By Jim Bryan
Early in my weight training career I was training an average of six days a week. Sometimes twice a day. I was involved in competition in Olympic Lifting, Power Lifting, and Body Building . Sometimes there were non-sanctioned Strongman type competitions. At this time I was chemically assisted but I never felt that it helped. Others did and saw areas of big improvements. But like I said I never felt it helped and don’t recommend it.
Somewhere in 1970 I met Arthur Jones and was exposed to shorter and harder workouts. I was already training hard but the workouts took a long time to complete. I hadn’t learned to “focus” my training yet. Arthur convinced me to stop depending on chemical assistance and showed me how to train harder in a shorter time frame. He also told me about “infrequent training.” After, I was training only three days a week for about 30 to 60 minutes. At first it was mostly on free weights and some machines at Christensen’s Health Club, and on mostly free weights and early prototypes of Nautilus Machines in Deland. When I first met Arthur, Nautilus didn’t exist in reality. It was only in Arthur’s mind. Thus, we didn’t have anything special in the beginning to train on. Free weights, Universal machine, Nautilus Pullover Prototype that’s pretty much it. I was happy to be only training 3 days a week and to me this was “Infrequent Training.” Today you have trainers bragging about only working out now and then, or once a month. It has been accepted that this is “Infrequent Training.” I believe things have gotten out of hand with this thinking.
My thoughts on “Optimal Training”
Three days a week training: I feel that this is the best way to go for most people. It works for body composition, lean muscle improvements, strength, and conditioning. Most people don’t train hard enough to run the risk of over training and three days is not that hard to get in. This can be all weights or a mix of weights and body weight training. Throw in some implements to make things interesting and on your off days get outside and enjoy being active. Don’t be afraid to be active. Practice sensible eating and you should do well.
Two Days a week training: This also works and for very busy people it may be ideal. Also, for the rare few (and I mean few) that train the way we used to in Deland, this is or can be a good frequency of training. Again, you can do all weights or mix with body weight training. It becomes more important to stay active on your non – training days if you are after a “lean look.” You can accomplish your goals of adding strength and maintaining muscle on two days a week training. Some will even add muscle but you need to make these workouts count. Focus your training and try to do as much as you can in the space of your workout. Training should take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Some really hard workouts can be completed in 15 minutes and change.
When you are training only twice a week, “conditioning” starts to suffer in my opinion. I recommend participating in some kind of out door activity. Something like jogging, water skiing, swimming, soccer, surfing, boogie boarding, walking, or biking. Get outside, burn some calories, stay fit and stay active. Twice a week can work but you have to practice sensible eating if you want to shed some fat.
Once a week training: I don’t find this to be optimal. Sometimes you can’t help it. Life gets busy and you can only get one a week in. I feel that you can continue to add strength on one training session a week as long as you REALLY focus on weight progression in your exercises. I feel that body composition suffers for most people. You will tend to get fat and your conditioning will suffer, as well as your “work capacity.” You’ll really have to cut your calories if you want a lean look. So much so, that you may find you don’t have enough energy for a HEAVY workout. Your strength can suffer also. It’s around this area that “Infrequent Training” starts to become too infrequent. You better be active as heck if you only workout once a week or you will become…………………………………fat.
Less than once a week training: Look! I’m going to be honest here. I don’t care how many books or articles you have that say you can succeed on this. What you will end up with is ………Books and Articles.
You’ll have very little muscle, and your conditioning will be zero. You just can not do it in five minutes a day whenever you feel like it as some would have you believe, and you can not do it with workouts that never happen. Having the best Fitness Library means zilch if all you ever do is read and talk your workout. You have to work out! You have to raise your heart rate. You have to spend some sweat and effort. You have to be consistent. You have to pay attention to what and how much you eat. All the best intentions in the world will not make up for lack of effort in the gym.
AND neither will the latest “Fitness Craze.” The experts on the Internet will go on and on about “I use this and I use that” but the bottom line is weight training works. Combine weight training with body weight training and conditioning and just do it. It has worked for over 50 years as I know it and continues to work. Gimmicks come and go but Sensible Strength Training will go on and on. BUT you have to show up, work out, and be consistent! Argue less on the Body Building sites and you will probably find the extra few minutes needed to “Just go lift.” I don’t care how you do it or who’s method you use, “Just go Lift.”
All said and done if you have been training consistently and regularly, don’t be afraid to take some time off to recharge now and then. Best effort equals best results. Not everyone will end up developing “Huge Muscles.” Some will and some won’t. It depends on your potential and effort. AND!!! Women don’t end up looking like a man because they lift weights. So just throw that excuse out the window. Women look good with some lean muscle on them.
TAKU’s NOTE: Thanks to my friend Jim Bryan for once again sharing his insights with us.
