I was lucky enough to get away this week for a few days of skiing.
I’ve developed some skills on the mountain from my years living in Colorado, but now that I’m in Texas, my legs aren’t in ski shape like they used to be.
Later in the day, I noticed a threshold of about eight good turns before the burn started setting in, and that’s when my technique fell apart. At that point, carving became more like buttering, and I would lose my line as my legs said, “Nope, I need a rest.”
This experience got me thinking about endurance and how we tend to brush over the major importance of not just the capacity to go longer, but maintaining technique as you start to fatigue.
In a sports setting, maintaining your technique reduces mistakes against your opponents, and it helps reduce injury risk for whatever activity you want to pursue.
Stronger for Longer
1. 85% Rule
I’ve encountered this problem on my long-distance runs. Naturally, I want to go at max intensity because the jock in me believes that’s the only way to make gains, but the coach inside me knows better.
I remember learning about the 85% rule on a podcast with Hugh Jackman. He explained that exercise scientists were perplexed at how the famed 100m sprinter Carl Lewis would routinely be in the back of the back for the first 50 meters and then pull ahead to win the race in the second half.
Then a sprinting coach noticed that,
“Everyone else starts to push to the end, trying—to try a little extra harder!—their face would scrunch up, their jaw would tighten, their fists would start to clench. Whereas Carl Lewis stayed exactly the same, he would just breeze past them. So that’s where he invented the 85 percent rule.”
I’ve kept this in my mind with my training as of late. Especially at the end of longer runs, rather than pushing my pace faster, I will focus on technique things like landing lighter, pulling with my hamstrings, and keeping my strides shorter. I might go a bit slower, but I’m building my endurance to keep my form strong when I want to push it to 110% on race day.
2. Bend, But Don’t Break
I implemented this one while skiing. As I mentioned, my technique started to fall apart at about 8-10 turns.
So as I got to that point, I gritted it out for another 3-4.
It’s this grey area of fatigue where you can really build performance while under stress. It builds strength and endurance to do a bit more and allows our body to create compensations strategies for when we do get tired.
But notice that rather than going until I completely fell apart, I gave myself a goal of doing about 20% more before stopping to rest.
A challenging part of endurance work is that it takes time. You’ve got to put in the effort to hit that fatigued state. To get around this, you can do some strength training beforehand to tax the muscles, so you’re already starting a bit depleted.
We’ve implemented this as part of our ACL injury prevention program with the Hip & Core System. By adding some focused strength work for the hips and hamstrings, before the plyometrics, the body must work harder on landing and changing direction quickly—just like a player must do in a game.
Don’t Sleep on Endurance
In our current day of HIIT Training and extreme fitness, intensity tends to be the currency we value most. And there is undoubtedly a good reason to push max efforts in your workouts on select training sessions.
However, remember that there is also value in going long and slow.
At this lower intensity, we can dial in form and technique to be ready for when the going get’s tough.