II. Muscular Strength

II. Muscular Strength

  • June 27, 2017
  • Blog

Our training philosophy revolves around the idea of maximizing six components fitness (read about the concept HERE). This post will focus on element number 2: Muscular Strength. The idea that there are six areas of development required for endurance athletes to maximize their fitness came about from years of working with endurance athletes coming from a variety of different backgrounds. Improved muscular strength is one area that we continually see needing attention in nearly every athlete we work with (including ourselves). We’re not talking about moving big weights around, making a lot of grunting noises (well, maybe a little grunting), and using the word “bro” throughout your training dialogue kind of strength training; we’re talking about moderate to light weight and body-weight exercises performed in functional movements that apply to your sport.  Developing the core stability required to maintain form and function when you’re deep into your race should be the goal in your strength training and the following paragraphs will help you understand why we think this is true.

Most endurance athletes are surprisingly weak.

Sure they can complete a marathon, an Ironman, or even a 100 mile foot race through mountainous terrain, but none of that necessarily equates to them being particularly strong or stable. Strong in will and determination, perhaps, but ask them to perform a one-legged squat and not have their knee track to the inside or execute a single-leg prone bridge and not have their hip drop, and more often than not, they can’t do it. Many will claim that endurance athletes don’t need to be “strong”, rather they argue that aerobic fitness is the most important thing and that any time spent training outside of their primary sport is a waste of time. They say for example, “If you want to be better at running, you simply need to run more.” Aerobic fitness is certainly required to participate in endurance sports and it is true the more you run the better a runner you will become; however, time spent improving your muscle recruitment, strength, flexibility, and stability will improve your economy of movement. This means you will be able to move (with what fitness you have) more powerfully and efficiently while wasting less energy and minimizing potential injuries. All which in turn, yield faster speeds and increased endurance at the same level of aerobic fitness.

Pure muscular strength, the muscle’s ability to apply force to a stationary object, is what allows us to move.

When swimming, we apply force to the water, pulling ourselves forward with every stroke; when riding a bike, we apply force to the pedals while turning the cranks at high cadences to produce more power; when running, every foot strike applies force to the ground for the push off, and with appropriate stability and flexibility allowing increased stride lengths and stride rates, we run faster and faster. Through the implementation of resistance training you can increase the force-producing capabilities of the “major muscles” that contribute to forward movement. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, leg curls, leg extensions (to name a few) will train the force-producing quadriceps, hamstrings and glute muscle groups; exercises like pull-ups, pull-downs, chest press, rows, shoulder shrugs and presses will train the larger back and shoulder muscles for force-producing movement strength. A stronger muscle will be able to produce more force for the power required to move as well as fatigue at a slower rate, thus increasing your muscular endurance.

There are several other factors to consider when addressing the concept of muscular strength. Equally important, and perhaps even more valuable to the endurance athlete is the concept of muscular stability. This concept focuses more on the “minor muscles” that don’t necessarily contribute directly to forward movement. These muscles include, but are not limited to, the collection of core muscles that surround the hips, including the lower back and deep abdominal muscles. Stability and power in all sports initiates from the hips and extends outwards to the limbs that make the movement happen.

Excess movement beyond that which is required to execute forward movement is wasted energy, and this excess movement occurs from lack of stability.

Wasted energy occurs in running when your hips drop from side to side with each stride, or your knee dives inward or outward with each step, for example. “Fish-tailing” when swimming indicates lack of core stability and wastes energy as you move down the lane wiggling from side to side with each stroke. Rocking hips and/or upper body movement when cycling is another example of wasted energy that stems from a lack of stability in the hips. Along with hip stability, shoulder stability is another critical area that requires attention for swimmers (or any activity involving power production from the arms). Stabilize the hips and shoulders with specific training movements and you improve your form, efficiency, power production and endurance. Time well spent.

A factor that coincides with stability surrounding a joint is flexibility. Joint flexibility contributes to range of motion which is essential to producing power for movement. Anyone with inflexible joints can attest to the limited power and speed that is attainable. On the contrary, hypermobile joints that are “overly flexible” can create issues of instability and possible injury. An increase in muscular strength surrounding the hypermobile joint can often improve the stability for those individuals. Just like strengthening muscles with specific exercises, you can improve your flexibility and range of motion with specific exercises. By honing your flexibility (either minimizing or maximizing) your surrounding joints will become more stable and powerful, and in the long run, be less prone to injuries.