1. Have a Plan
It is important to have a list of goals and the steps to reach the goals. Doing this is the key to self confidence and motivation. Keeping a log of how you do in following your plan helps to see what does and does not work for you. This will help you to create better plans in the future. The best logs include not only information about strength and cardio training but nutrition, sleep and motivation as well.
2. Train in cycles
Plan a 6 – 12 month training cycle. It is difficult to maintain top shape or train at maximum levels all year around. We all need periods of physical and psychological recovery. Build an adequate base of endurance and strength before adding work. Peaking for sports performance means increasing workout intensity as well as sharpening technique. This type of training is only used for short periods of time, (4 to 12 weeks), to prepare for competition. After a period of competing there should be a period of reduced training, rest and recovery leading into another cycle of base and strength building which should see you improving on your previous personal bests.
3. Use the Hard/Easy system
For training effect to take place, a period of overload needs to be followed by a period of rest, during which the actual adaptation to the stress takes place. Exercise physiology research has shown that the hard/easy cycle for training needs to be 48 hours or more. It has also demonstrated that alternating hard and easy workouts is more effective training than doing the same workout each day. Thus alternating hard and easy days is appropriate training for all fitness participants and can maximize results while minimizing burnout. The most common beginner mistake is to do the same intensity and the same duration every day.
4. Train specifically
Ask yourself, does this training make sense for the activity I’m planning to do? If not, do something that makes sense. Adaptation needs to be specific to attain your goals. You must train duration specific energy transport systems and you must train volume and intensity specific neuro-muscular responses. This means if you are a boxer, don’t train like a marathon runner. And if you are a marathon runner, don’t train like a power lifter.
5. Don’t train any more than you have to
Efficient trainers are healthy trainers. There are no bonus points for doing a longer workout than you’d planned. Most injuries seem to occur when people feel good and over do it. Remember that how you feel is a poor physiological measure of how you are. Err on the side of conservatism. If you feel bad, do less. If you feel good, stick to your plan. Don’t do more. Always emphasize quality over quantity.
6. When doing cardio, Focus more on speed and intensity over distance and time
The risk of injury from over-training must always be factored against the gains made. By focusing your “aerobic” training on speed and intensity over distance you will receive the maximum physiological improvements possible in the minimum time. You train all the energy transport systems you need for aerobic endurance by alternating bouts of more intense speed-work with active recovery periods, during any cardio activity. By combining intervals alternating slow periods and short fast periods you avoid the risks (not to mention the boredom) associated with the high stresses of long drawn out cardio training sessions.
7. Add variety
Varying a number of aspects of your training avoids injury and keeps you mentally interested. For strength training try experimenting with different modalities such as resistance bands, sand bags, medicine balls etc. For cardio training as well as trying different equipment you can vary pace, distance, courses, terrain etc. For an intense and challenging twist try cross training by combining alternative cardio and strength activities into brief, intense and challenging circuits. This type of training can directly increase your overall fitness and resistance to injury and burnout allowing you to train consistently for long periods.
8. Make your training enjoyable
If you are not enjoying the training, you will not be able to maintain your commitment. Variety, mentioned above, will help. Also consider things like a once a week fitness “adventure” where you try something you have never tried before. Take a class you have been curious about or explore a martial art. Join a sports team an outdoors training group or a run for fun group.
9. Hire a Coach or Personal Trainer
At least educate yourself on training techniques and your body’s responses so that you can coach yourself. If you cannot follow the rules and need more help, hire a Trainer or Coach. A Trainer / Coach should help you set up and follow a program based on your ability and your goals. A Couch / Trainer’s primary goal should be to keep you healthy and motivated.
10. When in doubt, rest
This is the golden rule of training. Do unto your body as you would have it do unto you. Listen to your body. If it is saying, “I’ve got a problem, what now?” The usual answer should be to take a day off, either your head or your anatomy need it.
PAU for NOW
Nutrition. Is there anything out there that is more confusing? High carbs, low carbs, good fats, bad fats, don’t eat at night, don’t eat anything but fruit until noon…It’s enough to make you scream. How can we possibly decipher all the nutritional mumbo-jumbo that is thrown around every day? Each time you turn around there is a new diet telling you what to eat and what to avoid.
Well, take a deep breath and let’s see if we can make some sense out of all this confusion. By the time your done reading, you’ll have at least a basic set of ideas that should work for you. It still won’t be easy. I have been training people for 25 years and I call nutrition, the ultimate discipline.
Let’s get some basics out of the way. We can break our food into a few basic components. Macro-nutrients (meaning Big stuff) and along with the big stuff we get Micro-nutrients (little stuff). Add water and you have your bases covered.
Foods contain calories in the form of the three Macro-nutrients, Fats, Proteins, and Carbohydrates. These calories provide energy for our bodies to move, grow, repair and maintain themselves. Both Protein and Carbohydrates have four calories per gram. Fat has more then twice as many calories with nine per gram. Foods also contain Micro-nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. Micro-nutrients are important because they contribute to the many chemical processes that our bodies undertake for daily living. They do not however provide energy.
