Distance running and weight lifting are two things that a majority of people would think are polar opposites. When most people conjure up visions of distance runners, they think of skin and bones running around in slightly offensive short-shorts. Weight lifters? Those are the guys that rock the just-got-out-of-bed hairstyle because their biceps are too big to take a comb to their head. And let’s not even mention the tank tops, bro. Now that I have equally offended both parties involved, let’s get down to business.
I’m an avid believer in weight lifting for distance runners, and NOT the typical 3 sets of 15 that are usually prescribed. Distance runners need to go heavy. Contrary to popular belief, this will not result in the athlete “bulking up” and slowing down. With proper program design - reps, sets and rest - lifting becomes a cornerstone for building speed and preventing injury. We use weight lifting for regeneration after hard track workouts. Weight lifting puts the body back in a positive recovery balance, transitioning the body from the breakdown reactions induced by running to the rebuilding and recovery processes.
How heavy is heavy?
Load is not the only variable that is important for runners and speed development. Speed of movement is just as important in a runners’ resistance training. Lifting heavy weight at a slower pace recruits a lot of muscle fibers, which has its benefits. The true essence of weight training for speed, though, is being able to couple and uncouple the muscle quickly while controlling and stabilizing the weight. Coaches need a good eye to spot the right balance of weight and speed of movement (if that’s not you, find someone who can and learn the difference - it’s critical to your athletes development).
When is enough enough, but not too much?
Regularly lifting after hard sessions poses a common problem: how much should the athlete do that day? My athletes know my obsession with monitoring them using both subjective and objective measures. Wiring them up to the Omegawave Sport each morning tends to give it away. It’s the doctor in me: I have to hear it, see it and measure it. Like health care, coaching is both an art and a science. So while I trust my instinct most of the time I prefer having the hard data to back me up. So when I got an email a month ago asking me what I knew about PUSH and was told they'd be in Austin for SXSW … yes, I was pretty pumped.
How can distance runners 'Keep Pushing'?
We usually lift 30 minutes to 1 hour after our track workouts, and it's hard to predict how much energy a workout is going to take out of the athlete. We program our strength sessions with the weight, reps and sets the athlete needs to do for the day. But with three athletes with three very different skill sets, strengths and weaknesses, the workouts can have three very different effects. Sprint and over-speed workouts take more energy out of Sarah. Anaerobic training hits Danielle the hardest, while longer aerobic workouts take more energy out of Natalie. They then bring (sometimes drag) these different levels of fatigue into the gym. I rely on my eye to monitor the lift and analyze form, speed and perceived exertion. PUSH will let my human optical failings off the hook, quantifying and storing metrics for each workout. Not only that, but we’ll be able to correlate speed around the track to force production and movement velocity in the weight room. Coming off of a hard workout, we’ll know when to “tough it out” or when to take off 5-10 pounds. We’ll adjust the workout to ensure the athletes maintain goal force and velocity across the entire session. This translates into maintaining velocity around the track, which is our number one goal. Better yet, we’ll make those changes as needed when we are fatigued, keeping us further from over training and injury, and in the zone we need to hit our performance goals.
For a portion of our training year we focus on strength endurance: highly specific circuits where the lift, weight and work-to-rest ratio are closely monitored. I've long wanted to find an easy way to know exactly the appropriate work volume to maintain this workout’s quality, particularly by ensuring the athlete’s explosiveness stays consistent throughout.. When an athlete is able to knock out a few more reps without undue stress it indicates increasing strength and endurance. Particularly for middle-distance runners, this prepares an athlete for race situations where the ability to maintain high power output and then surge while fatigued can make all the difference.
PUSH will become an important tool to refine our strength programs and prevent injuries and overtraining in our athletes. An instrument that collects all the metrics of your lifts and allows the coach to dial into that sweet spot is invaluable in a sport where fractions of a second separate the podium from the field.
Needless to say I'm stoked to add the PUSH Band to our training, and hope to see plenty of other runners taking their weight training to the next level. Who would have thought a bunch of skinny kids in tight clothes would be so into strength training tech?
Dr. Noah Moos, DC, is a integrated medical specialist who combines chiropractic, acupuncture, soft-tissue work and the latest tech in treating his patients. He is the women’s coach at the Austin Track Club.