Being able to perform an endurance sport event requires your muscles to repeat movement over and over for many minutes to several hours. Overuse injuries are a major cause of missed training and unmet goals for endurance athletes. If your muscles are not functioning in the way they were designed, you are putting increased stress on your other soft tissue and joints.

Training muscles to function or ‘fire’ correctly when called upon, and for longer periods of time, requires specific training.

We engage our larger ‘primary mover’ muscles very easily when training, but often the smaller supporting muscles get overpowered or neglected causing them to ‘turn off.’ These muscle ‘imbalances’ often lead to frustrating niggles, if not full blown injuries, that can derail an athlete’s training and racing objectives. By activating these smaller muscles with stability training exercises, you allow them to ‘turn on’ in conjunction with your dominant muscles both improving your economy of movement and resistance to injury.

Fortunately, many endurance athletes embrace the idea of strength training. Most athletes typically include some form of strength training for several weeks during their off-season. Unfortunately, most athletes end up dropping their strength training sometime early in their pre-season training, either because they are bored due to limited knowledge of core exercises or they feel it gets in the way of their sport-specific training. This is an unfortunate occurrence. For long-term continuing improvements to occur from year to year, it is critical to include strength and stability training throughout the entire year. Your return on investment in strength and stability training includes increased force and power production with decreased rate of muscular fatigue for forward movement, increased economy of movement with less wasted energy and ability to tap into more of your given aerobic capacity, and more consistent training and capacity for higher training loads due to increased injury resistance. For these reasons alone, endurance sports athletes should make strength and stability training a high priority in their overall annual training program in order to reach their highest level of performance.

Written By: Cody Waite, Sessions:6 Sport Performance, owner/coach/athlete

I. Aerobic Conditioning

I. Aerobic Conditioning

In a previous blog post, I introduced our six components of fitness surrounding the Sessions:6 training philosophy. In this blog post I’ll dig a little deeper into the first component of sport performance:  Aerobic Conditioning. 

When people think of the word “fitness” the mind often goes first to aerobic conditioning. Aerobic fitness gives an athlete the ability to “go” and keep going. This is especially true for endurance sports like running, cycling, swimming, etc. Building up the endurance to go the distance is a primary objective for those athletes newer to athletic training and/or those training for long distance endurance events. But training to go long is not the only piece of the aerobic conditioning puzzle.

You can think of Aerobic Conditioning as two distinct elements:  

  1. Endurance

  2. Speed

Think of these two elements in these defining ways: endurance is the ability to maintain pace while speed is the ability to create pace. To be successful in sport and fitness you need to maximize both endurance and speed through creative training strategies. The shorter your goal event the greater an emphasis on speed and power will be required; while the longer your goal event the greater an emphasis on endurance will be required. However, regardless of the length of the events you are training for, you need to train both elements to maximize your aerobic conditioning.

Picture aerobic conditioning as a sliding scale. On one end you have the shortest duration, highest intensity output, the ‘alactate’ burst of maximum power; on the other end you have the ‘all day’ maximum endurance effort. In between these two extremes you have the classic physiological energy systems of anaerobic power (60-seconds to 4-minute max output), Vo2 max (8-minute to 16-minute output), lactate threshold (30-minute to 60-minute output), aerobic threshold (2-hour to 4-hour output) and aerobic endurance (extended output).

 

Energy System:                               Duration:

  1. Alactate                                                   <10 seconds          
  2. Anaerobic Power                  1-4 minutes                
  3. Vo2 Max                                  8-16 minutes                
  4. Anaerobic Threshold           30-60 minutes                                  
  5. Aerobic Threshold                2-4 hours                            
  6. Endurance                              >4 hours

       

Training all six of these ‘zones’ of intensity is critical for all athletes. Balancing the amount of each level of intensity, and at what point in their training year it is emphasized, makes up an effective aerobic conditioning training program.