When we say energy as it relates to food it just means calories. All food has calories and all calories can be burned to provide energy for the body. When we see something in the store called an “Energy” bar or Energy drink, it really just means that the bar or drink has calories. There is nothing magic about them. Most energy drinks have not only calories in the form of simple sugars but are also loaded with stimulants such as caffeine, guranna (an herbal form of caffeine) or other similar substances. This is where the “energy” comes from in the Zero calorie energy drinks. The above mentioned substances are Central Nervous System stimulants and are providing energy through a series of chemical interactions in the body. If you like to get the buzzed feeling of caffeinated drinks, but don’t like coffee then these types of drinks will do the trick for you. Just remember there are no magic substances in energy bars and drinks that will do anything for you that good, whole food cannot. For the most part these bars and drinks are just glorified candy bars and soda pops and their manufacturers are trying to get you to feel good about eating and drinking them.
I know that nutritional planning is a bit confusing at times. How many meals a day should I eat? Do I need a certain percentage of my daily calories from one source or another? What should I drink and how much is enough? Well, that is what we are here to find out. So let’s set some guidelines that will help us get the most out our nutrition. Keep in mind that what most people lack when it comes to nutrition is discipline and consistency. The following guidelines are not new or magic, they are merely ideas to help you establish a framework from which you may create that disciplined consistency you currently lack.
1. Eat every 2-3 hours, no matter what. You should eat between 4-5 times per day. This does not mean eat giant meals every time you feed; this includes your snacks as well. Think of it more like grazing.
2. Eat some source of lean protein such as eggs, chicken, beef, lamb, turkey and fish, at every meal.
3. Eat fruits and or vegetables with each meal. The more different colors and textures the better.
4. Ensure that your carbohydrate intake comes primarily from fruits and vegetables.
5. Ensure that you get some fats every day. You want these to be primarily in the form of good or “friendly” fats such as those found from olive, flax seed and coconut oils, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, as well as fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines anchovy’s etc.
6. Drink primarily non-calorie containing beverages, the best choices being water and green tea. A good goal for water intake is about half your body weight in ounces a day. So, if you weigh 100 pounds, aim for 50 ounces a day and if you weigh 200, pounds aim for 100 ounces a day. (The rest of you can do your own math).
7. Eat mostly whole foods. This means foods found in their most natural state. There is no such thing as a donut tree and contrary to popular belief; nothing made out of flour (like bread, pasta and bagels) is a source of complex carbohydrates.
8. When you get off track, regroup quickly. Having one bad meal or snack here and there will not have a large impact on your overall success. What does negatively impact you is the snow ball effect. That common feeling of “well I screwed up lunch so I guess the whole day is shot”. Forget that stuff. Your next feeding is your next opportunity for success.
So what does this type of eating look like? Here is a simple way to think about it. To create a healthy plate meal, simply view your plate like a clock. Fill the position of 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock with colorful fruits and vegetables; fill the space from 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock with carbohydrates like yams or sweet potatoes, and fill the area from 9 to 12 o’clock with lean protein in the form of beef, chicken fish and so on.
So, don’t I need to know how many calories I am eating and how much fat etc? The answer is yes and no. For the greatest long term success I would recommend taking a few days and figuring this stuff out. Working with a good nutrition coach can really help. The most important thing however is that you just start making some good simple choices right away. I think you’ll find that when you do, the rest starts to take care of itself.
Here is what a day of this type of eating might look like:
(I’ve included a few examples for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks)
1. Scrambled Eggs and Fruit. 1 whole egg. 2-3 egg whites. Tomato, peppers onions etc (your choice). 1 large orange.
2. Cottage Cheese and Fruit. 1-cup cottage cheese (low fat or non-fat). 2 cups Fresh or water packed Pineapple or Peaches. I Tbsp Almonds (raw).
3. Protein Shake. 2 scoops Protein Powder. 1 cup Strawberries, fresh or frozen. 2/3 cup peaches, fresh or frozen. 1-2 cups water. 1 -1/2 Tbsp Almonds or flax-seed oil
1. Tuna salad. 4-6 oz of Albacore Tuna in water (drained). 1-2 Tbsp of sweet pickle relish (optional). 3-5 Tbsp of celery (diced). 15-20 seedless grapes. 1-1/2 Tbsp Mayo (homemade or safflower). 2-4 lettuce leaves. 1 large apple.
2. Chicken Caesar salad. Romaine lettuce (3-4 cups). Chicken precooked and cooled (4 oz). Parmesan cheese 1 Tbsp (grated). Caesar dressing (2 Tbsp).*
3. Cantaloupe Fruit Salad. ½ of a melon. I cup cottage cheese (low fat or non-fat). 5-10 seedless Grapes. ½ cup sliced Strawberries. 2 tsp Sunflower seeds.
