In lieu of this thought, I've changed the way I'm getting to the gym. It's only about 1.12 miles away from my house. I'm going to run there in recovery mode keeping my heart rate under 150 bpm, and run back for speed. If I only go to the commercial gym 3 times per week, that is still 6.75 extra miles per week. Over the course of a year, that's an extra 350 miles that I'm running. That is HUGE.
This can be applied to other things. Do you have tight hamstrings? Stretch them out for 5 minutes 3 nights per week. If you needed to carry that on for a year, that would be 13 hours of hamstring stretching!
What ever it is, doing something for very brief intervals on a regular basis can add up to a very significant amount over time. It may not be the optimal way, but it's an easy way to get a lot of extra work in. You can spare 15 minutes a week, right?
In my not so humble opinion, the jerk is often overlooked when it comes to strength training. I'm not talking about this guy:
I'm talking about the Olympic Weightlifting maneuver known as the split jerk. I'm sure you've seen it a few times during Summer Olympics highlights where large men throw bar bending weights above their heads or from a CrossFit video where smaller people throw not-so-bar bending weights overhead numerous times.
The Olympic lifts are often lauded as great developers of speed and power. The thing is when most people talk about the Olympic lifts, they mean the clean and the snatch. (Yes the snatch and the jerk are actual olympic competitions. You can't make this stuff up. The IOC is obviously not comprised of 13 year old boys.... or is it?) In discussing those, it's even their "power" and "hang power" variations that are most often discussed because the full versions require a lot of technique and a fair amount of flexibility. They are great power developers because they require a such a powerful hip extension that some people even manage a jump while bringing the weight to the shoulders or overhead.
What a lot of people tend to overlook is that a jerk requires just as powerful of a hip extension and isn't just a pressing movement. Even better whereas a clean or snatch start in a bent over position, the jerk starts in an upright position and proceeds to a brief bend in the knees before the explosive hip extension to drive the weight upward. It is almost identical to the movement you'll see on athletic fields and courts all over the world. An athlete will dip down slightly and then, taking advantage of the stretch reflex, explode into a jump to catch a ball, spike a ball, block a shot, make a shot, etc. Really wherever there is running and jumping, you'll see similar movements.
Take a look at a good split jerk here:
Now take a look at good vertical leap:
If you're a stimulation over simulation person, this may not be important to you. I do think it's important though. If your body can get used to that movement with hundreds of pounds on your shoulders, then it should be able to explode upwards when there is no weight present.
Now I will only breeze over the proper execution of the lift. There are plenty of more qualified people to explain that in text, pictures, and video all over the web. This is snagged from documentation I have from US Olympic Weightlifting Team coach Jim Schmitz. The barbell should be resting on your deltoids and clavicles against your throat with your elbows up and in front of you. Stand erect. This is the start position. Now bend your knees and lower your body straight down about 3-5 inches and quickly drive through your legs propelling the barbell off your shoulders with your arms. This will cause you to rise up on your toes. As the barbell passes your head, split your legs forward and backward; one leg goes forward about one foot in distance in distance and one leg goes back about two feet. As the feet land, the arms lock the barbell out over head. This is the catch position. Now recover the erect position by pushing back with the front foot and stepping up with the back foot while maintaining the barbell overhead bringing the feet back in line.
Power is kind of an ephemeral concept to a lot of folks, so let me touch on that too. Power and speed are really expressions of strength. They are just strength performed in very small windows. Let's say your foot only contacts the ground for 1/8 second while sprinting. Even if you can produce a prodigious amount of force in a 1/2 second window, only a small portion of that can be produced in the 1/8 second window. Pictures help this explanation a bit. Bear with my MS Paint graphs... The explanation may help.
Fig A. Fig B.
The charts above are expressions of force produced over time with a line drawn at the 1/8 second window discussed above. Fig A represents a normal expression of this force produced where it takes a bit of time to reach a maximal muscular contraction. However Fig B represents an expression of this force produced by somebody with more explosive power. The same amount of force is being produced, but the rate at which it is produced is A LOT faster. The person in Fig B will be able to apply that much more power in the short 1/8 second window making them run faster, jump higher and further, and hit harder.
