Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Strength & Health TV - Episode 54: How My Fighters Peak for a Competition.

In this episode I address a question from my friend Bartosz. He asked if I would talk about the 4 week pre-competition phase we use with our fighters, and other athletes, to ensure they are at their peak level of physical readiness on the day of their competition.

This phase is called the delayed transformation phase. The purpose of it is to allow for the realization of the physical qualities developed during the periods of accumulation and intensification prior to the delayed transformation phase.

Basically 4 weeks out I have the athlete take a record in a specific lift we track, for the fighters and grapplers we build it around a deadlift variation. 3 weeks out we use 75% of the previous week's intensity and 2 weeks out we further reduce to 60%. The final week is a light week going into the contest. Accessory work volume is reduced slightly but still pushed into the final week.

If this phase is done properly the athlete will feel strong, recovered and ready to perform at their best.

If you have any questions or suggestions for a future episode,please leave them in the comments section below, and be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel to receive updates on future episodes.

Stay Strong AND Healthy,


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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Strength & Health TV - Episode 53: Product Review - BASD Pulling Blocks

The BASD Pulling Blocks
In this video I do a brief review of a great new product I purchased for my training center, the BASD Pulling Blocks. The BASD pulling blocks are a pair of 25lb plates. The plates allow you to do "block pulls" from 3 different heights without needing blocks. You can pull with the plates from 2", 5" and 8" heights depending on which hole you put the collar of the bar through.

The blocks are solid steel and very durable. The base is 2" wide and they are well balanced. By using these blocks you don't have to deal with the problems of using pulling blocks, mainly loading plates. When your bar is on blocks you can't use a deadlift bar jack and loading plates can be a bit of a pain in the ass. Once you get the BASD's on you can load plates on top of them very easily.

I can't recommend these enough. They are available from Lifting Large:

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Importance of Strength Training for the Endurance Athlete.

Photo by: Pixabay
Strength training and endurance training are rarely mentioned in the same sentence. I recently began working with my friend Allison on her training program as she prepares for her first half Ironman, and after a lot of research was surprised at the lack of information available about strength training for endurance athletes. I have yet to see any articles that promote the importance of a scientifically based strength training plan. Outside of recommending some mediocre circuit training I haven’t found much literature. Which leads me to believe that a) strength training is not important for triathlon and other endurance sports or b) due to a lack of direct experience the community has yet to accept strength and power training as a means of enhancing their performance. I’m guessing it’s b.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on performance enhancement in endurance sports tends to be largely focused on aerobic development. We always hear about VO2 max, aerobic capacity and doing more event work. However, once you have developed efficient and good technique in swimming, cycling and running you need to use other means of general training to get better and one of those means is strength. Yes, even for endurance athletes.

I am currently working with a marathon runner who is dealing with a hamstring injury and the rehab protocol is calling for heavy strength training. I worked with an adventure racer / off-road triathlete who competed in the Xterra Off Road Triathlon and Balance Bar Adventure Racing Series, and his strength training was critical for injury prevention and allowing him to perform at the highest level. I also remember reading an article where Scott Jurek, arguably the greatest ultra-runner on the planet, was talking about using very heavy partial squats (upwards of 400lbs if I remember correctly) as an effective means for strengthening the muscles and connective tissue of his legs to handle the stresses of his extreme running. An overlooked fact here is the improvement in ground forces that occur due to increasing strength and power.

It has long been accepted that strength and power training are important for sprinters. Peter Weyand, Ph.D., conducted a study at Harvard that showed an increase in top running speed resulted from greater ground force production and not more rapid leg movements. It is not secret that sprinters are very strong. Barry Ross, who worked with Allyson Felix on her strength training, has an excellent book, “Underground Secrets to Faster Running” that explains in-depth why strength training is essential for improving speed. But what about endurance athletes.

