Introduction to functional strength training

Should you strength train? The answer is YES!!!!

Should you just go to the gym and lift weights haphazardly sticking to the old school 3 sets of 10 reps?


So then, what should you, as an endurance athlete, do to strengthen your body? You should also be asking yourseslf:


* enhanced running economy

* improved muscle recruitment patterns in triathletes during cycling

* improved distance running performance

* prevention of weight gain and improved body composition changes

* improved core stability decreases injury risk (you too cyclists!!)

Strength training for endurance athletes really should focus on functional, sport specific strength exercises. These types of exercises often occur through multiple planes of movement and can involve a measure of instability forcing you to work on your balance and strengthing of the pelvic region. Most of what we do as triathletes, or even if you are a single sport swimmer, cyclist or runner, is movement in the forward plane of motion only. Often, because of the repetitive nature of our chosen sports, larger muscle groups are favored for recruitment and if the lumbar/pelvic muscle groups are compromised, an overuse injury in the lower extremity can develop particularly when time and distance increase and fatigue sets in. Continued training to fatigue combined with a muscular imbalance anywhere in the core or pelvic region can lead to an increase in lower extremity injuries for cyclists and runners (11, 12). Winter is the perfect time to begin a functional strength training routine that will yield huge dividends when training ramps up and racing begins.

Basic equipment for functional strength training:

* Large stability ball

* Foam roller

* Bosu ball

* Dumbbells or kettle balls.

* Yoga mat

Of course there are many more things you can purchase but if you are new to functional strength training, start small and inexpensive: the dumbbells and stability ball go a long way. I think the best way for me to approach this topic is to break it up into a series of posts. Part I, today, will focus on the "why" you should do it. Additional posts on functional strength will focus on a the different pieces of equipment bulleted above and specific exercises you can incorporate into your new routine to progress your level of core stability and overall strength. Eventually I would love to post a digital picture catalog or you tube video of me doing one of my favorite functional/core strength routines (any amateur photographer/athlete friends of mine out there that can help me with this project? You snap and shoot and I set you up with free one on one instructional sessions with me! Let me know! Reply below or shoot me and email....).

Why, continued:

Functional strength training involves a lot more than simply building strength in individual muscles to increase power or economy, in fact, lower leg resistance training for cyclists has been shown in the literature to be largely ineffective on cycling performance . However, many coaches and pure cyclists may be misled in thinking that all strength training is a waste of time when in fact core stability training has an impact on cycling performance and decreased injury risk as referenced above. I am also of the opinion in my many years experience as a practicing exercise physiologist that the change in body composition from a higher fat percentage, to a lower fat percentage with an increase in lean tissue goes a long way towards improving power output on the bike. If you are for example, a 135 pound woman and 22 % body fat your lean weight at 0% fat is 105 pounds. Of course, women can never be 0% fat, just for normal menses and hormone function, body fat in competitive female athletes should range between 12 and 15%. If I take that example 135 pound woman and reduce her body fat to 18% with a longer range goal of hitting 15%, the goal target weight becomes 130 pounds at that 15%. 5 pounds lighter but with with more lean tissue weight (110 pounds vs the original 105 pounds). 5 pounds greater lean tissue, with an overall reduction of 5 pounds of body fat is going to equal tremendous watt gains on the bike irregardless of training! FREE SPEED PEOPLE! What helps you get there cyclists? Functional strength training! For you triathletes and/or runners? Improved running economy and increased distance run performance. It's a win-win.With anything new, there is a learning curve so your homework tonight is to figure out which 2-3 days fit best to incorporate the new routine in your schedule post ride or run. You don't need loads of time either: 15-20 minutes 2 to 3 times per week will go a long way.Tomorrow: Part II of the introduction to functional strength training. Simple exercises to start with. See you then!Happy training!

* This particular study is extremely interesting to me. Apparently the researchers found a different recruitment pattern in the leg muscles of trained triathetes vs. trained cyclists with recruitment patterns in trained triathletes matching those of novice cyclists particularly in regards to cadence and muscle activity. The authors suggest that multidiscipline training (swim/cycle/run) can interfere with the adaption of neuromuscular training necessary for cycling. Recruitment patterns may be enhanced by resistance training. It's something to explore in a future post but it will also require more research on my part to address it. I've emailed the author in the meantime with some questions :)Posted by Jen Gatz at 9:55 PM

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