Posted by Steve Magness
On another note, I was reading Running Times today and I just wanted to comment on an article in there. There was a short article on Improving Buffering Capacity by Owen Anderson. This article illustrates the problem most people have with connecting physiology with practical training. Before I go into that, a little about the article. It was discussing a study done that showed that intervals at something like 120-140% Lactate Threshold improved buffering capacity, while a similar group trained at 80-95% LT or around there and didn't improve buffering capacity. The author then suggests ways to improve buffering capacity and caps it off with saying that buffering capacity improves racing time in races less than an hour long.
There is a problem in this reasoning and it is a very common mistake and a reason why I am VERY VERY cautious when looking at studies or people interpreting studies and applying them to real world training. When scientists do studies they are normally looking for one variable at a time. They rarely assess the GLOBAL effects of the workout. Rather, they find if a workout effects a single variable. In this case, the scientists see if X workout improves buffering capacity.
The problem comes when coaches/scientists take this data and puts the workout into a category of workouts that "improve buffering capacity." But wait, that is just one effect of the workout. No one studied or knows the other effects. So while this workout could be doing something beneficial, at the same time it could be harming another component.
Let me give an example. If we listen to the authors advice and do all these workouts to improve buffering capacity, then WE, the readers, are ASSUMING that are race performance will improve. This is because "they" tell us that buffering capacity is a limiter to performance. Well it will, BUT not if that workout effects other things negatively to a greater degree. For example, if we do lots of these buffering capacity workouts, all that acidosis (which is the stimulus for improving buffering capacity) will probably reduce our aerobic capacity in certain muscle fibers. This is because once you get to higher acidosis levels, the mitochondria can lose function and other scientific stuff that I don't feel like discussing right now.
In essence the high acidity is a stimulus for improving buffering capacity, but it also "hinders" some aerobic processes.
I'm pointing this out to show that you MUST look at the GLOBAL effects of a workout. Getting back to the Running Times article, the global effects of the suggested workouts could or could not improve racing time. If you just haphazardly place them in your schedule to "improve buffering capacity" then you will probably fail, but if you know the global effects of the workout and know that doing these workouts will decrease aerobic capacity then you can plan your training accordingly. For example, you can minimize the drop in aerobic capacity that the workout creates by surrounding these workouts with different kind of aerobic stimulus workouts. Or you can plan for the drop, by doing several of these workouts, then having a 10 day session of "aerobic refresh" to recharge the aerobic capacity.
I know I've been rambling, but to tie things up; Scientific studies only analyze one variable, in the real world we have to have an idea of ALL the variables. Training a person is not done in controlled lab conditions. Be wary of coaches/athletes/physiologists who try and make direct connections between the latest new study with real world training.
Sorry for the long rant, hope it made sense.