In Ross’ book he presents a study conducted by Leena Paavolainen, “Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power.” In the consisted of 18 highly trained distance runners with no statistical difference in 5k times prior to the experiment. The experimental group reduced running workout time by 32% and replaced it with a training routine that focused on explosive-strength development, while the control group did only running. After 9 weeks the experimental group all showed statistically better times while the control group showed no improvement. The interesting thing about the study is that even though the experimental group improved their times they did not increase their VO2 max or lactate threshold, both of which according to Ross are believed to be critical for increasing performance in distance runners. The control group did improve VO2 max, yet failed to improve running times. Ground contact times decreased in the experimental group, yet increased in the control group. The study concluded that the combination of explosive strength training and endurance training produced faster 5k times through improved muscle power and running economy. As Ross states, “Increasing ground force through added muscle power decreases ground contact time in distance running just as it does in sprinting.”

Even with this knowledge base, I still see hesitation from endurance athletes when I talk about using heavy strength training to improve endurance sports. There is still the idea that heavy lifting results in a slower, tighter athlete and this is simply not the case. As Paavolainen’s study shows, explosive strength training, when properly added to a runner’s training program, will improve running. I would also note that it will likely help an endurance athlete become more resilient and reduce the likelihood of injury.

The problem is most people think of super heavyweight powerlifters or weightlifters when they hear the word strength. Not only is that ridiculous, it is not the goal. Our goal with strength training should be to improve strength without adding unnecessary body mass. Ross refers to this is “mass specific force” (MSF) or the amount of force an athlete can produce in relation to bodyweight. We want to create the greatest amount of force with the smallest possible engine. To do this, there are some things we need to focus on when implementing a strength training program.

The focus of the program should be on building maximal strength, or performing compound (multi-joint) exercises with very heavy loads, keeping reps in the 1-5 range. There should be a focus on building explosive strength and power by implementing exercises with light weights moved very explosively and by doing various jumps and throws. We also should focus on vary high rep single joint exercises with lighter weights for joint health and to prevent many of the imbalances created by the sport or activity. A strong torso is critical as well, supplemental exercises that develop all the muscles that make up the core (lower back, obliques, abdominals) need a lot of strength development.

When choosing exercises for strength and power we need to focus on the primary movers in the sport. For most endurance sports that will be the hips and legs. Deadlifts and squats are hands down the best choices. If I had to choose one strength movement it would be the sumo deadlift as it great for building strength in the hips and legs.

I am a big fan of using a belt squat machine for squats as the weight is loaded to a belt worn over the hips so there is no compression on the spine and there is a great deal of lower back traction due to the belt pulling down on and realigning the pelvis. When squatting we primarily use box squats. Box squats allow you to sit back placing more emphasis on the hips, glutes, and hamstrings. Walking in the belt squat is a great way to build up the hips and legs as well.

Exercises like box jumps are great for developing power. In addition, because you are jumping up to a box the impact forces are minimized dramatically. Jumps are great for power and explosive strength as it is impossible to jump slow.

In addition to a strong torso and hips, developing strength in the lats is important for the freestyle stroke in swimming, a concern for triathletes. Pull-ups are the best exercise for strong lats and if you are not able to do bodyweight pull-ups, standing in a band attached to the pull-up bar is a great variation as it will de-load your body where you are the weakest at the beginning of the pull and as the band shrinks you will be pulling a greater percentage of your bodyweight as you get close to the peak of the contraction, where the movement is easier to do.

Triceps are important on the pull of the freestyle swim stroke and doing high rep pushdowns with bands builds endurance in the triceps and is great for the health of the elbow joint as well.

Due to the nature of swimming, running and cycling for long distance it is important to keep the lower and upper back strong for posture and to correct a lot of the imbalances developed from leaning forward in the aero position on a bike and from the forward lean in running. Extra work for the upper back and external rotator cuff is important as well. We like to do a lot of high rows or face pulls with lat machines or bands as well as pull-apart and external rotator mobility drills with bands.

