A lot of you have requested to hear more about what my strength coach Drew and I get up to in our workouts. I see Drew twice a week for a one hour training session, but he has become so much more than a coach to me. A friend I can count on, and someone I have enjoyed getting to know.
I thought you would enjoy reading his perspective of our training, and some examples of what we do for you to maybe add into your training. Without his coaching, and without him making me stronger, I would never have run a 2:41 in the London Marathon, 1:13 half marathon, or won the Army 10 mile, so I am so thankful.
So, without further ado, here is what it is like to be the strength coach of Tina Muir.
Things to know:
- Runners tend to be driven individuals (i.e. a little crazy) *Editors note- us? Never!*
- Runners tend to be very hard on themselves *okay, that is true*
- Runners tend to do too much – see bullets 1 & 2 *guilty!*
- Mastering a handful of basic strength exercises will benefit most runners tremendously *100000% agree!*
When Tina contacted me about training and injury rehab in December of 2014, I was excited for the opportunity to train an elite distance runner, but I was also a little worried.
Up until that point, the only runners I had worked with were recreational. I also worked with baseball, football, lacrosse, tennis, and golf athletes. So the majority of my clients played multi-directional speed sports and only one was considered elite at their sport.
So when Tina first came in for a meeting and screening, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to help her – until I saw how she performed on the movement assessment.
Don’t get me wrong, Tina was in good shape, but she didn’t move particularly well and her muscles weren’t working the way they should have. An accumulation of countless miles on a body with an insufficient strength base had taken a toll on her (as it does with lots of runners).
The importance of assessment and how to be smart
I get lots of questions about how I train certain athletes and Tina thought this topic would be good to share with her readers.
However, most of what we do is rather underwhelming but I hope it illustrates two important ideas:
- The difference between chronological age and training age
- The need to train using big lifts and heavy (when appropriate) weights
Any time you begin a new training program, it should always start with an assessment – either by yourself or by a trainer / coach.
In our situation, I assess before every new phase of training (marathon to speed work) and before every training session. Runners can develop pain, injuries, and fatigue rather often, so it’s important to adapt training sessions to the situation and try to predict outcomes based on our system.
If Tina comes in Tuesday off a heavy week of running, I’ll adjust our training intensity down a little to maximize her recovery. We still train relatively heavy, but our volume will drop as much as 50%.
*This is important!!* This is where lots of people get it wrong…thinking that taking it easy on a lifting session is in some way wimpy or “making an excuse”.
Don’t fall for the quick quips on t-shirts or internet memes about “giving all you’ve got” or “there is no off-season”. Moderating your intensity or even taking a day off when needed isn’t wimpy, in fact it’s critical to your development as an athlete. *Agreed! It took me a while to learn this….in fact that is one of the best things about Drew becoming my friend as well as coach, he can see when I am tired or struggling, even if I am not admitting it. Like when he sent me home on Wednesday- read more in my should you race while sick post. *
Now that you understand a little about how I think, on to the training!
Understanding runner weaknesses
Typically, distance runners (and much of our western civilization) have a body set up like this:
Dominant / Tonic / Facilitated muscles *Runners definitely use these muscles too much!*
- Quads / hip flexors
- Low back musculature
- Pecs / anterior shoulder
- Upper traps / neck extensors
Weak / Inhibited muscles *restricted because we use above muscles too much*
- Glutes / hamstrings
- Upper and middle back
- Deep neck flexors
This idea was made popular by Dr. Vladimir Janda and is called the Cross Body Syndrome (if you’re interested). My training program for Tina and for nearly all my clients tends to honor this idea.
We mobilize the areas that are facilitated and then strengthen the areas that are weak or inhibited.
By “relaxing” the dominant muscles and fascia, the brain allows the weaker muscles to do their thing and become more involved in movement – whether it’s running or deadlifting. *This is where going to UVA Speed Clinic with Drew was hugely important, he was able to see me running on the high tech screening equipment to be able to fix the things that the naked eye could not see*
A sample training session with Tina
- Soft tissue with foam roll/ pvc pipe/ lacrosse ball
- Mobilize hip flexors and quads, adductors, posterior hip / hamstrings, thoracic spine, lats -activate glutes, anterior core, middle back muscles (currently we’re working on a marching exercise to teach the hips to move separately)
*We do A1 then A2, once those are complete, we move on to B1 and B2 ect*
A1) Trap bar deadlift (5×5 reps)
A2) Upper back (3×15 reps)
B1) 1 Leg RDL (3×10 reps)
C1) Suspended Row (3×10 reps)
C2) Plank variation (3×10 breaths) *That is hard! Drew makes focusing on form a priority….FYI I used to be able to do a “plank” for up to 6 mins….but I was doing it wrong!*
C3) 1 Arm KettleBell Carry (3x sets of varying distance)
Does it look too simple?
I told you it would be underwhelming. *Although we do sled work like in the featured image some days, and that is pretty funny to watch…well, would be for you!*
You may not know what some of those exercises are or how to do them, but they are the same exercises that I might use with an average Joe who wants to get strong and drop some body fat.
THAT IS THE POINT!
Remember when I said Tina was in good shape, but she didn’t move well?
She wasn’t strong and her “training age” wasn’t anywhere close to her chronological age. My job is to bridge that gap.
Tina was accustomed to doing circuit training with light weight and high reps and I’d venture to think that most people reading this blog follow a similar “strength training” program.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that describes you, I think that you may be wasting time and energy following a circuit program with a dozen exercises.
If you can you should work these exercises in to your training program regularly – and when appropriate, train them with heavy weights.
I mentioned “mastering a handful of exercises” in the beginning, and here are my biggies. *he means what you should focus on doing with your body while executing the exercises*
Hinge – deadlift, RDL variations, rack pull, pull through
Squat – lunge, split squat, box squat,
Pull – Row, pull up, pull down
Press – push up, bench press variations, overhead press
Carry – loaded carries (There’s an almost infinite list here, but pick up something heavy and carry, push, or drag it.)
There are others, but as I mentioned earlier, runners tend to do too much and I always look for the lowest effective dose with training.
Each exercise in my training is picked based on the individual and their particular movement idiosyncrasies, so I may exercises differently for different people.
In summation, just because someone is “elite” in their sport, doesn’t mean they’re elite in the weight room.
Often times you can accomplish more by doing less and really hammering the fundamentals and adding some basic strength to a gifted athlete can magnify their sport skill.
Granted, she has amazing desire for excellence and a great run coach, but strength is invaluable to her success and she has bought in to the system.
There is only so much of you to go around, don’t waste it.
If you have questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Isn’t he awesome! If you have any questions for him, add them in the bottom! I am thinking about having a podcast episode with Steve and Drew together in the near future. I had a lot of requests recently for more about my training. What do you think?
What would you like to ask Drew? Is it what you expected?