1. Chicken salad. 4-6 oz chicken. 2 tbsp walnuts. 1 apple chopped. 1-cup grapes (cut in halves). 2 tbsp mayo (safflower or home made). 1-cup green beans.
2. Grilled Salmon and Vegetables. Salmon steak grilled (4-1/2 oz). Onions sweet large size (3 thick slices). ½ green pepper (sliced). 1 zucchini (sliced). Green salad (2 cups). I cup Peaches, fresh or frozen for desert.
3. Beef Tenderloin Dinner. 6 oz extra lean beef. Asparagus spears (10 – steamed). 3-4 cups green salad with tomato. Fresh fruit for dessert.
1. Cottage cheese with Pineapple. 1-Cup cottage cheese w/ 1-cup pineapple.
2. Hard-boiled Egg and Fruit. 1 whole egg. 1 egg white. 1 tangerine or orange.
3. String Cheese and fruit. 1-2 string cheese. 1 apple.
If you are serious about your health, you should be serious about your nutrition. Our health comes from the inside out. Feed your body good food, drink water and get enough sleep every day and you have gone a long way to insuring optimal health and high function for years to come. When we eat well it supports everything else we do. It makes it that much more likely, that you will achieve your athletic and aesthetic goals as well as perform at your best in the boardroom or on the mat. Remember, every time you go food shopping is a chance for you to make great choices. Now get out there and get to it.
Bonus Food Shopping List:
Lean Red Meat:
• Flank Steak
• Ground Beef
• Top Round Cuts
Vegetables (not limited to):
• Green Beans
Fruits (not limited to):
Grains & Starches
Sprouted Flour-less Mixed-grain bread
Flax oil/Flax meal
Fish oil (EPA / DHA)
Olive oil / Olives
Macro Nutrient Servings:
Fruit. 1 serving =
1 medium sized fruit, ½ banana, 1-cup berries, ¼-cup dried fruit. 1-cup melon.
Veggies. 1 serving =
½ cup cooked or raw, 1 cup leafy.
Protein. 1 serving =
4-5 oz fish, poultry, pork or lean beef. 1-cup tofu, 1-cup cottage cheese.
Starchy Carbs. 1 serving =
½ cup cooked rice, pasta or grains, ½ cup cooked cereal.
• 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
• 1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
• ½ Tbsp Lemon juice
• 1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
• ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
• ½ tsp anchovy paste
• ½ tsp dry mustard
• ½ tsp fresh ground pepper
Place all ingredients in a jar and shake until blended.
PAU for NOW
During the past several years we have learned a lot about the effects of strength training and body composition. For example, a carefully controlled study at Tufts University showed significant changes in body composition from a basic program of strength exercise (Campbell et al. 1994).
The subjects added three pounds of lean weight, lost four pounds of fat weight, increased their resting metabolic rate by seven percent and increased their daily energy requirements by 15 percent after 12 weeks of strength training.
Research with over 1100 previously sedentary adults revealed similar body composition improvements from eight weeks of standard strength training (Westcott and Guy 1996). The program participants increased their lean weight by 2.4 pounds and decreased their fat weight by 4.6 pounds.
Of course, unfit individuals tend to improve their body composition at faster rates than people who are presently doing strength exercise. Many people want to know if strength training can further enhance body composition in well-conditioned exercisers.
Previous studies have demonstrated that various high-intensity training techniques are more effective than standard training protocols for increasing muscle strength in both beginning and advanced participants (Westcott 1996, 1997a, 1997b; Westcott and La Rosa Loud 1997). As shown in Figures 1 and 2, slow training produced greater strength gains than standard training for both beginning and advanced trainees. As illustrated in Figures 3 and 4, breakdown training resulted in greater strength gains than standard training for both beginning and advanced exercisers. Likewise, assisted training generated greater strength gains than standard training for both beginning and advanced subjects (see Figures 5 and 6).
We have recently examined the effects of combined high-intensity training techniques on body composition changes in well-conditioned participants. The six-week advanced exercise program included slow training, breakdown training, assisted training, and pre-exhaustion training. The 48 subjects added 2.5 pounds of lean weight and lost 3.3 pounds of fat weight as a result of their training efforts, which represented more improvement than we expected from regular strength exercisers.
We have been pleased with our participants’ positive response to the combined approach of high-intensity strength training techniques. Our standard exercise protocol is outlined in Table I.
