Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Strength Training Guidelines for Endurance Athletes

You can make great strides in your sport performance in the weight room. Because strength training can break down a lot of muscle tissue I recommend weight work be done in the foundation or base period. This does not mean you will not continue to build strength throughout the season. Hill running, slow cadence cycling work outs, and resisted swim work outs are all forms of strength training that are specific to disciplines.

Try to use a pedal width stance on your exercises and mimic the range of motion of running and cycling. One exercise I will caution you on is the leg extension. Most people use way to much weight on this exercise, which can put a lot of pressure under the knee cap. This may lead to cartilage damage. Leg extensions are a good exercise to warm up with. Use light to moderate weight and lots of reps. You may want to perform this exercise in the top 20 degrees range of motion. This helps strengthen your VMO or innermost quad which plays a key role in patella tracking. Finally, if you are unfamiliar with weight training and proper form I highly recommend you get with a certified athletic trainer. Exercises such as the squat, dead lift, and even leg press can easily injure you if performed incorrectly. I could write an entire book on how to perform these exercises, but if I am not standing next to you and watching your form, you could still be performing them incorrectly. I see and correct bad form from even experienced clients on a daily basis.

Phase I- Acclimation 4-8 weeks Purpose:

To gradually adjust your body to the stresses of strength training. During this phase you will use light weight and high reps. You may want to start of your first few weeks with very light weight or body weight. Make sure you perform your exercises slowly and controlled.

Reps: 15-25
Weight: Light to Moderate
Exercises: 3-5
Sets: 2-3
Rest between sets: 1-3 minutes generally allows full recovery

Phase II Hypertrophy: 4-6 weeks Purpose:

To recruit maximum amount of fibers and promote muscle growth and absolute strength. Make sure your first set is a light warm up set. You will want to "pyramid" or increase the weight on each set while lowering the reps. A typical rep scheme may look like this 12-10-8-6, or 12-10-8. This phase has a good potential for injury, so be careful and listen to your body. You can take your lifts to muscular failure during this period. I recommend a spotter. Don't be surprised if the first few weeks leave you very sore.

Reps: 6-12
Weight: Moderate to Heavy
Exercises: 3-6
Sets: 3-4
Rest between sets: 1-3 minutes generally allows full recovery

Phase III Strength Endurance: 6-8 Weeks Purpose: To train the ability to sustain repeated hard efforts, similar to a steep climb. This phase will raise your lactate threshold and time to exhaustion. You want to use moderate weight and slow controlled motion. You can bring yourself to muscular failure but at a higher rep range. I recommend that you raise your rep range slightly as you progress.

Reps: 15-30
Weight: Moderate
Exercises: 3-5
Sets: 2-4
Rest between sets: 1-3 minutes generally allows full recovery

Phase IV Power: 3-6 weeks Purpose:

Power is force over time, or the ability to move the most resistance in the shortest time period. This is necessary for jumps and short sprints. Again, I recommend a trainer during this period because of the potential for injury, and the creative knowledge needed for power training. You will take each strength exercise and explode upwards. Be careful on the eccentric phase (lowering). Try to picture a spring that is slowly coiled until it is tensioned, then explodes. Go light, especially in the beginning. This does not mean you will not fatigue the muscles. I use a body weight for the first few weeks.

Reps: 8-20
Weight: Light to Moderate
Exercises: 4-6
Sets: 2-3
Rest between sets: 1-3 minutes generally allows full recovery.

You have to view strength training as a tool box. You have to decide which tools are right for you based on your body, and your event. I personally am a smaller person, slow twitch, and my goals are usually short events. This means more time in the weight room for me. If you are a marathoner, you will need less strength work and less weight. If you are a large muscled person, who has good short distance speed, yet you are training for an IM event, I would focus less on hypertrophy and more on strength endurance for climbing.