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MSC Performance
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Strength Training for Endurance Sports

This week I was having a conversion with a colleague regarding the importance for a strong strength foundation within endurance sports, such a long distance running or cycling. 
If you’re an avid runner yourself or know somebody close to you that pounds the pavements three to five times per week but dismisses the fact that strength training will benefit their performance, then please continue to read. 

I would like to paint a picture; imagine getting up multiple mornings to slip on your Asic running trainers, put on your windbreaker jacket and select shuffle on your Spotify account. You leave the warmth of your bed to rack up serious mileage every week. You start your mornings with a clear head, enter the office on top form and excel with your job. You’re the boss. 
You become an aerobic monster. You start to win weekend fun runs… you become the ultimate weekend warrior within your world.  

So, what’s next? You sign up for an obstacle race, which you swear never to do again. You struggled to jump, climb and pull yourself up. You fail at some of the most basic of human athletic capabilities. The last 3 miles of running were slow and miserable. You entered the pain cave!
 After the race you re-evaluate your fitness. 
“Surely I should have smoked that with all the running I do” you mutter. Unfortunately, continuous running will only get you so far. You need to mix up your training.    
So, what should you do? A good place to start is reducing the amount of running sessions you do each week and start to introduce strength work. 

So why is strength important? Strength, in particular absolute strength is the maximum force that an individual can produce, which is not relative to his or her body weight. If the forced produced was in the context of their body weight, the concept would be called relative strength which is important, but out of the context of this blog post. 

Muscular endurance is an expression of muscular strength, which is series of sub-maximal contractions that require the individual to produce force through every stride, cycle or row. To put this into context, the more absolute strength you have at your disposal, the less the percentage of force required for sub maximal contraction. It’s important to emphasise that no matter what sport you practise, the individual needs a solid base of absolute strength to improve other aspects of fitness. 

If you are looking to improve the “sprint” towards the finish line after a competitive half marathon race, you need to be able to produce more force through the ground to generate power which is an expression of how fast you can apply strength. 

You need to ask yourself this question. Are you practising running your long-distance run, or are you training to improve your performance? 

Stephen Paea in 2011 broke the NFL scouting combine record for the maximum repetition bench press test at 225lb (102.5kg). He boasted an impressive 49 reps. However; Paea has a reported 550lb (250kg) max bench press, which means he was working at just over 40% of his capabilities. If you look at these stats from a training standpoint, Paea was training within the muscular endurance threshold due to the percentage and overall reps achieved.  

Alex Viada, overall performance badass is a competitive powerlifter and endurance athlete. He squats over 315kg but has a one mile run time of 4:15 seconds, a five-kilometre run time of 17:18 seconds and a half marathon at one hour thirty-one minutes. He also dabbles in ultra-distance… pretty impressive, no?
The point I’m trying to make is that the stronger individual is literally doing less work than the weaker athlete because of the amount of force available at their disposal. If you are working at a lesser percentage of your maximum than your opponent, you are able to jump further or higher, apply more force into the ground to increase horizontal velocity whilst running or sprinting and generate a stronger pull through the lower and upper body on the erg. 
Get strong, be efficient and improve your performance. If you’re not strength training, you will not reach your full potential. 

I would recommend starting on two to three full body strength training sessions per week which incorporate exercises related to running mechanics.
The box squat is a great exercise to train overcoming inertia which is required to actually start moving at a faster rate. The box squat requires an eccentric load onto the box followed by a slight isometric pause into a concentric contraction; it’s a perfect strength builder. 

Another addition is the lunge with either bodyweight or weight which will increase strength unilaterally. Asymmetries can be targeted to produce bilateral overall strength.  Running is unilateral in nature, so it seems reasonable to select an exercise based on the mechanics. 

Sled dragging is also a very good way in which to produce strength. Being able to drag a sled will limit eccentric loading, thus improving your recovery. Moving the torso into different angles will benefit you within this exercise as they replicate the acceleration and top speed positions. 
An upright posture will produce more posterior chain activation due to the initial heel contact whilst stepping.  However, a torso angle of forty-five degrees will change the mechanics so that you drive with your mid foot, which will emphasis more Quadricep recruitment.  

For the upper body, I would add in unilateral dumbbell rows and bench press to strengthen flexion and extension mechanics of the shoulder. Anti-flexion, extension and rotation core exercises should also be routinely added within the latter section of the session. 

What have you learnt?

  • Strength training will make you more efficient at endurance sports.

  • You can use a smaller percentage of your absolute/ maximal strength to improve work capacity. 

  • Make sure to implement progression when strength training.

  • Pick exercises that will help your sport

Coach Josh James

Technical breakdown to the snatch.

When an athlete snatches, the bar is moved from the floor to overhead in one motion. If you can do this, it means you can snatch. And then, there comes a bit more of a technical side to it. But the way I teach the snatch is very simple. I believe there is no need to overcomplicate things from the beginning because it slows down the learning process. In this blog I will take you through the phases and how to utilise them in order to master a perfect snatch!