We observed that many program participants selected the pre-exhaustion technique for their sixth week of high intensity training. Although we do not have data that show this training method to be better than the others, there may be some benefit in performing more pre-exhaustion sessions. Psychologically, changing exercises at the point of muscle fatigue may be more appealing than performing more repetitions of the same movement pattern with less weight or with manual resistance. Physiologically, performing two different exercises for the target muscle group recruits more muscle fibers which may enhance the training stimulus. In addition to more exercises, pre-exhaustion programs require more training time and may therefore be the best high-intensity technique for burning calories.
Table I: Standard Exercise Protocol
|1. M & F||Breakdown (10 reps to fatigue plus 3 reps with 10-20% less weight)||
|2. M & F||Assisted (10 reps to fatigue plus 3 reps with manual assistance)||
|3. M & F||Slow Positive (5 reps to fatigue with 10 seconds lifting and 4 seconds lowering)||
|4. M & F||Slow Negative (5 reps to fatigue with 4 seconds lifting and 10 seconds lowering)||
|5. M & F||Pre-Exhaustion (10 reps to fatigue with first exercise plus 5 reps with second exercise)||
|6. M & F||Personal Preference (Trainee chooses the technique that seemed most productive)||
As many of our intermediate level strength trainees want to improve their body composition, we presently provide high-intensity training programs with more emphasis on pre-exhaustion techniques (Table II). The results are encouraging, but we try to be cautious about overtraining. Our members seem to respond well to six weeks of high-intensity training followed by six weeks of standard training to maintain their new level of strength and fitness.
Although we have not previously provided nutritional counseling to our high-intensity training participants, this would undoubtedly be beneficial for clients who want to lose fat as well as build muscle. A combination of individualized high-intensity strength exercise and sound dietary guidelines should produce significant improvements in body composition.
Table II: High Intensity Training Techniques
|Breakdown Training||Perform about 10 reps to fatigue with standard weightload. Immediately reduce resistance 10-20% and perform about 3 more reps to second level of fatigue.||Complete 10 leg extensions with 150 lbs., then 3 more reps with 120 lbs.||Change resistance as quickly as possible to maximize the training effect.|
|Assisted Training||Perform about 10 reps to fatigue with standard weightload. Trainer assists with 3 post fatigue reps on lifting phase only.||Complete 10 leg extensions with 150 lbs., then 3 more reps – with manual assistance from trainer.||Assistance is given only on the positive muscle action where it is necessary, but not on the stronger nega- tive muscle action when it’s unnecessary.|
|Slow Positive Training||Perform about 5 reps to fatigue with 10% less than standard weight-load, taking 10 seconds for each positive muscle action and 4 seconds for each negative muscle action.||Complete 5 leg extensions with 135 lbs., counting 10 secs up and 4 secs down for each rep.||Be sure to breathe continuously throughout every repetition.|
|Slow Negative Training||Perform about 5 reps to fatigue with 5% less than standard weightload, taking 4 seconds for each positive muscle action 10 seconds for each negative muscle action.||Complete 5 leg extensions with 142.5 lbs., counting 4 secs up and 10 secs and down for each rep.||Use smooth and continuous move- ments, rather than choppy stop and go movements.|
|Pre-Exhaustion Training||Perform two successive exercises for target muscle groups, typically a rotary exercise followed immed- iately by a linear exercise. Use 10 reps to fatigue in the first exercise and 5 reps to fatigue in the second.||Complete 10 leg extensions with 150 lbs., then 5 leg presses with 300 lbs.||Take as little time as possible between the two successive exercises to maximize the|
Table III: Examples of Pre-Exhaustion Exercise Combinations
1. Leg extension followed by leg press. 2. Leg curl followed by leg press. 3. Dumbbell lunge followed by barbell squat. 4. Dumbbell fly followed by barbell bench press. 5. Dumbbell pullover followed by lat pulldown. 6. Dumbbell lateral raise followed by dumbbell press. 7. Dumbbell curl followed by chin up. 8. Dumbbell overhead extension followed by bar dip.
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. Dr. Westcott has written the Muscular Strength And Endurance chapter for the ACE Personal Trainer Manual and has authored several textbooks on strength training.
Campbell, W., M. Crim, V. Young & W. Evans. (1994). Increased energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training in older adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 60: 167-175.
Westcott, W. (1996). Strength training for life: Make your method count. Nautilus Magazine, Spring 5: 2, 3-5.
Westcott, W. and Guy, J. (1996) A physical evolution: Sedentary adults see marked improvements in as little as two days a week. IDEA Today 14: 9, 58-65.
Westcott, W. (1997a). Research: Research on advanced strength training. American Fitness Quarterly, 15: 4, 15-18.
Westcott, W. (1997b). Strength training 201. Fitness Management, 13:7, 33-35.
Westcott, W. and La Rosa Loud, R. (1997). A better way to beef up strength workouts. Perspective, 23: 5, 32-34.
TAKU’s NOTE: This week I offer yet another excellent article from my friend and mentor Dr Wayne Westcott.
