Weight Training

Weight training among athletes is becoming more and more popular - and not just in the power sports like football and hockey.  Runners, triathletes, swimmers, etc. are all realizing the benefits of regular weight training.   These benefits include increased strength, better muscular development and decreased injuries, among others.  While most gyms and athletic clubs have excellent facilities and staff to instruct in the proper use of the equipment, many athletes still don't know how to set up weight training programs designed around their chosen sport.   This article will outline the changes one can make in weight training routines during the off-season, pre-season and in-season.  It will not discuss which exercises to do, as this will differ from gym to gym, and it will focus on a typical running/triathlon season.  I should also state that these ideas are based on what has worked for me based on what I've read and researched.  There are other programs that work well, but I tried to put this together specifically for runners with a season that begins in March or April, peaks in July or August, and ends in October.

Off Season - this typically follows the last race of the season, usually in October.  Most athletes benefit from some downtime in this phase.  Downtime helps both the body and mind recover from the race season.  The idea is that you want to rest enough so that you feel like getting back into training.  Some professional triathletes take a whole month off from all physical activity.

Once training resumes, you will want to begin weight training again - but start slowly so that the muscles have an opportunity to adjust to the new stresses and demands of the increased resistance.  Begin with lighter weights for the first few workouts and be prepared to feel stiffness in the muscles for a few days after training.  As you begin to adapt again to the stresses of training (this may take up to 3 or 4 weeks depending on your previous experiences with weight training) you will want to enter a strength phase of training.  The goal of this phase is to increase your muscular strength.  The idea is train with heavier weights and do less repetitions with the weight.  You should aim for 6-10 repetitions, increasing the weight if you can do 10 or more reps at that weight.  Continue to try to increase the weight throughout the entire strength phase.  This phase may last a number of weeks.   If your early season races are beginning in March, consider continuing the strength phase until the end of January.

Pre-Season - this phase encompasses the few weeks before your first race and extends into the early season of the race schedule.  It is designed to increase the muscular endurance in the muscles which you have spent the last few weeks making stronger.  In this phase we change from high weight/low reps to low weight/high reps.  In other words, we decrease the amount of weight we're lifting but we do more repetitions - typically 12-15 reps but we may do even more. 12-15 reps are generally considered the norm for high rep lifting, however some athletes, such as triathletes or cyclists, can benefit from the occasional leg workout where very high reps - 20-50 - are incorporated into the routine to simulate the stresses of sustained climbing.  You can still do the same exercises and number of sets but just change the weight and number of reps.  If you find you can do 15 reps of a certain weight too easily, then increase the weight. Pre-season is also a good time to add Plyometrics to a training program.

In-Season - many athletes feels that once the season begins, they need to stop weight training so they have more energy for sport specific exercise.  But experts in the field such as 6-time Ironman Champion Dave Scott disagree.  In season weight training is geared around increasing the muscles' ability to tolerate lactic acid.  In the same way that Anaerobic Threshold workouts help teach the body how to buffer lactic acid, we can modify our weight training to do the same.  The following program can be continued through the entire season or it can be used in the 4-6 weeks leading up to a peak race.  It involves using a very light weight but the rest intervals between sets are controlled to prevent full recovery.  You choose a weight that is light enough that you can complete all the sets with the same weight.  The short rest periods make the sets go by very quickly so the entire workout doesn't take much longer than your regular workouts  A routine like this will be very tiring in the gym but it has the added benefit of not stressing the muscle fibres as much as heavy weight training so recovery is quicker and there is less soreness in the muscles the day after.  Use this program with the prime mover exercises that you are doing, like leg press, bench press, curls, etc. and then finish the rest of your workout with high rep exercise like in the pre-season phase. The program looks like this:

16 reps wt-lift2.gif (2841 bytes)
  -10 second rest
14 reps
  -10 second rest
10 reps
  -1 minute rest
14 reps
  -10 second rest
12 reps
  -10 second rest
8 reps
  -1 minute rest
12 reps
  -10 second rest
10 reps
  -10 second rest
6 reps

If you've never done weights as part of your regular training program, you can definitely benefit from them.  If you have been incorporating weights into your schedule, simple seasonal modifications like I've outlined above can make a world of difference in your race performances.


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