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Tuesday, November 18, 2014


“Less is best” is a common weight-room mantra among endurance athletes, whose slight upper bodies are a mark of distinction and pride in their respective sports. Distance runners and cyclists shy away from strength training believing that it will make them stiffer, heavier and slower. But many coaches (led by Oregon Project strength coach David McHenry) now incorporate strength training into their training plans, often expecting even marathoners to lift hard and heavy.

Consider the regimen of Mo Farah, world record holder in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter events who recently notched a sub-2:10 marathon. His two 30-minute weekly gym sessions include heavy lunges and reps of squats and dead lifts with 185 lbs, which is nearly 150 percent of his body weight (he weighs in at a slight 130 lbs).

Two 30-minute weekly strength sessions, each consisting of 10 sets, is the minimum we all should be getting, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. And for good reason. Power movements have been shown to improve markers of athletic performance including economy, peak speed, and late-race kick, and the benefits extend beyond sports and into the arena of life, from anti-aging and pain relief to injury prevention and even life-extension.

When choosing exercises, aim for compound movements involving two or more muscles. Your own body weight is the best place to start. Push-ups, bodyweight squats, dips, planks, lunges and pull-ups all work large muscles while developing the core. There is no need to do sit-ups, a largely useless movement that shortens the torso and strains the neck. Gym rats will love the power tower, which is pull-up and dip-bar in one (with forearm bars for leg raises between sets if you’re really motivated).

Mixing pushing movements like the push-up with pulling movements like the pull-up is a great idea if you’re pressed for time or want to inject a cardio benefit into your resistance session. Because these respective exercises work opposing muscle groups, doing them in tandem (rather than, say, three sets of one followed by three sets of the other) allows for shorter rest periods between sets. Great to keep the heart rate on high.

Social workouts that turn public spaces into outdoor gyms are one of America’s healthiest fitness trends. Workouts include everything from pilates to bodyweight and strength training. In Santa Monica, the city estimates that one of its most popular parks along the Pacific Ocean hosted nearly 150 group fitness classes and personal-training sessions per month in 2013. And many classes are free. Camp Gladiator offers four-week fitness boot camps in more than a dozen cities nationwide including LA. Social-media-organized, the November Project offers high-intensity cardio and strength training workouts in LA, free of charge.

If you are looking to exercise under the guidance of a professional, Fitmob is a newer website whose owner claims to have reinvented the gym for the digital age. Visit the site and connect with personal trainers vetted by the company, and join group workouts in studios, gyms and even nightclubs. The more training sessions you attend each week, the lower the price, from $15 for your first session to $5 for your third and fourth. It offers more than 50 classes per week, everything from yoga to CrossFit.

If like most endurance athletes, you keep track of mileage and elevation for each workout and always have concrete goals to work toward, it helps to construct your strength-building regimen with similar focus. Start by doing the minimum sessions, equal to about 10 sets twice weekly, involving a mix of bodyweight and dumbbell exercises to target every major muscle group. This will develop a strong base. When lifting, choose weights that are 80 percent of the maximum weight you can lift once and work to 10 repetitions before increasing the poundage. Use the 80 percent rule for bodyweight exercises as well. If you max out at 40 push-ups, then consider sets of 30 reps minimum.

Muscleheads in the making can expect to experience significant gains almost immediately. When the gains start to wane, try taking a fitness test. The army and navy have variations that involve a timed run followed by some variation of bodyweight movements. Your results will earn you a percentile ranking based on your age and gender. But if a goal of 100 push-ups in 2 minutes seems a bit arbitrary, consider working with a coach to develop sport-specific strengths. The right coach can take an athlete’s performance from good to great.

Whether you choose a gym, group or solo effort, make sure to mix in some muscle building, even if it means leaving out some miles. You’ll find that a 30-minute run capped off with a few sets of burpees  does more for your fitness and physique than running twice as long. It’s also more fun.

Now go play!

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