Filed under: Coach's Corner, Hybrid Advisors, Training | Tagged: Athletics, Body composition, conditioning, Dr Wayne Westcott, fitness, H.I.T., strength, Training, Variety, workout | Leave a comment »
The following is one in an ongoing series of articles written by Wayne L. Westcott PhD.
Distance running is a great sport that is enjoyed at a variety of levels by millions of competitive and recreational athletes. Whether you prefer to jog a couple of miles through the neighborhood, or are training to complete a marathon, distance running is a highly effective and efficient means of aerobic conditioning. Unfortunately, distance running is considerably less beneficial for your musculoskeletal system. Injury rates among runners are extremely high. In fact, at the high school level, cross-country runners experience more injuries than athletes in any other sport, including football and gymnastics.
Why is a non-contact sport like running such a high-risk activity? Actually, running involves an incredible amount of contact, but it is with road surfaces rather than other athletes. Every running stride places about three times the weight of your body on your foot, ankle, knee and hip joints. These landing forces may also stress your lower back structures.
The repetitive pounding encountered mile after mile produces a degree of micro-trauma to the shock-absorbing tissues. Under ideal conditions, these tissues recover completely within a 24-hour period. However, there are numerous factors that may interfere with normal recovery processes, eventually resulting in weakened and injury-prone tissues. These factors include longer running sessions, faster running paces, shorter recovery periods between workouts, more downhill running, more hard-surface running, more racing, more general fatigue, and undesirable changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
Of course, you may wisely take steps to reduce the amount of tissue trauma and decrease your risk of running-related injuries. Such precautions include making very gradual increases in training distances and speeds, taking sufficient recovery periods (particularly between hard training sessions), selecting user-friendly running courses (soft surfaces and level terrain), competing in fewer races, avoiding over-fatigue, and paying careful attention to proper nutrition and sleep.
However, one of the most effective means for minimizing tissue trauma is to develop stronger muscles, tendons, fascia, ligaments and bones. This is the primary reason that every runner should perform regular strength exercise. Consider the results of our four-year strength training project with the Notre Dame High School girls’ cross-country and track teams.
Notre Dame High School Strength Training Program For four consecutive years, 30 distance runners from Notre Dame High School participated in a basic and brief strength training program during the summer and winter months between their cross-country and track seasons. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they performed 30 minutes of strength exercise (12 Nautilus machines) that addressed all of their major muscle groups. Each of these years, the cross-country team won both the Massachusetts and New England championships in this sport. More important, during the four years that they did strength training, only one girl experienced an injury that resulted in a missed practice session or meet.
Strength Training Benefits
The Notre Dame runners realized that a sensible strength training program provides many benefits for runners. These include the following:
- Greater muscle strength
- Greater muscle endurance
- Greater joint flexibility
- Better body composition
- Reduced injury risk
- Improved self-confidence
- Improved running economy
While the first six strength training benefits should be self-explanatory, you may be intrigued by improved running economy. In a 1995 study at the University of New Hampshire, the women cross-country runners who did strength training experienced a significant improvement in their running economy. They required 4 percent less oxygen at sub-maximum running speeds (7:30, 7:00, and 6:30 minute mile paces), meaning that they could run more efficiently and race faster than before.
With so many advantages, why do so few runners regularly perform strength exercise? Consider these four concerns that keep many runners from strength training:
- Increased bodyweight
- Decreased movement speed
- Less fluid running form
- Fatigued muscles
Let’s take a closer look at each of these issues.
Very few people who perform strength exercise have the genetic potential to develop large muscles. This is especially true for distance runners, who typically have ectomorphic (thin) physiques. Strength training increases their muscle strength and endurance, but rarely results in significant weight gain.
Decreased Movement Speed
With respect to running speed, our studies and many others have shown that greater strength results in faster movement speeds. We need only look at sprinters and middle distance runners to realize that strength training has a positive impact on running speed, as essentially all of these athletes perform regular strength exercise.
Less Fluid Running Form
Running involves coordinated actions of the legs and the arms, and one cannot function without the other. Your right arm moves in mirror image with your left leg, and your left arm counterbalances your right leg in perfect opposition. That is why it is almost impossible to run fast and move your arms slow or to move your arms fast and run slow. By strengthening the upper body muscles, you more effectively share the running effort between your arms and legs, resulting in more fluid running form.
It is true that a strenuous strength training session can cause a considerable amount of muscle fatigue that could adversely affect the quality and quantity of your runs. That is why we recommend brief strength workouts that do not leave you feeling enervated or exhausted. Remember that you are strength training to enhance your running performance, not to become a competitive weightlifter. Our program of strength training requires just one set of exercise for each major muscle group, which does not take much time and does not produce much lasting fatigue. You may also choose to strength train only one or two days per week, which should make muscle fatigue even less likely.
