I always enjoy Dr. Mirkin’s articles; his advice and information just seem logical to me. In the article this week he said: “Depending on how sore your muscles feel, take the next day off or go at a very slow pace. Do not attempt to train for muscle burning again until the soreness has gone away completely.” But in the article you published last week he said:
“I am 80 years old and plan to continue to do my intense weekly bicycling program:
—very fast intervals three days a week
—race as fast as I can over 25 to 30 miles three days, and
—take one day off. I do not do slow, junk miles.”
I’m having a little trouble reconciling these 2 statements. Could we possibly get an explanation? — hjhoneycutt
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., Replies:
During my running career, I spent more time injured than in training. It took me more than 60 years to learn that when my legs are heavy and stiff, I should take the day off, run slowly by myself, or use just my upper body for some other sport. It should not have taken me that long to learn this because I had seen hundreds of bikers, runners and other athletes destroy themselves by not realizing that it takes many years of conditioning for the human body to be able to withstand large distances and fast speeds.
Stress and Recover
All training has to be stress and recover. If your muscles don’t burn and you don’t become short of breath on your hard days, you will not improve. Your muscles will not grow larger and become stronger, and you will not increase your maximal ability to take in and use oxygen so that you can move faster.
Muscle Damage (DOMS)
You pay a penalty for hard workouts called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). This soreness is caused by tremendous damage to your muscles themselves: disruption of your muscle fibers, bleeding into your muscles, and release of enzymes from the muscle cells into your bloodstream.
If you try to exercise intensely when your muscles are bruised and damaged, you will tear them, and the damage can be so extensive that you can end your racing career. Alberto Salazarcould have been America’s greatest distance runner ever. His career was ended by taking workouts that were beyond his level of training at that time.
Heavy Legs MeanYou Have not Recovered
However, if you are smart enough to avoid intense workouts when your legs are heavy and hurt, you should be able to avoid injuries and continue to improve over many years.
So My Planned Schedule Is as Follows:
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday: 30 miles flat out with a large group of serious bicycle riders, saving a little bit so that I am not destroyed the next day.
Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: 50-pedal stroke intervals followed by complete recovery of my breath between each interval. I can do about 16 to 30 intervals in a workout for a total of around 10 miles. I stop the workout as soon as my legs start to feel heavy or hurt. My legs always feel heavy when I start to ride each day. If my legs don’t feel fresh after 10 minutes of slow riding, I avoid the interval workout and all fast riding completely.
Once or twice a week my legs feel heavy on a planned interval day, so I ride 5 to 10 slow miles or just take the day off.
Recently I had the flu. I continued to ride fast with my group three days a week, but I was not able to do any intervals for three weeks. On my four “recovery days,” I took the day off or rode about 5 to 10 very slow miles.
Why Intervals and Why Short Intervals?
Most people cannot become short of breath with continuous (slow) riding. They have to go fast enough to create an oxygen debt, become short of breath, and then slow down to recover their breath again before they go into their next oxygen debt.
That is why all competitive athletes have to do some form of interval training to be competitive. Intervals are classified into short intervals that take less than 30 seconds and long internals that take longer than 2 minutes.
A short interval of less than 30 seconds does not build up much lactic acid, allows very quick recoveries, can be done with lots of repeats in a single workout, and can often be done on the day after a hard workout. Do not ever try long internals on the day after another intense workout. Even a single long interval of more than two minutes causes muscle damage.
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., is a sports medicine doctor and fitness guru. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin has run more than 40 marathons and is now a serious tandem bike rider with his wife, Diana. His website is http://drmirkin.com/. Click to read Gabe’s full bio.