The Science of Building Early Season Strength & Fitness
BY Robert Forster, PT
Featured in Scientific FitnessIt’s springtime and you’ve logged long workouts to develop a sound foundation of fitness. You have focused on the goals of Base training: aerobic development, cleaning up your diet, stretching, drills and some form of strength development. You trusted the science behind these long slow aerobic workouts of the last months and accordingly have developed a better metabolic infrastructure. You can’t see it but you know an extensive vascular network (capilarization) has been built to better serve the metabolic needs of your working muscles. You know the muscles are more efficient at using fats as a primary source of energy while producing less lactic acid and sparing precious carbohydrate stores. You also know the light weights and easy workouts have hardened the connective tissue supporting your muscles and comprising the tendons, ligaments and fascia that will propel you to an injury free season. You have felt the stabilizing effects of the trunk strengthening exercises you’ve done and know that along with the drills you performed you are now more mechanically efficient. You feel this preparation will serve you well and with race dates quickly approaching you are motivated to turn up the heat on your training and jump into hard-core workouts.
STOP: DANGER AHEAD!Caveats still exist for achieving a successful injury-free season. How you layer on the requisite fitness attributes of strength, anaerobic fitness, power and speed will either deliver you to athletic nirvana or crushing defeats. To move directly to high intensity intervals and long hard group rides would short change the ultimate level of fitness you might attain. Instead you first need to get stronger. With improved infrastructure and structural integrity you will tolerate and benefit greatly from strength building work in the gym and low heart rate hill climbing on your bike and run workouts. Strength is an essential ingredient in power output and these workouts will improve your power and improve your race times.
DEVELOPING MAXIMUM STRENGTHAll endurance athletes benefit from a maximum strength phase in their periodization training program. As each muscle fiber becomes stronger i.e., able to develop more force, it requires less of them to complete a given task. Muscle fibers contract in specific recruitment patterns to generate force. While the first set of fibers are bearing the burden of the workload, others rest to be called upon later. In addition, strong muscles support joints, improve form and prevent injury. For athletes of higher body weight strength will help hill climbing speeds and momentum on rolling hills. Additionally utilizing heavier weights specifically train fast twitch muscle fibers and cause a natural increase of testosterone levels. Studies have shown the maximum strength weight exercises boost testosterone levels to promote recovery. If adequate rest is provided the testosterone boost, (even in women) will improve lean body mass & strength. However, successful weight programs for the endurance athlete are predicated on proper program design and execution.
METHODOLOGY: IT’S NOT BODYBUILDINGYour strength program design must produce results consistent with the needs of the sport. Weight training goals for endurance sports are very different than that of bodybuilding. Triathletes ultimately want to improve the mean power output over the course of a race. The last thing a triathlete needs is big bulky muscles. Any muscle mass not being specifically used in your sport is just an anchor. To get stronger without adding size simply follow this rule: never exercise to exhaustion. Bodybuilders train to the point of failure with high repetitions and many sets. This produces more size than strength. Most athletes think accumulating fatigue in a weight exercise is necessary to make the muscle stronger. It’s quite the contrary. Pushing heavier weights causes your nervous system to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible to contract all at once. At the end of a long set of exercise some of the muscle fibers fatigue and the muscle contraction deteriorates past useful levels. It’s critical to provide a five-minute rest between sets thus facilitating another massive muscle fiber recruitment unencumbered by fatigue. To avoid fatigue use the vertical sequence of exercise in your weight sessions. This dictates that you perform one set of each exercise before returning to the second set of the same exercise. In contrast the horizontal sequencing of exercise dictates performing all of one specific exercise before progressing to the next. Another caveat to using weights is skimping on your stretching. If you continue stretching, weightlifting does not decrease flexibility. The opposite is true; weak muscles stay tight to improve their meager contractile force. In physical therapy we find chronically tight areas need to be strengthened before they ultimately “let go” and allow freedom of motion. Stretching before, during and after workouts is crucial in making strength gains in the gym functional and not counterproductive.