Runners’ Strength Training Program
The strength training protocol followed by the Notre Dame athletes, and all of our runners, is a comprehensive conditioning program that addresses all of the major muscle groups in the body. We do not attempt to imitate specific running movements or emphasize specific running muscles, because this typically results in an overtrained, imbalanced, and injury-prone musculoskeletal system.
For example, the calf (gastrocnemius and soleous) muscles are used extensively in running. Due to their involvement in every running stride, many people think that runners should strengthen their calf muscles. Indeed they should, but it is even more important to strengthen their weaker counterpart, the shin (anterior tibial) muscles. If you strengthen only the larger and stronger calf muscles they will eventually overpower the smaller and weaker shin muscles, which may lead to shin splints, stress fractures, achilles tendon problems, and other lower leg difficulties. With this in mind, our runners always conclude their strength workouts with a set of weighted toe raises to strengthen the shin muscles and maintain balance within the lower leg musculature.
Some people believe that runners should complete numerous sets and many repetitions with light resistance to enhance their endurance capacity. However, this is not our purpose in performing strength training. Remember that running is best for improving cardiovascular endurance, and that strength training is best for increasing musculoskeletal strength.
Generally, muscle strength is best developed by training with moderate weightloads (about 75 percent of maximum) for 8 to 12 repetitions per set. However, distance runners typically possess a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers, and therefore attain better results by training with about 12 to 16 repetitions per set. You should add 1 to 5 pounds more resistance whenever you complete 16 repetitions in good form. One set of each exercise is sufficient for strength development.
There is no reason to train with fast movement speeds, because training fast will not make you faster and training slow will not make you slower. Exercising with controlled movement speeds maximizes muscle tension and minimizes momentum for a better training effect. We recommend six-second repetitions, taking two seconds for each lifting movement and four seconds for each lowering movement.
Research supports three non-consecutive strength training sessions per week for best results, but fewer workouts can produce significant strength gains. Our recent studies have shown two weekly workouts to be 82 percent as effective and one weekly workout to be 69 percent as effective as three-day-per-week strength training.
Summary of Strength Training Guidelines
- Exercise all of the major muscle groups
- Perform 12 to 16 repetitions per set
- Add one to five pounds whenever 16 repetitions can be completed
- Perform one set of each exercise
- Use controlled movement speeds (six seconds per rep)
- Train one, two or three non-consecutive days per week
Recommended Strength Exercises For Runners
You may develop muscle strength with a variety of exercises using free-weights or machines. The following section presents recommended strength exercises for the major muscle groups.
Although barbell squats are the traditional leg exercise, most runners may do better to avoid placing a heavy barbell across their shoulders. Dumbbell squats are an acceptable alternative, but it may be difficult to hold enough weight to appropriately stress the large leg muscles.
Our recommendation is leg presses on a well-designed machine that offers a full movement range and good back support. It may be advisable to precede leg presses with leg extensions that target the quadriceps and leg curls that target the hamstrings. One set of each exercise is sufficient, but you may perform an additional set if you desire.
Upper Body Muscles
The typical exercises for the upper body are bench presses for the chest muscles, bent rows for the mid-upper back muscles, and overhead presses for the shoulder muscles. These are acceptable exercises, but are much safer when performed with dumbbells rather than barbells. For example, because there is no back support in a barbell bent row, the stress to the low-back area is 10 times the weight of the barbell. By using one dumbbell, and placing your other hand on a bench for back support, this exercise can be performed more safely and effectively.
If you have access to machines, we recommend chest crosses for the chest muscles, pullovers for the mid and upper back muscles, and lateral raises for the shoulder muscles. These machines require rotary movements that better isolate the target muscle groups. If you prefer linear movements that involve more muscle groups, well-designed chest press, seated row, and shoulder press machines provide combined training for the upper body and arm muscles.
The basic exercise for the biceps muscles is the arm curl, performed with barbells, dumbbells, or machines. Training the triceps involves some form of arm extension, either with free-weights or machines.
A good means for working the biceps and upper back muscles together is chin-ups with bodyweight or on a weight-assisted chin/dip machine. A good means for working the triceps and chest muscles together is bar dips with bodyweight or on a weight-assisted chin/dip machine.
Machines provide the best means for safely and progressively conditioning the muscles of the midsection. In our opinion, the abdominal machine and low-back machine are key exercises for developing a strong and injury resistant midsection. We also recommend the rotary torso machine for strengthening the oblique muscles surrounding the midsection.
If appropriate machines are not available, the basic trunk curl may be the best alternative for abdominal conditioning. The recommended counterpart for the low-back muscles is a front-lying (face down) back extension. Although both of these exercises are performed with bodyweight resistance they are reasonably effective for strengthening the midsection muscles.
