The past couple weeks at the gym I got a bit more serious about lifting. The effects on my running were immediate. There was more snap in my stride and less feeling that I was on unstable. I literally felt younger.
If you’ve never been a believer in weight training, you’re missing out. Even the twenty-somethings in our house are going to the gym these days. They come home tired and are sore for the next few days. But you can see they feel good about themselves. Stronger. Invested in themselves.
That’s simple proof that weight training is good for you no matter what age you are. And if you are performance-oriented, and don’t use weight training to compliment your running, cycling or swimming, you are losing a competitive advantage.
Going to the weight room is also one of the best ways to avoid injury. Think about it: after you have an injury or have surgery, the typical protocol is physical therapy. And what do we do in physical therapy? That’s right, we strength train to restore mobility, strength and function.
And after a period of rehabilitation, the appropriate strategy is to continue those exercises and even add more to progress toward performance and competition.
To illustrate this process, I’ve created a graphic on the Strength Training Spectrum.
Most of us have found ourselves at the far left of this spectrum. Injured. Inactive.
The comes the recovery phase and rehab begins. We get healthy and start to train again. Then comes performance and competition. It’s a cycle so familiar to most athletes we almost take it for granted.
But that’s the mistake. In reality, we should view our training as if we are perpetually in the Recover stage. That’s what baseline strength training does. The range of motion and stability work we get through strength training can physically heal our joints and muscles if done properly.
Likewise, strength training plays the role of preventative maintenance. It pushes us into the Health zone to Maintain the baseline strength necessary to even DO the training necessary to increase fitness, perform and compete.
Then we can drop down into the lower part of the graph and consider what it means to Excel. That’s the zone in which we perform and compete at our best. This is where strength training is supposed to aim. It can take us beyond what would otherwise be the limits of our physical abilities.
The great miler Sebastian Coe could leg press 700 lbs. He did plyometric strength training including hopping and weight resistance for weeks before he ever began hard running. This is an ideal strategy for those trying to run really fast. It not only builds strength as the weight you lift rises, it builds that subtle benefit called confidence. Are you going to sit there and tell me that it doesn’t help your psychology in running or cycling to know that you can lift seven hundred freaking pounds with your legs?
Get real. Get strong.
When you feel stronger in training and racing, there are fewer mental hurdles to overcome. There is less tendency to “hold back” when you could be going harder, faster and longer.
This past week I went out for some easy runs and for God’s Sake, they actually felt easy. This is what strength training is supposed to do. Make the easy days easier and the hard days more productive.
One of the exercises I’m doing to achieve this feeling is the leg press machine. Starting with 20 reps at 150 lbs, I raise the weights by 20 lbs. increments all the way up to 310 lbs. That’s ten total reps of 20 repetitions. If I’m really straining at the upper limits, I cut the reps to fifteen. The lower weight levels serve as an effective warmup. By the time I reach 300 lbs or more, all the leg muscles are firing.
Applying strength to the track, the bike and the swim
The same thing applies when doing track workouts. I did a workout of 6 X 400 indoors last week and the pace per quarter dropped from 1:48 down to 1:36. It is no coincidence that my muscles are responding the same way in running as they do in strength training.
The use of a Computrainer on the bike can build strength in the quadriceps and hamstrings for the outdoor season. Better yet, got to the gym and do multiple lunges. Work the abs hard to build position strength for the cycling season. That’s critical for the longer rides but also works great for those sprints in criteriums, if you race them.
Swimmers also benefit from consistent ab and shoulder work. It is vitally important however to make sure the form you use for shoulder exercises are done properly. Swimming is hard enough on those ligaments without putting awkward strain on them. If you need instruction, a fitness trainer at the gym or physical therapy is usually the best resources. It’s worth a bit of paid training time to make sure you’re doing it right.
For triathletes, it can be difficult to find time for strength training. But do it in your home in the form of pushups, simple knee dips and some plank work. If nothing else, these three exercises will keep your foundation in alignment and in order.
So the psychology of this graph can be helpful to motivate you to get to the gym at least twice a week for strength training. Keep it up through the season to some degree.
Hope that helps you find your way to better strength and performance. It’s worth it. Strength training really can give you a lift!