Blog by: Todd Gilmore, Ironman Coach
The best fitness and endurance training programs are built on SIX key principles: Individuality, Specificity, Progression, Overload, Adaption, and Reversibility. By using these principles, an exercise program can be planned that improves performance, skill, ability, and physical fitness. Specific strength training can add to endurance performance in more ways than one. Note a few definitions for the discussion.
- Muscular Strength is the “power” that helps to lift and carry heavy objects.
- Muscular Endurance is the muscles capacity to perform repeated contractions under load for extended periods of time.
- Cardiovascular Endurance, is the bodies efficiency to deliver oxygen to the working muscles.
- Flexibility, the capacity of a joint or muscle to move through its full range of motion thereby maintaining economy of movement.
For any strength program to be effective in endurance sports, the power gained must specific and be able to be captured or used for long periods of time. The cardiovascular efficiency must be sufficient for the muscles to continue to contract for long periods of time. At the same time the economy of movement, must be maintained over long periods of time.
The principle of specificity states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce the desired effect, improved performance. Essentially, specificity in training means that you must perform the skill in order to get better at it. This principle is important because applying specificity correctly will allow one to have a focused, efficient and effective training program that will lead to the desired performance gains.
Endurance sports are those sports that require 2.5 hours of more of activity in one event. In such sports, the importance is speed, after being fatigued. The athletes overall strength contributes fatigued speed significantly. The muscular strength and muscular endurance must become one, strength endurance. Training specifically in the sports movement under load will increase strength endurance.
Pending the sport the following examples are strength endurance activities.
- Swimming with hand paddles
- Cycling at high effort with low cadence, or climbing at low cadence
- Running on hills or trail
- Functional Body weight training in the movements
- Descending sets, meaning start hard and get easier over time thereby pre-fatiguing the body in the discipline.
- Adding loads or weight to the body during activity
In endurance sports, fatigued speed is the goal. A strong body, in all aspects of the sport will fatigue less. The importance of this strength is to maintain economy of movement. In running for example, as a runner fatigues they often slouch and reduce running cadence. This may lead to over striding and thereby over loading the legs as one possible outcome of fatigue or poor strength. The loss of running economy, is a down ward spiral of more fatigue, largely related to poor economy of run technique. In a worst case this can lead to injury.
Every sport and nearly all activities we do as an individual rely on core strength. A strong core is essential to sit a desk correctly and to run, play squash or other sport. Any strength program must include core strength. Furthermore, this core strength should be specific to the sport. For example, a simple plank is a great starting point for core strength. However, a side from sitting at a desk, a stationary plank is of little benefit since no sport is in a stable “plank” position. A specific core strength program should incorporate movement to work the whole core. A variety of these movements are essential to a stronger core.
The progression of a functional specific strength program should be such that an athlete is challenged to complete a particular functional body weight movement. This over load leads to greater adaptation. Once the athlete is able to master a particular strength activity or sequence, change to more compound movements. Yet again, once these are mastered, introduce bands, lightweights or garments, like LILA EXOGEN, coupled to less rest between movements. This will challenge the body to become strong and endure the sessions. This path leads to greater strength endurance.
There is often a debate of when to do the strength work. This should depend on your goal and when your endurance event is. If your event is months away, a standalone strength session, or conducting the strength session following a short cardio warm up is suitable to which ever is more convenient to the athlete in question. In this manner the muscles are “fresher” and the athlete may be better capable to complete any activity at higher level. However, as the endurance event approaches, the best value for the time is to conduct the strength work during or before the cardio activity. The objective of an endurance athlete is fatigued speed. Therefore the strength session ought to be done prior, maximizing strength gains, then performing the sport in question in a fatigued state.
Completing strength training during an activity is difficult. Only LILA EXOGEN can truly achieve this. Other mechanisms like ankle weights, heavier clubs, gloves or rackets, alter the patterns of motion. These “training loads” become less specific the greater the difference to competition and practice load. Such heavy nonspecific loads can in fact lead to adverse neuromuscular adaptations related to economy of movement in the sport being practiced.
The smart endurance athlete or coach will plan training to induce fatigue prior to the sport specific training sessions. Examples of this are completing a quality functional body weight strength activity then going on to practice the sport, as discussed. This pre fatiguing of the athlete simulates the end of event feelings and can make the hours spent training more valuable to the endurance event.
Other means of achieving the pre fatigue is a series of hard efforts early in an endurance activity followed by race pace in the last portion of the activity. This descending workout is another way to strengthen the athlete specifically as they train.
Adding LILA EXOGEN to any of these suggestions above provides another specific variable to improve strength. This final variable is weight. The ability to progressively load the athlete heavier over time, with a product such as LILA EXOGEN is invaluable to strength endurance.
The final equation of strength is patience. Many fail at this and expect significant results in a month. Success and change in our bodies typically take 3 – 6 months of consistency and compliance to a training plan. Building a strong athlete, takes time. One can never really take more than a few weeks off or they must extend the preparation time to the next event. During an “offseason” or periods of uncertainty like Covid-19, a specific strength program can be invaluable to success later in the athlete career.
Todd Gilmore, P. Eng.
Todd is an IRONMAN Certified Coach and LILA WRT Master Trainer. Professionally he is registered Professional Engineer in his home country of Canada.
Todd has been involved in endurance sports since 2009. In his first triathlon he was nearly last out of the water. He found a passion plus a cycling and running enjoyment that carries through to all he does today. Todd is an adult who learned to swim efficiently. As a child swimming was not a priority. However, through repeated practice he now completes Ironman swims in under 1:05 with a goal to improve further. Todd’s cycling passion has lead him to cycle the length of Vietnam through the inland mountainous route. His running habit is fueled by bike fitness.
In 2016, Todd adopted a novel training plan with light weight resistance training, Lila. www.lilamovetech.com is a compression garment permitting all your workouts, regardless of sport, to be conducted under light loads. By conducting your training under light load, at your speed, you become stronger and faster.
Athletically in Triathlon, Todd has won 3 smaller Triathlons in Vietnam in 2012 and 2013. 2016 was by far his best year. It did not start that way however with a DNF at his first 70.3 of the year. Patience, a plan and experience to execute a good plan, resulted in 2 Age Group wins, an Age Group Podium and Personal Best Ironman time.
The first of the 2016 wins was the Ironman 2016 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship in Cebu where Todd won the 45-49 age group. He followed this up by winning the 45- 54 Age Group at Challenge Nha Trang (Half). The peak came in Hawaii at the 2016 Ironman World Championships. Todd smashed his personal best Ironman time by 38 minutes. This resulted in a finish time of 9:56:37, on a race 115th fastest 3:21:07 marathon. (A side benefit was that this run time also qualified Todd for the 2018 Boston Marathon, in an Ironman.) Five weeks later, with a goal to return to Kona in 2017, he started Ironman Malaysia in Langkawi. Fatigue was an issue, however Personal Best Swim and Bike times with a 3:32 marathon resulted in his second sub 10 Ironman at 9:58:35 and a 3rd place in his 45-49 Age Group.
These results were a product of continuous improvement coupled to a strong plan. Todd seeks to instill this consistency, planning, patience and work ethic into his clients. Making you a better you then a better athlete.