04 May 2015

Strength Training

This blog post has 2 parts - a short overview of what I do in the way of strength training and the real reason I decided to write this... a rant! Note: I am NOT a certified personal trainer or certified strength trainer. (I'm not a doctor, lawyer, or IT expert either but that's probably not relevant here!)

As my blog readers may know, I had a self-inflicted bike crash 2 1/2 months ago. One of the things I could sort of do shortly after the injury was do strength training, albeit with many modified movements. I have to give credit to Diane Buchta, my go-to strength trainer, who's knowledge and understanding is always current, broad, and detailed. I didn't see her after my injury for advice - she had already taught me that there are "work arounds" for many things that you do in the weight room. They may not be perfect substitutes but work arounds can keep you in the game. And I desperately wanted to be doing something, even though pain management and healing were the top priorities.

WHAT I DO: Strength training is an often overlooked component of training that can be beneficial for a triathlete. It does some important things for you. It builds your strength which can be tapped into during training and especially racing as you fatigue. It helps allow you to recruit more muscle fibers to utilize during your event. And, maybe most importantly, it can, when done properly, build strength which in turn helps provide stability around joints that are in motion. This further helps to prevent injury. Just as training (swim, bike, and run) are periodized over a year, my strength training is broken into phases.

I try to strength train three times a week during a typical week, though the 3rd session is limited to "core" plus one or 2 extra moves I don't do consistently. My exercises are a combination of free weights, machines, and body weight exercises. While total body movement exercises are popular these days and do have added benefits, in the interest of safety and/or convenience not everything I do conforms to that ideal. The muscle usage and movements are nearly all specific to triathlon and fortunately that tends to be a pretty well-rounded workout! I work the upper body (biceps, triceps, deltoids, lats, scapula area) using a combination of dumbbells and pulley machines. Lower body (quads, hammies, calves, hip adductors/abductors, glutes) tends to mostly be done on machines for convenience, though there is a move or two using dumbbells and barbells. What I call core - even though that's a less than precise term - uses mostly my own body weight along with the use of things that cause some instability, e.g. BOSU ball and fitness ball.

As we get older (I'm 59 this year? Yikes!) I know that strength training is even more important. It's often stated that we lose muscle mass as we age. Although this is true if you reached your peak muscle mass as a fine tuned machine in your 20s or 30s, it's also true that you can make progress and increase strength if you go from not doing any strength training to starting a program with the idea of gaining strength. I still surprise myself once in a while when I can up the weight on a particular exercise. While it's true that I have stalled in progressing with some movements, that may also simply be a function of not pushing harder to do more. Since Just like with any race, if you've done the training the biggest limiter tends to be what's between your ears

RANT: I typically visit the weight room at my YMCA 2-3 times a week to do some sort of strength training. Two things cross my mind each and every time I'm there. First, I think of my guru coach who "showed me the way" with what to do and how to do strength training for triathlon. Second, WITHOUT FAIL I see someone lifting incorrectly. Typically what I see is a reduced range of motion on the exercise they're doing, be it free weights or machine weights. COME ON!!! DO IT RIGHT! These people typically move the weight anywhere from about half the normal range of movement all the way down to less than 20%! Biceps curls, rows, bench press, leg curls, back extensions - you name it and they screw it up.

Some of these people are obviously most concerned about how much weight they're lifting, form be damned. They can "row" 8 weight plates on the machine, for example, but if I were to ask them to do the full range of motion they would have to cut back to at most 4 plates.  Chances are they would never voluntarily do that because their ego won't let them do less. Instead they fool themselves into thinking they can do the exercise at "8". It almost makes me cringe to watch them. I bite my tongue (or mumble under my breath) and shake my head because it's none of my business. But if I was their coach they would certainly hear about it!

There are many benefits of strength training for triathlon and for life in general. This becomes more and more critical as the years go by. If you get on a strength training program, GET SOME HELP. Pay an expert for a session or series - get someone who can get you set up in a program. Diane Buchta, my teacher/coach, is a knowledgable expert. Or look to another experienced personal trainer with a good background who works at your gym or YMCA. Talk to Joey Morstad, a Team Challenge Triathlon alum. I am also a resource with a few years of experience, though I'm not certified by NASM, ACE, or some of the other fitness industry organizations.

Just please... DO IT RIGHT!!!

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