Monday, February 1, 2016

Planning an Anabolic Cycle

by Gordo Byrn

As a coach, I’ve been watching cyclists get busted for bodybuilding drugs and wondering what I was missing.

Why would endurance athletes want to “get big?” Triathletes are always trying to “get small.”

Why are we seeing anabolic agents in ultra-endurance athletics?

At the sharp end, we know that athletes are operating at the limits of their ability to recover, often in combination with energy deficits to become lean.

We don’t need to be a rider in the Tour de France to place ourselves in a similar situation. A spouse, a job or aging parents can challenge a recreational athlete’s ability to recover -- especially when they place themselves in energy deficit to lose a few pounds gained in November and December!

While you could make a trip down to an anti-aging doc, I’m going to recommend something more healthy -- an eight-week anabolic cycle.

Put the beatdown on hold for a couple months and build yourself up in a manner that will benefit your race performance in the years to come.


Specific Force
Are you constrained by a lack of force in the specific movement pattern required for your sport?

A classic example would be watching a “pure” runner learn TT cycling and swimming. The runner has an abundance of aerobic fitness, but lacks the skill and strength to apply it on the bike or in the water.

This can be addressed by sport-specific strength work (HR low to moderate) and a strength program designed to build the muscle groups required.

If you’re weak, but serious about improving your swimming, then use a dryland strength program this winter.

If you’re weak, but serious about improving your cycling, then combine training camps with a strength program that will have your leg press higher than the the rest of your competition.

Most of your competition will not bother to get strong.

Are you prone to muscular or connective tissue breakdown?

For swimmers who come to triathlon, Andy Potts is not the norm!

For every swimmer who “figures it out,” there are many, many others who fall by the wayside. Extremely fit men and women can ruin their health by combining a rapid increase in running load with self-starvation.

A durability limiter can be safely addressed by run frequency and out-season cross training with an impact component (trekking, mountain hikes and trail running). Durability training is best done alone or with a partner who is far less fit than you.

Easy training isn’t easy! Most people can’t do it right.

Specific Stamina
Have years of catabolic training (energy deficits and training load beatdown) left your immune system shot and your aerobic engine too small for your frame? This limiter creeps up very gradually!

For health and long term athletic performance schedule a block (at least every other year) where you add lean body mass and get “strong.” I put “strong” in quotes because it is relative to yourself.

Our sedentary peers have accepted a decline in health and performance. Big Pharma spends billions marketing cures that have a far safer alternative of healthy diet and moderate exercise

At the far end of an athletic career, which was faster than I ever dreamed possible, I most value my strength and my health.

General Advice
If you face a real winter (Canadians, Scandinavians, NE Americans) then you have the key elements of an anabolic phase forced on you by the weather (or depression!):

  • You are sleeping more
  • Your training load is under what you can handle
  • You have an energy surplus

Embrace the reality of your winter environment and skew your out-season training towards work that benefits your long term development.

Spend the winter with a few simple targets:

  • Swim and run often
  • Get ridiculously strong
  • Bank vacation time to use four to 11 weeks out from your key race
  • Invest in healthy family relationships

All my best for a successful new year.

Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog at

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