Functional strength training has become a popular buzzword. It involves performing work against resistance to enhance the coordination of the nervous system and working muscles. It trains not only the strength of the muscle but also the movement pattern for specific activity. Neuromuscular connection; the brain controls muscle movement and thinks in terms of whole movements not individual muscles. It’s a chain reaction the brain tells the nerves what to do that transmits it to the muscle so they can move in a specific pattern. For optimal results repeated practice of the precise movement is required; teaching your muscles to work together for optimal performance. Perfect Practice makes Perfect!
The off-season is the perfect time for triathletes to focus on improving their mobility, stability and strength. Functional strength training can help improve your triathlon performance. It will help to make you a stronger, faster, and injury free triathlete. It is also important to your overall health and well-being, especially as we age. Research has shown that beginning in your early 30’s, athletes will begin to lose lean muscle (approximately ½ lbs. per year) if they don’t engage in strength training. Swimming, biking or running are not enough to maintain strength levels.
Strength is required for everything we do in life. When you walk up the stairs, clean your house, walk your dog, pick up your kids, or carry in your groceries, every activity you do on a daily basis requires strength, stability and mobility.
As you complete these daily tasks, your body’s neural connections and muscle spindles are activating and contracting to perform these movements.Your efficiency and success are dependent on these systems functioning properly and producing adequate amounts of strength. Without appropriate strength, movement would be impossible. With that being said, it’s safe to assume that strength, or force production, is critical to daily life and survival.
Functional training doesn’t require a lot of time. Maximal gains in strength and power can be achieved with 2-3 sessions per week of 20-40 min. A year round program is necessary, with more emphasis in the off season and maintenance during the season. Functional strength training can be done almost anywhere. You don’t need a gym. Within 6 weeks, an athlete can lose 40% of strength gains if in-season strength training is not continued: 10 weeks the loss rose to 70%. In season strength training should consist of 1-2 sessions, along with specific strength session within swim, bike or run training.
Functional Strength Training
Functional Strength Training is a method of training that is very specific to the demands of the athletic activity. The exercises selected for the strength program should be specific, require stabilization, be explosive/ power based and has an acceleration/deceleration component. It is important to train movements, not muscles. Weight machines train muscles not movements. Most traditional strength training work the large muscles in isolation, leaving many of your smaller muscles untrained. The larger muscles take over and over power the smaller muscles that creates an imbalance that can lead to host of problems: such as slower times, longer recovery, and chronic aches and pains increasing risk of injury. Many of the smaller muscles are more structural that support the body.
The FST exercise movements should closely resemble those of triathlon. Functional exercises have the following qualities:
- Progressive – begins with simple exercises and progress in intensity and difficulty. If can’t do a squat properly (many people don’t) then don’t move on to do 1 leg squats.
- Multi planar – movement not restricted to a single direction of movement (forward, backward, lateral, up & down, twisting).
- Velocity specific – the exercises duplicates the speed of movement required by the individual disciplines of triathlon.
- Specificity – the movement pattern of the exercise duplicates that of swimming, cycling, and running.
- Balance dominated – increases in stabilization will aid in increasing efficiency and reducing injuries.
- Fun – if you don’t enjoy the process, you won’t get the most out of it.
Equipment – Many functional exercise can be done with body weight only, especially when just starting a program. As you progress and become stronger the following equipment can be sued to challenge the muscle more.
Free Weights Stability Balls
Bosu Balance Boards
Medicine Balls Weight Vest
Key component to functional training that is often ignored. This is the body’s ability to control movement efficiently, and provide a stable platform for the limbs to act off of. It is the ability of your joints to get in proper alignment so that the bones are taking most of the stress rather than your muscles and connective tissue. If you lack mobility then you will compensate by using muscles, tendons and ligaments to try to create stability; which can lead to injuries. For triathletes, this means training the mobility and stability of the lower limbs (ankles, knees, and hip), the torso and shoulders. Creating instability by using stability balls, Bosu, 1 leg, and power movements help to develop stability.
A great example: people that feel that they have tight hamstrings and try to increase their flexibility by stretching them. Most of the time the hamstrings aren’t really the problem, it is a lack of overall mobility at the hips that causes the hamstrings to tighten up to make up for the lack of stability that results. If you address the hip mobility issue and allow the hips to get into better alignment then the hamstrings will chill out.
Mobility – This refers to how freely a joint can move throughout its full range of motion. Muscle length (flexibility), muscle tension, tissue quality and how the nervous system controls the joint all come into play. Foam rolling and massage to address muscle tension and tissue quality; stretching to address muscle length; dynamic mobility and corrective exercises to address the nervous system are all necessary for good joint mobility.
Flexibility – This usually refers to the length of a muscle and what most people think of when talking about improving a joints range of motion. It is best addressed through stretching; however it is just a part of overall mobility.
Power – Strength alone will not make you powerful. Power is force x speed. Strength alone will not make you powerful. Strength needs to be converted into power to be useful for a triathlete. It doesn’t really matter the max weight you can lift. Plyometric drills and lifting with explosive movements will help develop power. Specific training for swim/bike/run that helps to develop power includes high resistance such as hills on bike and run or drag suit or tools for swim.
You need to make sure that you have adequate joint mobility, which leads to better joint stability and then to better overall strength. You are only as strong as your weakest link so for a lot of athletes, the key to getting stronger and fitter is actually in improving mobility so that they can move more efficiently and get into better joint alignment.
Bio: Lorrie Beck
Lorrie Beck is the founder and head coach of Lorrie Beck Coaching/YBFit. She is uniquely experienced and trained to coach you to success. A lifelong runner turned triathlete Lorrie is passionate about multi-sports and health and fitness. She has competed in a multitude of National and World Championships place in the top of her age group. She has been an All American for a number of years for both the Triathlon & Duathlon. She has been coaching multi-sport athletes for 10 years. She knows what it takes; she loves the competition, and friendships of the multi-sport community. She is a USAT certified coach & official and fitness coach. She is passionate about working with athletes of all levels who want to improve their skills, performances and overall health and fitness. As a coach Lorrie takes the holistic approach to training: training not just the physical body but also the mental/emotional aspect as well as nutritional and life style balance.
Lorrie is dedicated to empowering and inspiring women and a few cool men to change and transform their relationship with food and their body: to stop the yo-yo dieting; deprivation and restriction; to facilitate disconnection from emotional and stress eating; to achieve lasting weight loss and to learn to love their bodies while creating a life they love, desire and crave.