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.