The neck muscles maintain head position throughout each run. As the head weighs up to 15 pounds, this is an important function. In fact, the first place where many runners fatigue and tighten up is the neck/shoulder area. We therefore recommend the 4-way neck machine to strengthen these muscles. If you do not have access to this machine, perhaps the best approach is manual resistance. That is, place your hands in front of your forehead to resist slow neck flexion movements, and place your hands behind your head to resist slow neck extension movements.
Table 1 presents the recommended strength training exercises for an overall conditioning program that should be beneficial for runners.
Table 1. Recommended Strength Training Program: Basic Exercises
|Major Muscle Groups||Machine Exercises||Free-Weight Exercises|
|Quadriceps||Leg Extension Machine||Dumbbell Half-Squat|
|Hamstrings||Leg Curl Machine||Dumbbell Half-Squat|
|Chest||Chest Cross Machine||Dumbbell Bench Press|
|Upper Back||Pullover Machine||Dumbbell Bent Row|
|Shoulders||Lateral Raise Machine||Dumbbell Overhead Press|
|Biceps||Biceps Machine||Dumbbell Biceps Curl|
|Triceps||Triceps Machine||Dumbbell Triceps Extension|
|Low Back||Low Back Machine||Back Extension (Bodyweight)|
|Abdominals||Abdominal Machine||Trunk Curls (Bodyweight)|
Once you have mastered the basic exercise program, you may want to add some of the exercises presented in Table 2.
Table 2. Recommended Strength Training Program: Additional Exercises
|Muscle Groups||Machine Exercises||Free Weight Exercises|
|Quadriceps & Hamstrings||Leg Press Machine||Dumbbell Lunge|
|Chest & Triceps||Weight-Assisted Chin/Dip Machine||Bar Dip|
|Upper Back & Biceps||Weight-Assisted Chin/Dip Machine||Chin Up|
|Internal & External Obliques||Rotary Torso Machine||Trunk Curls with Twists|
|Neck Flexors & Extensors||4-Way Neck Machine||Manual Resistance Neck Flexion & Extension|
|Calves||Calf Machine||Dumbbell Heel Raises|
|Shins||Weight Plate Toe Raises|
The main objectives of a strength training program for runners is to decrease injury risk and increase performance potential. For best results the program should be high in exercise intensity and low in training time. One good set of 12-16 repetitions for each major muscle group is recommended for a safe, effective and efficient exercise experience. One or two training sessions per week are sufficient, although three weekly workouts produces greater strength gains. Each workout should take no more than 20-30 minutes depending upon the number of exercises performed. The key to productive strength training is proper exercise technique, which includes full movement range and controlled movement speeds. When you make every repetition count, a basic and brief training program should increase your strength significantly (40-60 percent) over a two month training period.
TAKU’s NOTE: Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, and editorial advisor for many publications, including Prevention, Shape, and Club Industry magazines.
This week I would like to highlight another excellent book covering evidence based exercise methodolgies. Body By Science, written by Doug Mc Guff and John Little, is one of best books I have ennountered for explaining the theory and reasoning behind Brief, Intense, and Infrequent training. This book is well written, informative, and goes into detail about the science behind the authors recommendations, as well as detailing exactly what to do and how to do it.
To order your copy of Body By Science please click here: Body by Science
Body by Science is not a book of “opinions,” but rather a review of peer-reviewed scientific literature and a discussion of the basic science that accounts for the literature’s findings regarding the role of exercise in human development, performance and longevity. And, for the first time ever, every point and recommendation is supported by the appropriate reference from the medical/scientific literature, all of which are referenced in the book. Body By Science is a book that will serve as the “standard” in the field for accurate, honest, verifiable exercise. A legitimate “must have” for anyone who takes both their time and their fitness goals seriously.
FROM THE PUBLISHER:
Body by Science challenges everything you thought you knew about exercise and takes you deep inside your body’s inner workings–all the way down to the single cell–to explain what science now knows about the role of exercise in human health. With the help of medical diagrams and step-by-step photos, exercise scientist Doug McGuff, M.D., and weight-training pioneer John Little present a revolutionary new workout protocol that fully leverages the positive effects of high-intensity, low-frequency weight training, while avoiding the negative effects of traditional aerobic-centric exercise.
By using a proper science-based approach to exercise you can be on your way to achieving the following in as little as 12 minutes a week:
Build muscle size and strength
Optimize cardiovascular health
Ramp up your metabolism
Increase insulin sensitivity
Manage arthritis and chronic back pain
Build bone density
- Reduce your risk for diabetes, cancer, heart attack, and more.
TAKU’s NOTE: Over the last year or two I have perosonally experimented with this style of training with myself, and my clients. I find it to be both extremely effcient, and highly effective. Many of my clients are experiencing excellent results in both strength and fitness, while participating in only one or two very brief workouts per week. For more information about this type of training visit the BODY BY SCIENCE home page.