Overhead squat

The technical model of the snatch starts with the bar on the floor, which then the athlete lifts over his head, receiving it at a bottom squat position and finishes with the athlete standing up with the load remaining overhead in a recovery phase. In order to complete this movement, you first need to be able to overhead squat. For a decent overhead squat, it requires an athlete to have a good shoulder, hip and ankle mobility. If you trying to overhead press a barbell from behind the neck for the first time and you are all stiff, well yeah, it won’t happen just like that, but ask yourself how much overhead work have you done? Some people are naturally more flexible and that’s just how it is; some of us need to work on certain things a bit more. And then still, even if your mobility seems sufficient to perform many movements without limitation, mobility work is vital for healthy and strong joints, so you should implement some into your training anyhow. If your issue isn’t the overhead position but to actually squat with the barbell remaining behind the neck, then it is very likely to be the capacity or your hips and ankles. In that case, you can use a snatch derivative – the power snatch,  and catch the bar in a mid-squat position while working on getting into a full depth with consistent training alongside some mobility drills. The overhead squat in its nature is a unique full body exercise for core strength, stability, flexibility, and can work great for an athletic development. More about overhead squat and its benefits may come soon from the one and only – Max Hartman!

Snatch balance

The snatch balance is essentially a quick drop into the overhead squat. It starts in a standing position with the barbell behind the neck, follows with an athlete bending the knees, driving up into a triple extension and getting quickly under the bar into a squat with the arms locking out into a fully straight position. Snatch balance = the catch phase of the snatch. Using it in practice, an athlete can adapt to heavier load over the head in the bottom squat position. Therefore, if your pulling phases are quite strong but you struggle to remain stable in the catch, heavy single snatch balance could help you. It is also a good drill for improving speed with getting under the bar, so conversely, you can implement it as lighter triples or doubles.

Triple extension

The state of triple extension is when your ankles, knees and hips are fully extended. Allowing a barbell to travel in the vertical direction will further allow for smooth transition.
During this phase the bar should feel ‘weightless’ and travels as far as the amount of force that is being generated by a lifter from the ground. A full triple extension occurs after the second pull and if we are talking about pulling you don’t actually lift the bar with your arms, they only direct the bar path. All the power is generated against the ground. Thus, your starting position is crucial as much as every phase of the lift.

Starting position

Your set up is more important than you would think! Have you ever thought why weightlifters use hook grip? Gripping your thumb around the bar helps to keep your arms fairly relaxed but mainly, it locks the bar safely. If you are doing reps on snatches, always make sure you set your starting position on point. Sometimes if you miss a lift can be related to the starting set up. Bear in mind one thing, this position is not comfortable so if a coach or somebody who is watching you, is giving you a few cues, and you move from being comfortable to feeling very uncomfortable, that is probably better set up. Shoulder slightly over the bar, chest up, back tight, bar close to your shins, hips higher than knees, elbows locked outwards, head forward and weight distributed towards forefoot, and you ready to move into the first pull!

First pull

First pull is a phase where your knees start to extend (posterior knee drive) while maintaining straight arms and back. A very important thing is to remain the angle of your torso constant. This phase finished just above the knee where the transition/ double knee bend/ scoop through occurs.

Transition 

During this phase the bar travels from above the knee (hang position) to the hips (power position). The biggest acceleration of the lift must occur at this phase, and therefore, there is a need to drive your extended knees back to the front (bend them again). The bar must meet the hips with the knees bent and your torso in an upright position with your arms still remaining straight. This will allow the bar travel vertically from the hip and allow an athlete to achieve a full triple extension. If the bar wouldn’t meet the hips, the second pull can still happen but it will limit the extension and so the athlete would have to chase the bar in order to catch it, which then leads into jumping forward (in most cases). Therefore, it is crucial to master all the phases.

Second pull 

As mentioned above when the bar meets the hips at the power position, the athlete can now start extending the ankles, which starts with getting onto the tip toes, following that, the elbows starting to bend, extending the knees and hips with the elbows at the highest point. During this phase the bar becomes ‘weightless’ and it travels as high as the amount of force that has been produced from the bottom and the transition.

Catch

When the elbows reach the highest point with the ankles still fully extended, the athlete starts to transfer body weight downwards until the arms extend. Adjusting a wider stance will allow a greater depth of a catch. At this point the weight should be distributed towards rear of foot. It is vital to remain tightness in your upper body because now there is a need to stand up – known as the recovery phase. The lift doesn’t finish with the catch, an athlete needs to be able to stand up in a controlled manner.

Recovery

The recovery phase would be essentially your overhead squat. Again, you need a decent amount of strength but also a few technical points. Lead up with your chest and torso upright.

It is very common that when athletes is being taught the lift through the segmented phases, they are very likely to find it difficult to then perform the movement in its full motion. I believe the athlete needs to have an understanding of what the movement looks and feels like. People can learn a lot by just observing and imagination the processes. Show your athletes the lift, emphasise some cues and let them do it. Don’t let them think too much about it because they will get confused – get the bar and lift it up. Simple. If they understand this and can do it then observe them a bit more and think why they are choosing to move that way. Find solutions and keep practising. It is good to work on the phases you really struggle with but remember that you actually need to apply it in a full lift. For instance, if you bend your elbows too early, and you are trying to fix it with doing lots of pull, and high pulls, you may start controlling it better when doing these derivatives alone but when you then trying to snatch, the early bend still occurs. Hence, try to put this in a complex of pull + snatch. And this applies for any derivatives you are going to utilise; lift off, pulls, snatch balance, pause snatches etc.

That was a little bit about the snatch. It is very similar with the clean. If you would be interested in a break-down of clean and jerk, let me know, and it could be the next next blog.

Hope you enjoyed reading this blog. Even though you may not be a weightlifter or be interested in weightlifting, you may have learnt something new!