The muscles of the posterior chain are the workhorses for running and cycling and you need to develop great strength in the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Reverse hypers are the best exercise I’ve found for lower back strength and health. You need a patented reverse hyper machine from Westside Barbell to do them properly. This machine was created by Louie Simmons and when performed correctly builds strength in the lower back muscles and improves the health of the back by providing traction to the lumbar spine.

Glute hamstring raises (GHRs) are great for building strength in the glutes, hamstrings and calves and are one of the only exercises I know of that work both the hip extension and knee flexion function of the hamstrings in one movement.

High rep leg curls are great for the hamstrings and knee health. We prefer to do them with bands or ankle weights for very high reps.

The muscles of the torso cannot be ignored as the torso is essentially our “power conduit”. This requires for than a few sets of crunches at the end of the workout. The abdominals, obliques and lower back all function to stabilize and protect the spine. Due to this I prefer a lot of static abdominal exercises. A couple of our favorites are BandBell Bar Kayaking and Stir the Pots done on a stability ball. They are essentially “planks on steroids”. I also like rotation exercises like full contact twists in a grappler or landmine, Russian twists, cable and band wood choppers, suitcase deadlifts, and planks / bridges and bird dogs.

The sled is one of the best strength and conditioning tools available. We do a lot of power walking with the sled attached to a weightlifting belt. Walking forward builds the glutes, hamstrings, calves and walking backward builds the quads. There is no eccentric loading in sled pulling so this is great for restoration as well, you never get sore. Using an upper body strap allows you to do any pressing or pulling exercise that you could do in a gym with dumbbells or cables. We do rows, presses, triceps extensions, wood choppers and other abdominal drills, the list is endless. For endurance athletes we like to pull lighter and moderately heavy weights for long distances, 5 minutes or more of continuous pulling at a time. For strength we pull very heavy weights over shorter distances.

Programming is a very individualized thing. This article was written to emphasize the benefits and importance of strength training for the endurance athlete and show some of the exercises I’ve found beneficial with the people I work with at my training center in Atlanta.

Some basic guidelines for strength training include:
  • When training for strength focus on maximal, or near maximal weights, done with low volume for no more than 1-3 rep sets with a total range of 4-10 reps around 90% or greater of a 1 rep max.
  • When training for explosive and speed strength the goal is increase rate of force production in the muscles being trained. Loads of 30-40% and 50-60% of a 1 rep max with an additional 25% in bands attached to the bar is great. If you do not have access to bands use 55-65% and 75-85% of straight weight. Total volume should be around 20-25 reps done in sets of 2-5 reps. I.e. 5x5, 10-12x2, 8x3, etc.
  • When trying to build muscle use single joint exercises with loads that fatigue the muscle in around 8-12 reps per set. Usually 2-4 sets taken to failure or near failure is great for building muscle mass.
  • For joint health do extremely high reps in as few sets as possible with very light weights or bands. Do not plan an emphasis on the eccentric or lowering phase of the lift, as this is where most muscle damage occurs. Keep the reps quick, but controlled, with the goal of increasing blood flow and circulation to the target area.
  • For most endurance athletes two heavy training sessions weekly performed 3 days apart is perfect. One session should focus on maximal strength development, the other should focus on explosive strength and power. After the main lifts move on to the smaller accessory and single joint exercises you need for your goals. Jumps should be done both days building up to 40 reps of jumps per workout. These two primary workouts should only take 45-60 minutes to complete.
  • Smaller workouts lasting 10-20 minutes should be done daily focusing on joint health exercises, flexibility, mobility, and extra abdominal and torso work.
Hopefully this article has shown you the benefit of adding a strength and conditioning plan to your regular endurance training. Not only will it allow you to improve your performance, it will reduce the likelihood of injury allowing for greater longevity in your sport.

If you would like help developing a strength training plan please contact me at If you are in the Atlanta area my training center is located just north of the city in Norcross. I am available for distance coaching and consulting as well.

Stay Strong AND Healthy!


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