Introduction to Functional Strength Training
Mention the words “Strength Work” to 95% of endurance athletes and at best you’ll get a blank, amused look but a far more common response is running away, fingers in the ears and screaming Lalalalala!!!
But what is the basis of this fear? And why don’t we want strength training in our programs? Maybe changing the name to Functional Movement Training or Movement Improvement Training would to provide a more positive viewpoint!
The most common response I’ve heard is “I don’t want to be sore” or “I’m not a bodybuilder” and “I don’t want to put on weight”. The misconception with strength training is that the above will occur, when in reality this isn’t the case.
And mostly, when performed correctly, you’ll find that it will have minimal impact on your regular training.
The problem appears to be that when most endurance focused athletes, who aren’t used to anything more than travelling though a single plane of movement, head off to the local gym for a strength session, hit a class or CrossFit box, they go as hard as they can because it’s in their nature to “compete”, and then don’t have the ability to train again as they can’t move for a week due to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness(DOMS)! And when we start introducing different movements, that these athletes aren’t adapted to, and these aren’t performed correctly due to a lack of skill or coaching, we don’t just end up sore & tired but we greatly increase the risk for injury.
We’ve all heard how beneficial Functional Strength Training is, not just for performance, but also day to day health.
So how do you introduce Functional Strength Training to an endurance athlete’s program without it impeding on race specific training?
Get assessed. Find a qualified Physiologist, Physiotherapist or Coach, who understands your goals and abilities and get them to assess your movements to look for any for any imbalances, weaknesses or mobility issues and have them design a program that fits within your schedule and allows you to progress. Have them go through the movements with you to ensure you understand them and are doing them correctly.
Timing. Get the timing right! Any change in movement, whether that be in technique or Functional Strength will take time to adapt to, so is ultimately introduced early into your season/program so you’ve made adaptations prior to any specific race preparation is started. In saying that I would still recommend adding them carefully at any stage of training as there is always going to be a benefit – particularly any form of core/posterior chain strength improvement.
Add to existing sessions. Think you’re pressed for time or just want to get started? How about adding some simple body weight movements to your warm or cool down of an existing sessions? We have added some simple movements to our weekly group track session and have seen improvement with all our athletes in their stability and ability to complete these. For example, body weight walking lunges and squats are a fantastic addition a run or bike warm up/cool down. What about some push ups before a swim? There is an extensive list of core movements that can be done before and after a session – Front and Side Planks, Sit-Ups and Crunches, bear crawls, dead bugs, bird dogs.
Below are some basic warm up movements you can add to any session that are a great starting point:
Run Warm Up – 3 rounds of – 10 Walking Lunges, 10 Body Weight Squats, 10x Bird Dogs (Each Side. These turn on the core and help activate the Glutes)
Swim Warm Up – 3 Round – 10 Push Ups, 5x Bear Crawls (5 steps forward, 5 steps back), 10x Dead Bugs (each side)
Bike Warm Up – 3 Rounds – 10 Standing Back Lunge (5 each side), 10 Bird Dogs, Side Plank Raises (10 each side)
Do it. Then Do it again. And again, and again, and again! Like any form of training, the benefits come from consistency! Don’t forget to progress the movements and challenge yourself as you adapt. This can be done by increasing quantity, duration or adding weight to almost any movement.
You have the time. This is a largely invalid excuse in our opinion. Watching TV or flicking through social media? That’s the 10 minutes you could have used to start the process. It’s all about choice!
Ultimately, the benefits of improving your functional movement strength is well documented, for both health and well being along with performance. We all need to adjust our mindset that adding this to our program or lifestyle, or even replacing a session with is is going to be detrimental to our goals and outcomes.
Focus on a positive outcome by reminding yourself that functional movement training helps prevent injury, improves physical and mental health, can help with mobility and functional range of movement and for those that want to go faster, being stronger is going to play a large part in helping you absorb additional load and stress from your regular training!
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Hollow holds (stationary) or hollow rocks (rocking back and forth in this position) help develop all areas of core strength.
Walking lunge with a twist! Working on motor control and core as well as the main muscle groups involved in cycling and running.
The overhead squad is a huge challenge for most endurance athletes. Developing the functional range of movement and good technique is the key to success without injury
Kettlebells are a great tool for improving stability and strength.