Alright, the 3rd installment of the off-season talk. We've already discussed what the purpose of the off-season is, as well as the fact that there really is no off-season (that is, if your goal is improvement!). This next blog answers the question: what should you be doing to help get better for next year?
Last week I ended by informing you I'd let you in on a little secret that most endurance athletes don't prioritize...but they should. The answer: STRENGTH. For more specifics, see a previous blog entry on why STRENGTH MATTERS. Yet over & over I talk with athletes who spend hours doing long miles/heavy volume far above quality distance & effective strength sessions. If you really boil it down, speed comes down to 2 parameters: cadence & force. If your proper cadence is dialed in (and they are different for each sport!), then the only other factor to consider is how much force you can generate with each swim stroke, pedal turn, or running stride. Technique & efficiency are also important, but they're for another discussion.
So what to strengthen? First of all, it depends on the individual. Do you have a chronic injury that is limiting your ability to be consistent with training? There's a good chance of a biomechanical issue present with your body and/or form. Often, at it's root, this is a strength (or lack of) issue. But how do you know what muscle(s) is causing the problem? The most accurate way would be to have a musculoskeletal assessment done by someone who is trained in assessing the bod, ie, a physiotherapist who's familiar with your sport. He/she/I will take you through a series of specific tests to find out what the limiting factors are with your body and how they affect your sport performance. This would allow you to see whether it is a joint/flexibility/myofascial adhesion problem versus a muscular weakness issue that needs to be addressed. Pain alters movement and poor movement hinders performance. Again, each individual is different, so what ails one athlete may not be the issue with another.
So, what should be strengthened in every endurance athlete? Although everyone is slightly different, the general answer: everything on the back side of the body. For the swimmer the latissimus dorsi & rotator cuff muscles are critical in developing a strong pull through the water. For the cyclist, weakness of the gluteus maximus muscle & low back (with an over-reliance strictly on the quadriceps) which are critical limiters in developing full power. And for the runner it's the glute max, hamstrings & calfs. Basically the opposite of what you see in the gym, with the jacked-up heavy pushers who want to impress with their pecs, abs & biceps (and VERY occasionally quads). But really focusing on the posterior chain will make you a better endurance athlete. For a strength exercise program tailored specifically to you, take the time to have someone trained look at your strengths, weaknesses, joint limitations & muscular tightness. Because a better moving person is a better moving
athlete. And a better moving athlete is one that is competing closer to their full potential. Strength really does matter.
Come back next week for part 4 of this series, which focuses on when your training season should start and what that should look like. Stay tuned.