There are multiple excuses as to why endurance athletes avoid strength training like the plague. They fear they may gain weight, or get injured, or lose speed. I have heard them all… I am a “fill in the blank” endurance athlete not a body builder, why should I lift weights? I don’t want to get big and bulky. This is where the professional comes in and avoids those things. Just because you lift does not mean you will get big. In fact most don’t have the genetics, and the diet is not such to produce those results. The truth is that lifting weights may be the missing link to move them forward and give them that extra edge, especially the MASTERS AGE groups. Weight training helps to maintain and /or build lean muscle mass that can be catabolized during racing and just the normal muscle loss from aging can be off-set.
Weight training also boosts metabolism, regulates hormones and improves posture, which leads to one of the most beneficial reasons to add weight training to your life routine. Weight training when done properly can correct muscular and postural imbalances, caused by repetitive movements (as is done in endurance sports such as running and cycling). Also postural formations like hunch back, which can be caused by activities such as cycling, a desk job, or longer term computer work. This all can lead to all kinds of postural dysfunctions and head aches, neck and back discomforts, etc. If you don’t do something to off-set the muscle loss of age you will never get it back, not to mention the performance loss that happens over time, even if you are not an athlete.
My hope is that by reading this, any myths and misconceptions you may have are now replaced with the desire to improve your performance and your life. If you are curious or motivated to get involved in a scientifically based and sport specific training program, start by seeking out a knowledgeable experienced coach or trainer. Within a short amount of time you could be enjoying your strongest, best year to date!!
I run into this all the time…Johnny or Suzy needs faster legs, we have to get their legs moving faster! So the parent has them doing sprints until exhaustion; that in itself can actually slow them down, and I will tell you why. To generalize this discussion for time purposes….A sprint athlete is primarily using fast twitch muscle fibers. Once you pass the time frame of good sprint times (hint-use a timer) the workout should be over. If the athlete is exhausted and the workout continues, you will dig into the slower more endurance focused type 1 (slow twitch) muscle fibers. If this is a common training practice, you will in-fact be training the body to survive (endure) the workout. Thus slowing the athlete down, not to mention teaching bad form. The goal here is a better athlete. So lets start with some basic foundational rules:
How high someone can jump, or how fast someone can explode out of the gate/blocks, is directly related to how fast they can apply force to the ground. The same holds true for acceleration-its all about the force! Sounds like we are talking about POWER =Work/Time. So how do we increase or maximize power? Lets assume we have appropriate foundational core strength (I hate that term/buzz word), ok lets call it the “frame”.
The frame has to be solid, as to not flex or compress, in order to put the most power to the ground. A weak frame would be like a comparison of trying to help your friend push his car to the gas station in a rut filled 5ft deep with Jello. A strong frame is trying to do the same on solid concrete.
The frame is all of the space between the shoulders and hips, and should be solid (concrete), in order for the bottom line (the arms and legs), to be able to produce greater amounts of force, and have less energy loss due to jello:) The four limbs (arms and legs) are securely anchored to this strong foundation (frame) and the joints need both stability and mobility to produce the most power and performance.
When an athlete comes to us for more performance, sometimes they are disappointed at our analysis and prescribed plan of action, because they were expecting it to involve more and heavier work. We can provide a better formula by anchoring and mobilizing the poor performing joint structures and reigniting muscles that have shut down.
That brings us to movement patterns (muscle firing order) and agonist and antagonist muscle synergy. Muscle synergy is when muscle groups work together to coordinate movement. Muscles that oppose one another (agonist and antagonist) can be working together in order for a muscle to perform correctly and also to stabilize that movement. The ability to turn muscles on and how fast we turn them on (and off) is the pure definition of power, and obviously plays a very important role in power development. We need to have the neurology to fire muscles quickly, in the correct order, and turn them off just as fast to maximize power production.
Let’s use the vertical jump as an example: To maximize this movement the athlete drops down quickly and flexes the hips, knees, and ankles right before take-off. This action, if performed correctly, activates the extensors (glutes, hamstrings, calves) like the pre-stretch of a rubber band before shooting it across the room. Specific muscles fire to allow the body to come down fast and opposing muscles fire in the reverse action to jump as high as possible. There is a lot of skill involved in a seemingly non complex movement such as a vertical jump. The specific skill I am referring to is the ability to turn on and shut off motor neurons that are activated within the muscle. The ability to recruit and turn on and off motor units (a measure of motor neurons) is a foundational component to power development. I have the pleasure of working with a neuromuscular therapy technology called ARP Wave (a proprietary electronic device) that can help me determine what muscles are not firing and turn them back on!
Now lets focus on motor unit recruitment and performance training…When we perform traditional isotonic weight training, we are recruiting a specific amount of motor units based on the amount of force needed to lift the weight. And how fast we lift the weight will determine if we recruit fast twitch motor units or slow twitch. Research has shown that an increase in the speed of the contraction will result in a higher level of fast twitch motor unit recruitment. This again results in more power.
I will use a squat or a press motion as an example here: As we go through a range of motion we go through mechanical advantages and disadvantages at different ranges throughout the movement. We are stronger at certain points and weaker at others. As in a squat or a press, the deeper you go the weaker you are, and the closer to the top of the motion or lockout you are the strongest because you have a greater mechanical advantage. When our muscles are at the mid range of contraction they are at the optimal length to produce the most force. So it seems that this tells us…the best time to have the most resistance is at the top or end of the movement to produce added challenge for producing performance gains. It would not be as productive to add resistance to the weakest part of the lift for performance gains, as fatigue would result in this weaker position and produce premature failure- session over!
