How to Build Your Athlete’s “Battery”

I have for over the past few weeks gone down a deep wormhole about the measurement of output in a mixed piece of work – this “battery” I have spoken about for years now.

A colleague of mine attended a conference where a doctor from PhysFarm Training Systems was speaking on the attainment and measurement of data to ensure correct training practices. I have done a preliminary dissection of the data and software and will have more to speak about that over time. In the meantime, I came across this graph of the proposed benefits of the training:

This is how the graph is explained in the article:

See Figure 5. The yellow line is how much power a cyclist is trying to make. The pink line is the charge in the battery (W’ remaining). Every time the athlete sprints or surges they drain the battery a little. When the athlete eases off, they recharge a little … but the recharge is VERY SLOW! Eventually, they run the charge down to zero and get dropped from the race.

Everyone empties and recharges their battery differently! Looking at these graphs based on an event, on training, or even on a simulation, helps you decide where to expend effort and when to take it easy. In other words, it allows you to perfect your pacing and distribution of effort during a race.

I have for over the past few weeks gone down a deep wormhole about the measurement of output in a mixed piece of work – this “battery” I have spoken about for years now. We have subsequently come up with tests to see where people lie on that battery to determine the differences in winners and non-winners in fitness. From that we have gained a large perspective on what goes into the test, but it has also made us ask more questions. Like, what exactly is happening when someone reaches that top end of the battery and then cannot come back? I have seen it many times before in workouts and cannot explain it. I have given my best explanation and have even come up with my own theories on fatigue from that.

I find the graph most interesting for you can see that at a certain amount of work, one can recover at a low effort and still do some jumps in the overall battery’s ability, but when the athlete decides to really drive it home, the battery drops, and then he or she is basically hanging on for dear life for the remainder of the race/workout/etc. The goal of correct practice in training is to, of course, put that battery in a constant charged state and work under its level, like in the above graph. Then when needed, if your rest between efforts is right, you should recover faster than the next person. How one does this is the next question.

How does one improve their battery?

First, we must investigate those who have a perceived recharge speed that is high and see if there are any insights that can be determined in normal physiological tests. Our preliminary work would show that not a lot can be seen from that for mixed modal work. Then we must create an incremental test of mixed controlled work that enables someone to assess the changes that occur – in not just work but more importantly work rate – over that period of time. Then I think we will see some interesting pieces of at what rate, what time, and what movement specificity does one have a good battery or bad recharge of that battery.

Think like this – if we have a simple test (lets put all pain and injury opportunities aside) that was able to show a maximal effort of the central nervous system, then rest the person and test how many reps of the exercise he or she can do in succession on a certain shortened rest interval for 15 minutes, I think with that we can see how well the ATP-CP engine recovers – all things being equal of course in the absolute scores of strength in the first place, same training age, gender, size, etc.

Now, imagine we can discover the same “ability” of each person at 1 min, 3 min, 5 min, 10 min, 20 min, and so forth, and also figure out how well they recharge between pieces that are percentages of the max efforts in each area, in some cases called critical power (I hate that word. Why? 1. It’s an endurance-only word in academia, 2. Critical is not the right operational word in higher order thinking worlds). Anyhow, I believe that we are onto something if we can assess the percentage at which a person’s battery can recharge at each of these levels of effort repeatedly, and that test in itself might give us more to look at instead of the specific score itself and its relation to another score – i.e. comparing 2K row times.

Back to the graph picture, if we can find a best path for the client to operate in a mixed piece of work and train there to get his or her battery supercharged, then over time we can hypothesize that one can work at a higher rate and recover faster. As one smart older cycling scientist said to me when I showed him my competition video footage, “For you to improve those guys in the sport, you have to be more concerned about not the work done, but the recovery between the work pieces.” I sat there bewildered, does he mean sugars post workout, ice baths, what? And now I know what he meant – it’s the speed at which the battery can recharge between any effort. Aha! Eureka! Got it.

Now, how does one build that battery? How do we test it so we can figure out how the training is going and see where we are in relation to our peak ability at any time?

More to come on that. Until then – back to the testing.

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