Strength training, that's for getting a beach body right? Endurance athletes, don't they just need to run lots or whatever?
Hillwalkers, well they're doing it for fun, they don't need to 'train'.
Besides... won't strength training just give you bulky heavy muscles?
The weary coach sighs. We hear folks saying the things above and more all the time, and guess what, lots of what you hear is simply fitness myths!
So I want to set the record straight, bust some myths and educate you how it's really done. Because strength training could be exactly what you need.
What does strength training do?
Put simply, the point of strength training is to increase the force your muscles can produce. To explain why this is important for you, a mountain athlete, I'll use the example of walking up a steep stone pitched path in one of the national parks. The movement is the same as doing a 'step up' exercise in the gym, you are using your leg muscles to propel your body weight against gravity up the step.
'Strength reserve' is a term used to describe the difference between your maximum strength, and the strength needed to perform a given movement, like our steep path step up.
So if after a dozen steps, your legs are knacked and you need to stop, it's safe to say your strength reserve is probably quite small. The strength required to step up is a large percentage of the maximum force your legs can produce.
Add into the mix a heavy rucksack, big boots and an uneven path, and all of a sudden you're looking up the Wasdale path to Scafell and not feeling so psyched.
When your stronger, smaller movements feel easier, and you can do more without feeling tired or draining your energy reserves.
And there are more benefits too. Strong muscles allow for efficient movement patterns, and the neuromuscular coordination (muscles being 'switched on') you'll develop allows your joints to move optimally.
All this means a huge reduction in the chance of getting injured!
Injuries disrupt consistency in training, and consistency is the key to reaching your goals.
"But Coralie, if that was all true, wouldn't powerlifters also be the best ultra-runners and mountaineers?"
Well no. That's because for mountain sports aerobic fitness and skill have a big, if not bigger, part to play in performance.
And if your spending 6 days a week strength training, where do you find the time to run, hike or climb.
Think of strength training as the drums in the background of a song. Maybe not the star of the show, but the whole thing falls apart without them.
A well-designed strength training plan creates a general foundation of strength, on top of which more specific training can be done.
Do I have you convinced? Good!
The next question is how to go about incorporating strength training into your training routine.
You see there are lots of different kinds of ' resistance training' which will produce different adaptations in the body.
A bodybuilder will use different exercises, and work at a different intensity to a powerlifter, or mountaineer. Here are some key features of a mountain athletes strength training workout.
Compound exercises. Most of your exercises should be 'compound movements' which means multiple muscle groups and joints are involved, just like when your out walking or climbing. 'Isolation' exercises work fewer muscles and are better for bringing up weak body parts.
Lift heavy. If you can, use heavy weights and low reps for compound movements (between 4 and 8 repetitions per set). One caveat to this is if you are very new to training, in which case a few weeks of slightly higher reps per set and a bit less weight is important to learn the proper technique for exercises. We call this a 'transition period'.
Tip: don't just count the reps you do, think about how many are left in the tank.
A 4-rep set is useless if you feel fresh as a daisy afterwards. For most exercises, aim to have only two quality reps in reserve after you've hit your target number.
Include unilateral exercises. Unilateral is a posh word for a single arm or leg movement. When walking and running you spend a lot of time on one leg, so it makes sense to train that way. You will be rewarded with better joint stability and coordination.
Core. Your core is everything between your arms and your legs. It's not about pretty abs, it's about function, don't neglect it!
We're going to write a whole other blog about core training for mountain athletes, sign up to email notifications so you don't miss out!
So to finish up, here are a few key steps to getting quality strength training into your routine:
Get assessed. It vital to find out where you are at currently, and flag up any mobility restrictions or weak links in the chain. Without this, you could be susceptible to injury. You can get in touch with a coach, or look at our training plans, all of which include mobility assessments.
Find a program. You wouldn't drive somewhere new without a plan. So get in touch with a coach, find a program online, or do the leg work and build your own. Remember, your time spent strength training each week is limited, so make sure every exercise is carefully selected for your goals.
Begin strength training 2-4 times per week. Start with a transition period if your new to this. As I said earlier, spending a few weeks getting your technique dialled will set you up for success further down the line.
Get the fundamentals right. Sleep, eat, hydrate and actively recover well. The effect these factors have on your progress can't be underestimated.
Stay consistent. Training isn't just for new years. Be realistic, be mindful, make a plan, and stay consistent. This doesn't mean you can't tweak the plan as time goes on, but meaningful results will take weeks and months to develop, so stick with it.
And there we go! Get stuck in, and I promise it will pay off.
Thanks for reading.
At Rise Fitness we're passionate about both training hard, and playing in the mountains.
We provide online coaching, training programs for a variety of goals, and we like to chat about all things adventure.
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