Strength and Conditioning Training for Endurance Sports (part 1)

Traditionally participants of endurance sports are non-gym goers, they are attracted to their sports because of the wish to be outdoors, the solitude of mountaineering, sound of the bush for the ultra/trail runner, the unique virgin beauty found by the back country ski tourer. It’s the feeling of the elements, pitting the human body against both itself and nature. I totally understand the mindset….. and we are here to show you that if you change that mindset and embrace the gym as a small part of training methodology, the results are infinite.
What are those results: improved performance, reduced risk of injury, overall improvements to strength, cardiovascular output, energy conservation, speed and pace management, power, endurance. What can that mean? Well at the top end succeeding in your life long goals, getting that podium finish, standing on top of your peak. But not just that…enjoying the process more, finding it easier, having the ability to look around and appreciate where you are and all it took to get there, feeling you’ve given yourself the best chance possible.
Taking on a strength and conditioning component to your endurance sport whatever it maybe, does not mean endless hours in an overcrowded gym. For most endurance sports I believe in an 80/20 approach. The vast majority of endurance sports need you to be doing what you are doing in your sport/event or at least simulating as close as you can ie if your running… run.  If you want to win your game or make improvements the key is what you do with that other 20% and that is what we do with our athletics programming at Joe’s Garage Gym.
We take a look at your sport and what it entails, if it is a specific event we look at what is specific to that event, programming someone for Everest has a whole list of different protocols and requirements than say an expedition pulling a pulk to the North pole. A great example of this is Matty Abel our ultra runner. The two runs he has done with us both have very different elevations, so the training specifics needed to be different as well.
Firstly we look at the events lined up, any diary interruptions (family commitments/holidays/work), how much overall time can be given to training per week. Around this we design a Macrocycle, this will give you your overall running program. This includes your slow and steadies, pace runs, fartleks, intervals, etc and in Matty’s case due to the nature of his events, his lactate threshold training. The Macrocycle is broken into parts called Mesocycles, each Mesocycle is a number of weeks and these are broken further into Microcycles.
Once we have built our skeleton if you like (Macrocycle) we then populate it, in Matty’s case I asked Simon my assistant S&C Coach at the Garage to get his teeth stuck into it and what a fantastic job he has done. This was to be Si’s first major project as a sports S&C coach. I’m a big believer in experiential learning. Even though Si’s background is mainly at the anaerobic and lactate end of the sporting spectrum  I knew that with a good brief and some basic parameters to work with he would come up with some great programming…. and the proof is in the pudding!
Below is Simons account of how he handled the task:
As a passionate Strength & Power Coach, I felt it was a real challenge for me when Joe lent into the office one morning and told me that he had an endurance athlete for me to train and produce a tailored S&C program for. My initial thoughts were panic as I felt out of my comfort zone. Ask me to produce a strength/power program for an explosive athlete and ill sit happily on microsoft excel for hours on end. This however gave me and out of my depth feeling, a challenge……
Matty Abel Strength training at Joe's Garage

Matty Abel Strength training at Joe's Garage

Previously, I had simply assumed that all endurance athletes just needed to train with light resistance and perform the repetition of movement specific to their chosen sport till the cows come home, add in some core conditioning and job done.
As I began my research into endurance athletes and particularly ultra marathon runners I found a really interesting correlation in that of a sprinter and an ultra athlete, especially in the early stages of a macrocycle (training program).  Now without going into too much detail, our muscles are built up of various types of muscle fibers, some that take a long time to exhaust called slow twitch or type 1 muscle fibers, and some that fatigue in a shorter period of time called fast twitch or type 2 muscle fibers. You’d think that for an endurance athlete all they would need to be strong in would be the type 1, however this is incorrect.  That opened up a gateway of training protocols that could be incorporated into his training methodology. This was going to be more fun than I’d imagined!!
Here is an example taken from the S&C macrocycle for Matty Abel in the lead up to the race.
Matty Abel S&C program at Joe's Garage Gym

example of Matty's starting Mesocycle

As you can clearly see it is quite precise in that all reps/volume are calculated and even the weight/score recorded has been added in red to make sure we can see exactly how the athlete performed on that particular day. This is where Strength & Conditioning really takes its place in sport.
 Onto the athlete in question….
 Matty Abel has got to be hands down one of the most dedicated professional individuals that I have come across. From day one he showed nothing but drive and determination towards his goal. Even on Australia Day, where most Ozzies were out celebrating with a few cold beers, Matty was dragging himself up and down the back streets of his local neighbourhood because thats what the program had scheduled for that day. I didn’t once hear any excuse as to why he couldn’t perform any of the exercises or run on any given day. When it came to the lactate threshold training, given the hills he was going to be doing in his event this was going to be a very gruelling part of his training this was when he really made an impression, I remember telling Joe, “I just can’t break him !”
Matty Abel Lactate Training at "The Snake" with Joe's Garage Gym

Matty Abel Lactate Training at "The Snake" with Joe's Garage Gym

 Having achieved what we achieved with the Northburn 100, I’m very excited to see what we can do with the next major date on the calendar the North Face 100.
In the next part of this article we will look at how we prepared our athlete Gareth Andrews for his 600Km trek to the North Pole pulling a 75Kg pulk (sled). Why we had to train him for maximal strength and why we had to fatten him up…. much to his new wife, Andrea’s dislike.
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