Lifts like the jerk train your body to generate more force in a shorter period of time as do the other olympic lift variations and plyometrics. Programming these movements can be discussed later, but what you are going for is a maximal muscular contraction in a short time. By this very definition, you’ll be using a weight you can only lift 1-5 times and you should be fresh and well rested between each attempt. I know it’s common to see things like this programmed within circuits where you are doing many reps mixed in with other exercises. For endurance or work capacity that’s all well and good (and debatable), but for power that is very sub-optimal.
Think about it. If you can do something a lot of times whether it is reps of an exercise or a certain speed on a sprint, then it is NOT a maximal muscular contraction, and maximal muscular contractions are what we are looking for here. There is a reason why the fastest people on earth will rest long minutes between each sprint attempt and why the strongest olympic lifters on earth rest a long time between attempts. To train speed and power well, you need to fresh and well rested between each attempt.
Anyway, I hope you think about adding the jerk to your training if you do need to train speed or power. For a good programming option see Wendler’s 5-3-1 system.
For Olympic Weightlifting insruction, I’d recommend finding a competent coach. For a reference to have at home, you can’t go wrong with Jim Schmitz’s video series.
If there is one thing that the Tough Mudder New England held on Mt Snow, Vermont taught me, it’s that I had a very large, glaring hole in my training. That hole is the art of the climb. I would say “hill training”, but I do hill training. These were no hills; there was a mountain. If the Spartan Races’ Beast in Killington, VT or their Death Race are any indications, then there will be a growing number of events on mountains
Typically my hill days would consist of loops up and down hills on the streets or the trails. This suited me perfectly well on courses that were motocross tracks. I could put out hard to sprint to the top of the hills and then recover on the way back down. It did not come close to preparing me for sustained climbing I experienced at the Tough Mudder on Mt Snow though. That more closely resembled a trail I’d hike in the White Mountains to summit a peak than any racing course I’ve seen. Now if you have mountains that you can trail run nearby, please stop reading. Go out and run those on a consistent basis. Just please remember to wave when you pass me in the next race.
For those of us that can’t get to the mountains with any great regularity, we need to figure out alternative ways to simulate that type of climbing or to at least prepare for it. For that, I introduce the mighty stepmill.
I was first introduced to this piece of equipment when I had delusions of becoming a high altitude mountaineer. This is commonly used by people looking to train to scale the world’s tallest peaks who also cannot get to the mountains often enough to train there. Hey, if it’s good enough for Everest veterans and 8,000 meter peak conquerors (that’s 26,000 feet for you at home), then I’d say it’s good enough for training for a foot race that may last a few hours.
The beauty of this is that if you replace a running day with it, you save your joints some pounding. It can also provide you with a nice change of a pace in the monotony of a training schedule. Now the question becomes how to implement it within your regular running routine. Personally, I’d add just replace a running day with a climbing day, but I’d still keep it in the rotation of training variations.
What I mean by this is that in my first article I spoke of splitting up running training into differently modalities each day of the week. One day could be a recovery runs, another day could be fartleks, another day could be race pace, etc. Incorporate the stepmill into this training split, so you are not always doing the same type of workout on it. For instance, one week will have the stepmill as your recovery “run”. The next week will have you doing fartleks (sprint intervals) on the stepmill and so on. Below is a an example of how a training week may be split up:
Sun - Recovery Run (Target Heart <75% MaxHR)
Mon - Stepmill (Race pace - As fast as possible for time)
Tue - Distance Run (push for distance but slow pace)
Wed - Off
Thu - Hill work
Fri - 1 mile slow; 3 miles race pace; 1 mile slow
Sat - Off
Sun - Recovery Run (Target Heart <75% MaxHR)
Mon - Stepmill (Fartleks - 5min warm-up; 5min fast; 5min recover; 10x60sec sprint/60sec recovery; 5 min cool down)
Tue - Distance Run (push for distance but slow pace)
Wed - Off
Thu - 5k race pace
Fri - 2 mile slow; 5 miles race pace; 1 mile slow
Sat - Off
I hope you get the idea. As always, I’d like to pump the book “Run Faster from 5k to Marathon” by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald where Brad outlines his “dynamic running” system that he uses to train world class runners. Just replace one of his running days with a stepmill/climbing day, and you should be good to go.
