26 January 2011

Big Steel Challenge

January 25
Some thoughts on the gym and what to expect if you endeavor to really challenge yourself in there.
As I've mentioned previously I've always considered myself somewhat of a gym rat even though I raced most of my pro career at 70-73kgs (154-160 lbs.). At 6ft. tall that's not exactly a bundle of muscle. This process started in my teens as a swimmer when I weighed in at approx. 62kgs at the same height! No wonder I spent many hours in the pool freezing my ass off - I was one scrawny dude.
Anyway, through the years I've learned to change the quality, volume and emphasis of my gym work to make it suit the period of training or racing I was in. I always believed there was a place to do some strength training at each point of the year even though many times that just meant a little maintenance work.
As a coach I've tried to get the athletes I work with to understand how they can benefit from doing some strength work in the gym and get them to buy into the idea of making it a high priority in their training.
Here's the main idea that I feel is important here - EVERY athlete has something to gain in there whether it be strengthening a specific movement pattern, improving muscle firing sequence, specific weakness or just speeding up metabolism.
In support of that idea - most athletes have a certain tolerance for the tedium of s/b/r training and that's a real factor in determining their optimal training load in any of the 3 parts of triathlon. We can add significant training load in the gym which can help add stimulus without threatening burn-out. As a coach I've found that continually asking people to just suck it up and find a way to adapt to longer or more strenuous training isn't the best approach.

When under-taking a challenging strength training program its logical and appropriate to adjust the training load of the s/b/r components to allow the athlete to have enough time and energy to adapt to and make the most of the gym work.
We simply cannot s/b/r as much, as hard or as good as normal when we're thrashed from strength training. Its a case of taking a step back in order to take 2-10 steps forward.
  What I do and usually recommend others do is to stick to a general pattern of hard day/easy day or hard day/1-3 easy days.  I view strength work as a way to make a hard day harder so generally put any other hard lower body work-outs on the same day or even back to back with the gym session.
I'm lucky enough to train at fitness complexes that have gyms and pools so I can do them together.
Many people who live in real winter climates probably train at facilities that have everything they need for s/b/r/gym training.

A good pattern to use if you have the option to train at a great fitness complex like this is to set up your week like this:
Monday - upper body strength training + solid swim
Tuesday - lower body strength training + quality bike or run or both
Wednesday - easy day or longish aerobic session with no significant muscular force required
Thursday - like Monday
Friday - like Tuesday or wait until tomorrow
Saturday  - like Tuesday or longer session(s)
Sunday - easy day or long aerobic day

The athletes I work with will see a very familiar pattern here!
Obviously there's a lot of scope within that pattern to cater to all abilities and periods of emphasis.
But it does include 4 trips to the gym which for many people just isn't realistic.  2 trips to the gym per week can be very effective and doing something is usually a hell of a lot better than nothing.

I've read various opinions and studies over the years that conclude strength training isn't advantageous to endurance athletes. I read the forums, I listen to other coaches give their thoughts on this topic (more on Brett Sutton later....... ).
This absolutely doesn't jive with my experience as an athlete or a coach or with the coaches that I respect and use as a sounding board. Going back to my post on genetics influence on training - yes, I do acknowledge that there is a large range of response to strength training. The key is to find what works for any given individual.

As I go through this month of trying to really load up on the total resistance I'm hammering my body with in the gym I find I'm s/b/r 'ing slower. I'm as sore and tired as I can remember! Even when I was racing the length of New Zealand at last year's Epic Camp I don't think I ever got quite this sore and certainly I haven't felt this tight in recent memory.
But I expected that and welcome those sensations. At age 50 its extremely difficult to put on any significant muscle but I'm trying. Its as easy as anything to lose muscle though, and I don't want to get to my 60's and 70's and look like something the cat drug in.

The goal is to get to "Fridge Magnet" status!   The guy I have a photo of on my fridge has lived there for over 10 years and inspires me every time I see him.  When I actually get my body to the point where I feel it's "Fridge Magnet" status I will commence to get some made and will commence taking orders!
Until then I'll just keep hammering away.