Stamina. Going Long.
If strength is our king and work capacity is our queen, then stamina should be the headsman. A necessary evil. The quiet, formidable one who looms in the background that has the mental fortitude required for what can be the most difficult task.
These 3 attributes – strength, work capacity, and stamina create a balanced, hybrid athlete who can perform at a high level across all durations and intensities. They need to have a high relative strength, a high work capacity for short yet intense events, and the ability to go long. Combine these 3 attributes with an iron clad level of mental toughness and you have a well rounded athlete destined for a long and healthy career.
Stamina is a word pregnant with meaning. In the simplest sense it means going long – and being able to go long again that same day or maybe the next.
When we first started the concept of gym based stamina it was too much. We initially took the same circuits we used during our work capacity sessions and just pushed them longer. The weights were too heavy and the volume under load too much. Eventually it affected our strength and work capacity training later in the week and we were just beat the hell up. We recognized that it was just not sustainable.
Since then, we’ve experimented with the length and formatting. Our stamina cycles now are 2 weeks long and focus on constant movement with lighter loads. We’ve found that two weeks is just enough to push the work load and volume without the risk of overtraining or negatively affecting our strength and work capacity training.
So, why is stamina important to us? Three reasons:
1. Creating an aerobic base for all of our training.
You’ve probably heard about VO2 Max, lactate threshold, mitochondria, ATP energy production and other topics that relate to endurance training. There are lots of geeky ways to break down what goes into the meaning of “aerobic base”, but for our purposes, I’ll keep it simple.
When we train these long slow distances our bodies are learning how to more effectively use oxygen and fat as energy. Oxygen and nutrients are distributed to cells and muscles more efficiently. This allows us to go farther, faster using less energy.
2. Training the athlete’s ability to recover using gym based stamina.
How do you train recovery with an intense, high volume, 60-120 minute stamina session? When we push the duration and volume out past 40 minutes we are training our bodies to handle more abuse. Our joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles adapt to this volume and become stronger and more durable. Our bodies can then not only tolerate the abuse once but be able to repeat it back to back. We are not only able to dive headfirst into misery and come out on the other side in one piece but we actually become accustomed to it.
The idea is that we’re making our physical armor harder and thicker. Every effort like this creates another layer. Each time it can take that much more abuse and still serve you not only today but tomorrow and the next day. This is the idea the kind of recovery we are talking about. Not sitting on the couch drinking a beer with ice pack on your knees but the ability to perform day in and day out as you’re needed, whether it’s demanded by sport or industry.
3. Training discipline of the mind.
We all know that the mind can be our greatest ally or our greatest enemy.
During a stamina session we intentionally test and train our mental fitness. Mental fitness has to do with attitude, clarity of mind, never quitting, and staying disciplined. It’s easy to get sloppy, start cutting corners, milk the transitions and just be negative. It’s happened to all of us.
The longer the event, the more difficult it is to keep it together. How can the mind grapple with the idea of “20 rounds of…” or “2 hours of….?” What does the mind do when it has reached its perceived absolute limit?
It is in these moments where this mental training happens. There is no place for negativity, moaning, bitching or belly-aching. You turn the mental chatter off, push the negativity out and choose to be positive, professional and get to work.
Mental stamina is important for all athletes. Military athletes have to face multiple long missions every day in Kabul - Firefighters must endure multiple days of emergency rescue and wildland firefighting scenarios- professional athletes are paid train hard and win against the best in the world. The mother of two or the weekend warrior in the Rockies is no different.
We want our athletes to suffer inside the gym so when things outside the gym become real their physical and mental suffering doesn’t keep them from performing. For a well trained athlete suffering has become second nature.
So, why does training this intensely matter to me? I’m not a soldier, firefighter, or a competitive fighter. Let’s say my car broke down on a deserted highway with no cell phone coverage in 105 degree heat and I had to schlep my two kids miles to find help. God forbid this ever happens, but if the day does ever come, I refuse to not be able. I would throw them over my shoulders like the sandbags that I train with every day, put on my armor and start walking.
All that suffering matters even if it is just for one day, one hour or one incident. If the survival of myself or a loved one was dependant on a couple of hours of suck a week I’d gladly pay the price.