Strength for Endurance: Are Elites Starting Using HWT?

So, a friend of mine contacted me recently about starting up an HWT regimen. He was initially skeptical last year when I proposed HWT for endurance athletes, but had good success with plyometrics and body weight exercises when it came to staying injury-free (this is not the first anecdote I’ve received of athletes self-solving years of nagging injuries). It was a bit surprising to hear that he was interested in HWT, but he mentioned that he heard Steve Magness had worked with Alberto Salazar to improve Mo Farah’s/Galen Rupp’s strength through HWT, so I think that may have convinced him my ideas aren’t totally crackpot. Magness is a pretty progressive dude – I’m guessing that Salazar likes to hire coaches who are willing to push traditional boundaries like he does – and you can find his approach to strength here. To sum up, his approach to strength is very similar to what I talked about last year; it’s about improving muscle economy and recruitment through neuromuscular adaptation. It’s all about being more efficient late in the game. I did find a radio interview with Salazar where he briefly mentions Mo and Galen doing heavy squats, but no further info beyond that in terms of programming or anything. Interesting nonetheless to even hear that the Olympic gold/silver medallists might be doing some heavier weight work…

As for me, I’ve been experimenting with HWT now for about 6 months and I’m still pretty happy. I’ve modified my old routine a bit, though, to play around with some things. In order to work on my hip/thoracic spine mobility, I’ve reduced the weight and increased the depth of the squat. Some of you may remember I maxed out at 385 this summer. As you can see below, I’ve decreased the weight significantly to around 275.
I’m really trying to hit the max depth possible while maintaining a neutral spine, so I’m using a large medicine ball on a little box as a marker. It gets me past 90 degrees, to where my femurs are roughly parallel to the ground. I’d still like that T-spine to arch back a bit more, but I’m working on it. This depth is about right for me…I tried going lower, but felt like I’d need heel wedges to avoid arching the lumbar spine, which is not good form.

I’ve replaced the deadlifts with cleans in order to work on explosive power – more fast twitch recruitment. When I started this fall, I could consistently rep around 135. Yesterday, which was when I took this series of photos, I managed to do a set of four at 185.

I’m not happy with my legs in the sequence above – ideally I shouldn’t have to pop out to that wider stance to get underneath the weight. But using HWT, I have seen signifcant gains. I can rep 6 cleans at 165 now, with great form, no problem. My goal is to be able to do six reps at 185 with rock solid form.

I’ve tweaked the bench as well. I’m back to doing one-armed presses on the Bosu Ball, final sets are capping out at 5 @ 100lb dumbell.

What I love about this vs. the bench is that the core is destabilized by using only one arm while balancing on the Bosu. So I get to work my chest while working proprioreception and core stabilization, all at the same time. I’d recommend this approach for any time-constrained athlete as a means of getting more bang for your buck. I firmly believe that working independent, destabilized movements is one of the keys to building a level of strength, coordination, and proprioreception that benefits endurance.

Right now, I’d say I’m in decent shape, nothing stellar. Last week I did one day where I ran 10 in the AM and 10 in the PM, in some awful conditions – took me 1:25+ both ways. But I was pleased to note that I had no residual soreness, which I attribute to my level of strength conditioning. It didn’t put me entirely in the hurt locker, but I did notice that I was ravenously hungry for the next couple of days. I’m doing a bunch of backcountry skiiing and boarding, as well as the occasional skate ski, so I’m getting a decent amount of cardiovascular work under my belt. As always, it’s a constant give and take with work schedules and other the other fun things I like to do.

One response

  1. Yes!!! I just finished clicking through the linked slide show and I really can’t agree more with the concept. I have coached at both the high school and collegiate national level and have really started to look at incorporating these “non traditional” aspects into my athletes plans. At the high school level, I think that the most common mistake in coaching the “distance” track athletes is that there is not any real “distance” races at the high school level. Most coaches do not understand that the 800m is nearly 50% anaerobic and the mile is close to 25% anaerobic.

    Ultimately, the potential of how good an athlete can get at these “distance” events is based largely on their 400m capacities/basic speed. Since these events require much less career miles and aerobic development is why we see 18-19 year old athletes competing internationally in the 800m where athletes competing at the same level in the 10k are significantly older. In addition to the anaerobic demands, athletes running these mid distance races are often required to have fast acceleration capabilities for passing and to make the initial 100m cut in successful. Again, nerve recruitment should be brought into consideration when developing an endurance plan.

    There has been two workouts that I have been incorporating into the “distance” plans that have been criticized by other coaches as unorthodox.

    The first workout is simply a 20 minute warmup, 8x60m sprints, followed by a 20 minute run. The sprints reach maximum speed and athletes take 3-4 minutes for recovery. Doing sprints this way recruits the fast twitch nerves needed to run middle distance races successfully. With the relatively long rest the body allows the creatine phosphate system to recover entirely. By keeping the sprint distance to under 100m, the body does not produce byproducts that will damage the aerobic systems. Stillwater uses this workout every Monday for their milers. Like myself, their coach comes from the Peter Coe camp of thought. This particular high school program has produced 4 runners that have ran under 4:00 for the mile during their collegiate years. Not a bad score for a town of 18,000.

    The second type of workout that I have been utilizing is circuit training. Again, like the slide show mentioned, not a new concept by any means, but often overlooked. I have found this successful for several reasons. One, I think that the athlete becomes more aware of their running economy, especially late in the race. This awareness was brought to my attention the first time I did a set of “burpees” followed by a hard 400m sprint. I had not realized how much i actually used my core and shoulders while running, until I tried to sprint after fatiguing these muscle groups. I think by creating this “awareness” the athlete can learn to focus on relaxing when the feel like they are starting to “tie up” on the home stretch. Two, it builds general fitness that most distance body types lack. I had a high school athlete that routinely ran up to 3 hour long runs, but could not do 20 pushups without stopping. He thought that gaining upper body strength would make him bigger and slower. The evidence was really brought to his attention this past track season when he would get routinely passed on the bell lap of the race. Despite being able to complete up to 20 mile runs (a major feat by any high schooler) he lacked the turnover and needed running economy to fight through the final 200ms. This year, he has focused on weight training and circuits. His bench alone has increased by nearly 30%. I am curious to see what the results will be on the track.

    I am currently moving a 400m runner of mine up to the 800m. He ran only a few 800m races last year, but ran a 2:00.3. Not a bad sophomore time from a kid with a basketball and football background. We are approaching the 800m from a sprint perspective. In keeping with this approach, we have decided to have him lift 3 times per week with the high school football team, focusing on low reps with heavy weights. i am pairing this with creating a “sprinters base” modeled off of Clyde Hart’s Baylor program. This particular program has traditional 200m/400m runners run up to 4k worth of intervals at 85% and only allows all out sprinting while practicing stats and handoffs. I am excited to see how he responds to heavy weight lifting and “sprinting base.” His past off seasons where spent playing JV basketball with no in season weight program.

    We will have to see how my experiments go. I am confident that they will provide sound results. I have 5 seasons of high school coaching under my belt and these “unorthodox” approaches have yielded at least one state qualifier every season, one even included a state champion. Maybe after another 10 years, i will have worked all the bugs out of the plans.

    Thanks for writing these Matt!


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