This is where the addition of chains and bands come into play to help create accelerated muscle contractions and dynamic strength. This has by far been becoming my favorite type of training as of late- add a band to that movement as part of the progression plan! By applying a chain or band to the bar it allows for lesser tension at the bottom of the movement and greater tension at the top of the movement. This also helps with recruiting the faster motor units we spoke of earlier, as you will be required to use less weight and thus move the bar faster. Another good benefit of the bands and chains are the smaller auxiliary muscles it fires as well to help to train that core, ugh, I mean frame!
One of the most common ways to stay active is to enjoy what you are doing and make it fun , exciting and challenging. Colorado residents have an easy time of it with all the outdoor activities right in their backyard, and other states have many fun resources as well, you just have to look and stay creative with your thinking.
Exercising outdoors is not the only way to keep things spiced up and challenging, you can also push your limits in the gym as well to keep you coming back week after week for that challenge. Great news…there are a few things you can do to to keep things interesting!
1 Intensify the workout–
A stagnant routine is a good way to kill your results as well as your waistline, and a sure way to hit a plateau in your quest for success. Try increasing your weights in the gym and shorten your rest periods between sets. Studies show that those resting less than 60 seconds between sets burn significantly more calories during exercise and hours afterwards than those who rest longer. And if you are not weight training you should add it to what you are doing to give you that tighter look.
2 HIIT it-
High Intensity Interval Training, can take the blues out of trudging on the treadmill for 30-60 minutes at a steady pace…boring!!! Try increasing your effectiveness by interval training indoors or outdoors either on equipment or without, on a treadmill or similar piece of equipment go as hard as you can for 30-60 seconds and rest 30-60 seconds at a slower pace…repeat 15-20 times. Outdoors can be even more creative…run up a hill, jog slowly back down…hit the deck do 15 pushups, walk for 30 seconds, find a small log to throw for 10 repeats then repeat for 5-8 times…get creative!
3 Get a handle on your nutrition-
Feeling sluggish? It may be that you have adopted the mindset of low calories means weight-loss, this and a few other mistakes can cause issues. One of the biggest mistakes I see here in the training studio is too low a calorie intake and it actually lowers the metabolism and causes weight-gain. One of the most common is skipping breakfast in today’s busy lifestyles…doing this starts the day with the blood sugar too low and nothing in the tank causing the body to break down muscle tissue to make fuel for your activities. This also can lead to more serious health issues! Try eating balanced such as a 2Protein-1Fat-1Carb (2-1-1) ratio for good overall nutrition and energy for 4-6 small meals per day. Try this for 4-6 weeks and enjoy new energy levels and you may just adopt it for good.
4 Try supplementing-
Are you constantly skipping meals because you are too busy to take the time to eat? Here is material for a whole new blog post in itself, but sticking to the subject lets look at simple fixes to fill in the blanks. Several choices are out there for meal replacement supplements and you will have to decide what works best for you and your goals. You can look at high protein/high calorie, high protein/low calorie, low protein/all natural etc. The point is to keep the blood sugar stabilized for health reasons and also to help regulate you weight. Try eating 5-6 small meals per day and if the busy times of day slip away from you try adding protein shakes or bars such as those in the former paragraph in those times.
5 Try something different-
Keeping things interesting is the key to keeping the motivation up, and who knows maybe you find something that really fires you up! Try a TRX Suspension training workout, take up Martial Arts, try Olympic lifting moves (if you have the mobility) with a professional instructor, Cycling or anything that interests you. Any way you can just find something that can get you out of that rut, if you have one…The key is stay moving to stay young and fun!
Lets face it…Desk jobs are wrecking your health and working out in a gym incorrectly can trash your shoulders, back and neck. Every year we see droves of desk jockeys enter the gym environment, take a look around and sign on the dotted line…then show up a few days a week for a month, then stop when the pain comes on-board. Most people that have any experiences in the weight room are used to seeing people do bench press or dumbbell press and bicep curls…all the muscles you can see in the mirror, seems good right? WRONG>>>If you work a desk job and have for years…and are not currently training on a consistent basis, you should focus on training the muscles that will retract the scapula (strengthen the muscles that keep the shoulders back.) This is what is so common…go to the gym do a few sets of bench press, dumbbell curls, then jump on the stationary bike for 20 minutes.
So whats wrong with this? Working all day in a seated position ends up shortening the hip flexors, pectorals and biceps causing the rounded back posture we see way too commonly in the rehab world resulting in so much back and neck pain.
Lets break it down, the seated position in front of a computer has the hips flexed, arms are bent and shoulders are forward, and even more so if sight is a problem with the neck stretched forward. Now add in a commute in a car and you have a formula for a rounded back and shoulders…should we be doing exercises in the gym that magnify this posture? If you are going to the gym, your objective should be to reverse the effects of hours of seated posture behind the desk and behind the wheel of a car. Bench press further shortens the pecs and curls reinforce the flexed arm position and the bike further shortens the hip flexors.
What really needs to be the focus is exercises that strengthen the muscles that keep our shoulders back, not the ones that pull them forward. We need more rowing exercises concentrating on rotating the shoulders and scapula back, such as a rowing movement. We also need to stretch the hip flexors and work all arm movements through the full range of motion and fully straighten the arms in pulling movements. The rounded back and forward neck posture is not from old age…it is from the way we live and work and can be reversed…I have seen it here in our small studio many times in all ages from 20-80+. The real key to all this is keeping a well rounded training program with functional movements and working the muscles you can’t see as much if not more than the ones you can see. The result will be feeling great and not looking like grandma or grandpa in your 40s.
For more information on the subjects discussed here, or for any of your coaching or training needs contact John Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*John Marshall started his career at Baylor College of Sports Medicine over 15 years ago and has been certified and educated through ISSA, ACE, and PFIT programs.