In the last year I have been inundated with triathletes and endurance athletes as the word around the sport is pointing to strength training for increased performance. For some that's music to their ears but for others the very thought of entering a gym and moving around weights is very daunting.
You don't have to do an extensive search to reach a number of studies and articles on the subject. As is often the case some authorities declare huge benefits, others sit in the mid way and from the research I have read, the old school are still opposing the idea. We won't go into figures on Chris Hoy's (Multiple Olympic medalist in the velodrome)squat. This picture should suffice. My theory is simple. As humans we were born to run, we are not as good as our animal counterparts but we are not too bad either. There are few of us that don't learn to ride a bike when growing up and for those fortunate enough to grow up in warmer climates and with access to water swimming is innate. Now don't get me wrong, to excel at these three disciplines, practice hours and skills also come into play, that is a fact. However take a look at running, if your legs were stronger and more powerful do you think you would become a better runner? Cycling is all about power output which again is related to strength in an athletes legs. And finally if you had more upper body strength so did not tire so quickly in your swim would you be able to go faster or for longer? The bottom line is that a stronger and more powerful athlete will no doubt be better in any of the above three disciplines.
My goal is simple in that I use strength work with endurance athletes to increase their performance in their sport.Que the visit to the gym. I will agree with those that are opposed to gyms or just don't find them comfortable, welcoming or easy to get around. I am with you here. Too many people just prancing around in the latest sports wear which only risks getting wet if they don't manage to figure out the water fountain properly. I hate commercial gyms, the way they operate, the set up they offer and the training they deliver. The only thing, is that often in life if we want to get results we have to make sacrifices.
So what strength training should endurance athletes be doing to improve their performance?
- Back squat
- Box jump / box step ups
- Front squat
- Strict press
- Yoke carry
- Core work
Not a bad list to kick things off with really is it?
We then move into the argument of frequency. Just have a look at an endurance athlete's training log. It has more entries than the secret diary of Adrian Mole. I mean the thing is littered with this "brick session", that "recovery ride", there is hardly enough space to fit in their day job.
Hence my approach here is two fold. From what I have seen of these special creatures they want to be working on everything all at once so they add strength sessions to their 14 hours of existing training and then tell me they are tired and all the alarm bells of adrenal fatigue start to ring. (more of that in another post)
Approach 1 is to get them 2 strength sessions per week but fit it smartly into their training program for maximum results i.e. it substitutes some workload that they have and does not add to it.
The second approach is something alien these days and that is introducing some periodization into their training and dedicating 6-8 weeks to focus on strength training, during this time the training loads of other disciplines should be close to nil. I am yet to find an athlete who can do without their weekly 140km bike ride but in an ideal world they would do 4 strength sessions a week in this phase. This would allow them to build a certain level of strength which can then be maintained with 2 sessions a week when we give them back their running shoes. we give them back their running shoes.
As you will probably have gathered by now there is some (a lot of) contention on how to fit the required volume of training into ones life. That is why I am very pro the idea of periodization for long term benefit and increased performance. It is something that professional athletes have applied for a number of years but often falls deaf on the ears of amateurs.
The bottom line is that making a triathlete or endurance athlete stronger will no doubt improve their performance in their sport. The exercises used to gain this strength are proven and routed in what could be considered "old school" theories but they are theories that work. What will always remain a challenge is how it gels with the sport specific training and life.