Aerobic conditioning is highly trainable, although it can take many years to fully maximize in human physiology. Every human is born with an innate capacity to process oxygen, known as maximum oxygen uptake or, simply, Vo2 max. The more oxygen an athlete can supply to their working muscles the faster they can go. Vo2max is trainable to a certain extent, but everyone has their genetic ceiling of maximum uptake. One of the primary goals with aerobic conditioning is to maximize the sustainable percentage of their Vo2max they can reach in training and racing. Improving one’s ability to perform at the highest sustainable percentage of their Vo2max can be achieved by training any of the above mentioned energy systems, but is most effective by training all of the energy systems through an effective training program.

Training longer durations at lower intensities has many identified benefits such as increased mitochondria and capillary density to improve oxygen delivery, maximizing the use of slow twitch muscle fibers, improved fuel utilization and carbohydrate storage, and an increase in the volume of blood your heart can move with each beat. Long, slow distance training has been a staple of endurance sport training for years. For athletes that are coming to endurance sports from a ‘speed based’ background, are relatively young, healthy, have the time, and have lofty goals of racing performance, high volume training can help them succeed. Although as valuable as the benefits of low-intensity training are, you must have the time to put into this method as it requires increasingly higher and higher volumes to create the stimulus needed for improved fitness.

Most amateur athletes with a job and family to balance with their training schedule usually can only find time for limited amounts of high volume training. This leads us to consider how else can we improve our aerobic conditioning?

Training the short, powerful, high intensity energy systems happens to also have many identified benefits, and these can often be achieved with much lower training volumes. Benefits of high intensity training include increased oxygen utilization, improved lactate tolerance/utilization, maximizing the recruitment of both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, increased hormone production, reduced insulin dependency, and improved movement efficiency. The benefits of high intensity training cannot be ignored, nor should the high intensity training in your training program. High intensity training definitely has its place in the sport performance training program, with the amount and timing of it being a key part of the metabolic puzzle.

Every individual has their own genetically given strengths; some athletes are more powerful and faster over short distances, while others are built for the long haul and can maintain moderate outputs for extended periods of time. To maximize your own sport performance you must identify your strengths and weaknesses and then create a training program that will improve your weaknesses while maximizing your strengths. Put simply, by improving your short-term high intensity energy systems you can go faster for longer, and by improving your long-term low intensity energy systems you can extend your speed over longer periods. These opposing ends of the physiological energy system scale should come together at some point inline with your targeted race-day intensity level you plan to predominantly utilize during your goal events.

Regardless of your strengths and weaknesses, your objective should be to create your own training program to give you the right amount of training stress to minimize fatigue and maximize performance.

The goal within your training program should be to apply just the right amount of low intensity and high intensity aerobic training to create the perfect amount of stimulus for your body to adapt to. Too much stimulus can lead to illness, fatigue or injury; not enough stimulus and you fail to continue improving and don’t reach your fullest potential. Mixing the right amount of training stress (balanced with “life stress”) into an individual’s training program is the secret to maximizing fitness and is unique to every athlete.

 

Written By: Cody Waite, Sessions:6 Sport Performance, owner/coach/athlete
The Six Components Of Fitness Of Sessions:6

The Six Components of Fitness of Sessions:6

It’s common thought that to become a better athlete you simply need to train more and push harder to be successful. 

Many athletes are familiar with the 10,000 hour rule which states that it requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to obtain elite level proficiency in your sport. In many ways this concept holds true; you need to put in the time for your body to adapt to and learn the skills and movements required to perform at a high level of sport. However, we have found that there is more to the equation of improvement in sports than simply just training more. You certainly can and do become a better athlete simply by doing more of what you are striving to improve; more hours on the bike, more miles on the run, or more time in the gym. Assuming you have the time and fitness to spend 5+ hours a day training your sport, in time, you will become highly competent in your sport, allowing you to compete at a very high level.

There’s no question that if you put in the time, you will improve. But is this high volume, single-focused training approach the right way to maximize performance? Maybe, maybe not. Is it the only way to maximize performance? Definitely not.

Then what is the ‘right’ way or ‘best’ way to improve as an athlete?