GETTING STARTEDThree weeks before starting hill workouts begin to prepare with heavier workouts in the gym. The maximum strength phase involves transitioning from lighter exercises used to isolate the small muscles around each joint to heavier multi-joint (compound) exercises for the larger muscle groups. The heavier exercises should mimic the movements of your sport (think leg press vs. knee extension). Increase loads to 80% of the maximum amount of weight you could lift just once for any given exercise. Due to the risk of injury triathletes should not attempt a one repetition maximum test. Instead, the appropriate load can be derived using a weight you can do 4-10 repetitions to exhaustion and use the formula provided (see sidebar 1) to calculate your one rep max weight. The choice of exercises should include a low row (rhomboids/middle trap), lat pull (latissimus dorsi), leg press (quads, gluts, hamstrings), toe raise (calves), and leg curl (hamstring). Core strengthening exercises continue. Arm curls and tricep extensions round out the program. At this phase of your training workouts are the shortest as you reduce the repetitions (8-12) and number of exercises. (Big muscle groups only.) Perform one warm up set at 50% of your 1 rep max and two training sets in the 80% range. Stretch before, during and after workouts and be sure your diet has lots of high quality protein. Stretching before bed, icing and massage further promote recovery. Remember no one ever became stronger during a workout, it’s afterwards; during the recovery process that muscles become stronger.
OUTDOOR WORKOUTSAfter two weeks of strength preparation in the gym you are ready to begin strength work on the roads and in the pool. (see sidebar 2) Even with adequate preparation these workouts are high stress activities for joints and tendons. You must stretch and warm up thoroughly and never “work through” joint or tendon pain. Even if the pain improves or disappears with warm up you risk further debilitating injury. All tri-sport strength workouts must be performed with focus on form over speed.
Maximum Strength Phase Weight Training
Duration: 4 – 8 weeks (1 – 2 cycles) Days per week: 2 Load:70-85% of 1 rep max Sets: 2 sets in training zone Number of exercises: Low (prime movers only) Variety of exercise: Change every 3 week cycle Order of exercise: Vertical Rest between sets: (w/stretching & shaking out muscles) 3 – 5 minutes Speed of movement: Slow to Moderate Calculation of One Repetition Maximum 1. Perform warm-up sets. 2. Select a weight you can do 4-10 repetitions to exhaustion. 3. Use the table below to find the Factor on the right column. 4. Divide that Factor into the weight you used to calculate your theoretical One Repetition Maximum. Example: 5 Reps @ 150 lbs. Factor = .875 150 lbs./.875 = 171 One Rep Max # of Reps Factor 4 .900 5 .875 6 .850 7 .825 8 .800 9 .775 10 .750Note: If you choose a weight that is too light and you lift beyond 10 reps, increase weights and try again after a five-minute rest. Program design by Phase IV Founder, Robert Forster, PT.
TRI SPORT STRENGTH WORKOUTS
SwimPart 1. After adequate warm-up perform 10 x 50m Pull with paddles & rubber band around ankles (even pace off 20 secs rest) then 10 x 50m Pull with paddles (build pace within each 50m off 20 secs rest) Part 2. 10 x 25m pull with paddles/ 25m pull/ 25m fast swim off 20 secs rest. Cool down. Focus is always on technique. The pace is below Anaerobic Threshold apart from the fast 25′s in the part 2, so swim strong but controlled to ensure that strength is challenged.
BikeSession 1. 3 x 15 mins @ 5-10 bpm below AT (Anaerobic Threshold) at 75 rpm on undulating terrain off 5 mins recovery. (This is a pre-strength workout done as a Transition from Base Conditioning work to a pure Strength phase. This should be done for 1-time per week for 3 weeks before replacing it with Session 2) Session 2. Seated Hills: 4 x 10 mins @ up to AT power output & 50-60 rpm off 5 mins easy spin recovery. Stay seated through and focus on smooth pedaling. Do this workout once a week for 4-6 weeks for optimal strength gains.
Run2 x (5 x 2 mins Hills up to AT heart rate) off a jog down & partial recovery. (This set is about developing Aerobic Strength and not Anaerobic Capacity. Keep this set just below AT and allow only partial recovery. Focus on High Knee lift, extending the ankle for maximum power and keep a high cadence of 180 strides per minute)
Periodized Strength Training
Periodization strength training breaks the training program into cycles (or periods) where fitness is developed in a scientifically rational sequence. After about six-to-eight weeks of the same activity the body becomes stronger and can handle the load without experiencing stress; performance will then fade if the exercise stimulus is not altered in such a way as to create new stress on the body, and peak hormone production again. Your PHASE IV team is using state-of-the-science training methods to set up your plan of Periodized Strength Training. Matching the requirements of your sport, you will be educated in proper strength development, stretching, warm up, cool down, and aggressive recovery techniques. Pictured here is PHASE IV athlete World Racing Champion Rebecca Ruysch, who credits Forster for “teaching her body how to ride her bike.” Call PHASE IV 310-582-8212 or send us a message