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S.A.I.D. Principle Demonstrated by
Two Summer TV Programs
By Gary F. Zeolla
Part One of this article demonstrated the S.A.I.D. (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) Principle by reviewing the reality TV show Shaq Vs. This second half of this article will continue this discussion by reviewing the 2009 Track and Field World Championships. I will concentrate on the men’s events, but the same comments would apply to the women as well.
Track Athletes’ Differing Physiques
The 12th IAAF Track and Field World Championships were held in Berlin, August 15-23, 2009. The full results can be found at: http://berlin.iaaf.org/index.html
This writer watched quite a bit of this eight-day championship. One thing that really struck me was the very differing physiques of the athletes competing in different track sports. The sprinters (100 and 200 meter) almost looked like bodybuilders. There were all very muscular, rather large, and ripped (very low body fat).
The 400 and 800 meter runners were also very muscular and ripped, but they were not quite as large as the sprinters. The 1500 and 5000 meter runners were not near as muscular and were thinner than the 400 and 800 meter runners. Meanwhile, the 10,000 meter and marathon runners looked gaunt, with little visible muscle mass, but also with very little body fat.
These differing builds all make sense as each of these differing distances causes the runners to use very different energy systems and muscle fiber types.
The times for the finalists in the 100 meter ranged from 9.58 seconds for Usain Bolt’s world record to 10.34 seconds for the eighth place finisher, while times in the earliest heats were as slow as 12 seconds. In the 200 meter, the times ranged 19.19 for again Usain Bolt’s second world record to 20.28 for eighth place, while the earliest heats were as slow as 22 seconds.
This means the range for the exercise times for these athletes was between 9-22 seconds. If you compare this to weightlifting, it would be equivalent to a set of anywhere from 2-10 reps, depending on the tempo of each rep. This is basically the rep range I recommend in my powerlifting book as being best for building strength. To put it another way, sprinting 100 meters would be similar to doing a heavy set of low rep squats.
As such, it is no surprise that sprinters look like weightlifters as they are utilizing the same energy system and muscle fibers as weightlifters do, specifically, the APT/ CP energy system and type IIB or IIAB muscle fibers. This energy system and these muscle fibers are utilized for physical activity lasting just a few seconds.
The times for running 400 meters ranged from 44 to 51 seconds, while the times for 800 meters were from 1:45 to about two minutes. This would be something like a 20 to 100 rep weightlifting set. When engaging in this length of exercise time, the energy system utilized is the lactic acid system, while the muscle fibers utilized are type IIA.
Both the ATP/ CP and the lactic acid energy systems are anaerobic energy systems, meaning they produce energy without the use of oxygen, while type IIB, IIAB, and IIA muscle fibers are all considered to be “fast twitch” muscle fibers, meaning they utile large amounts of energy and produce large amounts of force in a very short period of time. But they also “burn out” very quickly.
However, once you get to an activity lasting longer than two minutes a completely different energy system and types of muscle fibers are utilized. Specifically, longer activity utilizes the aerobic (with oxygen) energy system and type II AC, IIC, and most especially type I muscle fibers, all slow twitch fibers.
The aerobic energy system does not produce as much energy per second anaerobic processes do, but the aerobic system can operate for much longer periods of time. Similarly, slow twitch muscle fibers do not generate near as much force as fast twitch ones, but they can continue to operate much longer.
An important point for this discussion is that fast twitch muscle fibers have much greater potential for growth than slow twitch muscle fibers. So working fast twitch fibers will produce larger muscle than working slow twitch fibers. This is why sprinting and weightlifting produces large, muscular physiques while, long distance running produces gaunt physiques.
Another important point is that with short distance versus long distance running utilizing such different process, then training for one does not prepare one for the other. In other words, Usain Bolt is a great sprinter, but if he were to try to run a marathon, he would probably collapse halfway through. Meanwhile, a marathon runner would record very slow times in the 100 meter dash.
