The Method(ology) in the Madness – Part 1

The Method(ology) in the Madness – Part 1

When you’re beating up and down Farrer Park pool, mashing along Changi Coast Road or bashing around the NUS track, it’s tempting to ask yourself:  a) ‘why am I doing this session?’ or b) ‘is it doing me any good?’

So in this series of articles, I’m going to explain why you are doing what you’re doing and outline the associated benefits – by taking a closer look at the Methodology that underpins the MetaSport training sessions.

Specifically we’ll look at the three key components you will need to achieve sustainable improvements in your sporting performance. These are:

  • Designing a robust Structure for your Training and Session Plans.
  • Developing essential Skill-Sets which are fundamental to effective and efficient technique.
  • Developing a tough and resilient Mind-Set which is key to your Training and Racing improvement.

However, before we go there, we’ll need to have an understanding of some Basic Principles that support our Methodology, so this week we’ll take a look at the body’s Energy Systems.

Energy Systems

Energy is a good place to start – especially as your body needs a continuous supply of it, not just to train and race, but to sleep as well!

Energy is produced in your body by complex chemical reactions, but the end result is a compound called ATP (Andenosine Triphosphate), which releases energy once one of its (3) phosphate bonds is broken. However, the neat thing is that the resulting ADP (Andenosine Diphosphate) can be re-synthesized back into ATP and the bonds can be broken again and again.

Without getting too technical (or purist), your body will use two basic methods to produce the ATP it needs. One method is called the Aerobic Energy System and the other is the Anaerobic Energy System. The method your body chooses to use at any one time, will depend on the rate of demand (intensity) and the length of demand (duration) that your immediate exercise regime calls for.

Immediate Energy System

There’s a small amount of ATP stored in your muscles which can be used in ‘emergencies’,  like when you need to sprint across a busy intersection and dodge a bus!…but you’ll use that ATP up in about 10 seconds of effort, so while it might save your skin, it doesn’t fundamentally affect your training regime.



Aerobic Energy System

The aerobic system is the body’s primary source of ATP production and energy. It produces ATP in little ‘hummers’ called mitochondrias which are your muscle power plants. Fuel (carbohydrate, fat and/or protein) and oxygen go in and energy comes out!

The good news is that this fuel is available in huge quantities (in fact you probably have enough stored fuel in your body right now to make it to KL!). The other good news is that the only by-products of this little chemical reaction are water and C02.

However, the not so good news is that this energy production process is slow and when you increase the intensity of your exercise, you’ll quite quickly reach a point where the aerobic engine on its own cannot produce enough ATP.

Anaerobic Energy System

At this point, the anaerobic or glycolitic energy system rides to the rescue! In order for the mitochondrias in your muscles to deliver more ATP and energy, they use a crafty shortcut which starts to burn glucose (sugar). The good news is that this delivers the energy required very quickly. The not so good news is that the glucose converts into lactate to keep the chemical reaction going.

Lactate gets a bit of a bad press. In fact it’s always present in your body and as you’re toodling along using your aerobic engine, it’s constantly being produced and broken down as useable energy. The problem occurs when your exercise intensity reaches a point where the lactate removal can’t keep pace with production.

This point is referred to as lactate threshold and is familiar to all of us as the point when the breathing gets labored and the muscles begin to burn! If you exceed this level for longer than a few minutes you’ll be forced to slow down. (In fact lactate threshold can best be understood as the pace and correlating heart rate that can be sustained for one hour in a single sport. Eg a 40k bike TT or a 10-15k run)

There’s one other downside of ‘going anaerobic’ and that is the process is finite. It’s like the gas tank on your car – once you’ve used the limited supply of fuel available, you’ll be running on empty. If you’ve ever ‘bonked’ on a bike or run you’ll recognize the feeling and you won’t recover until your glycogen levels have been restored after a few days…and the stiffness has left your legs!

V02 Max

There’s another point on the ‘pain threshold gage’ that we need to consider as well. While lactate threshold is the point at which your demand for energy outstrips your aerobic system’s ability to deliver it, it doesn’t define the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use in the energy production process.

V02 max, as its name suggests, is the maximum amount of oxygen you can absorb and burn at any time and is a great indicator of your potential as an endurance athlete and the size of your engine J

Training & Racing Implications

So what does all this mean for your Training and Racing? Well, identifying these key aspects of energy production in your body, has a direct correlation to the way you train and race… and is also fundamental to how MetaSport Structures our training sessions.

Aerobic Training & Racing – Long Sessions

You will primarily use your Aerobic Engine for low intensity and long duration efforts. These efforts include Recovery, Base and Extensive Endurance Sessions to build fitness. In RPE terms (Rate of Perceived Exertion on a scale of 1-5) this training is performed at RPE 1-2. The benefits of training at this level include increasing mitochondrial density in the muscle cells to build a stronger, fitter and faster aerobic engine. Racing at this intensity is normally around Ironman Distance effort.

MetaSport Long Sessions: Swim Sentosa Saturday PM – Bike Macritchie Sunday AM – Run Various Saturday AM

Aerobic & Anaerobic Training & Racing – Tempo & Tempo+ Sessions

As you start to approach lactate threshold training, the intensity of your training efforts will increase and the duration of the session intervals will decrease.  Your Anaerobic Engine will start to engage as you train just under Lactate Threshold (Tempo) and go into overdrive as you go over it (Tempo+). These efforts include working at a specific Race Pace. In RPE terms (Rate of Perceived Exertion on a scale of 1-5) this training is performed at RPE 3-4. The benefits of training at this level include increasing and sustaining your lactate threshold tolerance. Racing at this intensity is normally around Olympic Distance effort.

MetaSport Tempo Sessions: Swim Katong AM & Buona Vista PM Wednesday – Bike Various Saturday AM – Run Botanic Gardens Thursday PM

Anaerobic & V02 Max Training & Racing – Speed Sessions

Once over lactate threshold, the intensity of your training efforts will be characterized by high intensity and short duration interval work. You will be working hard to increase your lactate endurance and processing ability. In RPE terms (Rate of Perceived Exertion on a scale of 1-5) this training is performed at RPE 4-5. The benefits of training at this level include developing top end power and speed. Racing at this intensity is normally around Sprint Distance effort.

MetaSport Speed Sessions: Swim Farrer Park Monday PM – Bike Mt Faber Thursday AM – Run NUS Track Tuesday PM.

What’s Next?

The next question everyone typically asks is something along the lines of “If I’m doing an Olympic Distance race, which of those Long, Tempo and Speed sessions should I be doing…and how many??

And to find out the answer to that question, you will have to read Part 2 of The Method(ology) in the Madness next week, when we’ll look at how we Structure our Training Plans and Sessions


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