response to the stimulus given. In another study that Dr. McGruff cites (pg.48), thirteen subjects trained on a stationary bike, but they would train only one leg. The other leg was not trained at all. This was carried out for four weeks, and when the researchers tested the trained leg after the study, they found an average increase in VO2 max of 23%, but in the untrained leg there was no improvement in VO2 max. This demonstrates that there is no central cardiovascular improvement, but a specific metabolic adaptation that happened at the muscular level.
This shows that there is a specific conditioning response to a given stimuli, and that there is very little carryover from one form of training to another. If you want to excel at playing tennis, for example, you may want to play tennis and do drills that improve your tennis skills, and forgo distance running that you may have thought would improve your endurance for tennis. Or if you want to do well at hiking fourteeners, you may opt out of mountain biking and simply concentrate on hiking.
If I were to play basketball again, I would do some training to better prepare myself for it beforehand. I would do some sprint and agility training in an effort to improve my anaerobic capacity….and spend a lot of time practicing my shot (god it was awful!). I would be much more capable of handling the intensity of the game.
But then again, I may be an old fart and I have to come to grips with that….