Resistance Training- Part 1

I speak to a lot of people in the clinic who are suffering from injuries, many are involved in regular activity ranging from running, triathlon, all the fooball codes, dance and CrossFit to bowls and beach walking. Everyone would like exercise to be easier, have less pain with daily activity, improve their performance and reducing the frequency of injury. Mention weights or resistance training though and you get some interesting looks and comments. Endurance athletes are usually concerned about bulking up and runners are also of the opinion that to get better at running all you have to do is run more miles, but is this just going to make your existing problems worse and is there a smarter way of working?

Let’s run through what resistance training can do for us, how we can manipulate training to get the results we want and what are some of the options available.

Effects of Resistance Training

Resistance training offers an array of benefits that can be extremely beneficial in preparing the body for high forces involved in sprinting but will be equally beneficial in strengthening the body for the repetitive loading of endurance sport.

These benefits including:

Increased muscular strength

Increased connective tissue strength

Increased bone density

Improved muscular co-ordination

Increased power

Increased functional range of movement

and yes……

Increased muscle mass!

The big question everyone wants answered is ‘Will I become a beefcake if I do weights?’

The not so straight forward answer is that it depends, not just on what you do, but how you do it.

We can see from the many elite distance runners that spend a good amount of time in the gym doing conditioning exercise that this isn’t the case. A familiar example being when Mo flashes the Mobot, his lean, chiseled guns barely cast a shadow yet the strength and power needed to put in a 52 second final lap in a 10000m race is clear?

There are various factors we can manipulate in the design of a conditioning program that will determine the overall training effect including:

• The amount of load

• The duration of loading

•The frequency of loading

• Training volumes overall

• Nutrition

•Recovery

• Environmental factors.

Most people are comfortable with the concept that doing more reps of a lighter load will improve endurance and doing fewer, heavier reps will lead to larger strength and size gains.

People are less familiar with the effects of exercising slowly, particularly eccentric exercises, where there is a controlled lengthening of the muscle under load. This puts muscles under longer periods of high loading and will develop strength quickly but with the possibility of developing bulk and reducing speed.

Performing exercises quickly will help to develop power and the higher the load and the quicker the movement the greater the power developed. This has benefits in terms of performance but also brings higher risk of injury.

Don’t be too quick to judge any of these options based on their individual effects as each will be useful at different times and in various combinations.

Endurance based exercise will resist the development of large amounts of bulk so think about your training volumes across your whole program not just the number of reps of a particular exercise.

If you are maintaining high training volumes eg running high mileages, building up to lifting heavier loads in the gym will lead to larger increases in strength but is unlikely to develop lots of muscle bulk. On the other hand, if you are only managing small volumes of running, resistance training with higher reps and lighter loads can be used to supplement you muscular endurance while avoiding further impact and the chance of adding unnecessary bulk.

Slow controlled exercise (including eccentric and isotonic loading) is effective at improving neuromuscular control as the nervous system is required to switch small amounts of muscle on and off in a very coordinated way to give a smooth lengthening of the muscle under load. Physio’s use these type of exercise in injury rehab and conditioning for several reasons:

• Regain muscle mass after injury induced wasting

• Developing muscle mass/strength

• Improve neuromuscular control (relates to stability)

• Rehabilitation and prevention of tendon injury.

While you are likely to put on some muscle mass the most notable change is likely to be an increase in muscle tone, which you see as improved shape and definition. The other important thing to consider is the change in body composition with reduced body fat and an increase in lean muscle mass which rather than being useless weight contributes to maintaining form and executing extra muscle is going to be contributing to moving you forward.

Nutrition

The importance of nutrition in performance and recovery is very clear and while not my area of expertise, from working with sports scientists, coaches and reading on the subject, a high protein diet is widely advised with an increase in carbs and protein soon after exercise to aid early recovery. Recovery is the key to tolerating more frequent high intensity training. An increased percentage of energy derived from carbs leads to increased strength indicating a need to manage nutrition for individual sessions but also to periodise your nutrition as you would modify your conditioning and training volumes and intensity throughout the season as you build towards key competitions.

If any nutrition experts would like to take this on I am happy to be corrected and I think everyone could benefit from a better understanding of diet and performance.

Key Principles of Resistance Training.

Planning

Your conditioning program should be developed in a similar way to other parts of a structured training program, where your lead-up to key events are periodised.

Once you decide on your long-term goals you will break up your preparation into manageable chunks, each with a particular focus and short term goals.

Eg a conditioning, pre-competition and competition phases

This could involve higher volumes of exercises early in the season, building to more difficult exercises, higher loads and more dynamic exercise before cutting back on volume leading into your key races.

Program Design

It’s a funny thing that runners will often skip leg exercises arguing that they do enough leg exercise through running so just work on upper body strength.  Another popular approach is to do either upper body or lower body in each session.

I have always had sessions that included upper and lower body exercises, along with abs and back exercises for trunk control. This makes sense to me. Running is an activity that demands a great degree of strength and control from the legs, benefits from a powerful arm action and requires trunk and pelvic control to join it all together, so I think each conditioning session should reflects that.

Programs will develop over time to include more functional running specific exercises which involve larger movements, higher loads, increased speed in more challenging positions.

When beginning a conditioning program there are lots of basic exercises which will be safe and useful (stay tuned for our next blog), but to approach this side of your training seriously it is worth investing in a coach with conditioning experience or a conditioning coach with track & field experience to design a program for you, update it and make sure you can do it correctly. Don’t assume your personal trainer will have learnt anything about running in their REPs training.

Technique

Technique is the most important thing to consider in the execution of your exercises. All new exercises are a new skill and most people are not great at feeling movement so if you are in a position to be taught how to do exercises it is definitely worthwhile and visual feedback can help to get your form right.

If you are training in the gym, don’t worry about weight, that will take care of itself as you get stronger.

You will see plenty of people lifting heavy weights with bad form because it’s just too heavy. The exercises will be less effective and you will introduce a greater risk of injury.

Progression

Typically, a program will begin with more general exercises which will address mobility and strength issues while teaching the movement patterns that will be required for more specific, higher level exercises.

This will be closely related to your training plan and what your current focus is. The exercises selected will be determined by your response to previous work, the level of skill achieved and lastly, the load will be determined by your current strength levels.

You could be in the situation where you learn movements very well but are not very strong so you may be able to perform higher level exercises with good form but just with a low load. This example is relevant to teaching lifts to young athletes where skills can be learnt and load developed slowly over years as they mature. This touches on the contentious topic of weight training for children and young teenagers which deserves a blog of its own so stay tuned for that.

In the next blog we’ll look at the 2 big reasons why every runner should be doing resistance training: Injury prevention and improved performance. Then we will look at some of the options that are available and run through examples of exercises to get you started.