The benefits of strength and conditioning for endurance athletes are well-documented and ultimately translate to better performance at races. And yet, in spite of this, many still fail to prioritise strength and conditioning within their overall programme because of time constraints. In this blog I suggest a practical way to ensure you’re fitting in just enough strength and conditioning to perform your best when it matters most, on race day.
Components of Strength & Conditioning
Whilst nearly everyone is familiar with the term “strength & conditioning”, not everyone appreciates that there are several distinct components to it. Let’s start by examining what these are:
Resistance training is any exercise that causes your muscles to contract against an external resistance in order to increase strength, power, hypertrophy (muscle growth), and muscular endurance.
Mobility allows you to move as efficiently as possible. That means better performance and less risk of injury.
Flexibility is the ability to move muscles and joints through a full normal range of motion. Flexibility helps your performance and posture, promotes efficient movement, prevents incorrect body alignment, maintains appropriate muscle length and balance, and also decreases the risk of injury.
Stability is the ability to control your body position from head to toe during movement, enabling you to generate optimum power and transfer force along the kinetic chain.
Plyometrics, is a type of exercise training that uses the speed and force of different movements to build muscle power. Often described as explosive training, plyometric training helps you run faster and develop more power because you are training your anaerobic system, increasing your cardiovascular fitness, and building strength more efficiently than you would with simple bodyweight exercises.
Balance is the ability to maintain your center of gravity over your base of support. Balance exercises improve your ability to control and stabilize your body’s position and help to prevent injury.
Time Efficient Strength & Conditioning
The ideal strength and conditioning program would incorporate all of these workout components, but for most of us we simply don’t have that much time available. So this is where “Exercise Snacking” comes into play, and idea that I have blogged about before.
“Exercise Snacking” starts with identifying the key areas you specifically need to focus on to increase your performance, pinpoint the exercises you need to do, and then add them to your workouts as short additional components. Another approach is to take 30second to 2min breaks frequently during your day and just very quickly do one exercise of one component. This will reduce the need for getting changed, showering and turning the exercise component into a full blown event. Much more time efficient and with good selections of exercises can be hugely beneficial
Example Pre-Workout Drill before your main run session
Drills are an excellent way to cover many of the modalities discussed above and are relatively easy to fit in before your main discipline specific training. A great example is executing the arabesque drill before a running session. This drill improves your balance, strengthens the glutes, hip stabilizers, quads, hamstrings, and core muscles.
Example Post-Workout Drill after your main run session
It can also be beneficial to add carefully selected drills to the end of your discipline specific training . An example would be to do calf raises after a running workout. A combination of calf raises and deep stretching will help with strength, flexibility, stability, and mobility.
These are usually aerobic exercises that last for a very short period of time. An example of an effective micro workout: five repetitions of four-second cycling sprints every hour during the workday, equating to 160 seconds of exercise in total. If you are working from home, you can hop on the turbo at the beginning of each hour for a quick sprint! While this isn’t an example of strength and conditioning, the concept of micro workouts could easily be translated to incorporate S&C workouts. Similar to the TABATA training protocol, the key to making micro workouts effective is to ensure that are of anaerobic intensity.
Being creative with your programme and adding in S&C micro training can help ensure you integrate strength and conditioning, enabling you to decrease risk of injury and perform better on race day. Ultimately strength & conditioning delivers the greatest performance gain when we *do* the sessions rather than *talk* about them 😉