Contributing Monkie Brendan Brazier
Published on December 25, 2008
Photographer: G Monkie (CC)
In addition to athletes, this program is ideal for anyone who’s struggling to maintain muscle tissue. Those of you who’ve transitioned over to a raw or largely raw diet will benefit from performing these exercises. While I devised the program to help myself become a better endurance athlete, it’s what enabled me to maintain muscle mass throughout my shift to a mostly raw diet about four years ago. It works exceptionally well for creating mobility and fluidity of movement.
A few decades ago, endurance athletes were encouraged to avoid “gym training” for fear that they would develop heavy, bulky muscles. The reasoning was that extra mass without function would inhibit endurance performance. Which makes sense. However, the reason “gym training” was adamantly shunned by the endurance culture was primarily because it was lumped together with the body building culture. Of course, the main reason bodybuilders lift weights is to build bulk. They also weight train for symmetry and definition, but the vast majority of their time spent training is working to get bigger.
In the early eighties, some endurance athletes began supplementing their regular endurance training with weight training in the hopes of improving endurance. The results were mixed. While the athletes generally gained some strength, they also gained weight. Therefore, their strength-to-weight-ratio showed only very modest improvements and not enough to justify the energy expenditure in performing the extra workout. In other cases, strength-to weight-ratio dropped. Why? The problem was that these endurance athletes were doing body-building-style workouts that were designed to grow muscle size with little or no improvement in functional strength. Which resulted in a reduction in the endurance athlete’s most valued attribute: strength-to-weight ratio.
When it was realized that various training principals and techniques could be reworked to make bulk-less strength gains, gym workouts for endurance athletes were revisited.
While gym workouts were being embraced by some endurance athletes, there were still those who abstained. It was clear that a finely tailored weight training program could be implemented to build strength without an increase in size or weight, but why would an endurance athlete need strength? And would a few gym workouts to achieve it be worth the extra energy expenditure? Would the “return” on their investment be justifiable?
Marathon running is an endurance event, not a strength sport. At least according to traditional wisdom. But is it correct? For a marathoner, is there an advantage to being able to lift more weight?
Yes, it turns out. And quite a significant advantage.
If, for example, two runners are completely equal in every respect except for muscular strength, the stronger runner will be faster over any distance. The lower percentage of maximum strength needed for each stride will translate into improved efficacy and therefore greater endurance. If, for example, one runner can squat 10% more weight than another, his muscles will not have to work as hard to move the body forward — which can translate to significant endurance gains. When muscles don’t need to work as hard, they don’t require as much oxygen or circulating blood, and therefore will not put as much demand on the heart – which, in turn, will lower the rate at which it beats. A significant improvement in endurance will be the result. Greater strength does equal greater endurance.
And now, commonly referred to as functional strength, properly structured gym workouts have been embraced by most all high-level endurance athletes.
While the focus for runners and cyclists will expectedly be the legs, gains in upper-body strength can translate to a significant performance advantage by improving muscle efficacy.
Since the arms are used and the upper body is engaged, improving the efficacy by which they function will help. Each time muscles contract, oxygen and nutrients in the blood are needed. As with the legs, the arms will draw upon the heart to deliver oxygen, nutrition and remove waste products (lactate) so that they can continue moving fluently with ease. It then makes sense to increase the strength of the upper body as well so that it doesn’t become too much of an oxygen draw on the system as a whole and increase heart rate.
Nutrition is a Vital Part of Physical TrainingOf course, what you eat are the building blocks used to reconstruct muscle tissue that the training has broken down. Make sure to consume a nutrient-packed smoothie after each workout. Quick and efficient recovery from each workout is key. The faster you can recover, the sooner you can train again. This is what leads to true gains and improves your performance more than any other single principle. That’s why I created the Vega Whole Food Meal Replacement formula. I have a serving after each workout to reduce inflammation and start the regeneration process.
The following program is the routine I perform before beginning a more specific phase, one that converts strength into power. I perform it three times a week. While it’s extremely effective, be sure to keep in mind that it was designed for someone who has been weight training constantly for at least a year. In order to avoid injury, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue will need to adapt to an advanced training program like this. If you are new to weight training, I suggest beginning with a more basic program that will allow your body to adapt gently and gradually. Then you can give this one a try.
This workout is for functional strength gain. It will keep you lean and will improve strength-to-weight-ratio — and therefore efficacy, endurance and ultimately running performance as a whole.
Lunges: 3 sets of 15 reps
A good all-round exercise that helps develop the stabilizer muscles. Particularly important if you periodically run on uneven ground. Also serves as a good warm-up.
Leg press: 3 sets of 6 reps
This is an ideal exercise to quickly increase overall leg strength without putting your back in jeopardy, as is common with squats.
Leg Extensions: 3 sets of 6 reps
Strengthens the knee-supporting muscles, thereby reduce the chance of knee injuries. Particularly important if cycling is not part of your cross-training routine.
Ball hamstring curls: 4 sets of 15 reps
Builds hamstring strength and efficacy while boosting abdominal strength
Calf raises: 3 sets of 15 reps
Strengthens them — and in doing so, improves their efficiency with each toe-off.
Crunch combined with reverse crunch: 3 sets of 15 reps
Strengthens core and helps improve posture, form and breathing.
Upper body: 3 sets of 15 reps
Reduces oxygen usage of the upper body while running, thereby lowering heart rate and improving endurance. Also helps to maintain proper, efficient form — even once fatigue had set in.
Incline Dumbbell Press
Lat pull downs with lat row handle
Crunch combined with reverse crunch
Workout specifics: Perform lower body exercises two times per week, immediately following your hard runs. The upper body portion can be preformed two to three times per week, on alternate days. Rest 90 seconds between lower body exercises and 60 seconds between upper body ones. You may choose to do an abdominal exercise in between upper body sets.
Good luck! And remember, start slow. If you have any questions or concerns about your abilities, consult your doctor before beginning any workout program.