There are many theories out there to follow, however we have found the answer to be: “It depends.” It depends on who the athlete is. How old is the athlete, what is the athlete’s background in sport, what is the athlete’s lifestyle, do they have a job, do they have a family, do they have the time, energy and physical capacity to allow them to train 30+ hours a week, week in and week out? If you’re a 20-something year old, athletic individual with minimal life stress and plenty of financial backing then it’s time to put in the big volume. However, if you’re over thirty, have to make money to support yourself and/or your family, or are a less than perfect physical specimen, then simply doing more of the same thing is not the best path to follow to reach your fullest potential.

Through working with hundreds of different athletes coming from all shapes and sizes of background in sport, we have found that there are six essential components required to maximize fitness and athletic development.

So how is the aspiring athlete going to maximize improvement when spending endless hours cranking out the effort is not an option? We have found over the years that all athletes must make fitness and sport a lifestyle, much like a professional, focusing on both the large and the small components of fitness to build the best possible athlete they can be. We have identified six key elements that are crucial to athletic success, and they can all be implemented regardless of the individual experience level or the amount of time the athlete has to devote to their sport.

The SIX elements of sport performance that make up the SESSIONS:6 Sport Performance philosophy:

  • Aerobic Conditioning

  • Strength & Stability

  • Skill Proficiency

  • Diet & Nutrition

  • Stress Management

  • Mental Fitness

By learning, incorporating and striving to always improve upon these six key components of fitness, an athlete will be better able to reach their fullest potential in sport performance.

The first three components, aerobic conditioning, muscular stability, and skill proficiency make up the physical “training” an athlete with do.

Aerobic conditioning can be achieved by not only spending more time performing their sport, but also through various modalities of cross-training during specific times of the year. Training aerobic endurance by going longer at times, as well as incorporating moderate and high intensity interval training, at and above an athlete’s aerobic and anaerobic thresholds at specific points in their training year, will improve their aerobic conditioning.

Including muscular strength and joint stability training will improve an athlete’s range of motion, application of force, and overall durability. Improper joint mobility and/or joint stability limits nearly every athlete in some manner. Improving these characteristics through proper strength training modalities, an athlete will become more efficient and able to use more of their given maximal aerobic capacity.

Developing the skills to move the body in the most efficient manner is critical to maximizing strength, power, speed and endurance. Wasted energy through improper movements not only slows you down but wastes valuable energy, limiting your performance. By incorporating drills into an athlete’s training program they will be able to maximize gains in strength and power as well as achieve a higher usage of their given maximal aerobic capacity.

The last three key components, diet & nutrition, stress management, and mental fitness are efforts made in between the physical training sessions.

These details require as much or more effort to incorporate into an athlete’s routine, but they can also often yield some of the biggest results.

Most athletes are aware of the importance of nutrition but few actually take it seriously for any length of time. Through optimal nutrition you not only perform better on race day, but you are also able to achieve optimal body composition for improved performance, optimal energy levels to improve training capacity, and optimal hormone operation within the body to improve health and recovery.

Recovery between training sessions is critical to maximize your training consistency and adaptation. Learning and incorporating proper recovery methods as well as recognizing other forms of stress in your your life and adjusting your training accordingly will allow you to train more effectively and get more from each training session.

Finally, perhaps the most neglected and overlooked component of success in sport is the power of the mind. Getting yourself in the right mindset to train to your fullest potential and compete to maximum ability is one of the toughest things for athletes to learn. It is subsequently also one of the most important abilities for athletes to transform themselves into champions. Practicing mental strategies and learning how to train and compete to your true ability will unlock the complete athlete within you.

To become the best athlete you can become and reach your fullest potential in the least amount of time possible, you must address these six crucial components of sport performance development: aerobic conditioning, strength & stability, skill proficiency, diet & nutrition stress management, and mental fitness.

When any one of these components is neglected or underdeveloped, an athlete will fall short of their maximum ability. Don’t fall into the trap that there is only one path to improvement, doing the same thing over and over. Rather, choose to expand your vision and athletic ability by addressing these six components of fitness to allow yourself to continually evolve and improve as an athlete.

By incorporating these 6 components into your daily training and lifestyle you will be able to consistently improve your performance year after year.

Written By: Cody Waite, Sessions:6 Sport Performance, owner/coach/athlete