The O2 Theory
Many of my thoughts/writings are very quantitative based and hard-wired to numbers with specific inputs and outputs. I believe that this approach to training/racing is a great object, performance based way to look at things and force progress. However, for those who have met with me, for any of my services, know that I like to also approach things from a qualitative direction. In my experience, most people are either very quantitative (math teachers, etc.) or very qualitative (English teachers, writers, etc.). This writing is for those who are qualitative in nature and addresses the fundamental approach of what I believe drives long term athletic progress…no numbers or critical volume (Critical Volume) mumbo-jumbo (believe it or not!).
The concept is very, very simple: just pass as much O2 through your body as possible each year. Now of course there are mechanical efficiencies to address, sport specificity, and a host of other things but this is probably the single most important simple concept not to lose track of. Let’s look at a couple of possible training methodologies that could be used to achieve this objective:
1. Go very easy all year with super high volume. This approach has the athlete sacrifice sleep and recovery time due to huge training time requirements which both have the potential to undermine consistency. Off time due to injury/burnout means no O2 coming through. Remember, in this concept, the athlete with the most O2 through the system at the end of the year makes the most progress.
2. Go hard often with low volume. Many inexperienced athletes think this is the way to go. It is very potent and effective given a short period to prepare for a race. However, because of the obvious risks of injury/burnout involved in this method, again consistency can be broken which puts a huge hole in O2 consumption for the year. Most athletes that follow this approach tend to be inconsistent with very little long term progress.
An athlete’s training methodology, in my opinion, should foster long-term progress and therefore fall in-between these two approaches carefully. That is, carryout the majority of your training at a moderate intensity with a training volume that can be tolerated by the particular individual (defined by sustainable volume from the previous year). This moderate intensity is at approximately the QT2 Z1 (HR Zones). This allows an athlete to pass a good amount of O2 through their system per minute without much risk of injury (balance of #1 and #2). This also helps avoid injury/burnout and allows good consistency with a good rate of O2 passage. Total Volume of O2 (driver of long term progress) = Training Volume x O2 use rate. Volume is optimized to an individuals sustainable volume and rate is optimized to the highest possible without injury/burnout. Increasing rate (exercise intensity) or volume beyond normal is effective but can only be used for short periods or injury/burnout can occur. The QT2 protocol typically limits high intensities to 12 weeks max to avoid this scenario.
Weight training, periodization planning, nutrition, and sleep are really just support systems to allow O2 to be passed through the system on a consistent basis:
1. Weight Training = Helps keep you injury free by increasing soft-tissue toughness and strength.
2. Periodization Planning = Helps avoid burnout when used properly since a reasonable approach to cycling of overload and recovery can be utilized.
3. Good Nutrition = Allows recovery of soft tissue, refueling of the metabolic system, and increased immunity. All of these allow workouts can be completed with good quality and O2 coming through on a consistent basis.
4. Sleep = Allows recovery of both the physical system and emotional system so workouts can be completed and O2 coming through.
5. Massage = Helps identify/fix soft tissue problems before they become an issue that may have you miss a workout and the O2 consumption associated with it.
Obviously there are other uses for these concepts but this illustrates how they apply to this O2 theory. Let’s look at a few of the common questions I get about the QT2 protocol how they can be answered with this theory:
1. Why do I train at a high level even without a major goal race on the horizon? The answer to this one is obvious when approach from the O2 theory….the focus is on long term progress so the more O2 that can be pasted through, the more progress that will be made over the long term.
2. What if I have a time cap in my life where I can’t train beyond X hours per week? Once this cap is reached through a reasonable build up, a greater volume training can be used by training at that cap for more weeks throughout the year. Then, a greater volume of higher intensity workouts can be added each year to allow increases in total O2 uptake. This is a riskier approach, however for some this is the only option. Its best used by folks that have significant experience in the sport and have the associated durability to avoid injury.
3. Why does the protocol work? Our sport is a primarily aerobic activity; even at the sprint level. Passing oxygen through the body through exercise improves aerobic efficiency, soft tissue toughness, and mechanical efficiency. By passing more and more volume of O2 through each year through increased volume or intensity results in continual adaptation. This combined with a diet high in nutrient dense foods and antioxidants (Core Diet) allows optimal recovery as well as reduced oxidive damage to soft tissue. The aerobic system uses fat oxidation for ATP production and therefore results in oxidative free radicals that a lot of athletes miss as a cause of soreness and reduced long-term progress. A diet high in antioxidants can really help mitigate that issue.
Of course this theory doesn’t explain the whole training process. It’s just another way of looking at how to achieve long term progress and how the QT2 protocol addresses that. Now, just stay healthy with consistent O2 coming through your body in order to realize your potential!! It all sounds so easy doesn’t it? The trouble is that too many people don’t have the patience it takes and therefore want to pass O2 through at a faster rate (through high intensity workouts)….again this works over the short term but typically results in injury which undermines long term O2 consumption totals. There’s no O2 coming through when you are sidelined on the coach with an injury. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; consistency is king!
Hmmm. That is apropos to my thoughts lately. Impatience and other life goals do sometimes conflict with ultimate tri goals….ah, life!
I am one of your qualitative people, as you know, so I appreciate this post.
My thought was–what if Jesse had started coaching me when I was young–where would I be now? And then I wondered–what would he have had me do through my three pregnancies? Through the recovery periods after birth/surgery? And how do you account for the fact that so many women come back stronger after childbirth–after taking mandatory time off for much longer than three weeks a year? It’s just something to think about. How to explain a Dara Torres?