This blog on strength is not going to be what you expect. Generally, articles on strength for runners and other endurance athletes, are called ‘5 Exercises that all Runners Should Do” and consist of a 5-10 exercise program called Functional Strength, Core Workouts or Bodyweight Strength, the cornerstone of those programs being the Plank, and versions of it. Nothing wrong with any of that, and plank is an excellent place to start, however I want to deliver something with a bit more grit and sound science behind it. What you are going to read today, following my personal narrative around the importance of strength for endurance athletes, is not about getting your abs stronger or more defined, or making your core burn through insane mountain climber plank, but a way of creating strength with an intelligent system of training - without going to failure, fatigue or what we call burn. Save the burn for the last 200m on race day!
I am not a strength coach or expert, but as an endurance coach, I encourage athletes to take strength seriously. A good strength program will help build endurance and resiliency for your activity, keeping you injury free and helping your performance. Intelligent strength training doesn’t mean spending hours on machines at the gym watching other people text between reps. Intelligent strength training supports your endurance training, takes only 60 minutes per week, and makes you feel strong and awesome. Not only do you run better, but you are stronger for all your daily activities - lugging groceries, lifting your kids, or putting your dog in the back of the car. What follows is an article from an expert. I can tell you that I have been stronger and faster, on less run mileage since beginning a good strength program, but you might as well get the science behind my story. Strength is not just for elite athletes, the special forces or Olympic powerlifters - strength is for everyone who wants to feel strong and maximize their potential for movement.
Current Concepts on Strength Training
With thanks to guest contributer Dave Smit, Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator
Attendance at a recent seminar on strength development for endurance athletes challenged the current views on enhancing endurance performance using strength training. It confirmed my anecdotal findings regarding the need for specific strength qualities for endurance athletes, as well as military and law enforcement operators.
Without going deep into the scientific jargon, strength is the ability of the athlete to contract a muscle, cause a muscle action and or ‘fire’ and is measured using lab force platforms and field based methods that include percent of (IRM – 1 repetition max) .
The goal for endurance athletes is to improve performance on the track, road, mountain or other escape route from the gym floor. Strength training done effectively mitigates internal muscle breakdown, critical to the endurance athlete. It will improve endurance performance, mobility, and recovery.
After attending Pavel Tsatsouline’s Strong Endurance seminar in September 2017 it became clear that when conducting strength training endurance athletes should be careful and avoid subjecting their system to ‘acid baths’. Many current strength training systems have athletes performing sets and reps that cause significant disruption of the muscle cell thereby compromising the ability of the athlete to do what they really want to – compete aerobically.
Prevailing views suggest the only way to develop strength is for athletes to reach desired degrees of fatigue – whereas, technically this training should be used sparingly, in peaking situations for example. High acid baths incurred frequently result in a decrease in work capacity and force athletes to ‘put up’ with the unpleasant sensations of fatigue. In a nutshell this training disrupts many physiological processes that support improved aerobic endurance performance. Enter the Strong Endurance System.
The Benefits of Strong Endurance:
1. The Strength Program will reduce cell destruction and optimize endurance capacity and long term aerobic performance. Strong Endurance ensures muscle cell health.
2. The Strength Program will increase muscular efficiency(relative strength) without any weight gain, reduce soreness, improve hip explosiveness, reduce injury rates and increase ‘core’ or more responsibly termed trunk stability.
3. According to Russian Sport Scientist Verkoshansky (1988, 2011) it effectively allows the endurance athlete to improve on their specific sport, whether it be running, cycling or any other type of movement.
A strong proponent of this system is Al Ciampa, US Air Force Department of Defense Physiologist. With contributions from Ciampa, Pavel and Strongfirst developed and implemented what now is Strong Endurance.
Strong Endurance Strength – Nuts and Bolts
1. Implement strength training 3-4 days per week. This strength is done before you do your endurance training, or during your day off from endurance.
2. The strength exercise we will use here is one primary movement – the "Two handed kettlebell swing” using an appropriately weighted kettlebell. If you are unfamiliar with swinging a kettlebell, hire a competent kettlebell instructor. It is a movement that needs to be done with precision, and one hour with an instructor is all you need to start. Most gyms have kettlebells.
3. Do the sample program outlined below for 6 weeks. The table below will outline the volume of sets per session. You are doing 5 repeats (or two handed swings) for each set. This is a maximum of 10 seconds of work per set, with about 30-40 seconds of rest. (For instance on Week 1, Session 1 you are doing reps of 5 swings, 16 times, for a total of 80 swings. With about 30 seconds rest between sets, or whatever you need to recover). Do not go beyond 10 seconds of work per set. Your goal is to avoid lactate build up and sugar burning, therefore using the alactic system. Navigate recovery as needed and how you feel. If you use a heart rate monitor, once heart rate has dropped below 75% of heart rate maximum you are recovered and can continue with the next repeat.
4. As Al Ciampa states “push it, but don’t push it”. Be wise, the tachometer should not be in the red, it should be FAR from it. Avoid any burn, lactate or other sensation like it.
5. Warm-up using Goblet squats, halos, and a few getups and you have the perfect strength program for your aerobic sport! Seek expert advice on instruction please.
Tips for the Swing
1. Hinge, don’t squat as the swing is NOT a squat.
2. Be explosive with hips not the arms. The hips provide the power to get the KB up in the air, the arms are just there for the ride. This is an excellent video on technique.
3. Protect the back, pull shoulders back and down. If in doubt hire a qualified KB instructor. See www.strongfirst.com for instructors in your area.
4. Use the right load. Women at 16kg, and men with 24kg, adjust up accordingly.
6 Weeks Kettle Bell Strength Training
Adapted with Permission from Al Ciampa, US Air Force Department of Physiology.
Total Number of Sets per session (each set is 5 two handed swings):
Week Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4
1 16 20 10 18
2 20 20 12 24
3 20 16 12
4 26 12 28 20
5 8 18 28
6 20 30 24
In conclusion, the Strong Endurance protocol is based on the idea of improving your level of conditioning by using short but powerful bouts of work, coupled with sufficient recovery periods, for an extended overall duration.
Dave Smit, M.Sc. CSCS, Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator
Certified StrongFirst Instructor.
Dave is a former elite level triathlete, and has worked extensively with both strength and endurance based athletes from high school to Olympians.
Dave is available for instruction and strength programming on request.
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