This is why you never see the same athlete competing in two widely variant track events. The 100 and 200 meter dashes are close enough that Usain Bolt can excel in both. And there was talk about Bolt thinking of trying the 400. He might do well at that distance, but for him to try longer distances would be foolhardy.
One last important point is that these differing physiques were the direct result of theirtraining. In other words, Bolt did not so much choose sprinting over the marathon because he was large and muscular, but it was his sprinting rather than running marathons that led to his physique. Similarly, marathon runners look gaunt because of the long distances they run in their training. If Bolt were to stop sprinting and start training for a marathon, he would probably lose quite a bit of his muscular physique and begin to look gaunt.
However, the following is also important:
Everyone is born with a specific distribution of muscle fibre types; the proportion of FT [fast twitch] fibres to ST [slow twitch] fibres can vary quite considerably between individuals. The proportions of each muscle fibre type you have has implications for sport. For example, top sprinters have a greater proportion of FT fibres than average and thus can generate explosive power and speed. Distance runners, on the other hand, have proportionally more ST fibres and are better able to develop aerobic power and endurance (Bean, p.8).
Thus it is true that genetics play a role here. Bolt is probably genetically “programmed” to be better at sprinting than long distance running, but his training enhanced that genetic predisposition. However, given his genetic disposition, no matter how much he trained he would never be as great at long distance running as he is at sprinting.
Field Athletes’ Differing Physiques
There were also great differences in the physiques of the field athletes at the world championships. The long jumpers looked almost like the sprinters, being rather large and muscular. This makes sense given that the run-up to the long jump is a sprint.
However, the high jumpers were all tall and thin. But in this case, it was not training for the event that caused this type of physique. Exercise in now way will affect someone’s height! Instead, athletes who are tall and thin make much better jumpers than those who are short and stocky, so it is the demands of the event that cause athletes with the ideal build to gravitate towards the long jump. But given the slow, short lead-up to the actual jump, training for the event in now way builds a muscular physique. In fact, having a large, muscular upper body would be a detriment to a high jumper. That added weight would not improve jumping ability, instead it would add to the weight that would have to be “lifted” for the jump and increase the “bulk” that would need to clear the high jump bar. Thus someone with a large upper body would not be able to clear as high of a height as a thin person.
The pole vaulters, however, did have rather muscularly upper bodies. In this case, that muscle is beneficial as it takes muscular strength to push off from the pole to clear the bar. Given this important physique difference, despite the seemingly similar nature of the two events, there were no athletes at the world championships competing in both the high jump and pole vault.
The javelin throwers had modestly muscular physiques, the discuss throwers were somewhat larger in terms of both fat and muscle, the hammer throwers even larger, and the shot putters were the largest athletes at the championships. They looked like heavyweight powerlifters, carrying large amounts of both muscle and fat.
It is the weight of the thrown object that accounts for these differencing physiques. A javelin is very light, a discus is heavier, a hammer even heavier, and a shot the heaviest of all. Throwing a heavier object will build more muscle than throwing a lighter object, while a larger man will be better able to throw a heavy object farther than a lighter man. So in this case, both the training helps to account for the physiques and people with a given physique gravitate towards the appropriate event.
Body Fat Percentages and Diets
All of the track athletes had very low body fat percentages. This makes sense as body fat would be detrimental to any track event. A top level track athlete cannot afford to be carrying body fat as it would add “dead weight” and thus slow him down.
The marathon runners probably had the lowest body fat percentages of all of the athletes. Not only will body fat slow the runners down, but the extra weight would weigh down a marathoner and thus cause them to tire out quicker.
Among the field athletes, the long jumpers, high jumpers, and pole vaulters all also had low body fat percentages. This is again because fat would be dead weight that would reduce the distance these athletes could jump.
