Maintaining Strength in Season
Balanced Movement Studio
The general wisdom for endurance athletes has been to build strength during the off-season and then try to maintain those strength gains as one enters into the event season. An inherent challenge to this strategy is that the off-season is short and the in-season / competitive season is long. It is important to note that in-season refers to not only the competition season, but also the period of the year in which the majority of your exercise is acquired via your preferred activity. Maintaining some level of supplementary workout is equally important for recreational athletes as it is for those competing in events.
There are two equally big considerations for planning in-season strength work: What to do and when to do it. How often is simple, research indicates that a minimal frequency of two times per week is needed to maintain strength levels. Increased frequency can be beneficial, however trying to maintain off-season strength workout intensity with competition and activity training can lead to unrealistic time demands, no recovery time, over-use injury and sub-optimal performance.
The ‘What to do’ question is probably the most important. Since you will devote most of your time to your chosen activities, the muscle groups that are most active to perform those activities are getting plenty of strength building work. The important muscles to focus on during strength workouts are the muscles that support your activity. Using this perspective, all workouts become ‘core’ workouts. ‘Core’ being defined as a functional concept, not an anatomical location.
For running, workouts need to target the muscle groups that: hold you upright during single leg stance (hip abductors, adductors & rotators); maintain a stable torso / pelvis relationship as you run (abdominal obliques, transverse abdominus & quadratus laborum); and hold the torso and shoulders erect over the pelvis (spinal extensors).
For cycling, workouts should focus on the groups that: stabilize the shoulder girdle over the handlebars (serratus anterior, trapezuis); maintain a stable pelvis and torso (abdominals, quadratus & spinal extensors); and shift pelvis for handling (hip abductors, adductors& rotators).
In swimming, maintaining strength in the supporting muscles can be crucial for healthy shoulders. Important groups to include are: the muscles that stabilize the scapula to the torso (lower trapezius, rhomboids & serratus anterior); the muscles that position and stabilize the arm (rotator cuff); and the muscles that keep you erect in the water (spinal & hip extensors, and obliques).
As a general rule, one should have at least as many individual workout routines as event activities in which you are participating. In the triathlete example below, separate workouts for run, swim and cycle are utilized.
The ‘When to do’ is influenced by the ‘what you do’ decisions. If your workout is structured around the supporting muscles for an activity, then the workout timing should fit into the activity training schedule in such a way that you are never overly fatigued in the supporting muscles during a day when you have hard activity training to do. A sample triathlete training schedule with supplemental strength workouts inserted is shown below.
3-week workout template
Intermediate level Triathlete in Pre-Competitive Phase (8 weeks before 1st major event)
S: swim; B: bike; R: run; W: strength workout
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Week comments
R: hard S: aerobic
R: easy S: hard
R: hard S: aerobic
R: easy S: hard
R: hard S: easy
R: easy S: aerobic
R: aerobic Recovery week
Three week cycle: third week as recovery week (lower volume and intensity)
Intensities: Easy (recovery) / Aerobic (steady to moderately hard) /
Hard (intervals approaching race intensity)
Our thanks go to Jay Crooker of IronCoach.com for supplying the sample training schedule information into which we inserted the strength training examples.
(Photos: prone rotator cuff and scapula stabilizer exercises)