Strength training is really important. A lot of distance athletes think they don't need total body strength and fitness. But you deteriorate muscularly and aerobically during a distance race; your whole body breaks down and then your efficiency breaks down. So strength is very important to distance athletes.
Core strength is the number one thing distance runners need. As you near the finish line, you need to keep a tall, strong posture, which comes from a really strong core. Once you start fatiguing and can't stay upright, your efficiency breaks down, and it takes much more oxygen to get your muscles to do what you want them to do. If your running form remains fluid and efficient, then you run with the least amount of exertion and oxygen possible.
You want to become a lean, mean racing machinenot bulky. So we do a lot of exercises with free weights, anything with a medicine ball, but we use very few machines. We don't work to build a lot of mass. When you run a 10,000-meter race, you don't want to carry around extra weight, but you do need to be strong enough to carry the weight you have.
Another benefit of strength training for distance runners, which tends to be underplayed, is injury prevention. When you are fit and strong and don't have any weak areas of your neuroskeletal system, you have less chance of injuries. Injuries occur when you have imbalances and strength differences between muscle groups. When you have weak muscle groups, other groups have to make up for their weakness. You can get hip flexor injuries because your hip flexor might be trying to compensate for weak abdominalsit's all interrelated.
In the early part of the season, we lift three times a week; during the main part of the season we lift twice; and once it's peak season, we drop down to lifting once a week. Our athletes feel like they lose a little confidence and lose their routine if they stop lifting completely. So it is a 3-2-1 program, three early, two most of the season and one late in the season during the peak.
Braman is the head coach for Florida State cross country and T&F teams.
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