However, the discus and hammer throwers and shot putters all were carrying extra body fat, especially the shot putters. In this case, the extra fat is actually beneficial to their performance as it adds “ballast” enabling them to throw their respective heavy objects further. This is similar to why heavyweight powerlifters and Olympic lifters usually have “pot bellies.” The extra weight enables them to lift more weight. Since there is no weight class limit for such athletes, then optimizing both muscle and fat is beneficial.
However, it should be noted that adding say five pounds of body fat would not enable a shot putter to put a shot as far as adding five pounds of muscle would, and an extra five pounds of fat would not enable a powerlifter to bench as much more as adding five pounds of muscle would. That is why lighter weight top-ranked powerlifters or Olympic lifters all have very ripped physiques. With a limit on bodyweight, they optimize performance by carrying little fat so as to be able to carry as much muscle as possible and still stay under the class limit. In other words, all other things being equal, a 165 pound powerlifter with 10% body fat would be able to bench press more than a 165 pound powerlifter with 20% body fat.
Just this issue of differing body fat percentages is why there is no way the same person could never be great in both the marathon and the shot put. However, marathon runners and shot putters probably do have one thing in common—they most likely consume the most calories of all of the track and field athletes.
Running long distances burns up lots of calories, thus marathon runners need to consume lots of food to fuel their training. But their training in turn keeps them looking gaunt. The shot putters meanwhile need to consume lots of food to maintain their large physiques,
Specialists vs. Decathlon Athletes
All of the preceding demonstrates why it is impossible for even a very gifted athlete to be great in more than one track and field event, at least in two widely divergent events. As stated, Bolt is great in both the 100 and 2000 meter dashes, but he could never be great in both the 100 meter dash and the marathon. The type of training and ideal body types are just too different.
However, there is one men’s event that requires the athletes to be competent in divergent events--the decathlon. The decathlon consists of: Long Jump, Shot Put, High Jump, 400 Meters, 110 Meters Hurdles, Discus Throw, Pole Vault, Javelin Throw, and 1500 Meters.
These ten widely different events represent each of the type of events that have been discussed so far. As such, it is not surprising that the physiques of the decathlon athletes were an “average” of the various athletes at the championship. They were all muscular, but not too large. They had low body fats, but not too low.
Most importantly, their performances in each individual event though “good” as compared to how an “average” athlete would perform, they were not even close to as great as the competitors in the individual events.
For instance, the decathlon winner was the USA’s Trey Hardee. He won the 100 meters event in the decathlon with a time of 10.45 seconds. That is a very good time as compared to an average runner, but it is a far cry from Bolt’s 9.58 seconds world record. Not only that, but Hardee’s time wouldn’t even have placed in him the top eight in the regular 100 meter dash as the eighth place finisher had a time of 10.38.
Looking at other events, the winning time for the regular 1500 meters was 3:35.93 while eighth place was 3:40.05. But the winner of this event in the decathlon only had a time of 4:12.15.
In the shot put, the winning distance of the regular event was 22.03 meters and eleventh place was 18.42 meters. But the winning distance of the decathlon shot put was only 16.65 meters.
These are dramatic differences and a very good demonstration of how a great athlete can be good in more than one event, but it is impossible for even a great athlete to be great in more than one event.
This shows that the only way to be truly great in a specific track or field event is to specialize in that event. It simply is not possible to be great in two divergent events. Even a great decathlon athlete is only good in any individual event.
If you are exercising to stay in shape, then “cross-training” by engaging in different activities can be a good idea. It will prevent boredom and cause you to train different muscles. But if you want to become a great athlete, then the S.A.I.D principle dictates that you specialize in just one sport. The training methods, needed skills, and ideal physiques are just too variant for even a genetically gifted athlete to truly excel in two divergent sports.
Bell, James T. Karl M. Dauphinais. The Book on Personal Training. International Fitness Professionals Association: Tampa, FL, 2001.
Bean, Anita. The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition . Lyons Press: Guilford, CT, 2004.
S.A.I.D. Principle Demonstrated by Two Summer TV Programs. Copyright © 2009 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was posted on this Web site November 28, 2009.
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