I am a student of training and therefore researches come to me naturally. Although enough is been said about the topics that I research and yet, my findings always offer a fresh perspective into building one fitter and stronger.
This time I picked up the subject of ‘losing’ strength.
If we go to the gym we become stronger. When we stop going to the gym, we start losing strength.
This is the belief we live with, and this is why you would often see athletes hitting the gym too often than not. Even in the middle of a season. So how much is enough? Can we stay strong if we are not weight training? These are the two important questions that this article finds an answer to through my research.
Background: I was on an assignment for 5 months which I finished about 10 days back. Prior to this I trained at the gym for strength training for almost 2.5/3 months.
I did not indulge in any form of leg workout in the gym during these last 5 months. Sometimes I would do light squats and upper body training, wherever we find time. And I would train sometimes at the gym while travelling but nothing close to calling it a ‘legs training’. What worked then?
I would mostly train while training players for speed, agility and balance at regular intervals with breaks. I improved on my speed and agility however what is more noticeable was how my legs strength played out during these 5 months without putting my legs under the hammer in the weight room.
(Science Notes: Glycolysis generates lactate (not lactic acid) directly from pyruvate via an enzyme in the muscles. This lactate is then transports to liver and converted to glucose for muscles to produce lactate again. This is called Cory Cycle. Lactate is negatively charged and therefore the more lactate production requires hydrogen ions for plasma electronneutrality. The decrease in pH owing to addition of H ions is not caused by lactic acid as it is misunderstood sometimes.)
However lactate also works directly as a fuel in cytoplasm of a muscle cell. This is a much faster process to supply constant burst of energy. Right training can not only increase our lactate threshold potential but also trains our body at the cellular level to use lactate as a direct fuel instead of following the cory cycle root
Here is what happened:
Case study 1: Testing of muscle strength on the field after 4 months
After 4.5 months (mid Jan) I decided to do a long run on a rainy day. It was better than sitting through such a beautiful cold day otherwise 🙂
I ran for about 50 minutes and my lactate threshold occurred at roughly 20 minutes after running at a constant speed, which was higher than the last time. This essentially means that I had to slow down after 20 minutes to continue my running.
If we think of VO2 max as our aerobic potential, the lactate threshold is a marker of how much we have tapped into our muscle potential. And lactate threshold is roughly at about 70 to 80% of VO2 max for top athletes. The time determines your muscular endurance at a testing speed which should be a direct outcome of strength training. Therefore my threshold level and speed was a good indicator to me to measure my leg strength that day.
Conclusion: After a restful off-season, if we train for 2/3 months in the gym in preseason (before the season starts); then, the strength gained during this gym training time is enough to take you through the season without having the need to hit the gym for strength. And considering tight schedules in sporting events these days there is hardly any time to allow enough resting time for muscles to prepare for weight training. Your field and sport specific training also train your legs and therefore, the leg doesn’t lose its strength. In fact, it is the time when your muscles are learning to tap into their strength to bring maximal output in real time movements.
Strengthening your legs & making your muscles tap into their strength is the difference between off season and in season training.
Case study 2: Testing muscle strength of legs after 5 months in the gym
I started training at the gym in the last week of January and I was amazed at the strength my leg muscles portrayed in just the 2nd session of legs workout. I could equal my squat weight in the second session and I surpassed the weight I lifted with my thai (quads & hamstrings) on a leg extension machine.
My legs have actually become stronger than where they were at 5 months back.
Case study that matters most: practical
Two back to back cricket seasons. No gym training. Players got fitter, bowlers became faster, and teams stayed injury free. Produced highest wicket taker in both season.
No n=1 research study can beat this study. This is the biggest evidence on the ground. Not one….two back to back seasons!!
*Edited in 2021 – count the seasons as 3. Had another injury free season with senior Ranji trophy team
Conclusion: When you work on speed, agility and balance mixing relaxation when needed; you are actually gaining strength in your legs. The strength which will make your on-field sport specific movements quick & powerful.
How long you can sustain that performance is entirely dependent on how well you are training during the season. Give what your muscles require for the task they have to perform next, and they will continue doing their job consistently.