While the stepmill is a fantastic piece of equipment, it won’t be readily available to everybody. Alternatives could be:
- Treadmill on max incline setting (hopefully above 15 degrees)
- Stairs! If you have a skyscraper or another long climb at your disposal, then use it!
You can add a degree of difficulty by adding a weighted mountaineering pack or weight vest. I’d recommend the X-Vest (thexvest.com) because although it’s expensive, it will stay tight to you while running and sprinting. You can even start dragging a sled uphill as well.
If absolutely no stepmills, stairmasters, treadmills, or long stair climbs at your disposal, then I’d experiment with long duration hill intervals. Whereas typical hill training can consist of as little as 6 repeats up a hill, for this long duration work, you’d do continual repeats for 30-60 minutes. The reason why I wouldn’t go with this method first or solely use this method is because I’m wary of the unavoidable rest period you have while descending the hill.
While you’re climbing in races like the Tough Mudder New England, there are no rest breaks. I’d prefer training to more closely resemble the continual, unbroken climbing you’d experience in the event. Either way good luck and train hard! I hope to see you on a mountain.
I know I know. Running is boring, right? Whether we want it to or not, it provides the foundation for any foot race. You may get away with minimal running in a 5k distance in a small group, but the longer races will require some regular running for optimal performance. If you are in a field with competitive runners, then it’s not going to matter how much you can squat or deadlift or whether you can do really intense intervals. You will likely get beat. Runners run a lot... even for 5k’s. It has the added benefit of being beneficial to overall health too, so let’s stop avoiding it like the plague and get down to business.
Most people mistake running for just hitting the streets and running monotonously for a certain distance. That doesn’t need to be the case, and in training for optimal performance, that really shouldn’t be the case. A training week should include things fartleks (speed play), wind sprints, race pace runs, distance runs, recovery runs, and hill runs. For instance, a sample training week may look something like:
Sunday - Long slow distance
Monday - 1 mile slow, 2 miles fast pace, 1 mile slow
Tuesday - Recovery run. 3-5 miles @ 75% THR
Wednesday - Off
Thursday - 6 x 400m sprint, 5x50m sprints, 2 mile race pace
Friday - Race pace & race distance
Saturday - Off
Sunday and Tuesday are really a way to get cheap miles. Using “easy” pace runs to gradually build your overall running volume is a good way to condition your cardiovascular system and joints for harder, more intense runs. Like a race, training is more of a grind. If you try to go too hard the whole way through, you’ll suffer for it. For particularly competitive people (like myself), it may be hard to get those cheap miles without pushing yourself too hard. This is where equipment like heart rate monitors come in. They can keep you in check and prevent you from overexerting yourself during what are supposed to be recovery efforts.
I really only wanted to touch on running training here, its necessity, and the capability to have a lot of variety in your training. After all, whole books have been dedicated to this subject, and I wouldn’t be able to get nearly in-depth as one of those. A good place to start is “Run Faster from 5k to Marathon” by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald. In it, Brad outlines his “dynamic running” system that he uses to train world class runners.
In the future, I’ll post more about individual facets of running training like hill training and fartleks as well as program creation. I think the most important to bare in mind is to always remain flexible in your running plan. Just because you scheduled a sprint session or race pace run doesn’t mean you actually have to do it. Listen to your body. Switch out that intense session for a recovery run. Even take the day off if you feel you need it. Listen to your body, so you stay healthy enough to keep training as consistently as possible.